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Davids Secret Demons: "Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King" [Hardcover]

Eerdmans Publishing
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 6 2001 Bible in Its World
Biblical tradition portrays King David as an exceptional man and a paragon of godly devotion. But was he? Some scholars deny that he existed at all. Did he? This challenging book examines the textual and archaeological evidence critically in an effort to paint an accurate picture of one of the Bible's central figures.

A leading scholar of biblical history and the ancient Near East, Baruch Halpern traces the development of the David tradition, showing how the image of David grew over time. According to Halpern, David was the founder of the dynasty that progressively exaggerated his accomplishments. Halpern's clear portrait of the historical David reveals his true humanity and shows him to be above all a politician who operated in a rough-and-tumble environment in which competitors were ready literally to slit throats.

David's Secret Demons explores a number of provocative questions:

Did King David actually exist?
Was David an Israelite or a Philistine?
Was Solomon really David's son?
Did David take the throne of Israel by the consent of the people?
How many murders did he commit on his way to the throne?
Are the biblical texts about David reliable?

Challenging, well argued, and written with accessible, at times humorous prose, David's Secret Demons will provoke discussion by scholars and general readers alike.


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From Publishers Weekly

In a dazzling display of erudition, Halpern, chairman of Jewish studies at Pennsylvania State University, dissects the story of David with sparkling, witty prose, using historical, textual, psychological and archaeological analysis. Brandishing his broad knowledge, Halpern mentions Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, Mark Twain, Gregory Peck, Richard Gere, Bill Cosby, Joseph Heller, Disraeli and Hannibal Lecter, among others. He comments critically on the biblical narrative found in 1 and 2 Samuel and the second chapter of 1 Kings, asserting that it is contradictory, exaggerated and riddled with omissions. Conventional perceptions of David fault him for his affair with Bathsheba and for arranging the death of her husband, but generally portray him as a handsome, brave shepherd who became king and established Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Halpern elaborates and exploits the story of Bathsheba to paint David as a villain. He methodically demolishes any positive image of David, calling him a serial killer, thug, mercenary, adulterer, assassin, bandit, brigand and predator. Many sources are given to support these allegations but, surprisingly, Halpern fails to cite Robert Alter's excellent The David Story, which contains a full-blooded portrait of the Machiavellian king. While Halpern's picture of David is largely negative, he presents him as a complex biblical character who was "the first human being in world literature" but "not someone whom it would be wise to invite to dinner." Although Halpern forfeits accessibility by using such words as topos, paronomastically, circumvallations, therapon, epanalepsis, merismus, adyton and imbrication, this is an outstanding study.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Halpern (Jewish studies, Pennsylvania State Univ.) has given us a scholarly, fascinating, and controversial study of the figure of David in the Hebrew Scriptures. He does not doubt the actual existence of a historical figure named David, as does Thomas Thompson in his Early History of the Israelite People (Brill, 2001). However, he argues that the historical David was a far different person than the one pictured in 1 and 2 Second Samuel. The controversial nature of this study can be seen in the title of one of the chapters: "King David, Serial Killer." Halpern presents a close textual analysis of the stories about David in 1 Samuel 8 through 2 Samuel 1, along with a special study of 2 Samuel 8. He builds his case around the idea that there were two sources, identified here as A and B, which were used for the final versions of 1 and 2 Samuel. While Source A shows some of his faults, Source B is a kind of whitewashing apology for David in order to justify the kingship of Solomon and his successors. The real David, Halpern thinks, was a ruthless individual who was willing to murder or have murdered all of Saul's family so that he could secure the throne. Sure to receive much scholarly attention, Halpern's work can be profitably read by lay persons and scholars alike. Recommended for both public and academic libraries. David Bourquin, California State Univ., San Bernardino
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Revisionist history? May 17 2003
By FrKurt Messick HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Some see David as a mythological figure. Certainly the image projected of him and the shadow this character casts over subsequent Israelite and biblical history is one of mythic proportions. Partly the constructs around David have become so strangely skewed that one asks the question, as the literature both in the biblical texts and later developments can lead one to asking the question, ´¿can any one man have been or done all this?´¿
