Michal Despises David
by James Tissot
Gilded Serpent presents..
God Belly Danced:
Biblical Accounts of Belly Dance in
the Ancient Near East
Part II
Part 1 here
by Qan-Tuppim (DeAnna Putnam)

The only person accused of dancing lewdly in the Bible is not a woman, but a man. King David's first wife Michal accused him of prancing around half-naked in front of a bunch of slave girls. David responded by saying he was not sorry and that he'd do it again if he had the chance.

The Bible accuses no female dancer, not even Salome in the New Testament, of being slutty for dancing.

According to the Hebrew scriptures, female belly dancers were reputable and marriageable

(Judges 21:21; Jeremiah 31:13), even in light of the fact they often specifically belly danced for men and publicly in religious festivals and parties (Judges 21 and Song of Solomon 6:13). Hebrew belly dancers were among the first recorded cheerleaders; they played frame drums, sang, and belly danced for their men when they returned victorious from battle (Exodus 15:20; 1 Samuel 18:6).

The Adoration of the Gilded Calf
by Nicolas Poussin
Only two potentially anti-dance accounts exist in the Hebrew scriptures. In one case, Moses came down from Mount Sinai and broke the stone tablets recording the Ten Commandments after he saw the Hebrews dancing. But the problem was not with dancing itself, but rather, the fact that the Hebrews danced before an idol, rather than before Yahweh, who had just rescued them from slavery. The second account involved prophets dancing before the Canaanite deity Baal (1 Kings 18:26). Again, the problem was not with dancing, but their object of worship.

Back to King David, our half-naked dancer. Was Michal right in being angry that her husband was entertaining the slave girls? King David did have a real problem with women and fidelity, and he was, indeed, a slut.  Despite his favored status as a man after God's own heart, Yahweh had a problem with the way he treated women and punished him for it.

Gleaned by editor-"The word "ba`al" means simply "master" or "owner," and is a title referring to many Gods in the Cannanite or Phoenician lands." This artwork may be of Ashtartu, a Goddess associated with Ba'al. more

But on this particular day, David was not showing off to the ladies. He was dancing before the Ark of the Covenant, home of the tablets of the Ten Commandments, with which came the supernatural presence of Yahweh. David was dancing for God.

Michal probably was not really jealous of the slave girls. Rather, seeing David's self-abandon before the Ark, she was jealous of her only true rival. To a womanizer like David, no woman would ever mean enough to be a threat to her. Instead, Michal was jealous of her real competition and the only person David was faithful to: God (Reis, page 51 ).

Yahweh appears to take David's side of the spat in favor of dancing. Michal is not really angry at David as much as she is at Yahweh, her own Creator, with whom she, as a woman, shares the ability to give birth (see Part I). As a result, she loses connection with Yahweh not just spiritually, but physically, and is cursed; she never is able to have children.

David dancing in front of the ark - James Tissot
When David danced before the Ark, recorded in both 2 Samuel 6  and 1 Chronicles 13 and 15, he was not belly dancing. Instead of the Hebrew word chol the words for dancing here are krr and rqd.  The word krr possibly means a jump n'kick kind of dance, and possibly is related to the Ugaritic word krkr, meaning to twiddle one's fingers. The word rqd possibly goes back to an Akkadian word for dance, also rqd. I believe rqd may be the parent of the modern Arabic word for dance raqs often rendered in English as "raks."

Some scholars have suggested that David was engaging in a formal ritualistic Near Eastern dance, and that he was acting as a priest before the Ark (King and Stager, page 299). But this is unlikely for two reasons. First, David as king was forbidden from acting as a priest; Israelite political and religious offices were seperated. Yahweh punished Israelite kings who violated this rule, but David never overstepped his place unlike some others. Second, during his argument with Michal,

David describes his own dancing as schq  - the Hebrew word for goofing off, playing or fooling around.

David probably ripped his clothes off not because he was showing off his pecs and fab abs chiseled from battle; he probably got really hot jumping around, and his formal royal robes weren't comfortable. David had exhibited once before that formalwear got in his way; as a boy he refused to put on armor when fighting Goliath because it was too heavy.

David is the Bible's most famous composer. He played the harp, an easily portable instrument that could travel well during his earliest career as a shepherd, through his days hiding in the Negev desert from his enemies, through his military campaigns. David was unlike other political leaders who thought they were artists, such as the Roman Emperor Nero, who also liked to play his harp. 

