“Heroes appear sporadically, but humanity remains terribly unheroic.” “Every picture has shadows; every suspenseful novel has chapters that look truly dark.” Judges Linking The Poisonwood Bible to the Bible Jeanette Cibelli & Darius Teng
Synopsis of the Book of Judges • Dark stories of the Bible • Israelites conquer Canaan but fail to rid the land of the natives • Israelites become corrupted by intermarriage & deity worship • God sends a series of judges to Canaan to revive their lost faith • Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson, & others • Judges temporarily alleviate corruption, but sin restarts after their deaths • Cycle of sin shows God’s undying faithfulness
Judges 2:18-19 ‘Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them. But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.’
“Then the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and worshipped the Baals; and they abandoned the Lord…they followed other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were all around them, and bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger.” “Then the Lord raised up judges, who delivered them out of the power of those who plundered them.” “But whenever a judge died, they would relapse and behave worse than their ancestors…”
What’s happening in Poisonwood? • Orleanna reveals Nathan’s past of war as explanation for his God-fearing demeanor • Daughters struggle with hunger, sickness, inequality, & gradual loss of faith in God and Nathan • Leah & Adah better understand Congolese culture • Appearance of Brother Fowles encourages Orleanna to act (though she does not yet rise up against Nathan) • The ants test the village’s (& particularly the Prices’) faith • Political struggle with Lumumba & the Republic of the Congo
Situational Parallels Poisonwood Israel = Western nations (USA, Belgium) conquer the Congo Do not rid land of Congolese & their customs Brother Fowles intermarries & learns to respect native customs, Leah begins to question her faith in her father and falls in love with Anatole, Adah becomes fascinated by the principles in understanding Lingala Bible • Israel conquers Canaan but does not defeat natives • Allows native, non-Christian culture to continue • Israelites accept the culture of the people; they succumb to intermarriage & deity worship of the land
“Corruption” of the Colonists “If his decision to keep us here in the Congo wasn’t right, then what else might he be wrong about? It has opened up in my heart a sickening world of doubts and possibilities, where before I had only faith in my father and love for the Lord.” (Kingsolver 224) - Leah “I’ve been here so long, I’ve come to love the people here and their ways of thinking.” (248) – Brother Fowles
Consequences of Sinning ‘And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel; and he said, Because that this people hath transgressed my covenant which I commanded their fathers, and have not hearkened unto my voice;I also will not henceforth drive out any from before them of the nations which Joshua left when he died: That through them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the Lord to walk therein, as their fathers did keep it, or not.’ Judges 2:20-22 “God works, as is very well known, in mysterious ways…He will send down so much rain that all his little people are drinking from one another’s sewers and dying of the kakakaka. Then he will organize a drought to scorch out the yam and manoic fields, so whomever did not die of fever will double over from hunger.” (217) - Adah
Situational Parallels Cont. Poisonwood Brother Fowles and Nathan (& possibly other unknown missionaries) go to save the Congo with Christianity Struggle with government of Congo they want to rule themselves Bible • God calls for judges • When a judge falls, foreign powers (not with Israelite interests) rule again constant struggle for God to rule
Contrasts Poisonwood Brother Fowles fails by intermarrying and respecting Congolese culture, Nathan fails by being too stubborn to accept Congolese culture – because of this he becomes blind to his faults “Watching my father, I have seen how you can’t learn anything when you’re trying to look like the smartest person in the room” (229) - Leah The death of Lumumba brings suffering to the Congolese “For now, the only honorable government work is the matter of bringing it down” (466) – Anatole through Leah Bible • Judges successfully guide Israelites back towards worshipping God • The death of corrupt kings or enemies brings peace to the land
Parallel Judges Poisonwood: Nathan Strong, temperamental, lustful, faithful “Nathan was made feverish by sex, and trembled afterward, praying aloud…” (198) Feels himself called to Congo Wasn’t necessarily chosen by God Does not respect native customs, so he angers the people No literal fighting, but he works to overpower the un-Christian population Orleanna betrays him when she leaves Takes away his strength Dies amongst the foreigners out of commitment to his cause Bible: Samson • Strong, temperamental, lustful, faithful • Chosen by God to overcome the Philistines • Spoke in riddles that angered people of Timnah • Falls in love with Delilah, who betrays him by telling the army to cut his hair • Takes away his strength • Last faithful act to God was dying with the Philistine rulers
Political Parallels Poisonwood Prices live under Congolese power King Jabin= Lumumba Lumumba represents Congolese interests, not Western (Israeli) Lumumba not necessarily in direct fault for what happens under his presidency Replaced with Western interests Midian & Philistines= Republic of Congo natives attempting to take back power US sends rulers to protect Western interests, just as God sent judges to protect Christianity Bible • Israelites living under foreign power • King Jabin of Canaan rules over betrayal amongst his people • Jael kills Sisera • Jabin given too much power too soon, so God removes him • God allows foreign powers (Midian, Philistines) to periodically oppress them as punishment for sin • Then sends judges to deliver them
Main Differences Poisonwood Bible • the equivalents of the judges (Nathan, Fowles, Mobutu) all fail in some way • Nathan and Mobutu, instead of bringing peace to the Congo, do the exact opposite – they disrupt the lives of the Congolese • Christianity= ? • the judges save the Israelites by teaching them to stop their sinful ways (prostitution, polygamy, polytheism) • Christianity=good
Main Idea • This section in The Poisonwood Bible is a reversal of what happens in the Holy Bible. • Christianity in this story is portrayed in a negative light. It harms rather than heals. • This is to show that the insistence on imposing a “superior” culture on others fails and causes damage instead. • The message is that people cannot impose their culture or beliefs on others and expect them to react positively.
Works Cited Kingsolver, Barbara. The Poisonwood Bible. Harper Perennial Modern Classics ed. NY: HarperCollins, 2005. Print. “The Book of Judges." King James Bible. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2012. <http://www.kingjamesbible.com/B07C001.htm>. "The Message of Judges." Jesus Plus Nothing: Christ Centered Bible Study. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Sept. 2012. <http://www.jesusplusnothing.com/studies/online/judges1.htm>.