[November 14, 2020] One of my personal interests has been understanding the way successful leaders think. I do this as a way to improve show up-and-coming leaders how to improve their leadership skills. A recent article by Andrew Stone, MD, at Eternal Soldier piqued my interest. It was titled, Did King Paul have PTSD?
Dr. Stone proposed a thought-provoking question with the title of his article. He begins by asking whether we can even ask such a question of a person who lived 3,000 years ago.
The story of King Saul comes to us across the centuries, from roughly three thousand years ago, and the form we have it in was written down hundreds of years after that time, in what is called the Book of Samuel [from the Bible].
What we do know is that King Saul had long and broad exposure to combat.
14:47 After Saul had secured his kingship over Israel, he waged war on every side against all his enemies, against the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, the Philistines, and the kings of Zobah; and wherever he turned, he worsted [them].
14:52 There was bitter war against the Philistines all the days of Saul.1
Again, from the Bible in the book of I Samuel, we find that the people around King Saul saw that he had changed and was deeply disturbed.
16:14 Now the spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord began to terrify him.2
Of course, the Bible is a long-ago written narrative that has witnessed many changes through translations, changing the meaning of words and selective editing. While this makes for difficulty in pulling out a medical diagnosis, we do have some indicators that King Saul may have had PTSD. For example, he showed signs of anger and irritability.
18:10 The next day, an evil spirit of God gripped Saul, and he began to rave in the house, while David was playing [his lyre] as he did daily. Saul had a spear in his hand, and Saul threw the spear, thinking to pin David to the wall. But David eluded him twice. Saul was afraid of David, for the Lord was with him and had turned away from Saul.3
King Saul is an experienced warrior, one who has known constant war for many years. Combat is where he feels most at home. It is where his suspiciousness and anger make the most sense. He leads his armies into battle for the last time against the Philistines, who defeated him in battle. Badly wounded, King Saul asks to be killed but takes his own life. In that suicide, when the wounds from his enemies have not killed him, he takes his own life.
So, did King Saul have PTSD? All we can say from here and now is that we hear the story of a man who goes to war over and over again, with sword and spear, hand to hand. King Saul may or may not have had what we now call PTSD, but the man in the story is someone who went to war and came back changed, with wounds and scars on his mind and soul as well as on his body.