Making Sense of King David, the Bible’s Ambiguous Hero

Sept. 30 2015

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

In the Aftermath of a Deadly Attack, President Sisi Should Visit Israel

On June 3, an Egyptian policeman crossed the border into Israel and killed three soldiers. Jonathan Schanzer and Natalie Ecanow urge President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to respond by visiting the Jewish state as a show of goodwill:

Such a dramatic gesture is not without precedent: in 1997, a Jordanian soldier opened fire on a group of Israeli schoolgirls visiting the “Isle of Peace,” a parcel of farmland previously under Israeli jurisdiction that Jordan leased back to Israel as part of the Oslo peace process. In a remarkable display of humanity, King Hussein of Jordan, who had only three years earlier signed a peace agreement with Israel, traveled to the Jewish state to mourn with the families of the seven girls who died in the massacre.

That massacre unfolded as a diplomatic cold front descended on Jerusalem and Amman. . . . Yet a week later, Hussein flipped the script. “I feel as if I have lost a child of my own,” Hussein lamented. He told the parents of one of the victims that the tragedy “affects us all as members of one family.”

While security cooperation [between Cairo and Jerusalem] remains strong, the bilateral relationship is still rather frosty outside the military domain. True normalization between the two nations is elusive. A survey in 2021 found that only 8 percent of Egyptians support “business or sports contacts” with Israel. With a visit to Israel, Sisi can move beyond the cold pragmatism that largely defines Egyptian-Israeli relations and recast himself as a world figure ready to embrace his diplomatic partners as human beings. At a personal level, the Egyptian leader can win international acclaim for such a move rather than criticism for his country’s poor human-rights record.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: General Sisi, Israeli Security, Jordan