Michal (fl. 1000 BCE)

views updated

Michal (fl. 1000 bce)

Biblical woman. Flourished about 1000 bce; youngest of two daughters of Saul (first king of the Jewish nation) and Ahinoam; sister ofMerab ; first wife of David (r. 1010–970 bce); no children.

Due to Yahweh's aid (which Saul knew he himself had lost), David became Saul's principal commander and won one campaign after the next. When Michal, younger daughter of Saul and Ahinoam , fell in love with David, Saul offered her in marriage. The Biblical passage (1 Samuel 18:20) which introduces Michal is the only place in the Hebrew Bible which specifies the love of a woman for a man. Instead of asking a bride-price for Michal, Saul asked David to give him the foreskins of 100 Philistines, anticipating that David would die in the attempt to kill his enemies and gather this grisly form of payment. But David killed 200 and, after counting out the foreskins at Saul's feet, took his bride.

Determined to be rid of David, Saul decided on assassination, but with the help of Michal and her brother Jonathan, David was able to escape to a succession of hiding places. Members of his family and other Israelites dissatisfied with Saul joined him where he lived as an outlaw at the Cave of Adullam. They formed the basis of the private army which was to serve David loyally throughout his future life and help to consolidate his power.

We never learn whether David loved Michal, or whether it was, for him, simply a marriage for political advancement. Later events suggest that she became madly jealous of actual and possible rivals. For example, David brought to Jerusalem the Ark of the Covenant, the central icon of the Israelites' religion, in an elaborate ritual procession. "David and the whole House of Israel danced before Yahweh with all their might, singing to the accompaniment of harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals" (2 Samuel 6:6). Michal criticized him for "making an exhibition of himself under the eyes of his servant-maids, making an exhibition of himself like a buffoon." Not at all, David reproached her; he had been dancing for Yahweh, "who chose me in preference to your father and his whole family, to make me leader of Israel" (2 Samuel 6:20). Michal endured lifelong infertility, though the narrative is ambiguous about whether she was childless simply because David would no longer sleep with her or because she was barren. David certainly had many other wives, in effect a harem, and much of his later reign was given over to squabbling and feuding among his many sons for preferment and succession.