McKenzie, Steven L. King David: A Biography. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
McKenzie’s reconstruction appears thoroughly informed and contains a great deal of helpful detailed reconstructions of David’s life. For example, after reading McKenzie’s reconstruction of the early life of David it will be hard to ever imagine the young David as merely a humble shepherd boy. While Jesse was a wealthy man and David would be expected at times to tend to shepherd duties, McKenzie points out that David is described as “a man of valor” and “a man of war” before he is ever asked to be Saul’s musician or armor bearer (I Sam 16:18). “These are not qualities of a simple shepherd,” the author reminds us (49).
On the other hand, in this same section, he dismisses all the references to David as a shepherd as having “been adopted to explain David’s origins” so that David could be enshrined as the “Shepherd of Israel” (48-49). The author does not seem to consider the possibility that perhaps it would be historically plausible—given the fact that he admits David’s father Jesse would’ve owned many sheep—that David’s duties as a shepherd in his youth could have been later exploited (as opposed to being entirely made up) for the sake of the shepherd metaphor. His reasons for accepting parts of the biblical account and rejecting others do not always appear methodologically consistent and in some cases seem quite unnecessary and somewhat arbitrary.
Although as an evangelical I do not want to give up my picture of King David as an exemplary man after God’s own heart, McKenzie’s critical approach is not easily answered. He grounds his view in what appear to be contradictions in the Bible’s storyline. For example, he claims the Goliath story is legend. He starts by noting that “at the end of chapter 16, Saul and David have formed a close relationship, with David as Saul’s beloved armor bearer (16:21). Yet at the end of the Goliath story (17:55-56) Saul does not know who David is” (50). He asks, “Abner, whose son is this youth?” and asks David, “Whose son are you, young man?” McKenzie says these questions are Hebrew idioms for “Who is this?” and “Who are you.” Yet, previous to these questions, Saul was not only told exactly who David was—even whose son he was—but had loved him so much he had made him his armor bearer (I Sam 16:18)! Suddenly, after David kills Goliath, Saul wants to know who he is. Similar observations are continually made throughout his analysis of the biblical text. While some supposed contradictions are easily answered, others are not.
Forcing myself to read through McKenzie’s non-evangelical-friendly historical reconstruction of David was exactly what I needed. I now have a better understanding of how critical scholars go about their historical reconstructions of biblical figures, have a better sense of how much evidence there is for the historical David, and I am challenged to sympathize with what leads people to mistrust the biblical account. In spite of the author’s view of the biblical literature on David as being royal propaganda, I am now more informed about the biblical and historical David.
McKenzie, Steven L. King David: A Biography. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Since the most that can be concluded from the archeological evidence concerning King David is that he existed and likely established a dynasty in Palestine, the search for the true person of King David is mainly exegetical (23-24). At this point, McKenzie does his readers the favor of presenting his assumptions and approach to the Bible before he begins to reconstruct the life of David. Since the Bible “is not ‘pure’ history but rather a theological history” with an agenda to instruct a later audience, the author operates on two key principles: 1) a general skepticism based on the assumption that historical revision is almost certainly present in the text and 2) the principle of analogy that “the past was basically analogous to the present and to what is known of similar societies and circumstances” (27, 43-44).
“Recognition of the apologetic nature of the History of David’s Rise and the Court History” is essential for historical reconstruction (35). The author of 1-2 Samuel goes out of his way to “overstress” the innocence of David in the deaths of Nabal, Saul (and the obliteration of any possible competent heir to his throne), Abner, Ishbaal, and even David’s own sons—all of which were powerful men (or a potential threat to David’s throne) whose death just happened to be key to David’s rise to, and maintenance of, his power (28-45). The author assumes based on his two principles of skepticism and analogy that “the accusations against David that the History of David’s Rise and Court History sought to explain away were probably historical” (45). With this conviction, McKenzie proceeds to give a detailed historical reconstruction.
