What do we know about the biblical character Goliath? “He was tall and maybe he didn’t see so well; even WebMD wouldn’t be so bold as to diagnose with no more than that.”
Baden is associate professor of Old Testament at Yale University and the author of “The Historical David: The Real Life of an Invented Hero, which is a controversial reappraisal of the historical King David. Big Think might remember Baden’s talk from The Nantucket Project, a festival of ideas on Nantucket, MA. We featured Baden’s talk, about the “Bible Paradox,” here:
So what do two scholars of the Old Testament have to say about Gladwell’s medical reappraisal, which he lays out in his new book, David and Goliath?
Reading the text in Gladwell’s way is a form of “now-ism”: It assumes that we understand the data better than those who are actually providing it for us. It is, unfortunately, symptomatic of numerous medical readings of the Bible. Many characters have been paraded through the amateur physician’s consulting room. King Saul wasn’t afflicted by an evil spirit from God, he was bipolar; the prophet Ezekiel’s terrifying visions were not messages from God, but the result of paranoidschizophrenia; and Job’s painful boils were no divine punishment but merely hyperimmunoglobulin E syndrome, commonly known as “Job’s disease.”
The attempt to diagnose historical and literary figures using modern medicine obscures the fact that the significance of their physical characteristics has to be evaluated in context. The overconfident giant to be slain here is surely the short-sighted arrogance of modern diagnostics.