The main difference between my view of the story of David in the books of Samuel and Joel Baden’s (in The Historical David: The Real Life of and Invented Hero) has to do with the idea of literary creativity and invention. Baden thinks literary creativity allowed for much invention or fabrication of stories. I am not sure that that is the way it worked. I, while agreeing that the stories give us a biased, unhistorical view of David, would say that the stories were doctored more than that they were invented. I base this partly on examples from other biblical accounts and stories from the ancient Near East and Greece.
The court chronicles of David, it seems to me, began to circulate at a time close enough to the events that it would be hard to completely invent the stories.
This is true of the death of David and the assumption of the throne by Solomon. Both Baden and I reject the view that someone writing in the Persian period, hundreds of years later, just made it all up. David died. Solomon took the throne. But the way this happened according to Samuel and Kings has been doctored.
Solomon was not the legitimate heir to the throne. The argument that he was not really David’s son, which Baden asserts, is not necessary. David may have had a fair number of offspring by lesser wives and concubines. His marriage to Bathsheba was not a political marriage calculated to produce a prince.
Adonijah was the prince next in line for the throne. But, according to 1 Kings 1:5-7, he acted with outrageous vanity to acclaim himself king right under the nose of the old, impotent, and perhaps senile David. David’s general, Joab, supported him as did one of the high priests, Abiathar. However, David’s private army and body guards and Zadok, the other high priest, did not.
Then the story says that Nathan, the prophet, intervened with Bathsheba. She went and got David to designate Solomon as his successor.
Baden’s understanding of this is that Adonijah was not actually a rebel. In Egypt and elsewhere, it was common for there to be a co-regency when a king became too old to effectively rule. The prince next in line for the throne would step up to rule alongside the ailing king to ensure competent government. Adonijah was putting himself forward as the solution to David’s infirmity. Most of the court agreed to this.
For Baden, Nathan is a literary device, not a historical figure. He appears three times, and always to justify the way things turned out. So the real effort to block Adonijah and raise Solomon originated with Bathsheba. David, in his right mind, believed in the order of succession. This is why his son by Ahinoam had to die. Only death could break the order of succession. So Bathsheba’s statement in 1 Kings 1:17 that David had vowed to make Solomon king is a lie. She may have appealed to David on the basis of a threat to her and Solomon (v. 21).
Whatever happened between David and Bathsheba was private. There is no way to recover that event. What we have is official propaganda. The speech in 1 Kings 1:32-37 with detailed instructions for Solomon’s anointing is a speech that has been put into David’s mouth.
What followed was a violent coup led by David’s private army. . Benaiah led the Cherethithes and the Pelethites, the foriegn mercenaries of David’s personal army, to anoint Solomon. So Adonijah fled. The story in the Bible may be compressed. The struggle for power may have played out over some time. It seems that the executions of Adonijah and Joab happened after David died. We don’t know how much later that was.
Bathsheba, Zadok, and Benaiah (plus Nathan, if he was a real person) were the actors. We do not hear about Solomon himself taking part in this. There is reason to think that Bathsheba was the power behind the throne for some time.
Much of Baden’s reconstruction here seems likely.
There are Egyptian precedents. We get some background from this site about harem conspiracies in Egypt:
Some of the inhabitants of the royal harem were just one step away from wielding real power, perhaps not directly in their own name, but as mother of a pharaoh their influence could be far-reaching. Becoming involved in political intrigues and championing one’s own offspring must have been a constant temptation, above all for the second tier wives, whose children had smaller chances of accending (sic) to the throne than those of a Great Wife. But at times some harem ladies crossed the lines and plotted the violent overthrow of the king.
Baden does not deal with the story that Adonijah asked Bathsheba to permit him to marry the servant girl who “warmed” David in his old age (2 Kings 2:17 ff.). I am of two minds about that story. On the one hand, I remember Frank Moore Cross having said that if Adonijah really did ask this of Bathsheba he truly deserved to be executed–for stupidity. On the other hand, I wonder if the story might give us a real memory that Bathsheba was in charge of David’s harem. Perhaps the story in 1 Kings 2 is out of chronological order and happened before Adonijah made his move.
Perhaps, we could speculate that Bathsheba had risen to become in charge–a kind of house mother–in the harem during David’s reign, and that this position gave her the kind of power base she needed. In Egypt, men administered the royal harem. But we do not know what kind of pecking order existed in David’s harem or who you would ask about marrying a virgin who was attached to the harem.