Gilded Serpent presents..
Michal Despises David
by James Tissot
Biblical Accounts of Belly Dance in the
Ancient Near East
only person accused of dancing lewdly in the Bible is not a woman,
but a man. King David's first wife Michal accused
him of prancing around half-naked in front of a bunch of slave girls.
David responded by saying he was not sorry and that he'd do it again
if he had the chance.
Bible accuses no female dancer, not even Salome in
the New Testament, of being slutty for dancing.
to the Hebrew scriptures, female belly dancers were reputable
21:21; Jeremiah 31:13), even in light of the fact they often specifically
belly danced for men and publicly in religious festivals and parties
(Judges 21 and Song of Solomon 6:13). Hebrew belly dancers were among
the first recorded cheerleaders; they played frame drums, sang, and
belly danced for their men when they returned victorious from battle
(Exodus 15:20; 1 Samuel 18:6).
Only two potentially
anti-dance accounts exist in the Hebrew scriptures. In one case, Moses came
down from Mount Sinai and broke the stone tablets recording the Ten Commandments
after he saw the Hebrews dancing. But the problem was not with dancing
itself, but rather, the fact that the Hebrews danced before an idol,
rather than before Yahweh, who had just rescued them from slavery. The
second account involved prophets dancing before the Canaanite deity Baal (1
Kings 18:26). Again, the problem was not with dancing, but their object
The Adoration of the Gilded Calf
by Nicolas Poussin
to King David, our half-naked dancer. Was Michal right in being angry
that her husband was entertaining the slave girls? King David did have
a real problem with women and fidelity, and he was, indeed,
a slut. Despite his favored status as a man after God's own heart, Yahweh had
a problem with the way he treated women and punished him for it.
by editor-"The word "ba`al" means simply "master" or "owner," and
is a title referring to many Gods in the Cannanite or Phoenician
lands." This artwork may be of Ashtartu, a Goddess associated
with Ba'al. more
on this particular day, David was not showing off to the ladies.
He was dancing before the Ark of the Covenant, home of the tablets
of the Ten Commandments, with which came the supernatural presence
of Yahweh. David was dancing for God.
probably was not really jealous of the slave girls. Rather, seeing
David's self-abandon before the Ark, she was jealous of her only
true rival. To a womanizer like David, no woman would ever mean enough
to be a threat to her. Instead, Michal was jealous of her real competition
and the only person David was faithful to: God (Reis, page 51 ).
appears to take David's side of the spat in favor of dancing. Michal
is not really angry at David as much as she is at Yahweh, her own
Creator, with whom she, as a woman, shares the ability to give birth
(see Part I). As a result, she loses connection with Yahweh not just
spiritually, but physically, and is cursed; she never is able to
When David danced
before the Ark, recorded in both 2 Samuel 6 and 1 Chronicles 13 and
15, he was not belly dancing. Instead of the Hebrew word chol the
words for dancing here are krr and rqd. The word krr possibly
means a jump n'kick kind of dance, and possibly is related to the Ugaritic
word krkr, meaning to twiddle one's fingers. The word rqd possibly
goes back to an Akkadian word for dance, also rqd. I believe rqd may
be the parent of the modern Arabic word for dance raqs often rendered
in English as "raks."
David dancing in front of the ark - James Tissot
scholars have suggested that David was engaging in a formal ritualistic
Near Eastern dance, and that he was acting as a priest before the
Ark (King and Stager, page 299). But this is unlikely for two reasons.
First, David as king was forbidden from acting as a priest; Israelite
political and religious offices were seperated. Yahweh punished Israelite
kings who violated this rule, but David never overstepped his place
unlike some others. Second, during his argument with Michal,
describes his own dancing as schq - the Hebrew word
for goofing off, playing or fooling around.
probably ripped his clothes off not because he was showing off his
pecs and fab abs chiseled from battle; he probably got really hot
jumping around, and his formal royal robes weren't comfortable. David
had exhibited once before that formalwear got in his way; as a boy
he refused to put on armor when fighting Goliath because it was too
is the Bible's most famous composer. He played the harp, an easily
portable instrument that could travel well during his earliest career
as a shepherd, through his days hiding in the Negev desert from his
enemies, through his military campaigns. David was unlike other political
leaders who thought they were artists, such as the Roman Emperor Nero,
who also liked to play his harp.
Nero had no talent and threatened to kill anyone who insulted
his musical ability. David apparently had some real talent.
He could even battle demons musically (1 Samuel 16:23) and
his compositions were so good they were recorded in Psalms.