But Nero had no talent and threatened to kill anyone who insulted his musical ability. David apparently had some real talent. He could even battle demons musically (1 Samuel 16:23) and his compositions were so good they were recorded in Psalms.

The Songs of Joy - James Tissot
So, with David's love of music and dance, would it really be such a surprise that David depicted Yahweh himself as belly dancing? In Psalm 29, David writes a song about God's power in a storm moving up the Mediterranean coast from Israel to Lebanon, shaking the mountains and breaking cedar trees. I believe this psalm is a play on words and that David rendered Yahweh as a belly-dancing frame drummer shaking the Mediterranean coast with his moves.

The word to "shake" in this psalm is chol, our word for belly dance. The word for thunder amidst this storm is qol, which also can mean voice. In the Hebrew scriptures God's voice often comes like thunder. Qol also can refer to the blast of a shofar, or a ram's horn. So a precedent exists for the word to refer to the sound of a musical instrument, and Yahweh's thunder could have a percussive sound effect.

As the storm moves up the seacoast, Yahweh "belly dances" and "drums" via the forces of nature.

In ancient Israel, women were the percussionists. Belly dancers often played the frame drum and castanets made of bone or wood; as metal work became more widespread finger cymbals replaced castanets.

Women of ancient Canaan also wore hip belts with such adornments as fox teeth or mussel shells possibly meant to produce a jingling sounds while dancing (Braun pages 51-53).  For those interested in the debate as to whether "zills" is a proper word for finger cymbals, the ancient Hebrew word for finger cymbal happens to be "zilzlim."

Based on this theory about Psalm 29, the word chol and its related forms seem to function quite like the term "rock 'n roll" does in American culture. In both cases the term is a sexual one made to fit a musical style. And "rock" just like chol not only functions as a noun in modern English, but also as a verb. Hence, Bon Jovi sings "I've seen a million faces, and I've rocked them all" and Queen insists that "We will, we will rock you."

Both Bon Jovi and Queen, by their own rocking 'n rolling, intend to rock you, too. In Psalm 29, Yahweh "rocks"  and the world rocks with him.

The Hebrew scriptures make something else clear about belly dancers: It was completely appropriate for Hebrew women to belly dance for their fathers or other male relatives, with no incestuous innuendoes or misunderstanding.

Jephthah's Homecoming
by Jacob Holgers
In Judges 11, Jephthah's daughter comes out belly dancing for her father, who has just returned victorious from battle. The crux of the story is that Jephthah had made an oath that he would give up to Yahweh the first person who came out the door of his house.

He just never expected that person to be his daughter.

Most English translations and commentaries indicate that Jephthah intended to make a human sacrifice to God, and that his poor daughter ended up being the victim. But human sacrifice was forbidden in Israel, and Jephthah was a smart man who would know this. Also, Jephthah's daughter knew of his oath when she willingly came out the door.

More likely, Jephthah had made an oath to Yahweh that he would free the first slave who came out his door as a thank-you for his military victory, not that he would kill anyone.

His daughter beat the slaves to it because she knew if her father gave her up to God, she would not have to marry and would become an autonomous woman.

Miriam's Song of Praise & Thanksgiving
by Jennie Wylie
The girl and her friends then went off to dance and celebrate, not mourn, as the text usually is rendered (Reis page 105-130).

Another small point about Jephthah's daughter worth noting for backing up the theory that chol means "belly dance."

The Bible states that the girl "came out the door dancing." Most often, scholars state that chol is some kind of group circle dance. But, Jephthah's daughter is dancing alone, and she's able to do it walking in a straight line in a restricted space - through a doorway! Hence chol cannot be just a circle dance. But, as any modern belly dancer knows, you can walk in a straight line and shimmy at the same time.

In Part III, we will look at the implications the story of Jephthah's daughter has for Salome, and at dance in general in the New Testament.

Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (Hebrew scriptures)
Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece 26th edition (Greek Scriptures)
United Bible Society Greek New Testament, fourth edition
Biblia-Druck, Stuttgart Septuaginta (The ancient Jewish translation of the Old Testament translated from Hebrew to ancient Greek)
Harvest House Publisher's New Inductive Study Bible, New American Standard Bible updated edition (the NASB is the most accurate English translation of the Hebrew and Greek texts available today.)
Reading the Lines: A Fresh Look at the Hebrew Bible by Pamela Tamarkin Reis; Hendrickson Publishers; 2002.
Life in Biblical Israel by Philip J. King and Lawrence E. Stager; Westminster John Knox Press; 2001.
Music in Ancient Israel and Palestine by Joachim Braun; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; 2002.

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