I was checking my tv listings the other night and ran across a documentary on Biblical David on The Discovery Channel. I'm a sucker for those sorts of things, although usually they just make me mad. This is from the write-up of the show, and gives you the tone:
However, closer examination of the Samuel account suggests that there was a lot more to David's rule than meets the eye. The Near East of 1000 BC was a lawless place and some Biblical academics are convinced that many of the explanations and alibis which appear in the ancient account of David's life indicate that he was a ruthless leader whose reign was riddled with assassinations, subterfuge and double-dealing. Even the famous battle with the great Philistine Goliath fails to stand up to closer scrutiny.
David, it appears, was not the naïve shepherd boy at the time of the infamous duel, but an experienced apprentice-warrior. His sling wasn't simply a tool for sheep herding but was also a deadly military weapon, the exocet of the ancient world. If Goliath was as tall as the Bible claims then he would probably have been suffering from the growth condition, pituitary Gigantism, which has debilitating side-effects including tunnel-vision. So perhaps David's victory wasn't quite so implausible after all. When the factors are taken into consideration it is increasingly likely that it was actually Goliath who was at a disadvantage.
David was undoubtedly a great leader, but recent evidence and analysis is providing far more complex interpretations of his life. This documentary reveals that by looking beyond the two-dimensional image of the tenacious shepherd boy who became king, we can now see a far more complicated, fascinating man; a fallible and sometimes ruthless pragmatist.
You get the idea. Of course, the problem is the shows are usually arguing against a straw man. That is, they point to a one-dimensional version of David they imagine the Bible portrays then say how silly that is. Of course, the person the Bible tells us about is quite complex.
Two amusing parts stood out. The documentary told us how the Bible account of David was really just a propaganda tool to promote David's version of events, his "spin" as they hiply called it. Except when it came to the account of Bathsheba when the Bible suddenly starts telling us how things really happened, only to return to the "spin" version with the account of Absalom. They never really explained the slip up with the whole Bathsheba story, but they spoke of it in very somber tones.
But the kicker was during the unbiased analysis by these Biblical historians they showed a map. A map of Israel and Judah, the Divided Kingdom. And they told us how David's challenge was to unite this divided Israel under one rule. Of course,the problem with that is that Israel and Judah were not split until about fifty years after the death of David, when his grandson Rehoboam (Solomon's son) caused the split due to his harsh rule, allowing Jeroboam to gain a foothold of power with the Northern tribes and lead Israel away. David's line continued to rule in Judah, the Southern Kingdom.
Somehow, I think I'll stick with the Biblical account despite these Bible "historians."