I am reading David, King of Israel, and Caleb in Biblical Memory by Jacob L. Wright.
He goes off on what seems like a tangent talking about war memorials. He has in mind a particular kind of war memorial. In Boston there is a memorial to black soldiers who volunteered for the Union during the Civil War. In the south Jewish women organized to create war memorials for Jewish soldiers who fought for the Confederacy.
He says these memorials serve a political purpose for minority or marginalized people. They seek to show that, because of sacrifice and service, these people have earned a place in the community.
He comes back to the Bible to argue that the Hebrew Bible emphasized war so much because many of the stories were constructed as war memorials in order to show that Israel as a whole or subgroups within Israel had status and privilege due to past service and sacrifice. He claims, for instance, that the Song of Deborah is a constructed literary war memorial.
This approach shows why there is so much war and violence in the Bible. It also shows how there might be a reason for constructing these stories in the time just before and after the defeat of the nation by Babylon and the exile.
Specifically, as to the story of David, he says this:
Of all the Bible’s diverse figures, the one who is portrayed most graphically, and who enjoyed the most vibrant post-biblical afterlife, is King David. In a multitude of texts, the life of this ambitious sovereign served as a symbol around which competing literary circles struggled to come to terms with both the boon and bane of centralized monarchic rule. Yet David is more than an illustrative illustration of the Bible’s political-philosophical discourse. He is also an iconic figure. As I will attempt to show in the chapters to follow, the biblical writers use him as a cynosure to negotiate status and belonging among the people of Israel and within Judahite society, both before and after the destruction of the state in 586 BCE (p. 28).
I got a vocabulary lesson from this. I saw that “cynosure” came from Greek and had something to do with a dog. It is not even in many dictionaries. But it means “dog’s leg” and refers to the position of the north star, Polaris, in its constellation. So it means guiding star or focusing point. (I plan to use it in Scrabble if I get a chance.)
He calls the people behind the biblical narrative “competing literary circles”. There is something to this. But I worry about taking the social construction of history too far. Of course it is true that we cannot approach history as a biologist or chemist would approach their subject matter. The empirical verification of events in the past is complicated. So we do have to, in some sense, construct our picture of the past.
But how much freedom did ancient scribes have to depart from their sources or to work without sources? How much of what they wrote about David were they allowed to make up?
Deconstruction seems to work by imagining what the political motives of writers might have been. But, it seems to me, there is a whole lot of guess work involved in this.