The story of Rizpah in one that is overlooked in much of the Western Church, a terrible story that disturbs readers and leaves us looking ahead to the “good” stories. But this is an amazing story with many layers and dimensions for conflict transformation.
We have used this story in three different ways. Initially we used it in the context of exploring how margins can find their voice, which is how the story is handled in the Bible Study Manual on Conflict Transformation available elsewhere on this website. We also used it in the context of transforming initiatives or nonviolent action.
Now, however, we use the Rizpah story primarily to delve into the dynamics of trauma and responses to traumatic experiences. After having participants read the story we invite a participant to be interviewed as “Merab” or “Michal” (this mother of 5 executed sons is called different names in the ancient texts). Male or female participants can be welcome in any of the interviews (also in the Paul & Barnabas conflict role play); some of our best interviews have been from people playing cross gender roles. The role play interview elicits many feelings of loss, anger, grief, confusion, etc. After the interview we get into the theory of the “Victim/Survivor Cycle.”
Then we interview “Mr. or Ms. Gibeon,” someone role playing a member of the ethnic group that had earlier experienced genocide and then conspired with King David to execute 7 of Saul’s male descendants. We follow up the Gibeonite interview with the “Aggressor/Offender Cycle.” Click here to get a handout from Eastern Mennonite University about these two cycles. (Click here for Spanish; click here for French; click here for Arabic.)
Then we dramatize the Rizpah story from beginning to end, utilizing Mr. or Ms. Gibeon in the skit to work with “David” in assembling the “sons of Saul” to execution. A female facilitator could play Rizpah, or a facilitator could ask a female participant in advance to participate, briefing them on the role they should play. We follow up the Rizpah drama with a detailed exploration of “Breaking the Cycles of Violence,” including many references to steps taken by Rizpah and David in the story that speak to that process. Constructing a new narrative is seen in the fact that the story in the Bible is a complex one rather than a simple “good versus evil” story such as appears in the cycles of violence. Click here to get “Breaking the Cycles of Violence” from Eastern Mennonite University. (Click here for Spanish; click here for French; click here for Arabic.)
For more on the Rizpah story you can download my Sermon on 2 Samuel 21.