George RR Martin has, like so many great creative visionaries before him, borrowed themes, storylines, and in some cases, even characters from history and legend. A lot of these tropes are repeated time and again throughout fantasy worlds. I’d like to spend some time exploring some of the remarkable stories of intrigue and backstabbing so prevalent in Game of Thrones, but from the Jewish Bible (Tanakh).
Now, I’m sure you’re saying to yourself, but Charley, the bible is BORING! Yeah – that’s because they only teach the boring stuff in Sunday school. I’ve assembled a few deep cuts (no pun intended) related to the Game of Thrones.
Hiding of Identities
So if you’re caught up with GOT like I am, then you know that there was a BIG reveal at the beginning of Season 8. Most of us knew it already, but it was fun to see the character in questions finally learn the truth about who he is. This is WAY too analogous to the story of Moses to ignore at this time of year (Happy Passover, btw). Judaism has many stories of folks hiding their identities in order to save lives, or at least avoid conflicts. Moses, Esther, Joseph, Jacob… Wow, the more I think about it, the whole Tanakh is virtually saturated with characters hiding their true identities.
All is Fair in Love and War
In GOT, lots of folks end up in some… let’s say, questionable, relationships. This is true in the Tanakh as well. The case I’d like to explore is Judaism’s most favorite King – the great one himself, David. We remember David as our most noble of kings. Jewish tradition holds that the Messiah himself (or herself) will be descendent from David, so you’d imagine he’d have to be a pretty decent guy. You’d be wrong. If you actually read the text, David is a philanderer at best, and a cold-blooded murderer at worst. The short version is David sees a beautiful woman on the rooftops, and decides she must be his. Turns out she’s married to a top general. Unphased, David sleeps with her anyway, and Bathsheba ends up pregnant. Long story short – David sends the man out on a suicide mission. David gets the girl, the end.
Baratheons and Blackfyre
GOT loves playing around with the struggle between siblings. In particular, the lore of Westeros has a few different brother rivals battling for the throne. These stories have several analogs in history, but in particular the struggle between Rehoboam and his brother Jeroboam. This is actually a truly epic struggle with themes ranging from young vs. old, north vs. south, and rich vs. poor. So many of these themes are central to GOT, and they have their basis in history. The schism between the brothers eventually led to the split of the Kingdom of Israel, which contained the northern ten tribes, and the Kingdom of Judah, which held Jerusalem and the Temple itself.
Sex as a Weapon
Whether it’s a kiss of poison, a demon/ghost baby, or just plain old seduction, sex is as deadly a weapon as any in GOT. The same is true for a few different heroines in our biblical narrative. One of these is Yael, who lured an enemy general into her tent with kind words, and the promise of a comfortable bed and ended up driving a tent spike through the man’s head. Another example is the story of Esther. If you read ANY commentary on that book, you’ll know it isn’t nearly as innocent as it seems on the surface. Let’s just say that Esther knew how to handle Ahasuerus/Xerxes. You could also easily make the case for Dina, who is arguably the mastermind behind a revenge killing of the highest order – very much akin to the Red Wedding.
While these are just a few examples, there are of course tons more. What are some of your favorite under-appreciated stories from the Tanakh?
Charley Smith served the Minneapolis and Saint Paul Jewish Federations by developing their platform for reaching young adults and millennials, YALA. Today he lives in Miami with his partner, Shaked, and their dog Gever. Charley continues his work with the Federations today managing Honeymoon Israel, Birthright Israel, and the local cohort of the 248Community Action Network.
Great article, Charley! Unfortunately I know the plotline of Harry Potter better than I do the Tanakh. But here’s a couple more under-appreciated stories-
Achitophel the traitor sage vs. Hushai going undercover for King David, Avshalom’s beautiful hair that led to his doom, Zimri the Israeliite king who reigned for… 7 days, Queen Atalia’s whole family shipped off so then she killed all in line to the throne then led a strong kindgom but reestablished idol worship and was killed when her grandson- the only one was smuggled out of the purge- surprise- came back to reclaim the throne. Phew.