King David’s importance to Jewish history and theology, the moral complexity of his character, and the literary subtlety of the biblical narrative of his life have made him a subject of endless fascination. Joel Kaminsky reviews four recent books about the monarch, among them Joel Baden’s The Historical David: The Real Life of an Invented Hero, J. Randall Short’s The Surprising Election and Confirmation of King David, and David Wolpe’s David: The Divided Heart:
[According to Baden], we can recover a good deal of history from the books of Samuel once we recognize that they are really a defense of David, an apology for his brutal, ruthless career. The foundational support for this hypothesis comes from what are claimed to be analogous ancient Near Eastern texts dating from several hundred years before David’s time, particularly a document produced by the Hittite king Hattushili III, who rose to power in a coup d’état.
Against this interpretation is the one given by Short:
Short highlights [the fact] that the Hittite text portrays Hattushili as completely innocent, while many [biblical passages that ostensibly defend or justify David’s behavior] portray David in a very unflattering light. If these texts were written to defend David, then whoever wrote them botched the job. Couldn’t a talented author, or even a court hack, have easily fabricated less complex and ambiguous stories? Why all the shades of gray? As [David] Wolpe aptly points out, “the attempt to turn David into a Machiavellian thoroughbred does violence to the complexity of his character,” and saying that “David is not above subterfuge . . . does not mean that every seeming subterfuge is David’s.”
Read more at Jewish Review of Books
More about: Biblical criticism, Book of Samuel, Hebrew Bible, King David, Religion & Holidays