My latest book, a critical biography entitled The Gospel According to Elie Wiesel, is soon to be released after 15 years in the making. The book is available for preorder here: https://www.amazon.com/Gospel-According-Elie-Wiesel-ebook/dp/B0BBMWZB33/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1E3A9OFQ5EB35&keywords=the+gospel+according+to+elie+wiesel&qid=1661857135&sprefix=the+gospel+according+to+elie+wiesel%2Caps%2C58&sr=8-1.
I am writing a series of profiles related to the book. This is part i. Part ii will examine the man and his tales. Look for “Who was the real Elie Wiesel,” coming November 1.
THE DREAM OF THE DENIERS
Let’s cast off with a dream. I am at a dinner party. A group of seemingly reputable men and women sit around a long table. Their appearance suggests their respectability. Everyone is dressed to titivate. Gorgeous gowns and pinstriped, three-piece suits. Real material, not flimflam from some pedestrian tailor.
I, too, have dressed for the occasion. When I wake, and I sense the fineness of the suit, I’m not sure of its origin. It does not hang in my closet. But, my appearance leads to a great sense of personal pride. This is the high point of the dream. I feel like a dandy.
There’s laughter and camaraderie around the table. There’s great celebration. It seems that things have been set right. It seems that some injustice has been corrected. There’s a clinking of wine glasses. I do not participate. I realize, despite my excellent façade, that I sit uncomfortable.
The dream itself is a bit hazy, as if viewed from too far away. I don’t have sharp focus on faces present. I can feel identities, however. Mine sits at the head of the table. I am the guest of honor. In the beginning of the dream I have no idea why I’m so esteemed, but the reasons will soon emerge.
A voice begins the raison d’être for the dinner engagement. The man actually says “raison d’être” in his toast. The accent is peculiar: a French-accented, Scottish-tainted, old man cadence. It takes me a second, in the dream and once in the waking life, to understand the English spoken. I remember the thought that pops into my mind upon first impressions: I wish dreams came with subtitles.
As the sole editor and chronicler of this dream, I have cleaned up the garble. The saluter begins: “As the eldest here in this exquisite dining hall, the grandfather of deniers, so to speak…” – a small smattering of tee-hees follows from those gathered around the long table, a chuckle, a noticeable table slap, all gaining my interest and making my discomfort expand – “… it is in my purview to give the salutation. Let’s raise a glass to the man of the hour…” – full attention turns to me now, causing my discomfort to race – “… the man who took down the FABRICATOR. The man who took down the LIAR. The man who took down the REAL DENIER.”
As the sole editor and chronicler of the dream, I have put the words of emphasis in cap lock, for they are spoken with so much disdain. I suppose that’s what I most remember. It’s not the meaning of the words that captures my attention, in the dream and in the waking world. It’s the sneering effect. The bombardment of contempt. The syrupy righteousness offered in the delivery.
The saluter continues: “Let it be said that I was born some four months after the REAL DENIER. Let it be recognized that I died some two months after the DENIER. Let it be said that I began our row sometime in the mid-1970s, when things crystalized in my head, when I realized the entire perfidy in the mere mention of gas chambers. Gas chambers became a form of grandstanding. Gas chambers, in the MOUTH of the RIGHTEOUS, became a kind of superiority complex. The rest of us, reduced to rabble, were made to feel entirely small.”
A round of applause follows the man’s words, a noticeable nodding of heads, more table slaps, even someone seated close by offering up a “preach, preach” response.
I remember my discomfort with one word. The saluter had a fixation with the adverb entirely. When one speaks of the complete, I admit, my internal skepticism mechanism kicks in. There must be room for nuance.
The saluter continues: “The RIGHTEOUS vs. the rabble, that’s how the world viewed our row. The RABBI vs. the renegade. I was shouted down. I was accused. A new word came into our vernacular. The denier. I became the first denier, when THAT ONE never spoke a truth. THAT ONE lived to tell his tall tales, outrageous to the core. The travesty, my friends, is entirely galling.”
