Description: The biblical story of King David has been interpreted in many different ways, arising from the variety of methods used in and the intended objectives of the studies: Does the narrative contain insight into and information about the early history of the Judean monarchy, or is it merely a legendary tale about a distant past? Can we identify the story’s literary genre, it sociohistorical setting, and the intention of its author(s)? Is an appreciation for the wonderful literary qualities of the story compatible with a literary-critical investigation of the narrative’s compositional and text-critical history? Van Seters reviews past scholarship on the David story and in the course of doing so unravels the history of these questions and then presents an extended appraisal of the debate about the social and historical context of the biblical story. From this critical foundation, Van Seters proceeds to offering a detailed literary analysis of the story of David from his rise to power under Saul to his ultimate succession by Solomon.
As can be expected from someone known for his original thinking on a variety of topics, Van Seters articulately argues that the biblical story of David is a saga composed in the late Persian period, a beautifully crafted and highly realistic portrayal of a typical Near Eastern monarch of that time. Its author took up, as his basic source, an earlier version of the David story in which the Deuteronomistic Historian presents a completely idealized David as the king and founder of a unified state of the people of Israel. By expanding this version with his own invented episodes, the saga writer radically undercuts Dtr’s ideology by revealing David and all his offspring, including Solomon, to be quite unfit for rule and the cause of the state’s ultimate demise. The David Saga is antimessianic in its understanding of the future destiny of the state of Israel and opposed to the popular notion in his time, namely, that of a single, unified and racially pure people of Israel to the exclusion of all the other people of the land of Palestine.
Subjects: Bible, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Historical Books, 1-2 Samuel, Literature
Review by Walter Dietrich
Citation: Walter Dietrich, review of John Van Seters, The Biblical Saga of King David, Review of Biblical Literature [http://www.bookreviews.org] (2010).
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