Herodotus and Samuel Old Testament Term Paper

Pages: 4 (1639 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Drama - World

Herodotus Sam

Views of kingship, visions of prophesy, versions of democracy: The Greek and Hebraic -- the Old Testament vision of Samuel vs. The father of history Herodotus' Histories

Herodotus, the Greek "Father of History," provides a secular rather than a sacred interpretation of why historical events transpire, over the course of the historical events leading to and during the Persian Wars. This point-of-view may be contrasted to the moral gloss of provided the author of the Hebraic book of Samuel. In the Hebrew Bible God's prophecy is conveyed to the alleged author, the prophet himself. God's words seem both to foresee and foreshadow what will occur, as well as to convey a predestined cast to the events that transpire, given the Israeli people's demand for a king. But both Herodotus and Samuel believe that history does not evolve randomly, nor does it evolve as a web of amoral and mutually interactive social, political, and economic forces, as a modern historian might.

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Neither author endorses conventional and autocratic kingship. But for Samuel, historical events evolve out of 'stories' and out of a narrative overly imposed by the moral views of the narrator. Herodotus has a moral slant, which he sees as manifest in the natural, lived texture of human existence and the demands for democracy in the human condition, and specifically in the Greek as opposed to the barbarian heart. But he does not locate this moral slant as part of a prophetic, preordained divine order. In contrast, Samuel attributes the fabric of the narrative of story of kingship over the course the whole history of Israel to the morality of the one true God, as revealed in the words of the prophets, and the failings of the people of Israel to heed that God's call not to have a king.

Term Paper on Herodotus and Samuel Old Testament Assignment

In his tales of the battle of Marathon, Herotodus always sees the morality of history as rooted in the superior system of democratic governance of the Greeks, as opposed to the Persians, rather than the gods of either of these peoples. Herodotus does suggest that through prophesy, the direction of history can be possibly suggested, even divined, but this is because of the secular moral failings of the Greek's enemies, not because the Persians are less moral individuals. Herodotus' moral views in a secular political context are evidenced in his book "The Campaign of Xerxes." The most famous aspect of the Persian campaign is Herodotus' allegation that the Persian leaders dug trenches behind the fighting men, so as to prevent them from saving their individual lives. This anecdote is meant to show how although the Greeks fought willingly to the death to spare their own territories and to win glory for a cause and land they believed in, while the Persian warriors were coerced into war.

Xerxes, unlike the pluralistic makeup of the Greek leadership of nations, is shown to be a tyrant and a madman, much like Samuel's Saul during his declining years. Only Xerxes persecutes soldiers as well as citizens, during a war, away from their own native land. When Xerxes is on his campaign, he decides to dig a canal, and this "was because of excessive great-mindedness that Xerxes ordered the canal dug," (great-mindedness meaning a power-hungry mentality) "wishing to show his power and leave monuments. For although it would have been possible, by taking no great labor, to drag the ships across the isthmus, he commanded them to dig a channel for the sea wide enough for two triremes, side by side, to be rowed." When this proved futile, because of a storm, "Xerxes learned this, terribly angry he commanded that the Hellespont be struck 300 blows with a whip and that into the sea go a pair of fetters; now too I have heard that he sent branders along with the others to brand the Hellespont. And he commanded the floggers to speak words both appropriate to barbaroi and also arrogant: 'O bitter water, the master punishes you thus, because you wronged him when you had suffered no wrong from him. And king Xerxes will step across you whether you for your part wish it or not; and it is rightly that no one of men sacrifices to you, for you are a fouled and briny river.' Indeed, he commanded that in these ways they punish the sea, and also, concerning the overseers of the bridge across the Hellespont, he commanded that they cut off their heads.... (7.24-7.34) Xerxes administers justice not only against his people in a vicious and barbaric way -- he is so foolish as to think, Herodotus suggests, that he can command the wild and impersonal sea itself. Xerxes does not care, as a leader, how he appears before his men. Even the Israelis see Saul's behavior as mad, but Xerxes governs naturally in an arbitrary way, based on his own whims and wills rather than strategic intelligence, and pays the price in his men's loyalty as well as in the whims of the water, when they go against his desires.

Thus, much like Saul, Xerxes is cruel, and inflicts his cruelty upon those who would go against his will. Like Saul, also, there are prophets in the 'court' or camp of the Persian.

Later, in response to a question from Xerxes] "Artabanos answered, saying, 'O king, it is not your army that any man with sound judgment would fault, nor your ships' multitude; but if you gather even more, the two things which I speak of will become even more your enemies. These two things are the land and the sea. For the sea has no such harbor, anywhere, as I myself judge, which could receive you if you are driven by a storm.... And I say that the more land [you advance through] -- and the more time that elapses -- the more it will beget famine...." (7.49)

This Persian prophet, however, unlike the prophets of Samuel, quake in fear before the leadership of the king, because he has been reared to do so. Rather than preordained madness, to blame the sea and to blame fate in a mad way is expected of kings, Herodotus suggests, it is 'natural' to an autocratic society like the barbarian Persia. The Persians are barbaroi, or barbarians, of strange customs, according to Herodotus because of their unfair and tyrannical system of governance, not because it is prophesized Xerxes will go mad and lose. Even though Herodotus occasionally goes out of his way to compliment alien people whom he approves of, such as the Egyptians of book 2 of his Histories, ultimately he sees the Greeks as right in their system, and setting the standards for all civilized peoples of the world, against which all are deviations. The Egyptians are commended for their excessive religiosity, for example, but the Greeks are not encouraged to emulate it. Prophesy thus provides dramatic reinforcement in the Histories, but it can be wrong, and often merely underlines what is already evident to the reader, namely that the Persians have a poor government and military strategy.

Prophecy, in contrast, in Samuel, shows the continuing hand of God in all of his Chosen People's affairs. Samuel talks directly with God, rather than recording events second hand, from 'hearsay' (hence the word history) as does Herodotus, the discipline of history's father. However, Samuel, like Herodotus, takes an equally if not more dim view of earthy kingship: "But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD. And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. And the LORD said unto… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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