Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Social Network & 2 Samuel 12: Reinterpreting History

A few weeks ago, I finally saw the social network, the story of how Mark Zuckerburg founded facebook, screwing over many friends in the process. An interesting movie, to be sure, but not an entirely true account of how things really happened.

There is a lot of truth in the story, however, and it ties into something that has been happening with the lives of the rich and powerful, be they internet company CEOs or ancient Hebrew kings: the reinterpreting of history to create an understanding of events that is more favorable to they way you want things to be understood. Watching the movie reminded about reading I had done in Word Biblical Commentary when I was researching a paper about 2 Samuel 12.

2 Samuel 11-12 is the account of King David's adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, a women he saw bathing, slept with, and got pregnant. To try and cover this up, David brought Bathsheba's husband home from the battlefield, but when he refused to go into his house and spend the night with his wife as long as the battle continued, David had him killed and took Bathsheba as his wife. Because God was angry with David, the child died, but then God bless David & Bathsheba's second son, Solomon, who succeeded David as king.

The interesting thing about this section of scripture in regards to the social network takes place in 2 Samuel 11:27b-12:15a (the section Nathan Condemns David in the link). In this section, God sends a prophet named Nathan to David who tells him a story about a rich man and a poor man who loses a prized lamb because of the rich man's greed and selfishness. David is outraged, and then Nathan tells him that he's the rich man. David is mortified and repents, so Nathan tells him that God has spared his life, but the child is still going to die.

So what does any of this have to do with the social network? Well, click on that link in the last paragraph again, and you'll notice that if you skip the section Nathan Condemns David, the story still makes sense without it. Some scholars (including the author of the commentary I mentioned) think that this is because this section is a later addition to the story:

"It is possible that the narrative contained in chaps. 11-12 was part of the Solomonic apologia or propaganda. To be possible it did not have to lie or distort facts; rather it had to appeal to what was already known or believed. At the same time, it had to reshape and supplement the shared information, beliefs and hopes. Thus the inherently detrimental David-Bathsheba-Uriah story could not be disregarded for it would not go away. However, it could be retold in less critical manner and it could be rendered innocuous by the addition of David's repentance, Yahweh's forgiveness and the punishment imposed. Thus the way was open for a future reversal of fortunes. Vv 24-25, in particular, contain an implicit promise of better things to come: Yahweh loved Solomon!" (Word Biblical Commentary vol. 11, pg. 166, emphasis my own)

Those in support of Solomon's kingship couldn't change the fact that David's mistakes were public knowledge. However, they could add to how those mistakes played out the story of David's repentance and the knowledge that God has forgiven the line of David for the sins committed.

Making a movie about a quiet nerd who worked hard to develop a website and then left friends who weren't making the best decision or all that invested in the company's future (as well as paying out a few hefty settlements here and there) would be kind of boring. And it wouldn't do much for Mark Zuckerburg's image.

But, if you make a movie about an underdog nerd billionaire with a sharp wit that hides a sensitive soul that just wants a girl back, you've done something: you've reinterpreted everything: he's not a guy who can be a jerk who just happened to nurture great idea into a billionaire dollar website; he's a tortured soul fighting the pretentious snobs who just wants to be loved.