David is an enigmatic figure. He has stories attributed to him that are reminiscent of legendary figures from Greek mythology, yet has other stories that show him as a very flawed, very human figure. He seems loyal and disloyal, caring and selfish, naïve and manipulative - almost as if there were several personalities present. Yet through all of this complexity, the single figure of David is more prominent than almost any other human figure in the Hebrew Scriptures (for instance, David's name appears about 1080 times, compared with 772 for Moses, the next most-cited person). Moses, too, is a flawed person, but the depth of detail of David makes him in many ways a more interesting figure; his close-ness yet distance to the Divine also makes him more like the others of us ordinary human beings.
Steussy identifies four different narrative strands that give the portrait of David to us: The history from Genesis to Kings (in particular, the narrative in Samuel); the Chronicles, a parallel yet distinct history from the other; the Psalms, many attributed to David, others talking about David as God's chosen or special one, and the general sense of all the Psalms being 'of David'; and finally, snippets of David from prophetic literature. While the image of David continues to be replayed and embellished in current art and literature, Steussy confines this survey to the actual Biblical presentations of David.
Steussy devotes major attention to the first three strands of David; the largest strand being the first, the primary history set forth from Torah to Kings. She likens the first strand to being a mural realistically painted, the second strand from Chronicles as being more akin to a stained-glass window image of David, and the Psalms as being a collage portrait of David. The fourth strand is more difficult to pin down, and only one chapter is devoted to it, because the scattered references do not make up, in terms of volume, a significant addition; however, they do add, rather like spices, a flavouring to the other primary pieces. Through all the portraits, 'David stands perpetually at the point where divine power enters our world'.
Steussy also delineates the different ways of approaching the Biblical text: dogmatic, critical, and artistic. Being a professor in a liberal-academic setting, perhaps it is natural that Steussy would approach the topic primary from the scholarly-critical method. However, she does not discount the other approaches as invalid or without value, and draws in on occasion differing possibilities based on the variety of approaches available.
While this is a scholarly text, it is not part of that body of work that is 'by scholars, for scholars'. Steussy avoids jargon and discipline-specific terminology whenever possible, and when not possible, defines and explains the language she is using. Thus, this is a book accessible to any person interested in topics such as history and Biblical studies regardless of specific educational background.
Steussy does have an amazing care for attention to detail; for example, having chosen to use the text of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible as the primary text for references, she then in turn analyses and criticises the translation and word choice wherever it seems to her problematic. This kind of attention also draws in references from outside sources and cross-references in the Biblical texts to further illuminate points along the way.
Steussy has an extensive bibliography which lists many valuable resources. There are endnotes (I have a preference as a reader for footnotes, but the placement decision is often a publisher one rather than an author one), and blessedly a topical index in addition to an index of Biblical references.
This is a fascinating study of David, which would serve well for individual study, classroom assignments and Bible study groups.