David was a nobleman of upperclass (e.g. Jesse was an Elder of Bethlehem who owned many sheep, the Lyre was an instrument of the aristocrats) who was forced by economic pressures on his family due to an overpopulation problem in Palestine to, as the last of many sons, find a way to make a living for himself apart from his fathers household. He was a warrior from his youth but may have originally made his way into the royal household as a musician and eventually, through military service, became Saul’s armor bearer (47-67). Although the famous “David and Goliath” story is legendary, David probably had impressive military skills and youthful ambition that led him to a place of prominence within Saul’s army. In fact, he was so successful that Saul began to fear that he would overthrow him—and he did. After David’s failed attempt to usurp the throne, Saul was forced to go on the offensive “while he still had the upper hand” but David escaped Saul and hid out in the Southern parts of Judah with a band of outlaws (69-88).
David and his band of rebels raided and pillaged settlements in southern Judah and eventually took over most of southern Judah when David plotted with Abigail to kill Nabal, who was likely the chief of the Calebites—the closest thing to a king in southern Judah (97). “The pattern of events surrounding Nabal’s death” in the apologetic account (i.e. the biblical account) become the exact same pattern for the death’s of all those who pose a threat to David. They all die under questionable circumstances “at a time that is very convenient for his political ascent” (100). Later in the biblical story David teams up with the Philistines (who are the enemy of Saul) and just happens to be away retaliating an Amalekite raid on Ziklag when Saul dies in battle (104). Even though David’s innocence is stressed, he ends up with Saul’s royal apparel and soon Abner’s life is taken by his military general, and soon Saul’s heir, Ishbaal, is assassinated in his own home and his head is brought to David (111-125). The Bible pictures David as mourning greatly over each of their deaths, even killing those who had a hand in the death of Saul and his son (though curiously not punishing Joab for killing Abner). The author concludes: “The more the writer denies David’s participation in Saul’s downfall, the more a critical reader suspects it” (104).
Once David was in power, he moved the capital from Hebron to Jerusalem and brought up the ark because Jerusalem was neutral territory. It had never been occupied by Judah or Israel, thus it was a potential middle ground between Judah and Israel politically and could better unify the north and the south (132-135). David immediately puts to death Saul’s heirs, conquers the Philistines, builds a palace, accumulates a harem, maintains and grows his army, taxes the people and forces labor on the northern tribes, acted as a supreme judge in legal cases, instituted a feudal system according to his redivision of Israel into twelve provinces (which ignored tribal lines) “for the purpose of conscription and taxation” (129-152).
Because the people of Hebron were sore about David’s moving the capital away from them and believed that Hebron should be the central place for Yahweh worship and because bitterness developed in Israel over taxation and forced labor (after all, they were a conquered people), Absalom was able to pull off an almost successful rebellion against David by capitalizing on the people’s sense of being oppressed. In this account, David’s innocence is stressed by his having nothing to do with Absolom’s plot to kill the first heir to David’s throne Amnon and by his appearing too tender hearted to execute proper punishment on his own son when he kills Amnon and even when he attempts to take David’s throne by force. The blame is placed on “the sons of Zeruiah” for killing Absalom. Sheba’s revolt, though less serious, was dealt with in exactly the same manner as the story of Abner’s death—Joab greets Amasa (the general) with one hand and stabs him in the belly with the other. David executes Amasa “as he had done before to Nabal, Saul, Abner, Ishbaal, Amnon, and Absalom” (171). The story about Bathsheba was not original, McKenzie argues, but is used to explain Absalom’s rebellion as a punishment from Yahweh for his abuse of power in his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and his ordering of the death of Urriah (154-173).
The last episode of David’s life is a great irony because he appears in a piece of apology for Solomon, which places the responsibility for the bloodbath that accompanied Solomon’s rise to power on David, who supposedly gave Solomon direct orders to “execute Joab for his assassination of Abner and Amasa and to take vengeance on Shimei” (183). The author also thinks Bathsheba had a greater deal of influence over this transition of power then the text would admit (175-184).
