Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Ever Wonder What Happened to Naaman after He Went back to Damascus?

Well, if you haven't, I have. There is that passage in 2 Kings 5:

And Naaman said, "Shall there not then, I pray thee, be given to thy servant two mules' burden of earth? For thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the LORD. In this thing the LORD pardon thy servant, that when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon: when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the LORD pardon thy servant in this thing." And [Elisha] said unto him, "Go in peace." So he departed from him a little way.

Needless to say, a strong current of interpretation says that we need to be angry at Naaman for "compromising with idolatry" and wonder that Elisha permitted it.

I'd rather read this along with the story of King Hakon the Good. He had come from England, where he had been baptized in A.D. 934. Going up to Trondheim, the richest district in the kingdom and the chief place of sacrifice in pagan Norway, he made an address,

to freeholders and husbandmen alike, of high and low estate, and so to all the people, young men and old, rich and poor, women as well as men, that all should let themselves be baptized and believe in one God, Christ, the son of Mary, and stop all idolatry and heathen worship; that they should keep holy every seventh day, abstaining from work, and fast every seventh day. (Heimskringla, p. 108).

The farmers grumbled against this because a Sunday rest would cut their income, and the working men and thralls thought they couldn't work on Friday without food. A farmer then gave a long speech (as cited by Snorri Sturluson), that emphasized how they wished Hakon to rule according to the inherited usages of the kingdom and not force them to abandon the customs they had from their fathers:

"But now we don't know what to think, whether we have regained our liberty or whether you are going to make us thralls again with the strange proposal that we should abandon the faith our fathers had before us, and all our forefathers, first in the time when the dead were burned, and now in the age when the dead are buried. And they were better men than we, and yet this faith has served us very well. . . . We all want to follow you and to have you be our king so long as one of us farmers who are at the assembly now is alive, if you, sir king, will observe moderation and ask only that of us which we can give you and which is within reason.

"But if you mean to pursue this so high-handedly as to contend against us with force and compulsion, then all of us farmers have made up our minds to desert you and chose another leader, one who will help us freely to have the faith we wish to have" (Heimskringla, p. 109).

The farmers all cheered this.

Earl Sigurd of Trondheim then negotiates between the two sides to delay a decision. But it couldn't be avoided.

In fall, at the beginning of winter there was a sacrificial feast at Hlathir [the temple seat on the other side of the Nidharos river in Trondheim], and the king attended it. Before that, if present at a place where heathen sacrifice was made, he was accustomed to eat in a little house apart, in the company of a few men. But the farmers remarked about it that he did not occupy the high seat when there was the best cheer among the people. The earl told him that he should not do that; and so it came that the king occupied the high seat on this occasion.

But when the first beaker was served, Earl Sigurd proposed a toast, dedicating the horn to Odin [chief of the Norse gods], and drank to the king. The king took the horn from him and made the sign of the cross over it.

Then Kar of Gryting said, "Why does the king do that? Doesn't he want to drink of the sacrificial beaker?"

Earl Sigurd made answer, "The king does as all do who believe in their own might and strength, and dedicated this beaker to Thor. He made the sign of the hammer over it before drinking." People said no more about it that evening. Next day when people had seated themselves at the tables, the farmers thronged about the king, saying that now he must eat the horse meat [the horse was sacrificed to Odin]. That, the king would not do under any condition. Then they asked him to drink the broth from it. He refused to do that. Then they asked him to eat the dripping from it. He would not do that, either, and they came near to making an attack on him. Earl Sigurd said he would help them come to an agreement, asking them to cease their tumult; and he asked the king to gape with his mouth over the handle of the kettle on which the smoke of the broth from the horse meat had settled, so that the handle was greasy from it. Then the king went up to it and put a linen cloth over the handle and gaped with his mouth over it. Then he went back to his high-seat, and neither party was satisfied with that (Heimskringla, pp. 110-11).

Later, the men of Trondheim even got together and sailed south to other parts of Norway and burned three churches and killed three priests.

But when King Hakon and Earl Sigurd came to Maerin with their troops, the farmers were there in very great numbers. The first day at the banquet the farmers thronged in upon him and asked him to sacrifice, or else they would force him to. Then Earl Sigurd mediated between them, and in the end King Hakon ate a few bits of horse liver.

Earl Sigurd tried to calm the king, but in the end, he left Trondheim swearing vengeance:

The king was so enraged that no one durst speak to him (Heimskringla, p. 112).

The conflict is cut short by an invasion of rivals for the throne, sons of his half-brother Eirik. He drives them out, but they harry Norway for the rest of his reign. In year 961, they invade again, and King Hakon is wounded.

King Hakon boarded his warships and had his wound bandaged. But the blood flowed so profusely that it could not be staunched. And as the day wore on the king became faint. . . . .Then he called his friends to his side and told them his wishes about the disposition of the kingdom. His only child was a daughter, Thora by name. He had no son. He requested them to send word to the sons of Eirik that they were to be kings over the land, but that they should exercise forbearance to his friends and kinsmen. "But even if I be granted to live," he said, "I would leave the country to abide among Christians and do penance for what I have sinned against God. But if I die here, among heathens, then give me such burial place as seems most fitting to you."

And a short while afterwards, King Hakon died on the same slab of rock where he was born. King Hakon was mourned so greatly that both friends and enemies bewailed his death and declared that a king as good as he would not be seen again in Norway. His friends moved his body north to Saeheim in North Horthaland. There they raised a great mound and in it buried the king in full armor and in his finest array, but with no other valuables. Words were spoken over his grave according to the custom of heathen men, and they put him on the way to Valhalla
(Heimskringla, pp. 124-25).


King Hakon attempted to winsomely represent the Christian faith in a position of leadership and was a greatly admired king -- and was for his pains even denied a Christian burial by the men who loved him.

It's not enough to let the men of Trondheim have their religion while you have yours. If you rule them, you have to eat the horse liver -- or at least gape your mouth over the greasy handle.

Eventually, Olaf Tryggvason did Christianize Norway. In the Heimskringla, his chapter entries read like this: "The King Has the Warlocks Burned"; "The King Forces the Farmers to Accept Christianity"; "King Olaf Destroys the Idols"; "Eyvind Kinnrifa [a die-hard pagan] Is Tortured to Death by King Olaf"; and so on. Of King Olaf it was said:

King Olaf was of a most cheerful disposition and full of fun. He was friendly and affable, impetuous in all matters, exceedingly generous, and a fine dresser. He exceeded everyone in bravery when in battle. When angered he was very cruel, inflicting tortures on his enemies. Some of them he had burned with fire, some he let wild dogs tear to pieces, others he had maimed or cast down from high cliffs. For these reasons he was beloved by his friends and feared by his enemies. And he had such success, because some out of friendship and good will did what he wanted done, and some, because of fear of him (Heimskringla, p. 218).

So which of the two gained the world and lost his soul? Or both? Or neither?

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