The Personality of David Koresh

The purpose of this argument is to separate the personality of David Koresh from his teachings and Biblical work.

It is well documented that Koresh had various personality problems. In the _Shower Head Tape_ Bible study Koresh is interrupted by a phone call in which the following conversation takes place:

"You tell her to sit down and eat every last bit of it. You tell her to sit down and eat every last bit of it. You tell her to sit down and eat every last bit of it because she was told not to buy anything anymore. That doesn't make any difference. She was still given her commandments from God and if she can't follow them that's too bad. That's beside the point. God has told her before not to do such things and she continues to do it. You sit her - tell her to sit down and eat every last bit of it. Bye".

People dismiss Koresh's teachings on the basis of his personality. There is evidence of physical child abuse, particularly towards his son Cyrus, the way he treated the men and women at Mt Carmel and so on. Some, because they are persuaded by his teachings seek to explain away the allegations made against him. Others explain it theologically by saying he was destined to become the sinful Messiah, and had been spitirually blinded the way Samson was physically blinded. This argument, though important, may imply that Koresh's behaviour is a special case, and that generally behaviour and teachings are related.

Strangely, Koresh covers an interesting example of bad behaviour and good teaching in the case of Martin Luther. The Branches were well aware that Martin Luther died of overeating, that he cursed and drank, and his behaviour with Nuns is called into question also (see the bible study on Jonah, near the end). Yet this is explained by Luther and people of his time not knowing any better (not true - the morals of the Catholic Reformation show that this was not regarded as good behaviour at the time).

There are many great men whose personal lives fail to match their great actions or works. Politicans such as Lloyd George and JFK, poets and artists such as T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, even philosophers such as Martin Heidegger all demonstrate this. Profound works, but the details of their personal lives are shocking.

The culture and environment Koresh lived in obviously had their effect. Things in some cultures are accepted as the norm, but appear bizarre and unnatural to others. A good example of this is a practise which continued from Bible times right up until the ninteenth century - the Jewish ceremony of circumcision. This was a rite performed by the Apostle Paul on Timothy while Timothy was a full adult, and the details to westerners appear unbelievable. Here is the account of the rite as described in A.N. Wilson's recent book Paul: The Mind of the Apostle (Random House, 1997).

"In Roman times, circumcision was done with a metal knife, and, if we believe that Paul did insist on Timothy undergoing circumcision, it is perhaps worth reminding outselves of the three essential parts of the ritual, without which it is not complete. The first part is milah, the cutting away of the outer part of the foreskin. This is done with one sweep of the knife. The second part, periah, is the tearing of the inner lining of the foreskin which still adheres to the gland, so as to lay it wholly bare. This was (and is) done by the operator - the mohel, the professional circumciser - with his thumb-nail and index finger. The third and essential part of the ritual is mesisah the sucking of blood from the wound. Since the ninteenth century, it has been permissible to finish this part of the ritual with a swab, but in all preceeding centuries and certainly in the time of Paul it was necessary for the mohel to clean the wound by taking the penis into his mouth. In the case of a young adult male such as Timothy the bleeding would have been copious." (p.131)

To the Apostle Paul, the sucking of blood from Timothy's penis would not have appeared strange. To us of course it is startling.

Whether the causes of Koresh's behaviour were cultural, environmental or simply deeply psychological, it remains his work which justifies him, not his personality. As the theologian Don Cupitt, Dean of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, has argued, it is your objective work not your personality which is ultimately important. Cupitt points out that often artists, scientists, great leaders have their work analysed to explain why they act as they do, why artists are obsessed with the themes of their work, why politicians have such drive and determination, why scientists persist with a theory until they achieve a breakthrough. The idea behind such analysis is that it is the personality which is ultimate. It may be said for example that a writer has produced so many great books to compensate for a neglected childhood. Yet Cupitt argues that such an analysis begs the question - has this "treatment" worked? After writing all these books, is the writer any less troubled by their childhood? After a bereavement a painter paints a great picture. Are they now able to come to terms with the loss? This psychoanalysing of life judges life by how well it produces a balanced and happy psyche, is the personality happy? By implication, if after writing the great books the writer is no happier, the writing has been a failure. The painter's painting will have been for nothing if the loss still pains as much as before. Yet, Cupitt, says, which is objectively more important, the production of great art or a happy, sane, balanced personality? This is a judgement that has to be made and for Cupitt the answer is clear - great work comes before a happy life. Indeed, for most of these great artists they probably knew in some sense that their work wasn't going to "solve" their personal problems, it wasn't the "working out" of some sort of therapy that they wanted but the creation of the good, the true and the beautiful.

The writer G.K.Chesterton is a classic example of this. Chesterton worked at an incredible rate, producing articles for newspapers - he was always a journalist - while writing novels, poems, theology and philosophy. Yet his body suffered terribly, he came close to death once - a long illness forcing him to stop writing for a while - then once recovered he was back to his old ways again. He was always overweight and unhealthy, his body paying the price for his astonishing artistic output. "By their fruits ye shall know them" begs the question of whether the fruits are a sane, balanced personality or artistic creation fueled by an explosive, fiery spirit. Christ's own life shows quiet conformity is not fruit.

Koresh's personality, then, is not an issue in evaluating his writing. His worth has to be judged solely on his objective output, his biblical teaching and spiritual discoveries.

Many artists choose to burn out their bodies to fuel their art, few find their choice enacted so literally for them by their Government.