A side toast breaks out, a toast within a toast. In the dream it’s unclear who offers the side toast. I can’t even hear the gender of the voice. But the side toaster declares: “To the grandfather of deniers.”
Then an addition to the side toast, a second side toast, or a toast within a toast within a toast: “To the dean of deniers.”
A round of applause follows, more tee-hees, a rising chuckle, even a guffaw. My sense of discomfort now feels massive, catastrophic, a flood waylaying a third of a country.
The saluter continues: “Now here we are. The record has been entirely corrected, thanks to our man…” – again, full attention turns to me, my body responding in a massive shiver – “… The GREAT DENIER has been castrated. To the castration of the WEASEL. To his… deracination.”
I don’t recall the reaction to the toast from those at table. I am assuming that everyone present cheered heartily, perhaps wildly. I did not. In my dream, and later in my waking life, I concentrated on words spoken. “Entirely,” of course, but also “great denier” and “weasel” and, perhaps most singularly, “deracination.” The word, according to Merriam-Webster, means to uproot. But there’s a secondary twinge: to remove the racial or ethnic characteristics or influences from. Did I deracinate the subject of my upcoming book, Elie Wiesel?
I don’t think so. Here’s what should be known. Many years ago now, I was thinking about a writing project on George Washington. I wanted to concentrate on his slaver upbringing and culture and how the country, under his tutelage, grew from those roots. And how those roots have not been… deracinated. I went to a library to do some preparatory work. I wasn’t struck by the amount of scholarship on Washington. That was a known. I was struck by the amount of scholarship on his neighbor, alphabetically speaking. Wiesel.
In terms of sheer quantity, he well surpasses the mid-table presidents. The Clintons and Madisons, the Andrew Jacksons and John Adamss (twice). In terms of sheer quantity he seems neck and neck with the presidents of the 1960s: Kennedy, LBJ and Nixon. He probably even out-scholarships Tricky Dick.
But to study the voluminous work is to find a fascinating dynamic. Wiesel serves as the central source. His story, as he alone laid it out, absolutely dominates. Critical appraisal, working off the historical method, is nonexistent.
What did that mold? Wiesel, despite a library’s worth of volumes, remains a great unknown, an enigma. The big questions endure. How does a Hasidic Jew from a small town in Northern Transylvania become the face of the Holocaust? How does a yeshiva bocher, or a young man in a religious school, evolve into a Nobel Peace Prize laureate?
When I first began to conceive of a biography project on Wiesel, I wanted his participation. I sent a proposal his way. I asked, in my wording, to “walk a little” with him. Wiesel refused my proposal, kindly, gently. I then turned to another form: a literary investigation in the tradition of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Such a mooring would not have escaped Wiesel’s eye, had he lived to read my work. Wiesel had his eye on the Soviet Union, beginning in the mid-1960s. He had his eye on refuseniks and dissidents and Tarbutniks, or those Zionists involved in Hebrew-language education. He spoke out against the insane anti-Semitism. As he was doing so, Solzhenitsyn was in the midst of castigating the gulag system.
As the years of my research went by, though, my project moved well beyond literary interpretation – as Solzhenitsyn’s did, of course. In my research I interviewed schoolmates from Wiesel’s heder, or Hebrew elementary school. I interviewed acquaintances and friends who were with him in Auschwitz. I interviewed his closest friends from Buchenwald 1945. I interviewed his fellow survivors from France and the period following the war. I interviewed his French tutor. I interviewed the counselors who guided him. I interviewed theologians and thinkers who knew Wiesel in America. I interviewed Wiesel’s key lieutenant from the Holocaust Museum building era of the 1980s. I interviewed his eldest sister, until she abruptly ended the interview. I interviewed Wiesel’s first cousin, whose Holocaust history paralleled Wiesel’s. They, in fact, shared a bunk in Buna.
