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The Sins of King David [Paperback]

Gary Greenberg

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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The "Real" King David? 8 Aug 2005
By Stuart W. Mirsky - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I planned to write a pithy review of this book and move on, but when I saw some of the negative comments here I decided to offer a bit more than that. One reader here takes the author, Gary Greenberg, to task for indulging in historical speculation. But THAT is the point, isn't it? Of course we have no outside material to rely on to refute or alter the biblical tale that has come down to us. But Greenberg's point is obviously to look at the text itself, in light of its extensive inconsistencies, redundancies and apparent errors, to try to sort it all out. What he succeeds in doing is not telling us the way it really was but rather how it might have been, constructing an alternative scenario which attempts to straighten out the peculiarities in the original text. And these are legion.

We're told, for instance, that Saul was made king at two different times in two different ways, once during a lottery conducted at a tribal gathering and once after he heroically defeats Nahash of Ammon on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Saul falls down and prophesies twice, too, once early on in his career and once later, and each instance, it is suggested, is why the proverb "Is Saul too among the prophets?" came into common usage.

Samuel breaks with Saul twice, too, in very similar circumstances: the first time during Saul's conflict with the Philistines, when he takes certain priestly prerogatives for himself (i.e., sacrificing to the Lord before Samuel, who is late, can arrive to officiate); the second time when Saul fails to follow Samuel's instruction to slay ALL the Amalekites including their women, children and beasts . . . in fact Saul spares the king and cattle to sacrifice later and Samuel announces that Saul will lose his kingdom because of this failure to fully effect the genocide he was ordered to commit.

But the oddities don't stop there. Saul meets David for the first time twice, too, and on the second occasion he and Abner, his general, have no idea who the young shepherd boy, David, is . . . even though we were previously told David was a heroic man of war inducted into Saul's entourage for his musical talents and to serve as the king's personal armor bearer. But suddenly he's a boy again and Saul and Abner have no idea who he is?

Of course we read that David slew Goliath in the original text but that same text also reports, much later in David's career, that Elkhanan, one of King David's champions, was the slayer of Goliath. In Chronicles, the slain Philistine warrior killed by Elkhanan is reported as Goliath's brother instead, though his description matches the terminology in the earlier descriptions in "Samuel I and II" of Goliath (same spear "like a weaver's beam", etc.).

When Saul hunts the fugitive David, we get two remarkably similar incidents in which David sneaks up on Saul and has the opportunity to kill him but magnanimously refrains from doing so. In the course of his flight from Saul, David also manages to run a protection racket which culminates in the death of a well off local farmer with David marrying the widow, who just happens to have the same name as David's sister (the only times this name is ever found in the Bible) who, other textual allusions suggest, may have been a daughter of Nahash of Ammon. If David's sister is related to Nahash, then what about David, himself?David, of course, conveniently inherits all the farmer's property along with his wife.

When Saul dies on the battlefield in his last stand against the Philistines, we're given two distinctly different reports of his demise, one described as a suicide, the other a mercy killing by a wandering Amalekite . . . who shouldn't be around anyway since the text in "I Samuel" reports that Saul killed all the Amalekites at the behest of Samuel, except for their king and beasts . . . and Samuel subsequently slew the king . . . so where did this Amalekite, and others who appear in the story afterwards, come from?

David's own story is just as jumbled. In the wake of Saul's death and David's consolidation of the kingdom, David seeks out and protects Jonathan's son, Saul's grandson, who is reported to be the last surviving scion of Saul's family. But later on in "II Samuel" we're told that a famine struck the land and that David, trying to undo it by appeasing the Lord, determines that the famine is the Lord's punishment because of harm done to the Gibeonites by Saul. No explanation is ever offered as to why the Lord waited so long to punish the land for Saul's alleged offense (which had not previously been reported or described). But the solution David hits on is to deliver the remaining sons and grandsons of Saul up to the Gibeonites so they can kill them. Where did they come from if Jonathan's son was Saul's last surviving male relative?

Of course, David shows his true colors more than once when his enemies conveniently die at the hands of others (usually his general and cousin, Joab) despite David's repeated regrets and proclamations of innocence. Most interestingly, when the killers are outsiders, like the wandering Amalekite who claimed to have dispatched Saul at his own request or the Gibeonites who assassinate David's rival for kingship, Saul's son Ishbaal, David usually has them executed on the spot . . . before they can tell their tale to anyone else.

So the story of David as the bible tells it is full of holes. What Gary Greenberg has endeavored to do is sort through it all and reconstruct the tale in a way that makes sense and reduces or eliminates the extensive discrepancies. Like any good criminal attorney, which he apparently is, Greenberg reorders the tale, knocks out the parts that seem illogical or without support and tells us what he thinks most likely occurred. The reader, like a jury, must look at the reconstructed tale and weigh it against the official tale because there is no other evidence, one way or the other, to decide between them.

While I was not entirely convinced, I came away with a sense that Greenberg's reconstruction makes far more sense than the discrepancy-ridden narrative in the original text. For years I've wrestled with all the confusions and duplications in this story and tried to sort them out. I just got bogged down in the morass that is "Samuel I and II." But Greenberg broke through that logjam with his carefully thought out alternative scenario. If Greenberg's suggestion that the descriptions of the Philistine giants or of Goliath's sword are metaphors doesn't quite ring true, much of the rest does. David's odd good fortune at the fortuitous deaths of so many of his adversaries and his peculiar alliance with the Philistines as they march toward their final confrontation with Saul's forces on Gilboa speak more about the character of the man behind the events than the apologists and spin doctors of biblical narrative ever could.

