Since the Supreme Court forbade Bible reading in school, the kids must be having a tough time. I could never have made it through school except by picturing the faculty as the people of Rabbah and myself as David (II Samuel 12:31). In fact, David was my favorite Biblical character. One day my father sat on Claude, my pet porcupine, and unjustly decided to make me as sore as he was, and in the same place. My father was a giant—at least six cubits and a span—but although I'd learned from David how to handle giants, I didn't have a sling.
That lack was corrected a couple years ago while I was on a trip through the Holy Land. Returning from Jericho to Jerusalem, I saw a Bedouin shepherd slinging stones at his sheep. It was the first time I'd ever seen a sling in use, so I shouted to the driver to stop.
Once the Bedouin found that I was not an Israeli, he let me look at the sling. It was made of woven goat hair and was a little more than three feet long. It consisted of a wool pouch to hold the stone, and two cords attached to the ends of the pouch. A small loop was tied in the end of one cord. The stone was put in the pouch and the shepherd slipped the loop over his index finger. Then, holding the other cord in his hand, he swung the pouch rapidly around his head and suddenly let loose the handful of cord. The sling opened and the stone was projected with astonishing power. He could send a stone about the size of a golf ball 100 yards.
Through the driver, the shepherd explained, "We have always used slings to herd our flocks. You throw the stone where you do not want the sheep to go, and so turn them. Now that the Israelis have forbidden us to have guns, we also use the slings to knock over small game just as we did in the old days. You can kill a gazelle with a sling, but mostly we knock over small birds. At the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem there's a booth where they sell hundreds of small birds, nearly all taken with slings. A sling hasn't the range of a gun, but the ammunition is cheaper; you just use rocks."
I offered to buy his weapon. He thought I was crazy because as an American I could afford a gun, but we finally settled on a price. Later I dropped into the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to find out something about slings. No one knows how old the instrument is, but Stone Age disk-shaped flints have been found that were used as slingstones, and a sling made of plaited linen thread was found in the tomb of Tutankhamen. The American Indians used slings. The Aztecs made such good use of the weapon against the Spanish that Bernal Diaz wrote, "They had slings and plenty of stones, and they threw them so fast they wounded five of our soldiers and two horses." As the soldiers were in full armor, the stones must have had considerable impetus. In the Old World the Jews were always great slingers, the Benjamites having a special corps of 700 left-handed slingmen who, according to the Bible, "could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss." The Philistines preferred heavy javelins that could pierce a thick shield, but the slingers outranged the javelin throwers, and after a Philistine had thrown his javelin he was disarmed, while a slinger could keep going as long as he could find rocks. Sennacherib introduced slingers in his army, and the Assyrians, Persians, Anglo-Saxons, Greeks and Romans also included the weapon in their arsenal. The Greeks made an art of slinging, baking clay pellets inscribed with a thunderbolt on one side and "Ouch!" on the other.
When I returned to Jerusalem's Intercontinental Hotel with my newly purchased sling, it produced a sensation. The Arab waiters were delighted. As children herding sheep, they had all used a sling, and seeing an American carrying one struck them as humorous, as meeting a sheikh wearing a top hat would seem to us. They crowded around eagerly to show me the correct technique. "But the moclar is very old-fashioned," several explained, moclar being the Arabic for the ordinary sling that resembles an eye patch, though it is best not to mention an eye patch around Arabs.
"The best sling works on an entirely different principle," one waiter told me. "I have one at home, and I keep the family supplied with small game using it. I'll bring it in tomorrow and show you how it works." The next morning the waiter produced the sling, all right. It consisted of a forked stick cut from the Mount of Olives and a rubber band cut from the inner tube of a defunct armored car. You put a stone in the middle of the rubber band, pulled it back and let go. If I hadn't been informed it was a unique device, I'd have sworn it was what American boys call a slingshot.
"This great invention revolutionized the art of hunting," my Arab friend explained proudly. "With the old moclar you have to stand up and swing it around your head. That frightens the game. But with this improved model you can crouch down, aim and fire without any extra motion. True, it doesn't have anything like the power of the moclar, but it's a lot more practical." I assured him this terrible weapon was indeed impressive; however, I still kept the moclar.
On returning to Pennsylvania, I decided to use the moclar for varmint hunting. I have quite a collection of primitive weapons, including longbows, crossbows, blowguns, boomerangs, bolas and throwing knives. But a sling is a handy device to carry around. You can stick it in your pocket or pull it through your belt. Also, a round missile slung with considerable power has certain advantages over a piercing missile like an arrow or a blowgun dart. It knocks the quarry cold while many an animal can run off with an arrow or a dart.
I soon found that the Arab's sling was too light for my purposes. When a sling opens it has to open fast and with a snap to give the stone the greatest amount of momentum. The light wool didn't fall away fast enough. I came across an old book in our library on ancient English sports that had a design of a sling that "could send a bullet over the loftiest spire in England." This sling was made of leather, the cords whipped with waxed thread. The pouch was also of leather with three slits cut in it so it would close around the stone. The sling was 48 inches long, nine inches longer than the Arab one. A neighbor who is a saddle maker made the apparatus for me. He did a very good job and even tried it out himself a few times.