David (דָּוִד "Beloved," Standard Hebrew Davíd, Tiberian Hebrew Dāwiḏ; Arabic داود Dāʾūd "Beloved"), also referred to as King David, was the second and most famous king of ancient Israel, as well as the most mentioned figure in the Hebrew Bible. He is the archetypal biblical king and the ancestor of the Messiah in both Jewish and Christian tradition. Critical scholars argue over the historicity of David and his united kingdom of Israel and Judah, but there is no disagreement concerning his significance as a biblical paradigm.
The successor to King Saul, who was the first official king of the biblical united Kingdom of Israel, David's 40-year reign is estimated to have lasted from roughly 1005 B.C.E. to 965 B.C.E. The account of his life and rule are recorded in the books of Samuel and 1 Chronicles. He is not referred to in ancient literature outside of the Bible.
David is regarded by the Bible as "a man after God's own heart" (1 Sam 13:14). Despite his well-known moral flaws, most Jews and Christians view him as having been the most righteous of all the ancient kings of Israel, rivaled perhaps only by King Josiah (2 Kings 23:25). David was also an acclaimed warrior, monarch, musician, and poet. He is traditionally credited with composing many of the psalms recorded in the book of Psalms, although both critical and pious scholarship cast doubt on his authorship.
In the Bible, God is described as promising that the Davidic line would endure forever (2 Samuel 7:12-16). Judaism traditionally teaches that the Messiah will be a direct descendant of King David, and Christians trace the lineage of Jesus back to him.
David's early life
David was the seventh and youngest son of Jesse, a resident of Bethlehem. His mother's name is not recorded. A midrashic tradition holds that he was the son of a slave-woman belonging to Jesse. As to his personal appearance, he is described as being ruddy and handsome (1 Samuel 16:12; 17:42).
David's early occupation was to tend his father's sheep on the uplands of Judah. His first recorded exploits were his encounters with wild beasts. He boasted to King Saul that he slew a lion and also a bear, when they raided his flock (1 Samuel 17:34-35).
A further account in the first book of Samuel reports that while David was away tending his flocks, the Prophet Samuel paid an unexpected visit to Bethlehem. There the prophet offered up sacrifice, and called the town elders as well as Jesse's family to the sacrificial meal. Among all who appeared before him he failed to discover the one he sought. David was sent for, and the prophet immediately recognized him as the one chosen by God to succeed King Saul. He accordingly poured on his head the anointing oil. David went back again to his shepherd life, but "the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward" (1 Sam. 16:13).
David and Saul
Not long after this event, David was summoned to soothe, with his harp, the troubled spirit of King Saul, who suffered from a strange melancholy dejection, caused by "an evil spirit from the Lord" (1 Sam. 16:4). Soon, the armies of the Philistines and Israel were in battle array in the valley of Elah, some 16 miles southwest of Bethlehem. David swore to fight the Philistine champion, the giant Goliath. David took only his sling, and with a well-trained aim hurled a stone which struck the giant's forehead. David then ran to cut off Goliath's head with the giant's own sword (1 Sam. 17). The result was a great victory for the Israelites, who pursued the Philistines to the gates of Gath and Ekron. This famous episode is challenged by critical scholars not only because of its obvious legendary quality, but also because the Philistine giant Goliath is elsewhere described as having been killed by someone other than David, namely Elhanan son of Jair (1 Chron. 20:5).
David quickly rose to prominence as a military leader under Saul. The young leader's battle prowess resulted in a popular slogan: "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands" (1 Sam. 18:7). Despite David's romantic marriage to Saul's daughter Michal and the deep friendship between David and Saul's son Jonathan, Saul conceived a bitter hatred toward David, and by various stratagems sought his death (1 Sam. 18:29).
