Beyond Et-Tell, A Coup Unattended
Towering over his beast of burden, Absalom made a striking silhouette against the setting sun. His distinctive long hair was now tangled and gritty from gusty winds and clumping mud. He skirted the well-traveled roadways and stayed to the unmarked hills and valleys. He rested at night without the comfort of a warming campfire or dining on the roasted fat of a succulent rabbit. The chances of pirates and brigands were lessened by keeping to the goat paths, but the main threat came from the fear of David’s far-reaching and unrelenting need to balance the scales of justice.
After cresting the last steep hill, he viewed the tall towers of Et-Tell. Finally, Absalom could take a deep breath releasing the tension in his neck from constantly looking over his shoulder and straining to see if the devil was gaining on him. Absalom began to heal both body and soul once he was in sight of his mother’s ancestral home.
The gate guardian recognized the weather-worn prince and alerted the king that his grandson approached alone and covered in dust and mud. Talmai received the disturbing news and hurriedly appeared at the opening gate to welcome his grandson with a familiar friendly face.
“Grandfather, it is I, Absalom.”
“I can see that; your mere presence gladdens my eyes and enlarges my heart, but your wretched state leaves me disturbed. Why is a prince of Israel and Geshur traveling alone through the wilderness without servants, guards, or companions? Talmai, impulsive in his compassion, hugged his bedraggled grandson and commented, “You have slept on the ground, evidenced by the burrs and beggars’ ticks in your hair and clothing. Before we have a searching and fearless accounting of your exploits, you need to freshen up, eat a hot meal, drink your fill, and rest. Know that you are now safe and secure in the bosom of your family. I informed your sister Tamar that you would join us here at Et-Tell for an extended stay.
Until we speak at length, I can only guess that some powerful force beyond these borders is seeking your destruction. I know Tamar would be heartbroken to see you in such a wretched state. Let us delay the reunion with your sister until you recover and regain some likeness of your former beautiful self.
In the meantime, I will provide you with fitting royal attire, and we will burn your filthy rags. Now go, Absalom, my exhausted grandson. We will meet in private, but not until you fully recover. You can then tell me of the trials and mishaps that have brought you to my door in this pitiful condition. You are running from something or someone; that is obvious. Now, rest; we will speak at length when you have regained your strength. I will attempt to impart the hard-won wisdom and knowledge I have garnered over a lifetime of wielding political power.
Absalom was escorted to the reserved family apartments, where he washed the grit and grime from his sorrow. He savored the ease and comfort from the first gulp of potent red wine. Fresh and relaxed, he hungrily ate his fill of sweet fatted calf before laying down in a soft duck-down feathered bed. He slept nonstop for a day and a half, so unmoving and still that his breathing was checked to confirm that he was still quick and not dead.
Absalom was stiff and groggy after rising from his death-defying slumber. His hunger was ravenous, and his need to tell all he had endured was just as pressing.
A standing order from the king, when Absalom stirred, he was to be informed and brought forthwith
to the dining hall.
The king was the first to arrive, followed by Tamar, anxious and delighted to see her brother’s face in the safe confines of their grandfather’s domain. Talmai had ordered enough breakfast to feed a half dozen men knowing the ravenous appetite of virile young men.
A short time later, Absalom arrived outfitted with his customary royal trappings. His luxurious hair was polled with oil and powdered with gold, not waiting for his yearly grooming ritual to feel beautiful and powerful again.
Tamar excitedly ran over with a generous hug for Absalom’s ongoing loving support and on the whispers that he had avenged her honor.
“Brother, you looked well and completely healed, even regal, considering your ordeal of solo travel through the wilderness.”
Gulping down a slice of cake and six fried eggs, he blurted out, “I feel even better seeing my dear sister in a better place. I am glad you are here to hear my tale of a long overdue reckoning against Amnon, your attacker. But let me first enjoy my family’s long-sought-after company. Allow me to eat my fill before explaining my attempted coup and the satisfaction one gets from vengeance well executed.”
After a sigh of satisfaction from a full belly, Absalom addressed Tamar, “ In our brief time together, your sorrow set my sure course of justice. Your retreat from the world because of Amnon’s folly made me angry, and your pain was ongoing. His cruelty to you troubled my every waking moment. Your misery and refusal to join polite society weighed heavily on my need to seek retribution. I was waiting for our father to acknowledge Annon’s crime. David was furious privately, but publicly he left the incident to the biting tongues of gossipmongers. He waited patiently until it all blew over as an unproven rumor. Father never admitted the incident openly. He preferred to keep it a family matter and avoid a public scandal. I spoke to our mother about the incident, but she was in denial and defended David’s every action. However, she did advise you, my wronged sister, to relocate to Et-Tell until everything settled down and short memories give way to more pressing matters. Mother Maacah knew that eventually, Amnon would be king. He could make all our lives a living hell if we attempted any criticism that would make him suffer public humiliation and social ridicule. I knew I had to bide my time because everyone expected an outburst of fury. I never spoke of my outrage and insult to my sister’s honor. When I could not avoid talking to Amnon on the rare social occasion, it was always pale, neither good nor bad. I took great lengths to disguise my seething hatred. Overhearing us, you would have supposed that there was no lurking enmity or hidden agenda. I concealed my bitterness with neutrality.
