The theme of weakness in some Early Irish and Hebrew Bible texts
What could the early Irish literature of the sixth to twelfth century and the Hebrew Bible of a millennium or more before have in common? Literacy came to Ireland with Christianity, and the Bible had a special relationship to Ireland's considerable corpus of both ecclesiastical and vernacular literature. Exactly how this relationship is manifest is a question that has been at the centre of debate in early Irish studies for fifty years. I have moved away from traditional approaches in an effort to address this question. Early Irish studies has long suggested a dichotomy between classifying early Irish literature as being solely the product of a monastic milieu and its imported literacy, and as a transcription of centuries of preChristian oral narrative (which would have more in common with proto-Indo European culture than early Christian Ireland). The way to address the snags of simplistic comparison is to examine the 'first' text - in this case, the Bible - as scrupulously as the early Irish texts. I have chosen three rather different kinds of protagonist from different sections of the Bible and different parts of early Irish literature. I compare the Book of Jonah with episodes from different Lives of Columba, the Book of Esther with the 'Historical Cycle' tale 'Tochmarc Becfhola', and Samson with Cú Chulainn in three different 'Ulster Cycle' tales. After discussing different patterns and themes within the narrative of each pair, I conclude that each episode includes a character whose weakness is the focus of that episode. I do not propose that this distilled theme of weakness has 'provoked' the creation of the early Irish analogue in the first place, but that in the final analysis, perhaps by different means, this theme emerges. My willingness to work with contemporary critical methods places this work firmly in the 20th century, while drawing attention to the complexity of thought already manifest in the literature of the 10th, and before.