During the period of his persecution by Saul, David and his military followers lived as exiles. He forged important alliances with Judean/Israelite figures such as the prophets Samuel and Gad, the priests Ahimelech and Abiathar, and the unfortunate priests of Nob, whom Saul murdered outrageously (1 Sam. 22). He also married the wealthy Abigail of Carmel, widow of the Calebite chieftain Nabal. On the run from Saul, David accepted the city of Ziklag as a fief from the Philistine king Achish of Gath and worked as a mercenary general on his behalf, despite the fact that Achish was Israel's enemy (1 Sam. 27:2-6). David may have adopted iron technology (as opposed to bronze) from the Philistines during this time.
David returned to Judah at God's command (2 Sam. 2) after Saul and Jonathan's deaths in battle against the Philistines. He went to Hebron, where the leaders of the tribe of Judah anointed him as king over the tribe. The northern tribes, however, did not recognize David and instead supported Saul's son, Ish-Bosheth.
There followed a long and bitter civil war between Judah (supporting David) and the northern tribes (supporting Ish-Bosheth). Eventually, Abner, Saul's former army commander and advisor, broke with Ish-Bosheth and went over to David's side, bringing with him key elements of the northern alliance, including David's first wife Michal, whom Saul had given to another man in David's absence. David's own general, Joab, soon murdered Abner. The war finally ended when Ish-Bosheth was assassinated by two of his own men.
David's reign over the United Monarchy
With Ish-Bosheth out of the picture, the leaders of the northern tribes came to David and declared him king by popular assent (2 Samuel 5). He reigned over Israel for a while longer in Hebron, but eventually decided on conquering the Jebusite fortress of Salem, also called Jerusalem, a key mountain stronghold the Israelites had been unable to capture despite having lived around it for centuries.
David conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital. In a gesture of good will, the Phoenician king Hiram of Tyre sent valuable presents of material and craftsmen to assist David in building a new palace. David solidified his Israelite alliances by taking new wives and concubines from allied tribes. He then turned against his old allies, the Philistines, defeating them soundly with God's help (2 Sam. 5). Next, David brought the Ark of the Covenant to the city. However, David's uninhibited ecstatic dancing during this procession earned him the disapproval of Michal, who strongly condemned his very public and at least partly nude display. The Bible concludes the story of David and his first love with the poignant words: "Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death." (2 Sam. 6)
The Bible says that David intended to build a temple in which to house the ark, but through the Prophet Nathan, God commanded him not to do so. Nathan prophesied that one of David's offspring would be the one to build the "House of the Lord" (2 Sam. 7:14).
The Book of Chronicles, which omits the episode of David's adultery with Bathsheba and Nathan's condemnation of him for this sin, specifies that God directly forbade David to build the Temple because he was a man of violence. (I Chron. 28:3)
David's reign during the remaining years of his life was marked by additional military victories as well as considerable political acumen. He solidified his position with the northern tribes by showing generosity to King Saul's one remaining son, Mephi-Bosheth (2 Sam. 9). He also subdued and exacted tribute from the nearby tribes of Moab, Ammon, and Edom, as well as the Arameans to the north (2 Sam. 8). However, his reign was marred by scandal, rebellion and tragedy. His infamous affair with Bathsheba (see below) brought the condemnation of the prophet Nathan and, according to the biblical authors, resulted both in the death of their first son and the later rebellion of David's heir-apparent, Absalom. David also faced the shame of incest between his son Amnon and daughter Tamar, the murder of Amnon by Absalom (2 Sam. 13), and Absalom's rebellious public act of sexual intercourse with David's concubines (2 Sam. 16). In the subsequent war between David's forces and Absalom's, elements of the northern tribes supported the usurper (2 Sam. 18) and later threw in their lot with the rebel Sheba, son of Bichri, under the slogan "We have no share in David" (2 Sam. 20). This begs the question as to how "united" the United Kingdom of David really was.