What does my project find? The Gospel According to Elie Wiesel (GAEW) breaks through the layers. GAEW challenges the canon, first established by Wiesel, then solidified by his biographers. GAEW separates the man from the persona, and legend from historicity. An Elie Wiesel never before uncovered emerges.
But my work comes with some personal regret. In fact, I waited five years to publish. I saw my role as terribly fraught. I hope I am not stoking the deniers. I have a great fear. Will I become a pinup girl for the denier set?
THE FAURISSON FRONTMAN EFFECT
Let’s get back to the dream. Following the toast, it basically fizzles out. I awake in a start and my mind instantly goes to those in attendance. I jump out of bed and walk over to my writing desk. I want to document the participators.
As noted earlier, there is haziness to the dream, graininess, unfocus. Still, identities do emerge. Let’s name names. It quickly becomes apparent that the saluter, or the “grandfather of deniers,” is the bizarro named Robert Faurisson. Seemingly reputable, a professor of French literature, he began to question gas chambers in the mid-1970s. The historical record indicates that he wrote to Yad Vashem – there wasn’t a Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., at this point in time, with an extensive research arm – in an effort to disprove genocide. He then turned his attention to Elie Wiesel, and to the diary of Anne Frank. He wanted to expose the supposed falsities.
A new mindthink was born. The Faurisson Frontman Effect drew in the like-minded damaged. A veritable bizarro fringe band formed. Their music reached out and over real scholarship. Their impact deeply affected their listeners, like laser Pink Floyd in the aftermath of Dark Side of the Moon. Here’s the difference, though. The hallucinogenics that Floyd-lovers took at the show only heightened the laser/sound potency. The Faurisson Frontman Effect seemed to permanently lacerate the sanity of the followers.
A case in point. A young man named Eric Hunt accosted Elie Wiesel in a hotel elevator in 2007. His motivation? He intended to question Wiesel on the veracity of his Holocaust memoir, Night. He called that memoir “almost entirely fictitious.” He further labeled the Holocaust a “myth.”
(Eric Hunt made his remarks on Ziopedia, a virulent anti-Zionist website. Subsequently, the site went offline. Hunt then posted his story on his own blog with a sensational title. See http://killjewsdotcom.blogspot.com/2007/02/eric-hunt-grabs-elie-wiesel-outside-his.html?zx=304977cfcfe4595.)
Eric Hunt was a mere roadie. Big names became enticed by the Faurisson Frontman Effect. Once a reputed scholar on World War II battles, David Irving became a leading denier sometime in the 1980s. At that time, Patrick Buchanan served as President Reagan’s communication’s director. Later, he would reveal his true deniership.
Others would join in: Ernst Zündel, who formed a neo-Nazi publishing house sometime in the mid-1970s; Henry Makow, a Canadian conspiracy theorist who attempted to establish the authenticity of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion; David Icke, who jumped on the Jewish World Order cabal, as put forward by Protocols; Carolyn Yeager, who authored the website, eliewieseltatoo.com. The name of the site, with its fixation on disproving Wiesel’s Holocaust history, says it all.
If all of these identities somehow make their presence known to me in my dream, let’s distill the denier band down to two. Here, we have to tunnel a bit into my research. At Georgia State there was a professor of some renown. His name was David O’Connell. He became one of the gravest deniers. Grave because, like Faurisson, he seemed legitimate as a professor of French literature. In my research, I had some contact with O’Connell and a colleague of his, Daniel McGowan, who was a professor of economics at a liberal arts college in upstate New York. McGowan also served as the director of a protest blog, Deir Yassin Remembered. The history of that massacre, in fact, brought me to the bizarro tag team of O’Connell and McGowan.
Let’s go back to 1948. In the haze of the War of Independence, Jewish paramilitary groups attacked the village of Deir Yassin, just west of Jerusalem. From that day forward, the village ceased to exist. Three years later, a mental health center was built within village ruins, not far from the village cemetery. If the irony of building a mental health facility on top of a massacre site isn’t striking, here’s more irony. In 1953 the Knesset created the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority. That body created Yad Vashem. Yad Vashem has a direct view of the old village grounds.