Halpern addresses this question in this book By looking at the latest archaeological evidence, Halpern concludes that the character our David is based upon was most likely a real character. But, how much similarity is there between the real David and the David of later biblical writers? How much is legend? Will the real David please stand up?
Halpern takes the reader on a journey through various questions, and part of the different questions can be discerned from the title of the book: David´¿s Secret Demons: Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King. One issue with which to contend is the diversity of voices in the biblical text itself. The portrayal of early Israelite history in the Bible is not a uniform, seamless construction. The Chronicles relay different information than the historical cycles that runs through the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. Even when they relay the same information, they do so with differing interpretations behind motives and outcomes.
David is an intriguing figure. While being held up as the exemplary King of Israel to whom all others must be compared, he is at the same time shown to have some devastatingly human failings. The number of people that David kills, for instance, Halpern contends would earn any modern politician the label of serial killer.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Compelling yet flawed Jan. 30 2002
Format:Hardcover
This is a mystery story. True, it is nonfiction, but it is a mystery, nonetheless, the mystery of David. Halpern does a good job of solving this mystery and showing us what the real David was probably like, but it is a rough journey to see the solution.
Halpern has done his research and definitely knows his stuff. Unfortunately, he is not very good at presenting his material; this book has all the detail and tedium of a courtroom trial (although he does give warnings about the most technical chapters). The overall organization is not well-thought out; he revisits the same information over and over again.
I think that this is almost a good book. Halpern does get his point across and shows that David was not as heroic as he is often thought of. He brings out the reality behind the myth. If he only could lay out the details better, this book would go from almost good to either good or great.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing New History of David Aug. 15 2001
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Every so often, a scholar emerges in a particular field to reinvigorate it with a flash of brilliance. Baruch Halpern is one such scholar. Recently in the field of Biblical Studies, open warfare has erupted over whether the biblical record of Israel's past is anything more than a well-written romance, whether the Bible contains material useful to the modern historian. Halpern turns the historian's lense on the biblical portrait of David, and provides positive answers to these questions in a tour de force that is witty, learned, and hugely entertaining. Halpern shows that the main narratives about David, in Samuel and the first chapters of Kings, preserve a nearly contemporary effort to vindicate the king from the calumnies hurled by his erstwhile enemies and their supporters (since most of the enemies "wake up dead"). Two principles of historical reconstruction distinguish Halpern's work. The first is the idea that the voices of David's opponents can still be heard if the historian engages in imaginative reconstruction. The second, the product of Halpern's immense erudition and familiarity with other Near Eastern historical literature, is that royal scribes in Israel and the Near East are not free to give false testimony about their lieges' accomplishments. The scribes may try to lead the reader to the grandest possible interpretation of even minimal accomplishments, by tolerating or even promoting ambiguity, but they can't spin their reconstruction out of whole cloth. The logic of these principles leads Halpern to reconsider the extent of David's "empire," which the text would have us think was extremely vast. It also leads to a portrait of the king that shines with a duller veneer than the one David's (and Solomon's) apologists apply. Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars Eye-Opening July 10 2001
Format:Hardcover
The best thing about this book is that it looks at history outside the box of the textual sources. It does not concede that everything that happened in ancient Israel is described in the books of Samuel, it considers the probable impact of forces not described as active in Samuel. These are important points. Who, it asks, conquered the cities later incorporated into Israel? What were the Philistines up to during the fight between the House of David and the House of Saul? And it doesn't treat either the Philistines or the Israelites as single, unified groups. Instead it asks about factional differences, things other scholars just have not done. I felt like I was reading real historical reconstruction instead of either a defense of or an attack on the Biblical record. And at the same time, the book explains why the Biblical record says what it says.
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