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Statue of King David by <a href="/content/Nicolas_Cordier" style="color:blue">Nicolas Cordier</a> in the Borghese Chapel of the <a href="/content/Basilica_di_Santa_Maria_Maggiore" style="color:blue">Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore</a> in <a href="/content/Rome" style="color:blue">Rome</a>, Italy
Statue of King David by Nicolas Cordier in the Borghese Chapel of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, Italy

David (Hebrew: דָּוִד)[1] is described in the Hebrew Bible as the third king of the united monarchy of Israel and Judah, after Ish-bosheth. In the biblical narrative, David is a young shepherd who gains fame first as a musician and later by killing the enemy champion Goliath. He becomes a favorite of King Saul and a close friend of Saul's son Jonathan. Worried that David is trying to take his throne, Saul turns on David. After Saul and Jonathan are killed in battle, David is anointed as King. David conquers Jerusalem, taking the Ark of the Covenant into the city, and establishing the kingdom founded by Saul. As king, David commits adultery with Bathsheba, leading him to arrange the death of her husband Uriah the Hittite. Because of this sin, God denies David the opportunity to build the temple, and his son Absalom tries to overthrow him. David flees Jerusalem during Absalom's rebellion, but after Absalom's death he returns to the city to rule Israel. Before his peaceful death, he chooses his son Solomon as successor. He is honored in the prophetic literature as an ideal king and the forefather of a future Messiah, and many psalms are ascribed to him.

Historians of the Ancient Near East agree that David probably existed around 1000 BCE, but that there is little that can be said about him as a historical figure. It was initially thought that there were no evidence outside of the Bible concerning David, but the Tel Dan Stele, an inscribed stone erected by a king of Damascus in the late 9th/early 8th centuries BCE to commemorate his victory over two enemy kings, contains the phrase in Hebrew: ביתדוד‎, bytdwd, which most scholars translate as "House of David". Ancient Near East historians generally doubt that the united monarchy as described in the Bible existed.

David is richly represented in post-biblical Jewish written and oral tradition, and is discussed in the New Testament. Early Christians interpreted the life of Jesus in light of the references to the Messiah and to David; Jesus is described as being descended from David. David is discussed in the Quran and figures in Islamic oral and written tradition as well. The biblical character of David has inspired many interpretations in art and literature over centuries.

Biblical account


The First Book of Samuel and the First Book of Chronicles both identify David as the son of Jesse, the Bethlehemite, the youngest of eight sons.[3] He also had at least two sisters, Zeruiah, whose sons all went onto serve in David's army, and Abigail, whose son Amasa went onto serve in Absalom's army, Absalom being one of David's younger sons.[4] While the Bible does not name his mother, the Talmud identifies her as Nitzevet, a daughter of a man named Adael, and the Book of Ruth claims him as the great-grandson of Ruth, the Moabite, by Boaz.[5]

David is described as cementing his relations with various political and national groups through marriage.[6] King Saul initially offered David his oldest daughter, Merab. David did not refuse the offer, but humbled himself in front of Saul to be considered among the King's family.[7] Saul reneged and instead gave Merab in marriage to Adriel the Meholathite.[8] Having been told that his younger daughter Michal was in love with David, Saul gave her in marriage to David upon David's payment in Philistine foreskins.[9] Saul became jealous of David and tried to have him killed. David escaped. Then Saul sent Michal to Galim to marry Palti, son of Laish.[10] David then took wives in Hebron, according to 2 Samuel 3; they were Ahinoam the Yizre'elite; Abigail, the wife of Nabal the Carmelite; Maacah, the daughter of Talmay, king of Geshur; Haggith; Abital; and Eglah. Later, David wanted Michal back and Abner, Ish-bosheth's army commander, delivered her to David, causing her husband (Palti) great grief.[11]

The Book of Chronicles lists his sons with his various wives and concubines. In Hebron, David had six sons: Amnon, by Ahinoam; Daniel, by Abigail; Absalom, by Maachah; Adonijah, by Haggith; Shephatiah, by Abital; and Ithream, by Eglah.[12] By Bathsheba, his sons were Shammua, Shobab, Nathan, and Solomon. David's sons born in Jerusalem of his other wives included Ibhar, Elishua, Eliphelet, Nogah, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama and Eliada.[13] Jerimoth, who is not mentioned in any of the genealogies, is mentioned as another of his sons in 2 Chronicles 11:18 [159]. His daughter Tamar, by Maachah, is raped by her half-brother Amnon. David fails to bring Amnon to justice for his violation of Tamar, because he is his firstborn and he loves him, and so, Absalom murders Amnon to avenge Tamar.[14]

