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Michal, contradicting values: understanding the moral dilemma faced by Saul's daughter

Michal, contradicting values: understanding the moral dilemma faced by Saul's daughter
Jonathan Y. Rowe


School of Divinity, St Mary's College, University of St. Andrews, Fife KY16 9AJ, UNITED KINGDOM.


Value conflicts due to cultural differences are an increasingly pressing issue in many societies. Because Old Testament texts hail from a very different milieu to our own they may provide new perspectives upon contemporary conflicts and, in this context, the present dissertation investigates one particular value clash in 1 Samuel.

Studies of Old Testament ethics have attended to narrative only relatively recently. Although social-scientific interpretation has a longer pedigree, there are important debates about how to employ the fruits of anthropology in biblical studies. The first part of this thesis, therefore, attends to methodological issues, advancing four main propositions. First, attention should be paid to the moral goods that feature in the text. Second, the family, a central feature of Old Testament morality, should be understood as a set of practices rather than an institution. Third, ‘models’ of social action that purport to comprehend the social world of the Bible should be used only cautiously. Finally, a modified version of Bakhtin’s theory of heteroglossic voices can help readers appreciate how authors present a moral vision by approving some characters’ actions whilst undermining others.

The second part of the thesis employs this methodology to examine 1 Samuel 19.10–18a. The discussion of the moral dilemma facing Michal adduces anthropological theories and ethnographic data concerning violence, lying, and the relationship between fathers and daughters. Given that the conflicts of moral goods are ‘resolved’ by characters choosing to act in a certain way, the dissertation enquires after the author’s assessment of each character’s moral choices, and hence their theological import. The dissertation argues that Michal’s loyalty to David and deception of Saul was countercultural, and by approving of her choice the author affirms the importance of loyalty to the Davidic dynasty.