McKenzie, Steven L. King David: A Biography. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
The first part of King David attempts to answer two questions: 1) “Do sources outside of the Bible indicate that David really existed?” and 2) “How may the Bible be used to reconstruct David’s life?” (10). Although one might surmise that someone as famous and powerful as King David would be greatly attested in the “thousands of ancient documents from hundreds of sites throughout the Middle East” that have been excavated in last two centuries, the truth is that “there is little concrete information about David outside of the Bible” (10). To be fair, however, the time period in which our author places the rule of the Davidic Kingdom (ca. 1000 B.C.E.) is known as a “dark age” because there is relatively few records from this period of Mesopotamian history than for other historical time periods (10). “The relative paucity of documents from this period may help to explain why no mention of David was found for such a long time” (11).
Before the summer of 1993 scholars could claim there was not a shred of historical evidence for the historical David outside the Bible. However, this is no longer true. Three artifacts have since been discovered that appear to confirm the historicity of King David: 1) the Tel Dan Stele, 2) The Mesha Stele (11-18), and 3) The Shoshenq Relief. The Tel Dan Stele is simply an inscribed monument (or “stele”) found in the ancient ruins of the city of Dan in northern Israel. This monument was crafted from a very expensive stone and “was most likely the work of a king,” “clear and elegantly inscribed” (11). Thought to have been erected by an Aramaic King in ancient Syria sometime before 800 B.C.E., the monument makes reference to “Jehoram son of Ahab, King of Israel” and “Ahaziahu son of Jehoram, king of the House of David” (12). Both Kings are biblically attested (2 Kgs 9-10) and the language of the “House of David” also parallels the biblical language about the Davidic Kingdom (1 Sam 20:16; 2 Sam 3:1, 6, 1 Kgs 12:19, 26, 2 Kgs 17:21; 2 Chr 10:19; 21:7; Neh 12:37; Ps 122:5; Is 7:2, 13; 16:5; 22:2; Jer 21:12; Zech 12:7-12; 13:1).
The Mesha Stele was a Moabite Stone found in 1868 among the ruins of Dibon (the ancient capital of Moab) that also makes mention of “the house [of Da]vid.” Even though this monument is “less certain” than the Tel Dan Stele because it is broken and the full phrase is only partially visible, it apparently “would refer to the nation of Judah or its royal family” (14). The Mesha stele and the Tel Dan inscription together “seem to accord with the Bible’s depiction of David as the founder of the nation and dynasty of Judah—‘the house of David’” (15).
The third discovery known as the Shoshenq Relief hails Pharaoh Shoshenq’s raid into Palestine in 925 B.C.E. in a carving on the temple of Amun in Thebes. In the context of a list of places that Shosenq claims to have captured in southern Judah and the Negev (the stronghold of the Davidic Kingdom) a phrase appears that the British Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen renders “highland/heights of David” (15). The reference in this third piece of historical evidence is more disputable and may not refer to King David at all, though some have understood it that way. In light of the three aforementioned discoveries, the claim that there is no certain reference to David in history is a distortion of the facts (16). In addition to these inscriptions, there are also archeological sites that are possibly linked to David (17). This leads the author to conclude:
Archaeology has not yet proved David’s historical existence. But it has not disproved it either. The evidence is interpreted differently by different people. The assumption that David was a real person remains a viable and defensible one. The references to his name in inscriptions add some weight to this assumption, as do the “Solomonic” cities (23).
“Archaeologists have sometimes said that the evidence would force them to invent the figures of David and Solomon if the Bible did not give their names.”
– McKenzie (19)
The following is my introduction to a three post-series on the following book:
McKenzie, Steven L. King David: A Biography. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
While this post is an introduction, the first post will be about the quest for extrabiblical sources on King David, the second will be a look at McKenzie’s reconstruction of the Historical David and the third will be a brief response to his approach.