God is angered when Saul, Israel's king, unlawfully offers a sacrifice[15] and later disobeys a divine command both to kill all of the Amalekites and to destroy their confiscated property.[16] Consequently, God sends the prophet Samuel to anoint a shepherd, David, the youngest son of Jesse of Bethlehem, to be king instead.[17]

After God sends an evil spirit to torment Saul, his servants recommend that he send for a man skilled in playing the lyre. A servant proposes David, whom the servant describes as "skillful in playing, a man of valor, a warrior, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence; and the Lord is with him." David enters Saul's service as one of the royal armour-bearers and plays the lyre to soothe the king.[18]

War comes between Israel and the Philistines, and the giant Goliath challenges the Israelites to send out a champion to face him in single combat.[19] David, sent by his father to bring provisions to his brothers serving in Saul's army, declares that he can defeat Goliath.[20] Refusing the king's offer of the royal armour,[21] he kills Goliath with his sling.[22] Saul inquires the name of the young hero's father.[23]

Saul sets David over his army.

Jonathan meets with David again and confirms his loyalty to David as the future king.

A similar passage occurs in 1 Samuel 26, when David is able to infiltrate Saul's camp on the hill of Hachilah and remove his spear and a jug of water from his side while he and his guards lie asleep.

In 1 Samuel 27:1–4 [160], Saul ceases to pursue David because David took refuge a second[34] time with Achish, the Philistine king of Gath. Achish permits David to reside in Ziklag, close to the border between Gath and Judea, from where he leads raids against the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites, but leads Achish to believe he is attacking the Israelites in Judah, the Jerahmeelites and the Kenites. Achish believes that David had become a loyal vassal, but he never wins the trust of the princes or lords of Gath, and at their request Achish instructs David to remain behind to guard the camp when the Philistines march against Saul.[35] David returns to Ziklag.[36] Jonathan and Saul are killed in battle,[37] and David is anointed king over Judah.[38] In the north, Saul's son Ish-Bosheth is anointed king of Israel, and war ensues until Ish-Bosheth is murdered.[39]

With the death of Saul's son, the elders of Israel come to Hebron and David is anointed king over all of Israel.[40] He conquers Jerusalem, previously a Jebusite stronghold, and makes it his capital.[41] He brings the Ark of the Covenant to the city,[42] intending to build a temple for God, but the prophet Nathan forbids it, prophesying that the temple would be built by one of David's sons.[43] Nathan also prophesies that God has made a covenant with the house of David stating, "your throne shall be established forever".[44] David wins additional victories over the Philistines, Moabites, Edomites, Amalekites, Ammonites and king Hadadezer of Aram-Zobah, after which they become tributaries.[45]

During a siege of the Ammonite capital of Rabbah, David remains in Jerusalem. He spies a woman, Bathsheba, bathing and summons her; she becomes pregnant.[46][47][48] The text in the Bible does not explicitly state whether Bathsheba consented to sex.[49][50][51][52] David calls her husband, Uriah the Hittite, back from the battle to rest, hoping that he will go home to his wife and the child will be presumed to be his. Uriah does not visit his wife, however, so David conspires to have him killed in the heat of battle. David then marries the widowed Bathsheba.[53] In response, Nathan prophesies the punishment that will fall upon him, stating "the sword shall never depart from your house."[54] When David acknowledges that he has sinned,[55] Nathan advises him that his sin is forgiven and he will not die,[56] but the child will.[57] In fulfillment of Nathan's words, David's son Absalom, fueled by vengeance and lust for power, rebels.[58] Absalom's forces are routed at the battle of the Wood of Ephraim, and he is caught by his long hair in the branches of a tree where, contrary to David's order, he is killed by Joab, the commander of David's army.[59] David laments the death of his favourite son: "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!"[60] until Joab persuades him to recover from "the extravagance of his grief"[61] and to fulfill his duty to his people.[62] David returns to Gilgal and is escorted across the River Jordan and back to Jerusalem by the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.[63]

