The Invention of Monotheist Ethics, Volume I: Exploring the First Book of Samuel
But the wicked will be put to silence in darkness; For not by power shall man prevail. Samuel 2:2
The Invention of Monotheist Ethics, Volume I is the first in a two-volume series exploring the Book of Samuel and its significant role in the evolution from a largely pagan society to a monotheistic one. The book is especially geared towards readers who are new to studying the Bible.
Why study the Book of Samuel, and not start at the beginning, in Genesis? First, Millgram argues, it is a highly accessible biblical text. Samuel’s characters are dynamic and deal with matters very similar to our own. Furthermore, states Millgram, the characters are in constant activity, “there is rarely a dull moment.”
Second, the book is diverse in contents, characters, and issues. It is one of the only books in the Bible with several prominent female characters. The very first character we are introduced to is Hannah. At the beginning of the narrative Hannah is childless, and miserable because of it. One night in act of desperation Hannah prays, promising God that if he blesses her with a child she will dedicate the life of the child to him. Hannah gives birth to Samuel shortly after and eventually becomes the mother of six children.
Despite accessibility and diversity, readers may be most interested in Millgram’s most provocative argument; he is convinced that the Book of Samuel was written by a woman. One clue is that women’s roles in the book are not circumstantial (such as being mentioned only as the wife of a male character) but essential to the moral messages of the book. While the historical aspects of the narrative may not be damaged by removing the female characters, the book’s meaning, its moral components, require the presence of the female players.
To give further credit to his argument, Millgram provides details on the daily lives of women in ancient Israel and debunks certain misnomers, such as the belief that most women in ancient Israel were illiterate. The formation of Israel in fact coincided with the adaptation of the alphabet script, and it is not at all unlikely that more women were involved in writing the Bible than believed.
Throughout the book Millgram takes it for granted that the author of Samuel was written by a woman, an approach that is unique and noticeable to those who have previously studied the Bible. Given the manner that Bible stories permeate American society, such an approach can have an enormous positive impact on the psyche of American women, Christian or otherwise.
My favorite story from Volume One was the David and Goliath narrative. Because the story is largely seen as mythical, it is compelling to have the facts of the story articulated, including insights into the consciousness of David and the other main players.
While the book does in fact make the Book of Samuel more accessible to readers, there are long sections dealing with the politics and wars of ancient Israel that are dense and less accessible than other portions of the book. The Invention of Monotheist Ethics is also printed in a format that is academic and unfriendly to the more lay reader.
Unfortunately the volume ends before the introduction of Bathsheba, one of the most memorable women of the Bible. Her story and the rest of King David’s reign are included in Volume Two. However the book is a wonderful introduction to the Bible and a great source for those looking for an unorthodox approach to the book.