Book review: The Historical David: The Real Life of an Invented Hero

by Joel Baden

★★★★★

This book hooked me from the beginning. Definitely a fun read, especially during the beginning of David’s career.

Uncovering the historical David is no small challenge—more difficult than pinpointing the historical Jesus, I believe—but Baden makes a valiant effort. His research is fraught with speculation, and he certainly has no qualms about taking a controversial stand, but who knows? He may be right more often than he is wrong. The point is that we simply cannot know; we can only put our reasoning caps on and try to make sense of the tangled story in the Bible, for that’s all we have to go on. So keep a few grains of salt handy when you open the cover on this one.

It is definitely a fascinating journey. Baden’s picture of David is not very flattering. Our favorite Biblical king comes off as a power-hungry scoundrel.  This is the story of a wilderness bandit who wields rogue diplomacy, military prowess, and ruthlessness en route to subjugating a kingdom for himself, ruled from his cultic center in the conquered Jerusalem.

While David’s accomplishment was astounding—unifying the diverse villages and peoples of Judah, and then stealing the northern kingdom (Israel) out from under Saul—one struggles to imagine him a national ruler. At least not on the same terms as Solomon, the next king of Israel. Saul ruled Israel humbly from “under a tree,” then David doubled its size and built a palace and worship center around the ark of the covenant, but it was Solomon who elevated Israel into a glorious kingdom on the backs of slave laborers. This unlikely trio would build a monarchy out of an unruly wilderness that would last for four centuries.

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