When David is old and bedridden, Adonijah, his eldest surviving son and natural heir, declares himself king.[64] Bathsheba and Nathan go to David and obtain his agreement to crown Bathsheba's son Solomon as king, according to David's earlier promise, and the revolt of Adonijah is put down.[65] David dies at the age of 70 after reigning for 40 years,[66] and on his deathbed counsels Solomon to walk in the ways of God and to take revenge on his enemies.[67]

The Book of Samuel calls David a skillful harp (lyre) player[69] and "the sweet psalmist of Israel."[70] Yet, while almost half of the Psalms are headed "A Psalm of David" (also translated as "to David" or "for David") and tradition identifies several with specific events in David's life (e.g., Psalms 3, 7, 18, 34, 51, 52, 54, 56, 57, 59, 60, 63 and 142),[71] the headings are late additions and no psalm can be attributed to David with certainty.[72]

Psalm 34 is attributed to David on the occasion of his escape from Abimelech (or King Achish) by pretending to be insane.[73] According to the parallel narrative in 1 Samuel 21, instead of killing the man who had exacted so many casualties from him, Abimelech allows David to depart, exclaiming, "Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?"[74]

History and archeology


The Tel Dan Stele, an inscribed stone erected by a king of Damascus in the late 9th/early 8th centuries BCE to commemorate his victory over two enemy kings, contains the phrase Hebrew: ביתדוד‎, bytdwd, which most scholars translate as "House of David".[75] Other scholars, such as Anson Rainey have challenged this reading,[76] but it is likely that this is a reference to a dynasty of the Kingdom of Judah which traced its ancestry to a founder named David.[75] The Mesha Stele from Moab, dating from approximately the same period, may also contain the name David in two places, although this is less certain than the mention in the Tel Dan inscription.[77]

Besides the two steles, bible scholar and egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen suggests that David's name also appears in a relief of Pharaoh Shoshenq (usually identified with Shishak in the Bible, 1 Kings 14:25-27).[78] The relief claims that Shoshenq raided places in Palestine in 925 BCE, and Kitchen interprets one place as "Heights of David", which was in Southern Judah and the Negev where the Bible says David took refuge from Saul. The relief is damaged and interpretation is uncertain.[78]

Apart from these, all that is known of David comes from the biblical literature.

The authors and editors of Samuel and Chronicles did not aim to record history, but to promote David's reign as inevitable and desirable, and for this reason there is little about David that is concrete and undisputed.[82] The archaeological evidence indicates that in the 10th century BCE, the time of David, Judah was sparsely inhabited and Jerusalem was no more than a small village; over the following century it slowly evolved from a highland chiefdom to a kingdom, but always overshadowed by the older and more powerful kingdom of Israel to the north.[83] The biblical evidence likewise indicates that David's Judah was something less than a full-fledged monarchy: it often calls him negid, for example, meaning "prince" or "chief", rather than melek, meaning "king"; the biblical David sets up none of the complex bureaucracy that a kingdom needs (even his army is made up of volunteers), and his followers are largely related to him and from his small home-area around Hebron.[84]

Beyond this, the full range of possible interpretations is available.

Some studies of David have been written: Baruch Halpern has pictured David as a lifelong vassal of Achish, the Philistine king of Gath;[88] Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman have identified as the oldest and most reliable section of Samuel those chapters which describe David as the charismatic leader of a band of outlaws who captures Jerusalem and makes it his capital.[89] Steven McKenzie, Associate Professor of the Hebrew Bible at Rhodes College and author of King David: A Biography, argues that David came from a wealthy family, was "ambitious and ruthless" and a tyrant who murdered his opponents, including his own sons.[72]

Critical Bible scholarship holds that the biblical account of David's rise to power is a political apology—an answer to contemporary charges against him, of his involvement in murders and regicide.[90]

Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman reject the idea that David ruled over a united monarchy, suggesting instead that he ruled only as a chieftain over the southern kingdom of Judah, much smaller than the northern kingdom of Israel at that time.[91] They posit that Israel and Judah were still polytheistic or henotheistic in the time of David and Solomon, and that much later seventh-century redactors sought to portray a past golden age of a united, monotheistic monarchy in order to serve contemporary needs.[92] They note a lack of archeological evidence for David's military campaigns and a relative underdevelopment of Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, compared to a more developed and urbanized Samaria, capital of Israel.[93][94][95]

