Legacy of Bible's King David revisited in new e-book

By Elaine Justice | Spirited Thinking | Feb. 27, 2014

King David is one the most prominent names in the Bible, and, according to Emory University religion professor Jacob Wright, the most human.

"We find him [in the Bible] from his very early days fighting Goliath, his ambition, his thirst for power," Wright says. "He'll do anything that will take him to the top… He sets his sights on the throne, but [he] also encounters on the way many downturns, many pains."

Wright's new e-book, "King David and His Reign Revisited," uncovers the reasons David is portrayed in an unflattering light in the Old Testament before his history is redefined in the book of Chronicles. Wright is an associate professor of Hebrew Bible at Emory's Candler School of Theology.

"That David (in Chronicles) is a much different one," Wright explains. "[He] does not have a very human face. He's much more of an icon, a symbol, and what I call a 'catalyst of Israel's unity.'"

Wright's examination of David ranges widely, from why early David stories were combined with early stories of Saul, to his assertion of power, to his war with son Absolom and exile, to the revisionist history that caps the complex and often unflattering accounts of Judah's first king.

"So why didn't the biblical authors present a more flattering portrait of their most famous king?" asks Wright. The answer, he says, lies with the purpose of the biblical project as a whole, which attempted to come to terms with "the fate of the collective people."

This people had a state that was founded by David, and that state was destroyed, says Wright. "The destruction of that state poses the questions: Who are we? How are we going to live? Can we persist as a people?"

Through David's story, says Wright, the biblical writers show "that statehood does bring great security to people, but at a high cost."

While the Bible itself is devoid of images, the e-book includes images of King David  through the ages to accompany the text, allowing readers to see the layered history of interpreting his life, says Wright.

Also included is a new system for footnotes (citations in scrollable windows) and direct links to articles, websites and videos. Readers can highlight as they read, and share notes via email or social media.

Wright says the e-book aims to take a fresh look not only at how King David has been interpreted by scholars and what we know about him historically, but also to examine "why he is such an important figure for us in the contemporary world."