King David: The Real Life of the Man Who Ruled Israel

Jonathan Kirsch, Author Ballantine Books $28 (384p) ISBN 978-0-345-43275-9
In this biography/commentary hybrid, Kirsch sheds light on biblical characters and gives readers a refresher course on Israel's monarchic period, from 1025 to 925 BCE. Arguing that the Old Testament may have originated as David's royal biography, Kirsch cites dozens of Bible scholars in his attempt to separate history from myth. The two myths he examines most closely are those cultivated by a ""Court Historian"" who embellished David's exploits to make him seem more kingly than he was, and those written by the ""Deuteronomistic Historian,"" who revised the ancient texts about David to downplay his bad behavior and emphasize the sovereignty of Yahweh. Kirsch's citation of experts is dutiful but frustrating; only rarely does he mention the schools of thought to which his sources belong, which excludes readers from a crucial dimension of any intellectual debate. Kirsch's agenda is murky as well; it is never entirely clear whether he wishes to find the truth about David and extrapolate didactic messages or simply make a sport of listing the various and contradictory readings of his life. It may be that Kirsch eschews these complicated questions in the service of accessibility, and for that he can be forgiven, since secular books about the Bible are often inaccessible to all but a handful of scholars. This book, on the other hand, welcomes a wide audience to a scandalous, violent and surprisingly familiar ancient Israel, and both educates and entertains. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
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