McKenzie’s book consists of a critical analysis of extrabiblical sources for the life of King David, a critical exploration of the historical relevance of the biblical account of King David and a reconstruction of the life of King David that views the genre of biblical literature about him as royal propaganda. The biblical accounts paint a picture of King David as a humble and gentle man rising to power by the providential hand of Yahweh whose greatest moral flaw was his affair with Bathsheba and the murder of the King Uriah. McKenzie paints a quite different picture of David as a ruthless powerlust who did whatever it took to rise to, and stay in, power—even to the point of killing his own sons when they became a threat to his throne.
On the one hand, the author “take[s] the Bible seriously” not only by acknowledging the historicity of the Davidic Kingdom against skeptics, but also by attempting to support his more “realistic” and therefore more “historical” picture of King David with clues in the Bible itself (7, 46). On the other hand, the author takes a critical approach to the Bible by considering the objective as a quest for the historical David that can only be accomplished by separating historical fact from the literary presentation of David’s life in the biblical account. Combining a stance of skepticism with critical analysis of the biblical narrative our author views the historical David as an oppressive and ruthless King, and the biblical stories of David are understood to be an attempt to clear David of specific accusations and paint him in the best possible light “as a model king who always ‘did what was right in Yahweh’s eyes’” (34).
Justification, for Barth, is unconditional divine pardon. Because Barth’s doctrine of election reduced the total number of both all elect and reprobate persons down to one, Jesus Christ, the God-man is really the only one who is justified as well as condemned. Because Jesus Christ as the elect and reprobate one represents all of humanity, however, Christ’s history becomes the history of all people. In this way only are all people also derivatively both elect and reprobate. However, because God’s No in reprobation is ultimately just a subcategory or phase of his Yes in election, which Yes is more ultimate, “there is not one” who is not elect, justified, and ultimately pardoned.
In spite of this apparent universal soteriological framework, Barth denied that he ever taught universal salvation and emphasized that the freedom of God keeps us from presuming that God’s grace will ultimately pardon all. Differences of opinion are held on the question of whether his denial makes his views incoherent, or whether his denial is compatible with his theological position.
Although Barth places importance on the doctrine of justification, he does not believe it is the Word of the gospel per se, for it is one among many aspects of soteriology and should not have a monopoly in soteriologial frameworks. In the end, it is not the articulus stantis et cadentis acclesia. Although Barth emphasizes that faith is not God’s chosen instrument for “realizing” one’s justification because of any virtue that it’s nature entails (such as notitia, assensus or fiducia), he goes futher than the Reformers by denying that one’s justification is in any way dependant on this human response. Justification is realized by faith, not actualized.
Barth’s doctrine of justification has played a prominent role in discussions between Protestants and Catholics about areas of continuity between Protestant and Catholic doctrines of justification. This appropriation of Barth is largely due to the work of the Swiss theologian Hans Küng. Discussion surrounding Protestant and Catholic views of justification that were influenced by Küng’s approach to Barth’s doctrine have culminated in some of the most impressive ecumenical achievements this side of the Reformation, although such achievements are not appreciated by all.
Barth’s Christocentrism is a good example of why he finds appreciation among conservative Protestantism, yet his universalism is a good example of why conservative Protestants are also ambivalent toward his system as a whole. His willingness to engage scripture and traditional church dogma makes his writing intriguing to those who take the Bible seriously, yet his highly eccentric formulations make him difficult to understand, leave him vulnerable to the charge of incoherency, and for more conservative evangelicals who hold to classic doctrines of reprobation and hell, hard to believe.
