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King David: A Biography [Kindle Edition]

Steven L. McKenzie

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Book Description

One of the most important and complex characters in the Bible, King David has been the subject of innumerable portraits, both artistic and literary. Michaelangelo's magnificent sculpture of him is perhaps the single best known work of art in the world, and the story of the humble shepherd who slew Goliath and became king has assumed a powerful mythological status. But was David a real person--and if so what kind of person was he?
Through a close and critical reading of biblical texts, ancient history, and recent archeological discoveries, Steven L. McKenzie concludes that David was indeed a real person. This David, however, was no hero but a usurper, adulterer, and murderer--a Middle Eastern despot of a familiar type. McKenzie shows that the story of humble beginnings is utterly misleading: "shepherd" is a metaphor for "king," and David came from a wealthy, upper-class background. Similarly, McKenzie reveals how David's ascent to power, traditionally attributed to popularity and divine blessing, in fact resulted from a campaign of terror and assassination. While instituting a full-blown Middle Eastern monarchy, David was an aggressive leader, a devious politician, and a ruthless war chief. Throughout his scandalous reign, important figures who stood in his way died at convenient times, under questionable circumstances. Even his own sons were not spared. David's story, writes McKenzie, "reads like a modern soap opera, with plenty of sex, violence, and struggles for power."
Carefully researched and vividly written, King David: An Unauthorized Biography offers a provocative reappraisal of the life of one of the Bible's most compelling figures.


Product Description

Review

McKenzie is little short of brilliant. (The New York Times Book Review)

A provocative look at a complex biblical figure....McKenzie uses biblical texts and recent archaeological discoveries to paint a searing portrait of the 'real' King David. (The Sunday Star-Ledger)

[A] remarkable book....McKenzie brings to bear all the analytical tools of the modern historian....We see a darker and more realistic David and a more troubling biblical history..... McKenzie's portrait of David is both convincing and disturbing. (Bible Review)

Mckenzie...uses historical analysis of the texts, augmented by archaeology and the immense body of scholarship about the ancient Middle East, to create a plausible real-life portrait of the figure who gets more space in the Bible than anybody, Moses and Jesus included....A spirited analysis. (The Fayetteville Observer)

The conventional, laudatory image of David as a simple shepherd boy who courageously slew Goliath and rose to become Israel's greatest king despite some human failings is disputed by McKenzie. (Publishers Weekly)