Near the end of his life, the Bible portrays David as increasingly impotent both physically and politically. Lacking his former confidence, he sinned by ordering a census of Israel's fighting men, although the accounts in 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21 disagree as to whether it was God or Satan who incited him to this action. Next, his advisors procured for him the lovely virgin Abishag, "to lie beside our lord the king and keep him warm" (1 Kings 1:2). Finally, the aging monarch endured an acrimonious struggle over succession. David's eldest living son, Adonijah, began to reign as king without David's knowledge, with the support of the priest Abiathar and David's powerful general, Joab. Ironically, David's long-time nemesis, the prophet Nathan, threw his support behind Bathsheba and her son Solomon. Together, they prevailed on David to support Solomon's claim to the throne. The story ends happily, as the glorious King Solomon is anointed and enthroned with David's blessing (1 Kings 1-2). "Then David rested with his fathers and was buried in the City of David."
Jesse (ישי "Gift," Standard Hebrew Yíšay, Tiberian Hebrew Yíšay / Yēšay), King David's father, was the son of Obed, son of Boaz and Ruth the Moabite whose story is told at length in the book of Ruth. They were of the tribe of Judah. David's lineage is fully documented in Ruth 4:18-22. "Perez" who heads the line is Judah's son, Genesis 38:29.
David had eight wives, although he appears to have had children from other women as well:
- Michal, a daughter of King Saul
- Ahinoam of Jezreel
- Abigail, previously wife of Nabal the Calebite: Abigail is a model of wisdom, who turned away David's wrath on her family by covering for her husband's churlishness. David blesses her for "keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands." David soon married Abigail lawfully after her husband's death by natural causes (1 Sam. 25).
In the Old Testament, Bathsheba ("the seventh daughter" or the "daughter of the oath"), the daughter of Ammiel, is the wife of Uriah the Hittite and later of King David. She is the mother of King Solomon. In 1 Chronicles 3:5 she is called Bath-shua.
2 Samuel 11:1 to 12:25 tells the story of David's adultery with Bathsheba, and his subsequent murder of Uriah in order to conceal his guilt (the story is omitted from Chronicles). His plan comes unstuck when God sends the prophet Nathan to denounce David by means of a parable. David is completely taken in, declaring at the end of it, "The man who did this deserves to die!" only to be told by Nathan, "You are that man."
Although both David and Bathsheba are spared death for this crime, their first child dies after only seven days. Furthermore, the Bible claims that the subsequent string of intrigues, murders and infighting including civil war that plagues David's later life is part of a curse imposed as additional punishment. Nevertheless, she is the mother of King Solomon, and in the New Testament Bathsheba is listed as an ancestor of Jesus (Matthew 1:6).
It has long been a biblical mystery why such a woman who comes to David through adultery should be blessed as the mother of King Solomon and the ancestress of Jesus Christ. Of course, the biblical narrative does not penetrate the thoughts of her heart. She could have had cause to hate King David for forcing himself on her and then intentionally sending her husband to his death. But she overcame her feelings and accepted these events as God's will; believing that David's human weakness did not negate God's choice of her to fulfill a greater purpose for her nation. In accepting marriage to David out of patriotic duty, she may also have felt that in this way she could also honor her dead husband. Some Talmudic authorities excuse the death of Uriah on the grounds that Uriah had committed a capital offense by disobeying David's order to sleep with Bathsheba.
According to a Jewish mystical text, the affair of David and Bathsheba fulfilled a deep purpose to restore the original seduction of Eve by the Serpent at the Fall of Man. According to the doctrine of gilgul, or transmigration of souls, David was Adam, Bathsheba was Eve, and Uriah was the Serpent:
King David, of blessed memory, was a great sage and recognized transmigrations. When he saw Uriah the Hittite, he knew that he was the Serpent who had seduced Eve, and when he saw Bathsheba he knew that she was Eve, and he knew that he himself was Adam. Thus, he wished to take Bathsheba from Uriah, because she was destined to be David’s mate. (Sefer Peli'ah)
Quite independently, an almost identical providential understanding of this love triangle is articulated by Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, who finds similar meaning in the stories of Tamar and Ruth.
Born in Hebron
- "Amnon, of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess" (the firstborn)
- "Daniel, of Abigail the Carmelitess," also called Chileab (2 Sam. 3:3).