Reportage suggests the worst humanity has to offer occurred during the massacre: mutilation and rape, decapitation and disembowelment. The new Israelis treated the Palestinians as butcher meat.
O’Connell and McGowan became obsessed with the massacre. They used the war crime as a distillation for modern Israeli policies. They further pointed to Wiesel, who never criticized the massacre. Wiesel lived by a principle. He chose to live in the Diaspora. For those on the outside, there is no criticism of Israel.
That line of thinking attracted the great Jewish scholar, Noam Chomsky. In author correspondence with Chomsky, dating to 2008, he identified Wiesel’s “grotesque stands.” They included: chauvinism, “servility to power,” his “unwillingness to take even private steps to mitigate what he concedes to be genocide.”
Perhaps the worst condemnation, though, came from another Jewish scholar, the political scientist and provocateur Norman Finkelstein. In Finkelstein’s worldview, according to his work, The Holocaust Industry, the Holocaust has been used as publicity to shame those who argue against Israeli policy in Palestine. Finkelstein took dead aim at Wiesel, naming him as the “official interpreter” of the Holocaust, and calling that interpretation, a “performance.”
But O’Connell and McGowan went further afield on Wiesel. From Deir Yassin, they went to gas chambers. Both O’Connell and McGowan argued that Wiesel’s mother and youngest sister died of typhus at Auschwitz, not in the gas chambers. Both men pointed to documents to support that claim. O’Connell claimed to have seen the documents, or death certificates, years ago.
“All the records relative to Wiesel’s family are alive and well and are now in the USA…,” O’Connell wrote to me in email correspondence in 2009. “The Holocaust fundamentalists made sure they [the records] went to the holocaust museum in DC and not to the National Archives, where they should be. For this simple reason, access is blocked, especially to ‘deniers’ like myself.”
Note O’Connell’s punctuation, capitalizing National Archives but not the Holocaust Museum. Note his quotations around the word deniers. Those choices really made my skin crawl, as did his salutation in email correspondence. “Dear Friend,” he wrote.
Notably, O’Connell couldn’t have been more wrong on nearly all accounts. He was right in the flow of documents. There was, and remains, an archive in Germany called the International Tracing Service (ITS). ITS came about during the war, as a registry for missing persons. Following the war, ITS became the repository for all documentation on Nazi persecution. It was only open to the public in 2007. Previously, only survivors and scholars had access.
ITS records did go to the Holocaust Museum in D.C, where they should have gone. The Holocaust Museum does not restrict access. That is an ugly canard. I walked in off the street and gained total access. The administrators didn’t even ask for identification, so I could have been O’Connell or any “‘denier,’” for all they knew.
Typhus was a common term, scrawled by registrars on death certificates at Auschwitz. Typhus ran rampant at Auschwitz, incessantly, and certainly killed many prisoners. But typhus was a cover for the gas chambers. Or, does anyone really believe that the Germans were going to write “Killed in Gas Chambers” on death certificates? They were trying to hide their mission.
Wiesel’s Auschwitz documents are fascinating, by the way, but the reader will have to wait for the publication of GAEW. I will give just a small morsel. There is a major bureaucratic mistake in his father’s record. At that time, his father even crossed out the mistake. In his own handwriting, he offered a correction.
Not surprisingly, O’Connell and McGowan missed the wider story. Deniers are not interested in facts. They are rooted to garbage, like twisting the spelling of Wiesel to Weasel, to terms like “Holocaust fundamentalists,” to accusations like “Con man Wiesel,” as O’Connell wrote to me.
I will say this about corresponding with Holocaust deniers. It leaves you feeling greasy. It leaves you with dreams of dread.
THE DREAMWORK: AN AFTERLIFE
Days after the dream, a thick aurora remains and I feel seized by a general state of agitation. Becoming Carolyn Yeager’s bestie will do that to you. I experience a panic attack with a unique causality. Literature, my own project, has mired my mind in alarm.