About the Author

Steven L. McKenzie is Professor of Hebrew Bible at Rhodes College. He is the author of many books on Bible Studies, including The Hebrew Bible Today and All God's Children: A Biblical Critique of Racism. He lives in Memphis.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2655 KB
  • Print Length: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (27 April 2000)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00368C5PG
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #666,551 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A hellion after my own heart! 17 July 2000
By Charles S. Houser - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Arguably, the three great stories of the Bible are the stories of Moses, King David, and Jesus. While some of the stories in Genesis may be easier for the average person to recount (loosely) from memory, the story of King David gets more ink from the biblical authors. With the publication of KING DAVID: A BIOGRAPHY by Steven McKenzie and THE DAVID STORY by Robert Alter, it looks like Israel's great king might finally be getting his due recognition (vis-a-vis Moses and Jesus, anyway). "Part of the appeal of the David story," says McKenzie, "has been the earthiness of its plot. It reads like a modern soap opera with plenty of sex, violence, and struggles for power. The relationships are intricate." David's story (found primarily in 1 & 2 Samuel) reads like a season of "Dallas" and has inspired modern classics by the likes of William Faulkner and Joseph Heller. Anyone who works in an office, a government agency, or university is more likely to identify with David--or one of the secondary characters in his narrative--than they would with Jesus. David is as guileful as Jesus was guileless.
In spite of his modest claim to be offering nothing new, McKenzie has accomplished an amazing feat. He has organized, presented, evaluated, and summarized recent biblical scholarship on the David story. He also discusses the scant, but intriguing, archaeological evidence of David's reign. He is not dismissive of the biblical record, but he deftly helps the average reader to understand the kind of reasonable skepticism that scholars have had to adopt in order to extract a plausible portrait of David from all the spin-doctoring the biblical authors and editors have put on the events they describe. The economy and clarity of McKenzie's prose and the relentless rationality of his argumentation is gripping and persuasive. He explains why scholars find certain texts "apologetic" and others more likely to reflect events as they might actually have occurred. McKenzie takes each major phase of David's career and methodically creates a portrait of the man. Each chapter ends with a short summary, so the reader has a second chance to decide for him or herself if the emerging portrait is credible. I found McKenzie's discussion of David's confrontation with Goliath and his brief, revisionist portrait of Bathsheba especially fascinating. The extensive bibliography directs the ambitious reader to works of primary scholarship (mostly in English) and to other literary treatments of the David story. To get the most out of this book, take McKenzie's suggestion and read or re-read the biblical texts first.
36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brief for the Prosecution 3 Dec. 2000
By David Richter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Steven McKenzie's biography of David is based on the theory that the account in Samuel is an "apologia"--a brief for the defense, and that if you look hard at what the text seems to be defending David against, you can figure out what David actually did.
This is a smart assumption but the suspicious reading it generates results in a biography of David that would make Ken Starr's portrait of Bill Clinton look like a panegyric. The only virtue McKenzie can allow David is that of being an effective guerrilla warrior because, if he hadn't been, he couldn't have reached the throne in the first place. The rest of the story is viewed as pro-David propaganda. If the story tells us that David spared the life of the worthless Nabal and that Nabal subsequently died of natural causes, it means that this is the cover story and that David must have killed him or had him killed.
The problem for the reader comes when you ask if there is any way David could have had any attractive qualities. Given the way McKenzie reads Samuel, the nice things that are said about David must be spin, and the nasty facts reported about David (and there are plenty of them, including his adultery with Bathsheba, his inability to control his sensual and ambitious children, his vindictiveness against political enemies) are facts too well known to be denied. Given McKenzie's method, David simply cannot have done anything right.
The fact is that, like almost every figure in the Bible, David's life exists in the text and only there. There aren't any alternative witnesses to who he was and what he did. The story in the book of Samuel contains all we are ever likely to know about David, and any method that insists on reading past the story to the REAL David is going to come up either with a panegyric or a lampoon, depending on how suspicious a method of reading it adopts.
But the book of Samuel itself is far more complex than any of these simplifying readings. It presents a warrior and a king who was decidedly human--sometimes all too human--and depicts his world with a richness of texture that lawyer's briefs, like McKenzie's, are necessarily going to flatten out. McKenzie's book will be useful if it makes readers turn back to Samuel and read it closely and attentively, but the story it tells is a prosecutorial brief that, seen against its source, seems thin and unconvincing.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, but not as good as the work of Baruch Halpern 29 Sept. 2005
By J. A Magill - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
McKenzie offers a fun and popularized account of the life of David. However, the text he produces, far from being scholarly, often reads a bit like a tabloid account of King David. Deconstructing the book of Samuel, a Herculean and important task, has been accomplished elsewhere by serious scholars who offer very deep reconstructions of this most fascinating and contradictory character. Readers looking to explore the subject would do well to look for Professor B. Halpern's seminal work, "David's Secret Demons." While not as breezy in style, the book goes far deeper in uncovering its subject and will offer the reader far more food for thought. Therefore, if looking for an easy read, pick up McKenzie, but those with a serious interest in King David should put the time and effort into a more serious work. Please, take a look at Halpern; you won't regret it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Thorough Yet Accessible Biography of David 4 Feb. 2012
By Rick Watts - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In King David Steven McKenzie attempts to write an historical biography of David. He states that much of this biographical information is widely accepted among scholars, but unfamiliar to laypeople. Therefore, McKenzie has written this book as an attempt to make the widely held scholarly views accessible to laypeople.

To this end, McKenzie begins by discussing the sources outside of Scripture that can inform an historical biography of David. These include several ancient inscriptions and steles. McKenzie concludes that these offer evidence of David's historical existence, but little more. Within Scripture, the sources are Samuel, Chronicles, and some of the Psalm headings. However, both Chronicles and the Psalm headings that mention David are based on Samuel. Therefore, Samuel is by far the most helpful and extensive source when considering the historical David.

Before beginning the biography, McKenzie informs the reader of the basic nature of Samuel (and much Old Testament narrative). Samuel is a piecing together of several sources that are much later than David's time. These sources are not primarily concerned with painting an historical picture of David, rather with serving the purposes of their contemporary times. This is why we see such extensive apologies of David throughout the narrative. Clearly, the authors were concerned with painting David in a very positive light to serve their purposes. Therefore, the critical reader's responsibility is to differentiate between the figurative and mystical David to find the historical David.

With this in mind, McKenzie begins his biography of David. With each chapter of David's life (and chapter of the book) McKenzie first retells the narrative according to Scripture. He then considers the historicity of this part of David's life. McKenzie first considers David's origin and youth. There is conflicting information about David's origins. Some places call him a shepherd, others a warrior. McKenzie concludes that "shepherd" is a metaphor for leading the people of Israel and Judah. A more historically reliable description is found in 1 Samuel 16:18, "I have seen a son of Jesse, the Bethlehemite, who knows how to play. He is a powerful nobleman, a warrior, eloquent, and a handsome man, and Yahweh is with him." This description goes against the young, gentle shepherd boy image that is usually assumed of David.

