A Reflection on the 'Culture Wars': Harold Bloom, Gore Vidal, and the Resistance of the Philistines

Heather Neilson


In David Rosenberg's translation of the putative Book of J, published with Harold Bloom's commentary in 1990, the Philistines enter the narrative when the patriarch Isaac, son of Abram, moves into Philistine territory, in Gerar, during a time of famine. Thriving within Yahweh's favour, Isaac reaps a fruitful harvest, his sheep and cattle multiply, and he becomes wealthy. Consequently, as Rosenberg tells it, 'Philistine envy also bloomed'.

The wells dug by his father's servants, in Abram's day, were blocked by the Philistines, filled in with dirt. 'Go out from our people', said Abimelech to Isaac. 'You have sprung up too strong for us.'

Isaac and his people move into the Gerar valley, and disputes ensue with the shepherds there over the ownership of more wells, dug by Isaac's servants. Isaac and his people move once again, to Beersheba, where they are followed by the Philistine king, Abimelech. Abimelech has belatedly realized the advantages of being on good terms with a man who is blessed by Yahweh, and asks for a truce, a new covenant between them. Isaac agrees to this, and peace is restored.

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