As a doctor’s son, I first turn to medication. I nearly call my physician for a prescription of Xanax. But doctors being doctors these days, she won’t offer the prescription. Instead, she’ll refer me to a specialist. That therapist will embark on a program of talk therapy known as cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. CBT sounds like a lot of work just to get a few pills.
The acronym launches another treatment form. CBD. But then, maybe cannabis causes as much anxiety as the original diagnosis? I turn to yet another treatment option. Flight. I decide to go into hiding.
I have done this before. Or, to put it more accurately, I have imagined my run. Let’s track back to some earlier work. In 2019, I published a faux history called Satan’s Synagogue. On those pages I imagined the blowback coming from the publication of GAEW. That plot sent one reviewer reeling. According to the San Francisco Book Review, the reviewer did an “internet search” on GAEW. She concluded that “this text apparently does not exist.”
The text exists. At that time, only on my computer. Soon, available at bookstores everywhere.
Satan’s Synagogue became a prequel-sequel. Prequel because I published the book before GAEW. Sequel because there wouldn’t be a Satan’s Synagogue without The Gospel According to Elie Wiesel.
Digging deeper into Satan’s Synagogue, the blowback coming from the publication of GAEW included the strident reaction of Jewish groups. One particular reaction, coming from Zealots known as the Sicarii, made me run. The Sicarii put out a hit. I went into hiding. I chose to hide in plain site. I flew to Jerusalem.
How did this militant Jewish organization, the modern-day Sicarii, find its name? Historically speaking, the Sicarii are difficult to define. There are no references to the Sicarii in the Torah or the wider Tanakh. They show up in scant form in the Talmud. Notably, they do make an appearance in the New Testament, in Acts of the Apostles, but that reference seems interpolated to conform to the historical record. In fact, history knows of the Sicarii, almost exclusively, from the most important historian of the 1st century, C.E. His name was Josephus, and as I traced in Satan’s Synagogue, he was a direct ancestor of mine. That’s a true genealogical fact. Amazingly, I can pinpoint my lineage back some two millennia, back, in fact, to the Roman Republic. I am a JDD. A Josephus Direct Descendant.
According to Josephus in his 20-volume history entitled Antiquitates Judaicae, published in and around the year 94 C.E., there was a Roman procurator named Felix. Felix ruled during the growing crisis that would become the Jewish revolt against Rome, and Josephus noted the political climate in Judea as “going from bad to worse.”
Josephus then turned to the high priest of the Temple, Jonathan. Growing weary of the tension, Jonathan “continually urged” Felix to “improve his administration.” Felix finally reacted, just not in the way that Jonathan had counseled. He “hired sicarii,” Josephus narrated, “to murder” the high priest. Josephus identified the Sicarii as “dagger-men.”
Sica means dagger in Latin and this group concealed weapons in their garments. As the attack on Jonathan went unpunished, Josephus continued, the Sicarii learned a valuable lesson. They could conspire without consequence. Josephus’s phraseology spoke suggestively. The Sicarii learned that they could “boldly attack their enemies… even in the temple area.”
Flash-forward to 2018. In my imaginative faux history, the modern-day Sicarii attacked me “in the temple area.” Of course the temple area of the 21st century looks fundamentally different than the temple area of the 1st century, C.E. In our era there’s no room to run, other than to run into a wall. The wall.
In the 1st century, C.E, nobody would have even noticed that wall. It merely formed a boundary. Today, it’s the most treasured wall worldwide. Odd.
Flash-forward to 2022. The dream of the deniers places me on the same precipice. Nervous about the release of GAEW, I go through a similar process. Xanax – CBT – CBD – running/hiding. Coincidentally, an advertisement from the web-magazine, Thrillist, arrives in my email inbox during the aurora of my dream. The advert lists “the best mountain towns to visit in America.”
For some reasons, hiding out at high altitude sounds better than the most famous plateau in the Judaean Hills.