I agree that Greenberg left some unfortunate errors in the book including an all too frequent confusion of "Saul" with "Samuel" and even "David" (in at least one instance). Other typos also caught me up short. But on balance this is a very credible, if speculative, reconstruction of a tale that has too long mesmerized credulous readers. Greenberg's David is not a particularly nice guy and is very much a Type A despot, the kind of tinpot dictator that still besets so much of the world today.

The King of Vinland's Saga
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars David; exposed! 21 Dec 2007
By Frank - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I would like to add that this book contains comparison text, maps, timelines, and glossaries which makes it a wide-ranging account of King David; it's not like he is plucking ideals out of the air...he uses the biblical text and a bit of common sense (coming from a foundation in the historical context of the time).
The ideal that the biblical accounts of King David seems to be `apologetics' passages and parts of the story seem to be out of chronological order is not new; it's been observed by biblical scholars beforehand.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars pure fiction 27 April 2005
By Seth J. Frantzman - Published on Amazon.com
This is a good fictionalized account of David's life and were it just that then the book maybe deserved 3 or 4 stars, however becuase it passes itself off as real historical investigation of Biblical sources it doesnt measure up. The Book is sopposed to be an 'expose' on the 'true' story of King David's life. However we must ask, what are the sources for this. The source is the Bible. So really we are not getting anything true, rather we are getting an investigation into seeming contradictions within the Biblical narrative, which itself may not be 100% accurate. Since this book doest not include the Hebrew and it is evident that the investigation is not based on the original Hebrew with its nuances then one wonders what this reinterpretation or 'redaction' of the story is really based on, it is based on translation. So the semi-obvious argument that for instance Samuel ceased to see Saul, it simply based on a misunderstanding of a translation. Had anyone read the original Hebrew it is clear the message is not that they NEVER saw each other again, it is a nuance, an allusion to a deeper feeling that Samuel did not 'call' on Saul, did not sit and dine with him, did not give him counsel, etc... Their is no evidence for most oft he conjecture here. For instance their is no evidence that David didnt kill goliath, just as there is no evidence that Goliath ever existed. If one is skeptical about the origins of the Bible, it doesnt make logical sense to try to argue within the framework of the text, the text and the belief in its accurace is based on faith, not neccesarily accuracy, despite what we know from Josephus and archeological diggings, no archeology is going to tell us that David actually did so and so, or that he had sex with so and so, since in our modern day we cant even get stories strait who is to expect in 1000 B.C everyong knew everything that took place accuratly?

Seth J. Frantzman
5.0 out of 5 stars Human nature first and always. 22 May 2014
By Ed C. Fields Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
It was a fascinating and eye opening read and I'm inclined to believe Mr. Greenberg, first of all because of his credentials and his scholarship, and second, because people in power or who are seeking power may say that they're doing something for God and/or Country but their motives are generally (always?) good old ugly human nature reasons like power, wealth, and coverups. That's not divine revelation, by the way. That comes from reading the newspaper and watching TV. It's called common sense. I did not realize until I read in Mr. Greenberg's book that the priests did not just lead prayers, they were political and military forces as well, so Samuel's contention that God didn't like Saul anymore came out of the fact that Saul took away Samuel's power, prestige, and money. Mr. Greenberg also explains the reasons for the whitewash and sanitizing of David in both of the Biblical books he sites One of them 'rehabilitates' David because the writers were part of the group of priests who joined David to do away with Saul and besides, David's lineage was still in power. The writers of the second book, Chronicles, takes the PR overhaul even further so that they could set up the messiah myth and trace it back to David, beloved of the Lord. It could be tricky convincing people that you're God's chosen one if they know that you come from the House and Lineage of Richard Nixon or Joseph Stalin, if you get my drift. Anyhow, the book is a great read for those who are skeptical, cynical, or just plain curious about the Bible as historical document, not "Word Of God'. However, it does raise a dangerous question: If the lies and hype about the promised Messiah start that far back, what does that do to his credibility when he shows up to claim the title?
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Popularization of Bible research 13 Feb 2003
By P. Nagy - Published on Amazon.com
The Sins of King David: A New History by Gary Greenberg (Sourcebooks) An important radable popularization of recent biblical criticism and historical reconstruction. Throughout the Old Testament there has been no more popular name, no more beloved biblical figure, no greater icon than King David. Through the millennia he has been portrayed as a pious and humble man, a goodly king whose heart was with the Lord, a monarch who composed lyrical poetry, divine music, defeated a giant and warded off the enemies of the ancient Israelites.
The Sins of King David creates a different and altogether fascinating and thrilling portrait of the man. Gary Greenberg shows King David for what he really was-deceitful and corrupt, a tyrant and a murderer. From the slaughter of seven sons of Saul, whom he hung, and the death of Goliath, whom he did not slay, to the murder of one of his most loyal lieutenants, whose wife he seduced, he was not the man that history has embraced.
Follow King David and his subjects, successors and usurpers on a fantastic journey of discovery, and trace this unusual story through the written clues unearthed in one of the most holy texts.
The Bible offers two contradictory stories of David, one written by his allies, and the other by his adversaries. Only in the last century have scholars belonging to the Literary-Critical school of biblical analysis taken a fresh look at those conflicting stories, attempting to unravel the written skeins that weave through the biblical texts. This book is the fruit of those scholars' works, and the author's own endeavor, in which he attempts to portray David as the people of his time saw him and actually knew him.
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