- "Absalom the son of Maachah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur"
- "Adonijah the son of Haggith"
- "Shephatiah of Abital"
- "Ithream by Eglah his wife"
Born in Jerusalem
"of Bathsheba the daughter of Ammiel:"
of other women:
- Elishama (again)
- Eliphelet (again)
The Bible mentions one of David's daughters, Tamar, who was the full sister of Absalom.
David as a religious figure
David in Judaism
In Judaism, David's was successful in establishing a coherent Jewish state with its political and religious capital in Jerusalem. Thus, he is the original central figure of the Jewish nation. He is unexcelled by any other ruler in piety. Even his affair with Bathsheba and the "murder" of Uriah her husband is excused by some Talmudic authorities. By establishing a strong and stable nation, David laid the foundation for building the Temple. That he was not allowed to build it in his lifetime—for he had done too much violence (I Chron. 28:3)—is taken as proof of the imperative of peace in affairs of state.
Furthermore, David began the institution of a royal lineage that is to culminate in the Messianic Age. The traditional Jewish understanding of the role of the Messiah is to restore the Davidic lineage to the throne after the return of Israel from Babylonian captivity. Thus, the Messiah is given the title "Son of David," and his role continues to be seen as involving political more than spiritual redemption.
David's descent from a Moabite convert (Ruth) is taken as proof of the importance of converts within Judaism, as well as a counterbalance to the book of Ezra 9-10, which insists that Jews divorce any foreign wives that they married during the period of exile in Babylon. David is also viewed as a tragic figure; his immoral acquisition of Bathsheba and the subsequent troubles in his family are viewed by many Jews as central tragedies.
David in Christianity
In Christianity, as in Judaism, David is seen as a righteous king par excellence; but he is especially important as the ancestor of Jesus, the Messiah. Several Old Testament prophecies state that the Messiah will come from David's line, and the Gospels of Matthew and Luke trace Jesus' lineage to David to fulfill this requirement. David, the greatest Israelite king, is also figurative of Christ, who will reign as King of Kings. Jesus is portrayed as having been born, like David, in Bethlehem. Like David, he is a shepherd-king, but one who cares for spiritual sheep instead of physical ones. However, Christians reject the Jewish notion that Jesus, as the Messiah, intended to restore the Davidic kingship of Israel in a physical sense. Instead, he came to redeem mankind from sin spiritually, through his atoning death on the cross. However, Christians also believe that he will return in glory as King of Kings, either to establish a millennial reign on earth, or to call all who believe in him to his kingdom in the heavens. David is also figurative of a Christian believer. The Psalms that David wrote show a Christian how to depend upon God during times of adversity, how to praise, how to repent. The Catholic Church celebrates him as Saint David on December 29.
David (Dawud) in Islam
In the Qur'an, David is known as Dawud (داود), and considered one of the prophets of Islam, to whom the Zabur (Psalms) were revealed by Allah. The Qur'an declares him to be God's wise and strong "viceregent" (38: 16-27). As in Judaism, he is said to have killed Goliath (Jalut) with a rock from his sling. He is considered a great warrior for Allah. Muslims generally reject the portrayal of David as an adulterer and murderer. This is based on the Islamic belief in the infallibility and superiority of the moral character of prophets. However some Muslims admit that David's repentance for sin is acknowledged in the Qur'an (38: 21-30) as well as in the Zabur, such as Psalm 25.
Critical Views of David
The details of David's life given in this article come from the Hebrew Bible and are not corroborated by, or even mentioned in, other ancient historical documents. However, an ancient inscription called the Tel Dan Stele refers to a king of the "House of David," providing non-biblical evidence that Israelite kings as early as the ninth century were thought to be descendants of David.
A great deal of controversy exists over the question of the "historical David." Although a few extreme Biblical minimalists hold that David and his united kingdom never existed, the majority view of most scholars is that David was a real historical figure who ruled over a significant kingdom, although the details of his exploits have been exaggerated—for example, his battle with Goliath (compare 2 Sam. 21:19 where Goliath was killed by one Jaareoregim the Bethlehemite).