Jacob L. Wright, Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at Emory University, has written that the most popular legends about David, including his killing of Goliath, his affair with Bathsheba, and his ruling of a United Kingdom of Israel rather than just Judah, are the creation of those who lived generations after him, in particular those living in the late Persian or Hellenistic periods.[96]

History of interpretation in the Abrahamic religions


David is an important figure in Rabbinic Judaism, with many legends around him. According to one tradition, David was raised as the son of his father Jesse and spent his early years herding his father's sheep in the wilderness while his brothers were in school.[97]

David's adultery with Bathsheba is interpreted as only an opportunity to demonstrate the power of repentance, and the Talmud states that it was not adultery at all, quoting a Jewish practice of divorce on the eve of battle.

In Jewish legend, David's sin with Bathsheba is the punishment for David's excessive self-consciousness who had besought God to lead him into temptation so that he might give proof of his constancy as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (who successfully passed the test) whose names later were united with God's, while David eventually failed through the temptation of a woman.[97]

According to midrashim, Adam gave up 70 years of his life for the life of David.[101] Also, according to the Talmud Yerushalmi, David was born and died on the Jewish holiday of Shavuot (Feast of Weeks). His piety was said to be so great that his prayers could bring down things from Heaven.

The concept of the Messiah is important in Christianity.

Western Rite churches (Lutheran, Roman Catholic) celebrate his feast day on 29 December, Eastern-rite on 19 December.[107] The Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches celebrate the feast day of the "Holy Righteous Prophet and King David" on the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers (two Sundays before the Great Feast of the Nativity of the Lord), when he is commemorated together with other ancestors of Jesus. He is also commemorated on the Sunday after the Nativity, together with Joseph and James, the Brother of the Lord.

In European Christian culture of the Middle Ages, David was made a member of the Nine Worthies, a group of heroes encapsulating all the ideal qualities of chivalry. His life was thus proposed as a valuable subject for study by those aspiring to chivalric status. This aspect of David in the Nine Worthies was popularised firstly through literature, and was thereafter adopted as a frequent subject for painters and sculptors.

David was considered as a model ruler and a symbol of divinely-ordained monarchy throughout medieval Western Europe and Eastern Christendom. David was perceived as the biblical predecessor to Christian Roman and Byzantine emperors and the name "New David" was used as an honorific reference to these rulers.[109] The Georgian Bagratids and the Solomonic dynasty of Ethiopia claimed a direct biological descent from him.[110] Likewise, kings of the Frankish Carolingian dynasty frequently connected themselves to David; Charlemagne himself occasionally used the name of David as his pseudonym.[109]

David is an important figure in Islam as one of the major prophets sent by God to guide the Israelites. David is mentioned several times in the Quran with the Arabic name داود, Dāwūd, often with his son Solomon. In the Qur'an: David killed Goliath (2:251), a giant soldier in the Philistine army. When David killed Goliath, God granted him kingship and wisdom and enforced it (38:20). David was made God's "vicegerent on earth" (38:26) and God further gave David sound judgment (21:78; 37:21–24, 26) as well as the Psalms, regarded as books of divine wisdom (4:163; 17:55). The birds and mountains united with David in uttering praise to God (21:79; 34:10; 38:18), while God made iron soft for David (34:10 [161] ), God also instructed David in the art of fashioning chain-mail out of iron (21:80 [162] ); an indication of the first use of wrought iron, this knowledge gave David a major advantage over his bronze and cast iron-armed opponents, not to mention the cultural and economic impact. Together with Solomon, David gave judgment in a case of damage to the fields (21:78) and David judged the matter between two disputants in his prayer chamber (38:21–23). Since there is no mention in the Qur'an of the wrong David did to Uriah nor any reference to Bathsheba, Muslims reject this narrative.[111]

Muslim tradition and the hadith stress David's zeal in daily prayer as well as in fasting.[112] Qur'an commentators, historians and compilers of the numerous Stories of the Prophets elaborate upon David's concise Qur'anic narratives and specifically mention David's gift in singing his Psalms as well as his musical and vocal talents. His voice is described as having had a captivating power, weaving its influence not only over man but over all beasts and nature, who would unite with him to praise God.[113]

Art and literature


Literary works about David include:

