In the conclusion to Joel Baden’s The Historical David, he notes that the story of the end of David’s life and the installation of Solomon as king is not an apology for David. David appears weak and old. This last part of the story is an apology for Solomon. The apology for David ends after the story of the revolt by Absalom.
The big surprise for me in the conclusion is that Baden thinks that someone composed the apology during David’s lifetime in response to charges made against him by supporters of Absalom.
It was these supporters of the rebellion who charged David with murdering Saul and dug up other old rumors about him. These charges took a major toll on David’s popularity. So many of the people of both Judah and Israel were reluctant to return to David. He was at his weakest. And this is when the apology was needed.
If this is true, it makes it even more incredible to me that the author of the apology would invent not only incidents but characters. There would have been people alive who knew better.
Perhaps an apology for David did arise then. But I think it is secondary to the court history that covers both David and Solomon’s rise and traces the religious history of David’s bringing the ark to Jerusalem and Solomon’s establishing the Temple. In other words, a preliminary apology for David would have only been a source–perhaps an oral narrative and not a document– for the court history, which I still see as sponsored by the queen mother, Bathsheba.
As Baden notes this is all now part of a larger work, the Deuteronomistic History, that stretches from Joshua through 2 Kings.
In digging back behind the apology for David and its agenda, Baden arrives at a David who is “a vile human being” (p. 258). I have found several valuable insights into the probable events of David’s career by reading Baden. But it seems to me that he goes a little too far in judging David.
Of course, David as a usurper and a military figure was a man of violence. He was also a religious man. I think that our idea of someone getting religion is bent by modern pietistic and puritanical assumptions. So, if David was religious, he should have put aside his “toxic masculinity” and renounced violence and womanizing. Obviously David did not do that.
And yet he seems to have instituted a tradition of worship through music and song. He put the ark in Jerusalem as a center for the nation’s devotion. He had a relationship that we wish we knew more about with priests and prophets.
In his works, The Sanctuary of Silence and The Divine Symphony, Israel Knohl argued for a view of the priesthood in Jerusalem as having a religion that was not about morality and personal righteousness until the holiness movement around 700 BCE. The God of these priests was a majestic God, but accessible mostly by ritual within the shrine. Perhaps David’s religion was similar.
Now we have the story of David as part of the Deuteronomistic History which has incorporated a source or viewpoint that was opposed to the monarchy. Samuel’s speech in 1 Samuel 8:10 ff. gives a detailed warning about the loss of liberty that having a king would entail. The Gideon/Abimelech cycle in Judges also stands as a warning against monarchy. Deuteronomy 17:14 ff. limits royal power in a way other Near Eastern nations did not.
So the Hebrew Bible provides a critique of monarchy itself. At the literary level, the story of David is something of a tragedy. David’s flaws and struggles fit within an understanding of the broken nature of human power. Some kings were better than others. But the Hebrew Bible pointed beyond this to a kingdom of God and, I point out as a Christian observing Advent, a Prince of Peace.