Archaeologist William G. Dever, in his book, What Did the Biblical Authors Know and When Did They Know It? comes to the conclusion that David and his united monarchy did indeed exist even if its extent in the biblical account is exaggerated. Dever opines that David probably ruled approximately from Tel Dan in northern Israel to the area south of Beer-Sheba in Judah. On the other hand, archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, in his book, The Bible Unearthed, provides evidence that Jerusalem must have been only a small, fortified village in days when it was David's capital. In his view, David was probably only a particularly gifted Judean war chief with a limited record of success in relating to the northern Israelite and Canaanite tribes; not the "king" of a unified nation extending from Dan to Beer-Sheba. Finkelstein's claim is challenged by Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar, who in August 2005 announced that she uncovered what she believes to be David's palace in the biblical City of David, and that it is indeed a very large structure appropriate to a great king.
Scholars take a more skeptical view to David's authorship of the Psalms. Most allow that he may have written several psalms, but certainly not all of the psalms traditionally attributed to him. Many of the psalms that are specifically denoted as "Psalms of David" have content describing a later time. For example, some describe the Temple as already in operation, while others describe Jerusalem as having been invaded by gentile forces, neither of which was the case in David's time. This leaves even some of the most pious Christian scholars to conclude that "of David" is more likely to be a designation added by later scribes meaning "in the spirit of David" rather than actually having been written by him.
More problematic still are modern depictions of David's character. Many twentieth century exegetes and writers are skeptical of his piety. They portray David as a man motivated by naked political ambition, who lets others take the blame for his dirty work. Ever politically astute, he cultivates the reputation of a God-fearing leader, even as his underlings assassinate his rivals.
Regardless of his personal flaws, and even discounting the hyperbole written about him in the Bible, David's political accomplishments were historic. Without his political and military skill to defeat the superior armies of the Philistines and unite the fractious tribes, it is doubtful whether Israel as a nation—or Judaism and Christianity as religions—would ever have existed.
Representation in art and literature
Famous sculptures of David include (in chronological order) those by:
- Donatello (c. 1430 - 1440)
- Andrea del Verrocchio (1476)
- Michelangelo Buonarroti (1504)
- Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1624)
- Antonin Mercié (1873)
Elmer Davis's 1928 novel Giant Killer retells and embellishes the Biblical story of David, casting David as primarily a poet who managed always to find others to do the "dirty work" of heroism and kingship. In the novel, Elhanan in fact killed Goliath but David claimed the credit; and Joab, David's cousin and general, took it upon himself to make many of the difficult decisions of war and statecraft when David vacillated or wrote poetry instead.
In Thomas Burnett Swann's Biblical fantasy novel How are the Mighty Fallen (1974) David and Jonathan are explicitly stated to be lovers. Moreover, Jonathan is a member of a winged semi-human race (possibly nephilim), one of several such races co-existing with humanity but often persecuted by it.
Joseph Heller, the author of Catch-22, also wrote a novel based on David, God Knows. Told from the perspective of an aging David, the humanity—rather than the heroism—of various biblical characters are emphasized. His portrayal of David as a man of flaws such as greed, lust, selfishness, and his alienation from God, the falling apart of his family is a distinctly twentieth century interpretation of the events told in the Bible.
- Dever, William G. What Did the Biblical Authors Know and When Did They Know It?: What Archaeology Can Tell Us About the Reality of Ancient Israel. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002. ISBN 080282126X
- Finkelstein, Israel. 2002. The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0684869136
- Kirsch, Jonathan. 2000. King David: the real life of the man who ruled Israel. Hendersonville, TN: Ballantine. ISBN 0345432754.
- Pinsky, Robert. 2005. The Life of David. New York: Schocken. ISBN 0805242031
- Rosenberg, David. 1997. The Book of David: A New Story of the Spiritual Warrior and Leader Who Shaped Our Inner Consciousness. New York: Harmony. ISBN 0517708000
- See the entry for David in Easton's Bible Dictionary.
- See the entry for David in Jewish Encyclopedia online.
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