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Bible Belt Cinema

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For some reason there are subjects I take much more seriously now than before. Among what I refer to are biblical stories presented on screen. David and Bathsheba (1951) has always been a first-rate story, if you will, from several standpoints. Its re-enactment, starring Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward, is both dramatic and interesting. The setting is pre-Christian, theocratic Israel, recorded in 2 Samuel. It is easy enough to understand how this romantic liaison comes about. But its consequences are greatly nuanced. I noticed from IMDB that the film was directed by Henry King and written by Philip Dunne. These names are all very familiar to the film buff and scholar.

I am no theologian, that much for sure. But I find David's historical character intriguing. Somewhere down the pike, his reign will be challenged by Absalom, a rebellious son. David will be compelled to kill him, then mourn his death. King David is every bit the genuine leader, and yet he abuses the power invested in him. Nathan, the prophet, has no qualms about reminding David of his greater obligations beyond personal wants and needs. To complicate matters, Israel is fighting the Ammonites. Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, a Hittite, is recalled. David orders him to re-unite with his wife. Suddenly, I wish I had a degree in psychology to analyze what this is all about. I can make an educated guess, however. Uriah refuses. He feels obligated to not enjoy the comforts of hearth and home while his comrades-in-arms are in battle. David concludes otherwise. Uriah, he thinks, is not fit to be Bathsheba's husband. He deliberately sends him into danger, certain to perish.

There are different ways in which to see this film. The best is to simply set back, watch, and enjoy. I cannot help looking, however, around the edges and plunging into the story as though diving for pearls. Here in the bible belt one cannot overlook the Christian perspective. It is from the House of David that Jesus Christ, on the human side, will eventually emerge. As to what exactly that means, all I can safely say is that both David and Jesus share unique leadership qualities. But whereas David dealt with Nathan, a prophet, Jesus had to deal with Caiphas, a much more difficult sort of figure. Then again, of course, the differences between the two, David and his descendant, are also strikingly evident.

Not altogether, however. After David and Bathsheba's newborn dies, David does not grieve, according to the demands of Mosaic ritual. The passage can be read in the relevant scripture. He more or less explains that while the child was dying, he did as much grieving as possible. Now he will eat and drink and go about his business as usual. He says that the boy "will not return to me". Taking issue, as well as liberties, with the Law, will eventually call the ministry of Jesus into question. I am not religious by nature, but the religiosity all around me is contagious. The southwest has this quality, too. Call it bible belt fever.

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