DAVID'S SECRET DEMONS: Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King

Baruch Halpern, Author
Baruch Halpern, Author . Eerdmans $30 (512p) ISBN 978-0-8028-4478-1
Reviewed on: 05/28/2001
Release date: 04/01/2001
Paperback - 492 pages - 978-0-8028-2797-5
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In a dazzling display of erudition, Halpern, chairman of Jewish studies at Pennsylvania State University, dissects the story of David with sparkling, witty prose, using historical, textual, psychological and archaeological analysis. Brandishing his broad knowledge, Halpern mentions Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, Mark Twain, Gregory Peck, Richard Gere, Bill Cosby, Joseph Heller, Disraeli and Hannibal Lecter, among others. He comments critically on the biblical narrative found in 1 and 2 Samuel and the second chapter of 1 Kings, asserting that it is contradictory, exaggerated and riddled with omissions. Conventional perceptions of David fault him for his affair with Bathsheba and for arranging the death of her husband, but generally portray him as a handsome, brave shepherd who became king and established Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Halpern elaborates and exploits the story of Bathsheba to paint David as a villain. He methodically demolishes any positive image of David, calling him a serial killer, thug, mercenary, adulterer, assassin, bandit, brigand and predator. Many sources are given to support these allegations but, surprisingly, Halpern fails to cite Robert Alter's excellent The David Story, which contains a full-blooded portrait of the Machiavellian king. While Halpern's picture of David is largely negative, he presents him as a complex biblical character who was "the first human being in world literature" but "not someone whom it would be wise to invite to dinner." Although Halpern forfeits accessibility by using such words as topos, paronomastically, circumvallations, therapon, epanalepsis, merismus, adyton and imbrication, this is an outstanding study. (June)

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