Surveying the first options in Thrillist – Taos, Lake Placid, Bend, Burlingame – doesn’t strike me in any convincing fashion. In fact, if I’m after altitude, Jerusalem offers a higher elevation than Burlingame. By thousands of feet. Jerusalem is beyond Lake Placid.
Escape into high altitude brings a sheer reminder of the Holocaust to mind: Marseilles 1940. If flight Jews could use the Varian Fry route to escape over the Pyrenees, cresting at 11,000 feet, then I, too, could find a high mountain town for my break away. Who would want to chase me in Leadville? You can’t breathe in Leadville.
Leadville, it should be noted, is not listed as an option in the survey. But I don’t want to give too much more away. I might need a neo-Varian Fry route in a few months time.
Escape comes with an asterisk. There’s a financial component. I am reminded of some research conducted during the writing of GAEW. Could the Jews of Sighet, Wiesel’s hometown in Northern Transylvania, have escaped the Final Solution had they fled into the nearby Carpathian Mountains?
One of Sighet’s most brilliant sons, David Halivni, argued against that course of action. “You can only do it if you have means,” he replied during an author interview. “We had no means. No money, no language, we couldn’t hide, we had no non-Jewish acquaintances.”
The Halivnis were trapped. Their poverty severely limited their options. The Wiesels, on the other hand, had options. But let’s save that story for GAEW. Let’s just note the regret that remains for those who might have had the option but chose disregard. Regret turning to guilt turning to self-loathing. That’s the Wiesel psyche in a nutshell. A psychache of longing.
The question hits me. How will I fund my flight? I can’t, for instance, go to the Jewish Federation for sponsorship, or Hillel, or even more ironically, the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. I have to think subversively.
Coincidentally, another advertisement lands in my email mailbox during the aurora of my dream. This one from Caesar’s Sportsbook. And a crazy idea introduces itself. Notably, my thoughts turn to Israel, a sort of aping of the plot in Satan’s Synagogue. I guess there’s a pattern there. Always facing east.
With Israel in mind, let’s jump back to the 11th century, B.C.E. The actual date has been lost. But since our man, David, was conventionally born around 1040, B.C.E., and since our story takes place in his youth, let’s put up a hard date. The springtime of 1020.
If that date comes with the asterisk of estimation, the place seems to be commonly agreed upon: the Valley of Elah. Modern-day archeology has identified this valley as just west of Jerusalem. At that time, the 11th century, B.C.E., the Philistines ruled and Philistinian geography revolved around a pentapolis. Of those important five towns, three resided on the coast (Ashdod, Ashkelon and Gaza), and two resided inland. Gath, according to modern-day archeology, existed in the Elah Valley. Residents of Gath were known as Goliaths.
With that buzzword in mind, let’s move to the pre-fight scene between David and Goliath. The narrative in the Book of Samuel indicates that Saul, Israel’s first king, had a talk with young David. Goliath, at that point in the great war between the Philistines and the Israelites, had slain countless warriors in single combat. David volunteered to fight next, and Saul offered the young warrior his personal armor. The armor of a king. An armor equivalent to what Goliath wore.
David declined. According to the Book of Samuel, David took his staff, a sling and five stones from the nearby stream into battle. Notably, the authors of Samuel do not report on Saul’s reaction to the armor refusal. Nor do they report on Saul’s reaction to David’s battle weapons. That leads to some speculation. But, I suppose I have some of Saul’s reaction in mind when the crazy idea for funding my escape hits me. Pure fantasy. Not even hope. Lunacy.
Let me explain the crazy idea further. I follow European soccer, or football as it’s rightfully called. Every season, European soccer holds a nearly year-long tournament to decide the best side. Teams from all over the European leagues qualify for the tournament. They begin with pool play, each team guaranteed six games, and advance from there. The big clubs always win. Real Madrid has won 14 European championships. Bayern Munich has won 6. Same with Liverpool.
But what if a peripheral team won? Or better yet, what if an extreme peripheral team won, a David-like neophyte, with just a staff, a sling, and five shiny stones? What if I bet on that David-like team now, while the tournament is in its infancy? Wouldn’t the profits bankroll my escape?
