Forgiveness and Justice

For[e]giveness and justice:

Solomon 's wisdom in 1 Kings 3:16-28
Bible study for NSW Synod
October 05, 2001 --I fakatapu 'forgiveness ' in this second reflection by inserting an 'e ' between 'for ' and 'giveness ' ' foregiveness. [1] ' Foregiveness has to do with fore-giving, giving in advance, giving what one does not already have, and giving before one is requested. ' To foregive is not just to let go of past wrongs but to let go of future wrongs also, and to let go before one is asked or told to let go. ' And the best way to let go of future wrongs is not to commit wrongs in the future; to let go in advance.

–To give in advance does not mean that one gives nothing. ’ To give nothing is to not give at all, but to foregive is to give in advance. ’ Foregiveness is not defined in terms of what is given but in the act of giving in advance. ’ Foregiveness should not be conceived within the realms of images and objects, what Jacques Lacan calls the imaginary order. ’ Rather, foregiveness has to do with the realms of language and ideology, what Lacan understands to be the symbolic and real orders (Lacan 1977, Piskorowski 1992).

–Let me simplify what giving in advance entails. ’ Say I tell you that I want to share an idea with you. ’ I intend to give you something, an idea, but you do not expect me to hand you an object that you can catch and hold, keep or throw away. ’ In offering you an idea I intend to give you something that I do not already have because the idea is formed at the same time that I am offering it to you. ’ I may have thought of the idea earlier, at another place, but the idea is formed at the very moment that I, so to speak, hand it over to you. ’ The idea is at once formed and given, so it is given in advance of my having it. ’ I intend to give you something in advance of having it, an idea that I do not already have. ’ Since I am reading from a script, the talk that I am offering is pre-formed, formed when I wrote my reflection. [2] ’ I had this forum in mind when I revised my script, so this reflection was given in advance, and this morning I give the talk to you, in advance of asking for your permission, and I give you to my reflection. [3] ’ If you please replace your phenomelogical hats with your ideological hats, I am offering you something that you can accept or reject.

–The foregiver is not concerned with whether what she gives is accepted or rejected, but in giving in advance. ’ To foregive is not to forget but to let go, to release; noting that to release is to re-lease, to lease again, and one does not own what one leases. ’ In this regard, ‘foregiveness ’ is a playful event: to foregive is to release, to re-lease is to embrace, to embrace is to forgive, to foregive is to give in advance.

–To foregive is the stuff of organic intellectuals, ‘[ ‘] those members of emergent social groups who help to articulate a conception of the world that reflects the group ’s experience and helps the group to negotiate a position in society ’ (Glancy 1998: 470). ’ In this regard, foregiveness has to do with recognizing the tapu in position-less social groups, giving them justice in advance. ’ Organic intellectuals may not own material possessions, but they can re-lease foregiveness.

–To explain foregiveness further I re-tell a story that favors King Solomon ’s wisdom, his ability to determine who the mother of a living child was and consequently expose who the lying woman was. ’ I begin with where I ended yesterday, with the story form, then close with three works of art that invite us to look at this story differently.

on Solomon 's wisdom: --King Solomon is one of the OT characters with whom most Sunday School-ers are familiar, in addition to Noah, Moses, Daniel, and Jonah. ' The story for which he is best known is 1 Kings 3:16-28. ' Prior to this story Solomon has a dream in which he accepts God 's offer by asking for 'an understanding mind ' to 'govern ' Israel and to be 'able to discern between good and evil ' (3:3-9). ' In the same dream God accepts Solomon 's prayer, declaring,

[ '] I now do according to your word. ' Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you had been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. ' I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. ' If you walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, [4] then I will lengthen your life. (3:12-14)

–Solomon asked for one thing, ‘an understanding mind, ’ and received three things in advance of his asking. ’ God also gives him unmatchable status, riches and honor, and the chance for lengthened life. ’ The saying ‘be careful with what you ask for you might get it ’ does not explain Solomon ’s situation. ’ He got more than he asked for! ’ This encounter took place in a dream (3:5, 15), the realm of desire (cf. Freud on ‘illusion ‘) and the subconscious. ’ Upon awaking Solomon returns to st1:CityJerusalem</st1:City> where he encounters two mothers in the realm of consciousness.