So, with David's love
of music and dance, would it really be such a surprise that David depicted
Yahweh himself as belly dancing? In Psalm 29, David writes a song about
God's power in a storm moving up the Mediterranean coast from Israel
to Lebanon, shaking the mountains and breaking cedar trees. I believe
this psalm is a play on words and
that David rendered Yahweh as a belly-dancing frame drummer shaking the
Mediterranean coast with his moves.
The Songs of Joy - James Tissot
word to "shake" in this psalm is chol, our word for belly
dance. The word for thunder amidst this storm is qol, which
also can mean voice. In the Hebrew scriptures God's voice often comes
like thunder. Qol also can refer to the blast of a shofar,
or a ram's horn. So a precedent exists for the word to refer to the
sound of a musical instrument, and Yahweh's thunder could have a
percussive sound effect.
the storm moves up the seacoast, Yahweh "belly dances" and "drums" via
the forces of nature.
ancient Israel, women were the percussionists. Belly dancers often
played the frame drum and castanets made of bone or wood; as metal
work became more widespread finger cymbals replaced castanets.
of ancient Canaan also wore hip belts with such adornments
as fox teeth or mussel shells possibly meant to produce a jingling
sounds while dancing (Braun pages 51-53). For those interested
in the debate as to whether "zills" is a proper word for finger
cymbals, the ancient Hebrew word for finger cymbal happens
to be "zilzlim."
on this theory about Psalm 29, the word chol and its related
forms seem to function quite like the term "rock 'n roll" does in
American culture. In both cases the term is a sexual one made to
fit a musical style. And "rock" just like chol not only functions
as a noun in modern English, but also as a verb. Hence, Bon
Jovi sings "I've seen a million faces, and I've rocked them
all" and Queen insists that "We will, we will rock
Bon Jovi and Queen, by their own rocking 'n rolling, intend to rock
you, too. In Psalm 29, Yahweh "rocks" and the world rocks with him.
Hebrew scriptures make something else clear about belly dancers:
It was completely appropriate for Hebrew women to belly dance for
their fathers or other male relatives, with no incestuous innuendoes
In Judges 11, Jephthah's
daughter comes out belly dancing for her father, who has just
returned victorious from battle. The crux of the story is that Jephthah
had made an oath that he would give up to Yahweh the first person who
came out the door of his house.
by Jacob Holgers
just never expected that person to be his daughter.
English translations and commentaries indicate that Jephthah intended
to make a human sacrifice to God, and that his poor daughter ended
up being the victim. But human sacrifice was forbidden in Israel,
and Jephthah was a smart man who would know this. Also, Jephthah's
daughter knew of his oath when she willingly came out the door.
likely, Jephthah had made an oath to Yahweh that he would free the
first slave who came out his door as a thank-you for his military
victory, not that he would kill anyone.
daughter beat the slaves to it because she knew if her father
gave her up to God, she would not have to marry and would become
an autonomous woman.
The girl and her friends
then went off to dance and celebrate, not mourn, as the text usually
is rendered (Reis page 105-130).
Miriam's Song of Praise & Thanksgiving
by Jennie Wylie
small point about Jephthah's daughter worth noting for backing up
the theory that chol means "belly dance."
Bible states that the girl "came out the door dancing." Most often,
scholars state that chol is some kind of group circle dance.
But, Jephthah's daughter is dancing alone, and she's able to do it
walking in a straight line in a restricted space - through a doorway!
Hence chol cannot be just a circle dance. But, as any modern
belly dancer knows, you can walk in a straight line and shimmy at
the same time.
Part III, we will look at the implications the story of Jephthah's
daughter has for Salome, and at dance in general in the New Testament.
Stuttgartensia (Hebrew scriptures)
Novum Testamentum Graece 26th edition (Greek Scriptures)
Society Greek New Testament, fourth edition
Stuttgart Septuaginta (The ancient Jewish translation of the Old
Testament translated from Hebrew to ancient Greek)
Publisher's New Inductive Study Bible, New American Standard Bible
updated edition (the NASB is the most accurate English translation
of the Hebrew and Greek texts available today.)
Lines: A Fresh Look at the Hebrew Bible by Pamela Tamarkin Reis;
Hendrickson Publishers; 2002.
Life in Biblical
Israel by Philip J. King and Lawrence E. Stager; Westminster
John Knox Press; 2001.
Music in Ancient
Israel and Palestine by Joachim Braun; William B. Eerdmans Publishing
a comment? Send us
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