  • 1681–82 Dryden's long poem Absalom and Achitophel is an allegory that uses the story of the rebellion of Absalom against King David as the basis for his satire of the contemporary political situation, including events such as the Monmouth Rebellion (1685), the Popish Plot (1678) and the Exclusion Crisis.
  • 1893 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may have used the story of David and Bathsheba as a foundation for the Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Crooked Man. Holmes mentions "the small affair of Uriah and Bathsheba" at the end of the story.[114]
  • 1928 Elmer Davis's novel Giant Killer retells and embellishes the biblical story of David, casting David as primarily a poet who managed always to find others to do the "dirty work" of heroism and kingship. In the novel, Elhanan in fact killed Goliath but David claimed the credit; and Joab, David's cousin and general, took it upon himself to make many of the difficult decisions of war and statecraft when David vacillated or wrote poetry instead.
  • 1936 William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! refers to the story of Absalom, David's son; his rebellion against his father and his death at the hands of David's general, Joab. In addition it parallels Absalom's vengeance for the rape of his sister Tamar by his half-brother, Amnon.
  • 1946 Gladys Schmitt's novel David the King was a richly embellished biography of David's entire life. The book took a risk, especially for its time, in portraying David's relationship with Jonathan as overtly homoerotic, but was ultimately panned by critics as a bland rendition of the title character.
  • 1966 Juan Bosch, a Dominican political leader and writer, wrote David: Biography of a King, as a realistic portrayal of David's life and political career.
  • 1970 Dan Jacobson's The Rape of Tamar is an imagined account, by one of David's courtiers Yonadab, of the rape of Tamar by Amnon.
  • 1972 Stefan Heym wrote The King David Report in which the historian Ethan compiles upon King Solomon's orders "a true and authoritative report on the life of David, Son of Jesse"—the East German writer's wry depiction of a court historian writing an "authorized" history, many incidents clearly intended as satirical references to the writer's own time.
  • 1974 In Thomas Burnett Swann's biblical fantasy novel How are the Mighty Fallen, David and Jonathan are explicitly stated to be lovers. Moreover, Jonathan is a member of a winged semi-human race (possibly nephilim), one of several such races coexisting with humanity but often persecuted by it.
  • 1980 Malachi Martin's factional novel King of Kings: A Novel of the Life of David relates the life of David, Adonai's champion in his battle with the Philistine deity Dagon.
  • 1984 Joseph Heller wrote a novel based on David called God Knows
  • 1993 Madeleine L'Engle's novel Certain Women explores family, the Christian faith, and the nature of God through the story of King David's family and an analogous modern family's saga.
  • 1995 Allan Massie wrote King David, a novel about David's career that portrays the king's relationship to Jonathan as sexual.[115]
  • 2015 Geraldine Brooks wrote a novel about King David, The Secret Chord, told from the point of view of the prophet Nathan.[116][117]

David has been depicted several times in films; these are some of the best-known:

  • The traditional birthday song Las Mañanitas mentions King David as the original singer in its lyrics.
  • 1738 George Frideric Handel's oratorio Saul features David as one of its main characters.[123]
  • 1921 Arthur Honegger's oratorio Le Roi David with a libretto by René Morax, instantly became a staple of the choral repertoire.
  • 1964 Bob Dylan alludes to David in the last line of his song "When The Ship Comes In" ("And like Goliath, they'll be conquered").
  • 1983 Bob Dylan refers to David in his song "Jokerman" ("Michelangelo indeed could've carved out your features").[124]
  • 1984 Leonard Cohen's song "Hallelujah" has references to David ("there was a secret chord that David played and it pleased the Lord", "The baffled king composing Hallelujah") and Bathsheba ("you saw her bathing on the roof") in its opening verses.
  • 1990 The song "One of the Broken" by Paddy McAloon, performed by Prefab Sprout on the album Jordan: The Comeback*, has a reference to David ("I remember King David, with his harp and his beautiful, beautiful songs, I answered his prayers, and showed him a place where his music belongs").
  • 1991 "Mad About You", a song on Sting's album The Soul Cages, explores David's obsession with Bathsheba from David's perspective.[125]
  • 2000 The song "Gimme a Stone" appears on the Little Feat album Chinese Work Songs chronicles the duel with Goliath and contains a lament to Absalom as a bridge.[126]

For a considerable period, starting in the 15th century and continuing until the 19th, French playing card manufacturers assigned to each of the court cards names taken from history or mythology. In this context, the King of Spades was often known as "David".[127][128]

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