I needed wise counsel from someone offended by David’s excesses. The wisest seer in all of Jerusalem and David’s former prime minister Ahithophel. He was lady Bathsheba’s grandfather, who resented his granddaughter’s adulterous affair with David. The killing of her husband, Uriah the Hittite, and the grievous loss sustained seven days after the birth of his unnamed great-grandson.
I contacted a go-between to arrange a meeting with the old sage at his country home three miles south of Jerusalem. My request for an audience piqued Ahithophel’s curiosity, and he agreed to meet with me. He was aware of Tamar’s rape. The knowledge he had acquired from loyal informants enlisted during his days in the king’s service pierced the cover-up and laid bare the truth.
We had an immediate rapport from a mutual dislike of David, our cunning adversary. We discussed in detail how to avenge my sister’s honor and for me to become the next king of Israel in one calculated masterstroke. The oracle told me that being half Canaanite and half Hebrew, the throne room would never be mine to rule. At that moment, I realized the brotherly backbiting ridicule I had endured for these many years, which I had perceived as a playful jest, was masking the sting of prejudice. The insight made it clear why Father did not punish Amnon for his rape because Tamar was just a Canaanite of the Geshurite clan. She was looked down upon as lacking the essential pure-blood Hebrew heritage.
The sage advised me that time was my best ally and that I needed to demonstrate that the hot burn of passion had grown cold and no longer remembered, falling well below the everyday horizon.
Ahithophel proposed a festive gathering miles away from Jerusalem, making such a far-away location an ideal killing ground. Since it had been three years since Amnon’s crime, and it was near the time of my sheepshearing celebration. I was to invite all my brothers, but Amnon lastly, as if he was no more than an afterthought. Ahithophel counseled, “That this sequence of events will belay any suspicion about your real intent. The key element to this political intrigue will be the attendance of your father, David. If we can get them all in one place, we can tidily dispatch them to the afterlife, leaving no monarch or claimants to the crown alive in the bloody aftermath. You will be the rightful master of Israel by default. Once we have accomplished this massacre, the elders have no choice but to proclaim you their new sovereign and king.”
Everything was going as planned. My half-brothers took a little coaxing, but with a gift of sturdy She-mules and the promise of a good time, I quickly gained their pledges to attend. But David refused, claiming the undue expense of his necessary staff and that he would have to pass that burden on to me. I cheerfully agreed to absorb the cost for the pleasure of his company, but he was steadfast in his refusal. I pressed him as much as I dared without tipping my hand. After the fact, and as a consolation, I obtained David’s permission and blessing to invite Amnon and the rest of his sons to the sheepshearing festival. Once hearing of David’s refusal, Ahithophel backed out, saying, ‘If David is alive and hears that all his sons were slaughtered, his fury would know no bounds and would hunt you and me down no matter how long it took, even to the ends of the earth. I would strongly urge ending Amnon’s life and his alone. Fortunately, your retribution is justifiable in the eyes of many. In time you could be reconciled with your father, that is, if he does not track you down and kill you to ease his suffering and salve the loss of his firstborn son and heir apparent.’
The seer advised me not to employ the killing stroke by my hand but to have my servants deliver the death blow. I protested because it seemed cowardly, and I longed to pierce Amnon’s black heart and gain a measure of satisfaction. But Ahithophel insisted that I remain discreet and direct the slaying from the shadows. He thought my brothers would immediately rise and kill the assassin without a second thought or question. During the ensuing confusion, it would give me the needed seconds to make my escape before my half-drunk brothers turned their vengeance on me for luring them into harm’s way. I had my She-mule loaded and packed for the many miles to Geshur. I stayed on the goat paths and spent fireless nights, shivering and shaking in an uneasy sleep. I was constantly warding off snakes and scorpions, seeking body heat. The God of the Hebrews and the Geshurite gods led me here alive to your sanctuary doorstep and the haven of a loving family. The rest, now you know.”
Overwhelmed with emotions, Tamar choked out, “Brother, you have restored my honor, but I am both relieved and saddened by the death of Amnon. He was the first and the only man I have ever known. There is a bond, emotional, spiritual, and physical, that laments his passing. There is something in me that regrets his downfall. I am sure time will heal this unsettling sense of abandonment.”
King Talmai rose, spellbound by Absalom’s incredible story, and said, “I have much to ponder. We will have much to discuss on how to reinstate you into David’s good graces. In the meantime, rest easy he will not dare to invade or make afraid. I am David’s ally and father-in-law. My borders are secure, and your safety here is assured.