–The two women are said to be prostitutes who live in the same house, with no one else ‘male or female, family member or patron. ’ They both gave birth, three days apart. ’ We are not told who or where the fathers lived. [5] ’ In three days time the house of two women grows to four persons, two mothers and a son each. ’ It takes two prostitutes here to produce what Tamar produced alone in Gen 38, two sons. ’ Then death visits the house that has thus far been filled with cries of birth and life. ’ One of the sons dies one night, but we are not told how old he was. ’ The mothers were still nursing their sons and we are told that the child dies because, as one woman charges, his mother lay on him. ’ There are many gaps in this story, but I must move on to the presence of the discerning Solomon.

–The women come to the king who was endowed with the ability to ‘discern between good and evil. ’ ’ Whereas the struggle was between Tamar ’s twins in Gen 38, here it is between two mothers. ’ One woman accuses the other mother that she switched their sons in the middle of the night. ’ That she took her dead son from under her and laid him at the breast of the sleeping mother, then took the living son from beside his mother and laid him at her own breast. ’ When the accuser awoke the next morning to nurse her son she looked closely and saw that the child was clearly not her son. ’ I assume that a mother, no matter how old her child is, whether one day old or older, would know what her son looks like.

–The two women argue before the king, who ordered that a sword be brought to divide the living child in two, a half for each of the women. ’ Solomon sounds very much like Judah</st1:country-region>, quickly passing the judgment of death. ’ Whereas the elders usually decide with lots, which is not physically harmful, Solomon calls for a sword. ’ He calls for division to give death to the living child and ‘motherless-ness ’ to both women. ’ He intends to give death and division. ’ Whether Solomon was serious or bluffing, I cannot tell. [6] ’ But I cannot applaud his mandate out of fear that he was serious. ’ Nor do I accept his mandate as wise, out of respect for the ability of mothers to recognize the children they born.

–I assume that the king ’s mandate would have been carried out had the mother of the living child ‘because compassion for her son burned within her ‘appealed to the king not to kill the boy but to give him to the other woman. ’ ‘Please, my lord, give her the living boy; certainly do not kill him! ’ ’ Her plea brought two reactions. ’ The other mother said, ‘It shall be neither mine nor yours; divide it! ‘ [7] ’ And the wise king changed his mind: ‘Give the first woman the living boy; do not kill him. ’ She is his mother ’ (<st1:time Minute=“26” Hour=“15”>3:26</st1:time>-27).

–A mother echoes the division that the king proposed, and the king upholds her wish by declaring the other woman as the mother of the living child. ’ And Israel ‘[ ‘] stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to execute justice ’ (<st1:time Minute=“28” Hour=“15”>3:28</st1:time>). ’ Israelfailed to see how the strife between the women helped Solomon ’s decision ’the women fore-give to him wisdom ’nor did Israel recognize that Solomon ’s ‘justice ’ drive the women further apart. [8] ’ We do not know what happen after Solomon ’s judgment, whether the women continue to live together in the same house and whether the dead child received an honorable burial, and so forth. ’ The mothers exit as ‘mother of dead boy ’ versus ‘mother of living boy, ’ in other words, Solomon ’s justice solidifies the division between two women who live[d] together in the same house.

–With the aid of three artworks I take another ’look ’ at Solomon ’s s/word (Bal), the words he uttered which called for the presentation of a sword, in order to address the cost of Solomon ’s justice ‘it threatens to divide, to bring division, and it can be bloody violent. ’ In other words, Solomon ’s justice does not fore-give, it does not give in advance.

on Solomon 's s/word:

–In Giorgione ’s [1476/8-1510] ‘The Judgment of Solomon, ’ over half of the canvas is taken up by trees, fields and rocks, suggesting the artist ’s love of nature. ’ But the trees at the center of the painting point down to a woman at whose feet lies a dead child, and to the side is another woman, probably the mother of the living child.

–The dead child lies at the feet of the upright woman and in front of the kneeling woman, who has her back to the viewer. ’ The upright woman faces the viewer and points her right hand to the side, as if to point to the man holding a naked child with his left and a sword with his raised right hand. ’ The sword blends into the darker background, as if the artist is trying to hide the violence it threatens on the living child, who appears to be trying to free his arm. ’ The kneeling woman is turned slightly, her posture points toward the living child. ’ With sheep and shepherds at the background and an elderly gray hair and beard Solomon, raised over the gathering to overlook from the side, the scene has a tranquilized feel about it. [9]

–In Pieter Pauwel Rubens ’ [1577-1640] ‘Judgement of Solomon ’ [1615-1617] {I have a black and white print}, we find two women, one upright and one crouching. ’ In between them are two children, one partially covered on the ground and the second fully exposed in the left hand of a man whose right hand holds a sword behind him.

