The mountain and the deer: A Hurrian parable (2 Samuel 12)

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In antiquity, wisdom literature often took the form of parables. The story of the mountain and the deer, found in a collection of Hurrian parables, illustrates a particular genre of wisdom literature in which animals depicted human subjects. In this story, a deer left the mountain on which it had been born and went to graze upon another mountain. Although the deer grew fat there, it was ungrateful and began to call down curses of lightening upon the summit of the new mountain. In retaliation, the mountain summoned hunters to kill the deer. At the conclusion of the parable the interpretation is spelled out: The deer was a man who for some reason had fled his hometown and taken refuge in another. He was unappreciative, however, and began to do evil there, as a result being cursed by the gods of that town.

The prophet Nathan used a similar technique to convict David of his sin against Uriah (2 Samuel 12). He told a story about two men, one wealthy and the other poor, representing David and Uriah, respectively. The poor man’s lamb depicted Bathsheba. Unaware that Nathan’s account was a parable, the outraged king David instantly pronounced judgement against the unjust rich man. Only then did Nathan reveal that David himself was that man!


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