The Historical David: The Real Life of an Invented Hero

The Historical David: The Real Life of an Invented Hero

by Joel Baden
     
 

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A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2013

How the Bible Covered Up the True Story of Israel's Beloved King

For all the glory we attribute to David's legend, the historical reality is both fascinating and disturbing. Through deep textual analysis, Baden brings the historical David vibrantly to life and ultimately reveals that the flesh-and-blood man was far

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Overview

A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2013

How the Bible Covered Up the True Story of Israel's Beloved King

For all the glory we attribute to David's legend, the historical reality is both fascinating and disturbing. Through deep textual analysis, Baden brings the historical David vibrantly to life and ultimately reveals that the flesh-and-blood man was far more complex and interesting than the mythical king.

Editorial Reviews

Diarmaid MacCulloch
“An invigoratingly grown-up reading of the Bible, taking it seriously but not literally.... David emerges no longer as the author of the Psalms or the slayer of Goliath, yet Baden’s scholarly analysis leaves the usurper-King as one of the most crucial shapers of world history.”
Michael Coogan
“Reading between and behind the lines of the biblical text and its silences, Baden gives an engaging reconstruction of who the true David may have been. This is a brilliant synthesis, with some unexpected and even daring twists of interpretation. A tour de force!”
John Dominic Crossan
“[Baden] succeeds positively, powerfully, and persuasively in locating Israel’s once and future king as an actual historical figure. The multiple layers of fact and fiction, history and theology are cleanly and clearly distinguished but without either modern apologetics or contemporary polemics.”
Amy-Jill Levine
“This revisionist take on King David—as brilliant politician but despicable human being—combines the best of historical study and literary imagination. Baden’s challenge to traditional understandings of Israel’s king is always provocative, often compelling, and completely fascinating.”
John J. Collins
“Lively.…This is a provocative book that raises questions about the nature of biblical narrative and also about the historical continuity of the Davidic line.”
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
“For readers open to debating this beloved biblical figure, The Historical David will make compelling reading.”
starred review Booklist
Utterly fascinating and written with sublime lucidity.
Publishers Weekly
10/07/2013
With a Jewish sensibility and a critical scholar’s eye, Yale Divinity School Professor Baden sifts out the myth and political spin from the biblical evidence that shows that King David was a subjugating usurper who unseated the popular and able King Saul. After explaining the traditions underlying David’s idealized character (e.g., the attribution of Psalms to David’s hand, the tendency of later works to tidy his record), Baden opens up the text to the lay reader. He presents the plausible historical events leading to David’s claiming of the throne, the nature of his reign, and, somewhat speculatively, the significance of Solomon’s succession. That the biblical account of David’s rise to power is a political apology—an answer to the contemporary charges against him, which included implication in murders and regicide—is not news to those familiar with critical Bible scholarship. Baden’s offering, however, is notable as part of a recent trend, even in traditional circles, to view critical scholarship as essential to general Jewish religious self-understanding, rather than as an academic or potentially subversive exercise. (Oct.)
Di armaid MacCullochProfessor of the History of the Church
“An invigoratingly grown-up reading of the Bible, taking it seriously but not literally.... David emerges no longer as the author of the Psalms or the slayer of Goliath, yet Baden’s scholarly analysis leaves the usurper-King as one of the most crucial shapers of world history.”
Library Journal
10/01/2013
In a work reminiscent of the quest for the historical Jesus, Baden (Old Testament, Yale Divinity Sch.; The Composition of the Pentateuch: Renewing the Documentary Hypothesis) attempts a biography of the real King David. He extrapolates from Old Testament authors, analyzing their agendas, to find the David of history. This biography is at odds with biblical stories and the popular imagination, replacing the psalmist and giant-slaying youth with an ambitious and morally suspect aspirant to the throne of Israel. While Baden uses the biblical text as his primary source, he acknowledges that the Bible is not history but, rather, theology and national epic. Comparing two separate accounts of the Goliath story, for instance, he determines that the giant was slayed not by David but by one of his warriors. Rather than dismiss the David story in its entirety as metaphor or myth, Baden argues that the authors' "pro-David" agenda points to the ancient king's existence, a thesis that, in the absence of genuine historical data regarding David's existence, is unconvincing. While Baden's highly speculative arguments are provocative, the real value of his book lies in its understanding of the David story as revisionist "spin." VERDICT Laypeople will find in this accessible volume a sense of who the historical David might have been, while scholars of history and religion will find value in Baden's description of the biblical authors' motivations. Recommended.—Matt Rice, Philadelphia
Kirkus Reviews
2013-09-15
Following the lead of other scholars seeking to recreate history as portrayed in the Bible, Baden (Old Testament/Yale Divinity School; The Promise to the Patriarchs, 2013, etc.) sets out to thoroughly upend the story of King David. The author asserts that the entirety of the biblical account about David was written for the sole purpose of legitimizing and glorifying a man who was, in fact, a thug, murderer and usurper. Baden begins by rejecting fundamental tales about David's youth--e.g., that he played music for King Saul, slew Goliath and was anointed by the Prophet Samuel. He then theorizes that David was a minor officer in Saul's army who decided to overthrow the king, a coup that completely failed. Forced to live on the run, David nonetheless managed to gain a following and become a leader of the opposing Philistines, eventually bringing about Saul's downfall. Baden portrays David as ruthless and cunning, willing to kill anyone who got in his way, his own children included. As a final twist to the story, the author declares the story of David and Bathsheba, as it has been known for centuries, to be almost entirely fictional. He declares that Solomon was not David's son and in fact took the kingship from David against his will as David was dying. Solomon's own partisans made up the lurid story of David and Bathsheba to make Solomon appear to be a legitimate king by birth. Though certain theories, taken individually, have credence, Baden's front-to-back rewriting of David's life as a lurid soap opera will leave many readers mystified. Baden views the Bible as one rambling piece of propaganda: "Not a word of the David story--and perhaps the entire Bible--is intended solely to describe things as they truly were." Baden ensures readers will see things his way by declaring anything that refutes his thesis to be "unverifiable." And, no surprise, there's a lot of that. This unflattering portrait of King David is a hard pill to swallow.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062188373
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
07/29/2014
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
1,122,494
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.72(d)

Meet the Author

Joel S. Baden is Professor of Old Testament at Yale Divinity School and the author of several works on the Hebrew Bible, including The Composition of the Pentateuch and The Promise to the Patriarchs. Baden's articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, CNN's Belief Blog, and The Huffington Post. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

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