Moving to the David and Goliath story, McKenzie sees this as legendary. It is likely that David distinguished himself in battle against the Philistines, pleasing Saul and propelling David into military leadership. David's continuing military leadership likely brought him a significant following among Saul's subjects, though not to the extent that the Bible says. Saul eventually perceived a threat by David, but before he could act, David escaped.

Having escaped, David moves into the wilderness of Judah. There he gathered a following of fellow outlaws who terrorized the inhabitants of the Negev. David's most important single conquest during this period was the conquest of the Calebite chief, Nabal. David and Nabal's wife, Abigail (perhaps David's sister or half-sister) conspired to have Nabal killed, and David married Abigail. Thus, David assumed Nabal's wealth and power, effectively giving David control over Judah. David created an alliance with the Philistines by treaty. This combined force proved too great for Saul, bringing him down.

After Saul's demise, David and his men provoked war against Ishbaal, Saul's successor. This two-year war came to an abrupt end when David engineered the assassinations of Abner and Ishbaal, giving David control of both Judah and Israel.

With this control of both Judah and Israel, David began consolidating these rules. He established the new capital and Jerusalem, and transferred the ark there. Typical of Middle Eastern rule, David had Saul's heirs executed, all except Meribball whom he kept under house arrest. In this, and other ways, David's rule was characteristic of Middle Eastern monarchy. These include a central capital with a royal palace and shrine to the king's deity, a bureaucratic government with a standing professional army, a harem, and a feudal system of social organization in which the king is the "supreme court" of the land. These are all things that Saul's rule did not have. For this reason, McKenzie considers David to be the first true king of Israel, not Saul.

McKenzie now moves to consider the revolt of Absalom. The Bible goes to great lengths to portray David as being gentle and loving, so much so that he cannot punish his sons. This apologetic nature discredits its historicity. Instead, David had Absalom and Amnon killed because they were threats to his kingship. The narrative portrays the revolts as Yahweh's punishment for David's Bathsheba affair. This story, however, is a later addition. While the Bathsheba story claims it as the cause for the revolt, there is not such acknowledgement in the revolt narrative. The Bathsheba story was likely based on history, but did not happen before the revolt.

Towards the end of David's life, the Bible depicts him as being mentally acute, ordering Solomon as his successor, and the execution of Joab for the assassinations of Abner and Amasa. 1 Kings 1 - 2 hint that David was actually senile in the end of his life. He likely was not aware that Solomon reined in his place, nor did he order the executions of Joab and Shimei. These executions were for Solomon's own political reasons. We also see that Bathsheba was intelligent, industrious, and devoted to her son. Looking back in 2 Samuel 11 - 12 we can see that she used these characteristics to maneuver her way into David's court, and that she likely had a far greater impact on the course of events during his reign than she is usually given credit for.

McKenzie's portrait of David seems to be more historically reliable than the narrative of Samuel. He goes to great length to support his claims by a careful reading of the Scripture. He considers extensively the names and places to examine the historical plausibility. This careful examination is its greatest strength. McKenzie does not simply dismiss Samuel's David portrayal as implausible; rather he explains why it is historically implausible and suggested a more likely biography of David. This careful examination is also its greatest weakness. At the outset, McKenzie explained that he had little new insight to offer on David's life. Instead, his task was to make the wide-held scholarly views accessible to laypeople. His careful etymological examinations, and geographical study are hindrances for the average layperson. There are readers who will quickly dismiss it at the outset because of its dismissal of the Biblical account of David. Those readers will not be convinced by any amount of scholarly examination. Then there are those readers who may be open to the possibility that the historical David is not the same as the David portrayed in Samuel. Those readers will be put off by McKenzie's over examination of the scholarly articles. All of this to say, McKenzie's biography of David does not serve as an accessible summation of scholarly opinions. Rather, it serves as a starting point for the scholarly arguments. Those who find this book helpful will be those who are interested in further study of David, not those who are interested in an easy-read, historical biography of David.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impressive Study of David 14 Aug. 2008
By Lavender - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As I was logging on to review this book, I saw a review referring to this book as a "fun and popularized account," "reads a bit like a tabloid," "breezy in style," and "easy to read." Surely the reviewer has confused his books.

Prof. McKenzie documents almost every biblical reference in the narrative, provides summaries at the end of most chapters, obviously knows Hebrew, and attaches 20 pages of footnotes and a 17-page bibligraphy. This is not a read for the beach.

I was personally blown away by his conclusions about David. Since his interpretation was quite a reversal from what I believed, I resisted his teaching for several chapters. I checked his every quote to my own Bible. I questioned if I was reading heresy. I questioned my belief in the Bible.

Then, I thought, "Wow! This man might be right!" It would certainly illustrate God's capacity for forgiveness.
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