–Both the crouching woman and the elevated younger Solomon point in the direction of the living child, who tangles, fully exposed, upside-down, with arms reaching for the ground and to the dead child. ’ This image feels more violent than Giorgione ’s depiction. ’ The living child is held spread-eagled, as if to suggest that the sword will split his private parts and run through to his head. ’ But the living child ’s private parts are not private for he is exposed, uncovered, his legs are opened for the mouth of the sword, and for the eyes of the viewers. ’ What is made private is the mouth of the sword, which is hidden behind the back of the man. [10] ’ In the eyes of the viewer, the hidden mouth of the sword threatens to eat up the living child bottoms-up, downward. ’ With both women slightly bent over, Rubens depicts the violence that threatens the living child and the loss this would bring upon his mother. ’ In other words, Rubens shows that this is not a children-friendly story.

–In Gustave Dor ’s [1832-1883] ‘Judgment of Solomon, ’ Solomon is at the center of the work, elevated in-between two women. The dead child is absent while the living child is raised with his private parts turned away from the viewer, but his face is turned toward two raised spears. ’ The upright woman holds her left arm to her breast while the other woman stretches out parallel to Solomon ’s outstretched arms. [11] ’ This other woman has her left hand over the man ’s breast while her right hand reaches for the child and appears to hold the blade of the sword at its sharper end. ’ The mouth of the sword is exposed, so is the child. ’ With toes peeking out of Solomon ’s garment, Dor ’ unveils the violence that threatens a child who is pulled from his mother.

–These three artworks invite us to reconsider the implication of Solomon ’s justice from the point of view of the living child, who is uncovered in all three depictions. ’ The king ’s justice, his s/word, threatens to give the child death. ’ His degree is prevented, held back, by a woman who is willing to let go of, to release, her child; a woman who is willing to hold back the sharp edge of Solomon ’s s/word. ’ She foregives her child from Solomon ’s s/word, and consequently gets him back; she releases and she re-leases him!

a mother 's foregiveness

–This reading does not emphasize the king ’s wisdom, but a mother ’s ability to fore-give, to give in advance, to re-lease. ’ Like Jochebed, who gave her son Moses to the river Nile and thereby saved his life from Pharaoh, this mother fore-gives her son to her rival and at once saves his life and gets him back.

–Against Solomon ’s decree of death, a mother gives her son life by offering him to another woman. ’ She gives her son life against Solomon ’s judgment, in advance of the execution of his s/word. ’ Maybe Solomon ’s judgment was wise, it may be wise, but it was surely not funny to this mother.

–The three artworks removed the living child ’s clothes as if to draw our attention to him. ’ And in turning the child away from viewers Dor ’ hides his maleness, leading me to the following questions: how many children do not get their stories told, nor painted, because they are female? how many female children lose their lives because their parents do not fore-give them life, in advance of their asking? how many parents lose their children because they prefer to uphold the king ’s and the queen ’s wise decrees, but fail to fore-give their children life? how often do we expose organic intellectuals because their wills and faces do not match our forms of justice, and we thereby lose the opportunity to receive the gifts of life they have given us in advance? how often do we forget children, dead and living, in this land and beyond, aboriginal and otherwise, because we prefer to focus on the king ’s and the queen ’s wisdom?

–At the moment when the woman says, ‘Please, my lord, give her the living boy [ ‘] do not kill him, ’ she forgives past and future wrongs both. ’ She forgives the woman who took her child and foregives Solomon for announcing death upon her child. ’ She offers to the other woman a child she does not hold, she gives in advance a living child to the wrong mother. ’ She forgives the other woman and Solomon and at once gives her child life. ’ The child lives on, at the moment his mother offers to give him away.

–Let me close by problematizing this reading, by offering another reading: what if wise Solomon was wrong? [12] What if it was the mother of the dead child who said, ‘Please, my lord, give her the living boy [ ‘] do not kill him ‘? ’ What if the mother of the dead child has seen enough death for one day, and did not want Solomon to bring his s/word upon another child? [13] ’ She wanted a living child, not a dead one, and why don ’t we give her a chance to be a loving mother? ’ In other words, why can ’t we readers foregive her also?

