Monkish Knights and the Bible’s Boba Fett

Classes went much better today.  The pace was still more hurried than I prefer, but we actually got into some substantive discussion rather than the flyover survey I gave last Thursday.

Before I proceed, I have to confess to my students (if they’re reading) and to my readers (if they’re not students) that I assigned too much text for this unit.  I wanted to experiment with some crossovers between Arthur and David, and the connections are there, but trying to do it all in five class meetings is just too much.  This fertile crossover deserves its own class, perhaps with Shakespeare’s All’s Well that Ends Well for its drama component (for its connection with Fisher King motifs and its use of an Arthurian bed-trick pregnancy) and a more robust unit on Psalms for its short verse component.  But trying to shove this giant cross-over into my little David unit was a mistake.

That aside, we did get to talk about Joab, one of my favorite characters from the David narratives, today.  I said he’s like Darth Vader in class, but Vader has too much baggage.  Joab is more like Boba Fett, the operative who gets things done and doesn’t bog down in long speeches.  When David needs someone murdered, Joab is his go-to guy.  When David needs someone murdered but needs to disassociate himself from the act immediately afterwards, Joab is it.  When David needs someone murdered but doesn’t know that he needs someone murdered, Joab does it anyway.

Of course, for Thursday we’re going to read what happens when Joab doesn’t have a David to kill for, namely that he backs the wrong horse in the Solomonic succession war and ends up dead on David’s request and Solomon’s orders.  But somehow that seems fitting for one of the Bible’s original gangsters.  (Notice that I did write the “er” there.)

In our other text, we ran into Malory’s Galahad.  In the excerpt that Vinaver’s King Arthur & His Knights offers, Galahad never fights anyone, yet he, not his tail-kicking father Lancelot, is the worthiest of knights who completes the Grail-Quest.  Moreover, his quest is not a dragon-slaying romp but a highly stylized vision modeled after the Mass.  Both of those realities somewhat disconcerted my students, and we had a good conversation about Malory’s very sophisticated critique of some chivalric traditions and his repeated turn to the monastery when knighthood breaks down.

In all, I don’t regret teaching either of these texts, but if I find myself teaching them again, no doubt I will check my ambition when I start packing texts into the syllabus.

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