Again, as noted earlier, I turn toward Israel. There’s a little-known team on the northern coast, not so far from the Lebanese border, called Maccabi Haifa. How the side qualified for a soccer tournament in Europe is a story all to itself. The geography doesn’t quite line up. Haifa is not in Europe. Maybe the New York Red Bulls could qualify?
In August of 2022, with GAEW just weeks away from publication, tournament organizers held a schedule-release party. In Abu Dhabi, by the way. Again, the geography doesn’t quite line up. Abu Dhabi is much closer to the Elah Valley than to the European hinterland.
Following the schedule-release party, Caesar’s Sportsbook listed Haifa at +100,000. Here’s how this works. Put $1 down on Haifa and if by some outrageous miracle, David vs. Goliath style, Haifa wins the tournament, the sportsbook would pay out $1,000, plus the original dollar bet. Put down $100, and that win blossoms to $100,000, plus the original $100. Put down $1,000, and that win blossoms to a million.
Let me interrupt my story to offer a word of clarification. I can imagine the blowback coming in on social media. Not only have I incited Holocaust deniers with my research in GAEW, but I’ve proven my degenerate ways with such gambling folly.
Here’s my reaction. A prequel-sequel, so to speak. Prequel because I’m anticipating this series of events. Sequel because I still need some way to finance my escape.
I am not a gambler. I am a bettor. There’s a difference. A gambler has some addictive qualities. A gambler needs the rush of winning, and the possibility of losing. That’s what drives the gambler. That strange alchemy, that very fine line, between euphoria and crash and burn.
A bettor just wants to have fun, and make a few bucks.
Let’s jump back to the spring of 1020, B.C.E., again. Here’s what we know. Goliath was on a serious winning streak. According to the Book of Samuel, he had defeated an Israelite, to the death, every day, twice a day, for some 40 days. It’s sort of a staggering statistic. Let me emphasize. During the great war between the Philistines and the Israelites in the Elah Valley, Goliath had taken the time out to challenge, and slay, Israel’s best warriors.
The question arises. Why would Israel risk their best warriors to the unbeatable foe? I mean, after a few days, wouldn’t it become clear that Goliath’s challenge should go unmet?
The authors of Samuel never seemed to ponder the question. Or, if they did, they offered no details. But let’s be real about the authors of Samuel. They were unimaginative. First off, they didn’t even bother with a proper name for the Philistine’s great warrior. David got due credit. Why didn’t Goliath get a naming?
Second, they went plagiaristic. Yes, you read that right. They basically lifted the David vs. Goliath story from Homer’s Iliad, written maybe two centuries before. Here’s what we can say about the authors of Samuel. They could read Homeric Greek. I suppose the vast majority of Israelites could not.
But, like I said, the authors of Samuel were unimaginative. According to the source material, Goliath stood nearly seven feet tall. The tallest Israelite, Saul, stood six feet tall. Further, according to the Book of Samuel, Saul stood a head taller than his people. His height, it seems, made him fit to be leader. But the point is: Goliath should have been whipping up on his opponents.
Why did the authors of Samuel include the height proportions? The reason seems clear. Saul should have been the one to fight Goliath. The whole story hinges on Saul’s reluctance. David doesn’t come of age if there’s not an unfit Saul.
We all know how the story plays out. We refer to Goliath today, and we use Philistine as a word for uncultured or unenlightened, only because the winning side, the Israelites, win the war. David becomes king.
Let’s spin the David and Goliath story forward some 3,000 years. I place my bet on Haifa. I then act as Saul might have, had he not fallen on his sword to avoid a hostage situation and, somehow, lived into the modern era. I turn on a streaming service to watch Haifa play its first match of the tournament.
How this story ends is not known at this time. Maybe the authors of Samuel should have taken a hint from this future writer? They killed off Saul in some derivative shtick. The biography of Saul needs a radical rethink. But that’s a story for another profile.