–In this organic reading, I resist the temptation to endorse the king ’s s/word in order to release the fact that both mothers want to hold a living child. ’ I do not look on the women as if only one is right so the other must be wrong. ’ I do not read with Solomon ’s ‘good and evil ’ wisdom. ’ I raise the possibility that both women could be right, which means that both could be wrong, and I trust that they have already foregiven me! ’ I ’talk ’ on behalf of characters that traditional readers ignore, raising the possibility that the child and the mothers are organic intellectuals. ’ We owe them at least the right to be organic. ’ In that way, not only do we resist being middle persons, as Gondarra insists, but we also foregive ourselves of future wrongs.

–In tomorrow ’s reflection I will invite you to experience what daughters are capable of doing, with two stories in which daughters give the past to the future, in which women give life to the dead!


Glancy, Jennifer A. ’ 1998. ’ ‘House st1:CityReading</st1:City> and Field st1:CityReadings</st1:City>: The Discourse of Slavery and Biblical/Cultural Studies. ’ ’ In Exum, J. Cheryl and Stephen D. Moore (eds.), Biblical Studies/Cultural Studies: The Third Sheffield Colloquium. ’ JSOTS 266. ’ Sheffield: Sheffield Academic (pp. 460-77).

Lacan, Jacques. ’ 1977. ’ ‘crits: A Selection. ’ Trans. Alan Sheridan. ’ st1:StateNew York</st1:State>: W. W. Norton.

Piskorowski, Anna. ’ 1992. ’ ‘In Search of her Father: A Lacanian Approach to Genesis 2-3. ’ ’ In Paul Morris and Deborah Sawyer (eds.), A Walk in the Garden: Biblical, Iconographical and Literary Images of Eden. ’ Sheffield: JSOT (pp. 310-18).


Gustave Dor ’ [1832-1883]. ’ ‘Judgment of Solomon. '

Giorgione [1476/8-1510]. ’ ‘The Judgment of Solomon. ’ ’ This painting is available on the internet at

Pieter Pauwel Rubens [1577-1640]. ’ ‘Judgement of Solomon ’ [1615-1617]. ’ [A sketch resembling this painting is available at www.museumbredius.m/tekenaars/pics/t14-rubens.jpg]

[1] I re-spell 'forgiveness, ' in 'other words, ' I cast a 'spell ' on it in a way that causes it to come alive, to be activated, to play.
[2] I am appealing here to the difference between writing and speech that Jacques Derrida addresses. ' See especially his On Grammatology.
[3] I imagine something like a 'trilogue, ' a conversation between myself, the audience, which is already complex, and my 'talk, ' which will re-write the script by 'delivering ' it.
[4] The irony is that David did not always walk according to Yhwh 's commandments, but that is the subject for another reflection. ' See also unpublished paper, 'A resting king David. '
[5] Gaps in the story add to the 'prostitutizing ' of the two mothers, from whose house the fathers of their sons are removed. ' That is the subject for another talk!
[6] A mother proposed this reading during a bible study with the Peteli congregation, Plumpton.
[7] The NRSV translation dehumanizes the child, kills the child in advance, by referring to him as 'it. '
[8] The following reading enacts the same drive as in the first reflection, privileging the story of two women over the stories of a king and of Israel.
[9] The head of the dead child is raised upon a pillow, as if to suggest to viewers who are not familiar with the biblical account that he is asleep.
[10] Solomon seems to point to the hidden sword, whereas the woman points in the direction of the child.
[11] The characters ' postures point toward the right side, with the upright woman being channeled through Solomon 's stretched arms to the right. ' The sword too points to the right, at which stands an intriguing figure. ' A beardless figure wearing an earring and a shoe, with a sword hanging on its left side. ' He looks like a woman! ' Note also that in Nicolas Poussin 's 'The Judgment of Solomon ' [1649], the right hand foreground is occupied by a child. ' That painting is the subject for another reflection.
[12] Both women are nameless in the story, so it is difficult to tell which woman was doing and saying what.
[13] It is reasonable to assume that the mother of the living child could have answered 'It shall be neither mine nor yours; divide it! ' ' On the one hand, insofar as a child would take her away from her work, getting rid of the child means that she can spend more time on being a prostitute. 'And on the other hand, she was offering to share her child with her housemate. ' A third reading is also possible: she was calling Solomon 's bluff. ' None of these alternative readings is comforting, but they are possible
**** © Copyright 2001, Jione Havea