Compositional Amenities

From the Daily Office Lectionary for Thursday in the week of Proper 17, Year 1 (Pentecost 14, 2015)

1 Kings 11:1-2 ~ King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the Israelites, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you; for they will surely incline your heart to follow their gods;” Solomon clung to these in love.

Today in a New York Times editorial I learned about “compositional amenities,” which the editorialist defined as “the comfort of a common religion and language, mutually shared traditions, and the minimization of cultural conflict.” Bingo! This pegs the concern of the Deuteronomic historians over Solomon’s many wives, as well as the comment made earlier in the First Book of Commons about his offering sacrifice and incense “at the high places,” that is at the places of worship dedicated to Canaanite (and other) gods. (1 Kings 3:3)

In fact, a good deal of the Law’s concern with marriage outside of tribal and clan boundaries, with dietary restrictions, and with other matters can be understood as concern with “compositional amenities.” So, too, can the histories of conquest with ascribe to God the command to thoroughly cleanse the Land of its former inhabitants, including not only all human beings but also all livestock. For example, in the story of Joshua’s victory over the city of Jericho, we are told that the Israelites “devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys.” (Josh 6:21) Saul is ordered by Samuel (speaking on God’s behalf), “go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” (1 Sam 15:3)

Compositional amenities. It is a concept that explains much in the Hebrew Scriptures, as it explains much in modern social and political behavior. The editorialist used it to understand the supporters of certain American political candidates; the scholars he cited applied it to analysis of European attitudes toward immigration.

Jesus had something to say about “compositional amenities.” He told a story about a traveler who was mugged, left at the side of the road, and eventually aided by someone who overlooked “compositional amenities.” That one, said Jesus, was the victim’s neighbor. In other words, we are to abandon “compositional amenities.” Solomon obviously did! Yet more evidence of his wisdom.