Monday, March 31, 2014

Gratitude: Never simply intrahuman

Old Testament benefactors are indignant when their favors are met with ingratitude. David later operates by similar principles in his dealings with the fool Nabal. While on the run from Saul, David and his men mingle with the shepherds who care for Nabal's flocks. His men do not interfere with or harass the shepherds. On the contrary, they provide protection. David naturally expects Nabal to be grateful for his service, and to express that gratitude concretely by supplying provisions for his men. When Nabal dismisses David, David's anger at the ingratitude is so intense that he marches toward Nabal's house with the intention of carrying out a war of utter destruction against him. He is arrested only by a gift from Nabal's beautiful, shrewd wife, Abigail. She brings a "blessing" (berekah) that pacifies David's rage. The conclusion to the story illustrates the flip side of Yahweh's promise to reward the generous. When David decides not to carry out "negative reciprocity" against Nabal, Yahweh steps in to repay Nabal for his ingratitude. Nabal's heart stops as he is relieving his bladder after a night of drinking. This suggests that for the Hebrew imagination, the circulations of gifts and gratefulnesses are never simply intrahuman. God is always involved, not only in exchanges between rich and poor but also in those among the wealthy. Yahweh takes the side of the recipient of gifts to reward the generous; Yahweh also takes the side of the insulted to pay back the ingrate.1

 1.  Peter J. Leithart, Gratitude: An Intellectual History [Waco, TX: Baylor University Press; 2014], p. 63

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