King David: The Real Life of the Man Who Ruled Israel

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At a fairly early age I learned that I was not quite cut out for a life involving religion. My mother and father were both (and are) recovered Catholics. My mother, if not atheistic, is certainly agnostic, and my father ended up a Lutheran, which is one of the least pushy faiths you can pick and still be called a Christian. I myself attended a Baptist day care, not because my mother wanted to install any religious beliefs into me (or so she claimed) but because it was inexpensive and relatively trustworthy. In recent years that sort of belief has been shown to be precisely the kind of folly that it always has been, but in this particular case it was true, or at least it was for me. We sang songs, they told us stories and moved characters around on felt boards, telling us the story of the messengers in the flames, or Jesus cranking out meals in the wilderness, et cetera.

However, the only part of it that really rubbed off on me was an interest in religion. Not in practicing it; I'm too much the scientist for that, and you could consider that my faith, if anything. I simply find it to be a hugely interesting phenomenon and a potential key to a deeper understanding of the other humans on this ball of rock and dirt. I certainly would not go so far as to refer to the religious as a group as my enemy, but there are certain situations in which certain religious groups making themselves heard has had what are to me negative political repercussions. Notably, the immense political power of the newly-awakened "Religious Right" helped to place George W. Bush in office - and few are happy about that today. Of course, relgion is as varied as anything else in this life, and no two people really, truly believe precisely the same things, so making generalizations is dangerous.

One generalization which can safely be applied to the majority of so-called religious people is that they are not really all that interested in making their own interpretations, but would rather have someone else explain things to them. This is faith, but it's not belief. The two can go hand in hand, and rather should, but many people are not interested in the truths behind their faiths. Those people would do well not to read this book if they are any sort of Christian.

The rest of us, meaning the critical and the truly faithful (for how can you know faith is true if it is not tested, and perhaps refined) will certainly want to add this book to our library. In fact, while I have a small collection of books on the bible, I currently do not own the "good book" itself. In part this is because I can look it up on the web at any time, and in several different versions; I can even easily compare those versions to one another and see where they differ from one another. Mostly, however, it's that I feel that the bible is too corrupt a title to be worth reading without some significant additional perspective. Arguably, even the Septuagint, the greek translation upon which all of our current translations are based, is itself faulty, but it's some of the best material we have to work with. And of course, the Dead Sea Scrolls have provided us some opportunity to see where changes slipped in even in those "early" renditions of the text. Meanwhile, most people are still toddling around with the King James "authorized" bible, or perhaps the New International. All rubbish, since it's been edited again and again, by every translator and by many a scribe in between.

Finally, this brings us to the book itself. When the book isn't explaining the reality of King David, it's talking about the reality of the Christian bible. First, we have the books of the Old Testament, pretty much accepted as they are by all of the three religions of Jehovah, meaning the Christians, the Jews, and the Muslims. These tell the prehistory of Christianity. They are followed in Christianity by the New Testament, which is filled largely with apologia and attempts to reconcile then-modern Christian life with what is set down in the Old Testament, the Jewish Bible. Jonathan Kirsch makes the argument that the bible may have in fact begun simply as a chronicle of the rule of King David, and that many of the stories that we revere, in particular before David's appearance in the bible, may have been retroactively added by those who worked on the bible later, to prepare us to receive his actions.

You see, David is a ruthless and sybaritic king. He practically filled his Harem with wives, some of whom he took from other men. He was an unabashed adulterer, and in one case actually sent the woman's husband off to die so that he could have her. Like his father before him, he put many of his relatives to death in an effort to retain power for himself. In short, David does practically everything that Moses commanded us to do when he descended from Mount Sinai. How, then, can he be the chosen of God? The answer as Kirsch sees it is simple; whether David in fact was or was not the favorite of God (which after all was said by a Man who claimed to have received the message from God) his broad success at conquering the so-called chosen land is taken as proof positive of the blessing of God. David in fact was not given to preaching, and any elements of such which appear in the bible have been more or less proven to have been the work of a later editor. In fact, given the antiquity of the tale of David, it seems that more or less everyone who has worked on the Bible has messed with him in some fashion.

Perhaps the most innocuous-seeming but damning endorsement of this view comes from the church itself. They have promoted David to mainstream culture not as the adulterous warrior king, but as the boy who killed Goliath, a tale which itself is filled to the brim with contradictions that make it clear that it was heavily edited. This is by far the smallest part of David's contributions to the Christians, but it's presented as the most significant, possibly because the image of David the shepherd boy is more palatable to people than David deliberately widowing the woman of his desires.

This book on David is not Kirsch's first biblically-related effort. In particular, The Harlot by the Side of the Road has had both critical and widespread acclaim for its frank inspection of some of the biblical tales that we are not commonly made aware of in church. In fact, many of them were explicitly mentioned in older times as being inappropriate for worshippers. The church was interested in preserving its stranglehold over the religious beliefs of the people, and didn't want them getting their own ideas. Of course, this is only one interpretation of the reason for this behavior, but it's also the only reasonable one. This book's slant dovetails neatly with that one; both discuss the import of what is hidden from us, and what is shown to us.

In the meantime, if you can find an excellent Bible, within which an effort is made to bring it in line with the oldest writings we have available, drop me a line. And while we're on the subject, I'd like to see it contain The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene.

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