Joel Baden’s The Historical David is still my topic.
I have called this “David’s love life”, but it’s not about the Bathsheba incident, which will come later. Baden notes how often in the story it is said that someone loved David. Saul loved David. Michal loved David. Jonathan loved David. The people loved David.
Baden points out that every time someone loved David, it worked out to David’s political advantage. We have already seen how Baden casts doubt on the story in regard to the relationship between David and Saul and the relationship between David and Michal.
He spends some time talking about the relationship of David to Jonathan. The story seems doubtful because it has Jonathan acting against his own interest. He was the legitimate heir to the throne. Yet he supports David. In the weird scene where he strips off his clothes and gives them to David (1 Samuel 18:3-4), it is his royal clothing that he transfers to David. When Jonathan blesses David saying, “May the Lord be with you, as he was with my father” (1 Samuel 20:13 NET Bible), he puts God’s blessing of Saul in the past and affirms that it now rests on David.
It has been fashionable lately to say that David and Jonathan had a homosexual relationship– this in spite of David apparently having lots of straight sex. Baden is open to the idea that the author of the story might hint at an erotic relationship. It doesn’t matter for history, though, because the relationship between them is a literary construct intended to legitimize David’s replacing Saul as king.
To get at something actually historical, Baden asks what caused the rupture between Saul and David that led to David fleeing and to Saul’s repeated attempts to kill him or get him killed.
He thinks a clue has been left in the story of David’s marriage to Abigail. There we learn that David was already married to someone named Ahinoam (1 Samuel 25:43), Saul’s wife and the mother of Jonathan also was named Ahinoam (1 Samuel 14:50). Nobody else in the Bible has that name. In 2 Samuel 12:8 Nathan says that God had given David “your master’s house and your master’s wives.”
This has given rise the theory that David took Saul’s wife.
Baden goes into some detail about how this meant David attempted a coup against Saul. To sleep with the king’s wife was to assert a claim to the throne (see 2 Samuel 16:22). The apologist for David, however, did not want to talk about something that would have given Saul a legitimate grievance.
“The Bible could hardly ignore the common knowledge that Ahinoam did become David’s wife. But it could defer mention of the marriage until later in the narrative–in fact, until the very point when it became absolutely necessary, when David took Abigail as his second wife. Abigail couldn’t be cast as the first, because Ahinoam was the mother of David’s eldest son.”
David’s attempted coup failed. Saul had more resources and loyalty than David expected, so David had to flee into the wilderness. Saul was not deranged or unstable for persecuting David. David was an ambitious manipulator of people. He was a real threat.
Okay. Let me push back against some of this. If the Bible could not ignore common knowledge about Ahinoam, it probably could not ignore common knowledge about Saul, Michal, and Jonathon either.
In the case of Jonathan, there are independent stories about his career as a warrior that have nothing to do with David. So he was probably a real person.
In the case of Saul, there is reason to think that he was brutal, if not unstable. The priests at Nob were victims (1 Samuel 22:17-18). The Gibeonites were victims (2 Samuel 21:1-2).
We have some over-the-top dialogue, which Baden methodologically excludes from consideration, that shows Saul shaming Ahinoam and calling her a “perverse and rebellious woman” (1 Samuel 20:30).
This could simply be him reacting to her seduction by David. Or it could be, as Baden seems to think, part of an artificial literary construction. But it might signal that Saul was an abusive husband all along. This is a possibility that comes to my mind because of my pastoral experience. Saul seems to be the type.
An appealing human explanation for a bond between David and Jonathan over against Saul would be if they made common cause in protecting Jonathan’s mother from him.
But I am not writing a historical novel, so I can’t go too far. The Bible has no interest in David’s love life in the romantic sense.
We can just say that David may have had his reasons beyond a ruthless hunger for power. People may have loved David because, although he was no puritan icon, he was in fact a better person than Saul.
I think a lot of us Jews and Christians would like to think that. Maybe it is pious sentimentality. Yet there are some clues in the text to justify it.