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The Michal Affair: From Zimri-Lim to the Rabbis
Daniel Bodi
Publication Date
July 2005


This fresh approach to the story of Michal, daughter of Saul and wife of David, juxtaposes three quite different interpretative methods: narratological, historical, and history of traditions. In his first chapter Bodi offers a subtle political reading of the Michal story, bringing to the fore the power struggle between Saul and David that forms its main intrigue. Michal’s personal tragedy foreshadows that of the Israelite monarchy and prefigures its end. It is a unique phenomenon in ancient Near Eastern literature that the story of a woman should serve as a means of criticizing the abuses of the monarchy and deconstructing the royal ideology.

The second chapter compares the daughters of Saul and the daughters of Zimri-Lim. This eighteenth-century B.C.E. tribal king of Mari offered his two daughters Kirum and Shimatum to the same vassal in order to be able to spy on him. Saul seems to have done something similar with his daughters Merab and Michal, both offered to David. The unhappy marriage of Kirum ended in divorce. Although the announcement of the divorce was made by her husband in a public ceremony, it was prompted by the royal princess—the first example of a divorce initiated by a woman in ancient Near Eastern texts.

The third chapter explores a rich variety of rabbinic interpretations of key moments in the Michal story. Important and often little known observations are drawn from both the Talmuds and from midrashic works such as Abrabanel and anthologies such as Midrash Rabbah, Yalqut Shimoni, Meam Loez and Malbim, together with the comments by Rashi and Qimhi.

Both the narratological investigation and the rabbinic interpretations point to David’s guilt during his dance in front of the ark. The rabbis indeed attributed the exile of the nation to David’s misdeeds. A careful reading of the biblical texts dealing with the figure of David in his relationship with his first wife Michal reaches the same conclusion: He is not exactly the man he pretends to be.

Dr. Daniel Bodi is Associate Professor, Paris School of Oriental Studies (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales [INALCO]).

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