Who Is Saul?

The NC Museum of Art's recent acquisition of the masterwork sculpture of King Saul Under the Influence of the Evil Spirit has inspired many a museum-goer to wonder, "Who is King Saul?" The first Hebrew king, his story is in the Old Testament book of 1st Samuel. We talked with Religious Studies professor Carol L. Meyers to learn more.

AIRED: March 26, 2020 | 0:03:13

- [John] The subject is Saul, the first Hebrew king

whose story is told in the Book of Samuel in the Bible.

Saul is virtually unique in Story's work

in that it's a depiction of the internal turmoil of a man.

And it's an interesting subject for an artist to select

because Saul is not a major figure in European art.

- Saul is a tragic character

and heroic character at the same time.

The Bible calls him taller by a foot maybe at least

and more handsome than anyone else.

And that and some of his military exploits

make him a natural leader.

He stands out literally above the crowd

in what he looks like and what he can do.

The story is part of a long set of narratives

in the second half of 1 Samuel

which we have to look at as a literary composition

rather than a straightforward history.

First of all, the verse that introduces this concept,

the beginning of the verse just says that the spirit

of the Lord came upon him, it doesn't say evil.

So by the end of that verse the editor,

the redactor has entered evil because it's part

of the overall scheme of the literary production

to show that Saul is no longer the charismatic leader

that he was at the beginning of the story.

- It was a very interesting topic for not just Story

but also one of his best friends,

the poet Robert Browning

who wrote a dramatic monologue on Saul.

The depiction of Saul in the midst of his madness,

the story he came up with is probably a mixture

of the account in the Bible and also from Browning's own

reimagining of the story.

In the poem David is sent into the tent to calm the king.

All the courtiers are terrified to even go into the tent.

They send the boy David in with his harp.

David goes into the tent not sure

if he's going to come out of it alive.

In a sense we are put in the position of David

confronting the king who is not just on his throne

but elevated on this base.

In the same way David is confronting a terrible presence

and unsure what is going to happen

we also have the same ambivalence

as to what our relationship with this figure is.

[soft violin music]


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