July 8, 2012
Second Samuel 5: 1-5, 9-10
David, ruling the southern Jewish state, Judah, is approached by all Jewish leaders and made king over all Israel. He then captures Jerusalem, the last stronghold of the Canaanites (the Jebusites who occupied Jerusalem were Canaanites). Though fortified, Jerusalem could hardly have been any larger than a village. David built a fort on the promontory south of the village, three sides of which are cliffs falling into deep ravines. The Jebusites had called it Zion. The soldiers renamed it the City of David (the word “city” originally meant “fort.”) He brought the holy Arc to the fort, and later his allies built him a palace there. I have walked all around this promontory and looked over its cliffs, and I saw that there was no room for anything but a very small palace. He built up the ridge linking the City of David and the village of Jerusalem with earth (the millo). Eventually, after many battles, many internal struggles, many sins, David purchased the threshing floor on the edge of the village of Jerusalem belonging to the deposed ruler of the Jubusites, Araunah. He built an altar on the threshing floor, the site upon which in time David’s son Solomon would build the Temple (24:18-25). In innumerable songs, hymns, poems, and theological works, “Jerusalem,” “Zion,” and “City of David” are symbols of heaven or peace or divine order. It’s wonderful how flexible a good symbol can be.
Second Corinthians 12:2-10
Paul has had a mystical experience of great joy. He describes himself obliquely as a man caught up to the third heaven. He does not know whether he went there in or out of the body, and he doesn’t seem to care. Who, after a vision of heaven, would care how it was given? As many Jews, Paul thinks of heaven as layered, an image borrowed from Zorasterism. The number of these layered heavens is uncertain, but God, it is always believed, exists in the highest.
Paul goes on to declare that God gave him a “thorn” in his side to keep him sober. No one today knows what he meant. Did he have a chronic illness? Or was he tormented by his own history as a young man who had persecuted Christians?
Arthur H. Cash is a historian and distinguished professor emeritus, State University of New York at New Paltz.