King David: mighty warrior, fabled monarch and…villain?

April 10, 2008

Kings III by Yochi BrandesBeloved by Jews and Christians as a biblical hero, King David is famous for slaying Goliath with a single slingshot. Despite some serious moral slip-ups — he seduced the beautiful Bathsheba then sent her husband off to war to die — David is traditionally championed as the fearless leader who vanquishes the Philistines in the name of God.

But in a new biblical novel by Israeli author Yochi Brandes, “Kings III”, David is portrayed as a blood-thirsty warrior and womaniser who mercilessly slaughters his enemies.

“It’s provocative, and it plays with people’s expectations,” Brandes told Reuters in an interview this week. “The reader gets angry at this dictatorial ruler, then discovers at the end it is actually a character they have been taught to love.”

Brandes, who teaches biblical studies in several Israeli colleges, says she is simply teasing out parts of the Bible and Jewish teachings which have been hidden or ignored for centuries, and giving them a controversial new twist.

But she acknowledges the book, which has been published in Hebrew and is slated to be translated into English, is likely to ruffle some feathers among both religious Jews and Christians.

My interview with Brandes this week explores some of the book’s ideas in more detail, and a lengthier story in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz delves deeper into the theological implications for a Bible-educated Jewish audience.

What do you think? Should biblical characters be deconstructed in this way to sell novels? Is this an insult to a central character in Jewish and Christian scripture?


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The mistery surrounding the biblical (& koran) characters serves priests, rabbi’s and imam’s; but for humanity it would be a blessing to have their cloaks taken off and recognise them as for what they are/were – even though it will always be questionable after 23/30/40 centuries to undress them completely!

Posted by wind | Report as abusive

I think it’s hilarious! People get so upset by the oddest things. I’m sure David had many character flaws as well as heroic qualities. He was human, after all, and his penchant for seducing women already well known from biblical accounts. In addition, he was living in some pretty harsh times and as a leader, would have to be somewhat ruthless in order to survive. I can’t wait to read it.

Posted by Katherine | Report as abusive


Posted by dudes | Report as abusive

Authors have learned that controversial books sell, especially ones that take potshots at the beliefs of conservative believers. For example, the usual deluge of skeptical and unorthodox books and articles that emerge every year at Easter about Jesus. The negative reaction of the believing communities often help sell more copies, “if they are angry it must be good.” The author can also congratulate themselves on their courage in attacking orthodox beliefs, although since most people in the West are no longer orthodox, there is little courage in attacking the beliefs of a minority. Attacking Mohammad on the other hand…

Posted by tired evangelical | Report as abusive

I would like to know where Yochi Brandes got his information from and what real evidence his has to back up his book. But then again what evidence is there to back up certain things written in the Bible? At least people have the choice to read or not to read or to burn or not burn the book! As Katherine previously wrote, David was human with human flaws and I’m sure he did what he did to survive and have a good time doing it. If it helps you to be a better person towards fellow humanity – then read it, if it doesn’t then don’t read it. There will always be other ‘David and Golith’ stories (with and without the womanising).

Posted by Conscientious Observer | Report as abusive

Anyone who reads the Torah already knows David was a deeply flawed human being. It’s hardly a “secret” revalation or shocking. It’s pretty obvious G-d chose David to prove what He can do with the least of us who listen to Him. This theme of dependence on God repeats over-and-over in the Torah. G-d repeatedly takes near worthless, good-for-nothings and does great things with them — and this theme is repeatedly taught in Judaism (and I understand) in Christianity.

Posted by David Cohen | Report as abusive