In spite of Barth’s attempt to take a hard-line protestant stance on the doctrine of justification—even going into long polemical tirades in his Church Dogmatics—nevertheless, his doctrine of justification has played a prominent role in ecumenical discussions between Protestants and Catholics. The foremost interpreter of Karl Barth’s doctrine of justification in this regard is the Swiss theologian Hans Küng, who attempted to show that Barth and the council of Trent were in basic agreement on all the crucial questions surrounding the doctrine of justification. Barth freely conceded that Küng had done justice to all of the contours of his views on justification. In a letter to Küng, which eventually became a part of the preface to Küng’s book on justification, Barth said:
I here gladly, gratefully and publicly testify not only that you have adequately covered all significant aspects of justification treated in the ten volumes of my Chruch Dogmatics published so far, and that you have fully and accurately reproduced my views as I myself understand them; but also that you have brought all this beautifully into focus through your brief yet precise presentation of details and your frequent references to the larger historical context.
That Barth’s doctrine of justification would ever be used in such a fashion was baffling to him, yet at the same time, delightfully intriguing.
What I say about justification—making allowances for certain precarious yet not insupportable turns of phrase—does objectively concur on all points with the correctly understood teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. You can imagine my considerable amazement at this bit of news; and I suppose that many Roman Catholic readers will at first be no less amazed … All I can say is this: If what you have presented in Part Two of this book is actually the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, then I must certainly admit that my view of justification agrees with the Roman Catholic view; if only for the reason that the Roman Catholic teaching would then be most strikingly in accord with mine!
After reading Küng’s treatment of justification, Barth came to believe that he had so strongly denunciated the Catholic position on justification because he had so woefully misunderstood it. Barth was, however, aware that perhaps in spite of the fact that Küng had flawlessly interpreted his own teaching, the ecumenical discussions would not be received well by the Catholic Church. Although he was warmly open to Küng’s work, he was not as certain of Küng’s interpretation of the Catholic position as he was of Küng’s interpretation of his own position: “Of course, the problem is whether what you have presented here really represents the teaching of your Church. This you will have to take up and fight out with biblical, historical, and dogmatic experts among your coreligionists.”
This Küng did, but the results were disappointing. The attitude of the Catholic Church up to this point had been to assume that since the doctrine of justification was the main reason for the Protestant split from Catholicism (notwithstanding other disagreements), if one could show that a basic agreement existed between Protestant teachings and Catholic teaching, this would cancel the largest motivating factor for division. But once Küng had given the most persuasive demonstration of such essential continuity, the Catholic church quickly altered their stance, arguing, in effect, “Only when the church’s claims of truth, leadership, and hierarchy are settled can we then draw consequences from the doctrine of justification.” When Küng’s hopes for a substantial reassessment of the justification doctrine were largely ignored in the Vatican II council meetings, Küng followed the Vatican meetings with a critical eye. Disheartened, he concluded that “pope and curia [the papal court] were not willing to accept the critical challenge.”
In spite of the apparent initial disinterest of the Catholic Church, we can only predict that were Barth alive today he would be pleased to find, like Hermann Häring, that Küng’s thesis has had the last laugh. Küng’s approach to the ecumenical dialogue over justification appears to have had a major influence in approach to Protestant-Catholic dialogue which has culminated in what might be considered the most significant ecumenical achievement in Post-Reformation times.
So far his book on justification is not outdated. Better yet, his thesis of that time has received a late justification. Everyone today agrees that the doctrine of justification no longer divides confessions. Differentiating exegetical as well as theological and dogmatic research has strongly confirmed that notion, especially the studies about the Council of Trent. … Since 1999, the state of discussion can be easily and accurately shown in the Joint Declaration of Augsburg with its highly detailed style. … [A]ll seven problem areas, the points of agreement as well as continuing disagreement are meticulously listed. Each single time, however, the conclusion is drawn that the differences no longer warrant a church division.
Not everyone, however, has been as optimistic about the viability of the ecumenical discussions that took place over the similarities between Barth’s doctrine of justification and the Catholic position as interpreted by Hans Küng. Alister McGrath, for example, grants that Küng has at least shown that Barth and Trent are both anti-pelagian, but he censures the hype over Küng’s thesis as reflecting failure to recognize the difference between agreement over how man is justified—by grace through Christ—and what justification actually is.
However, the Council of Trent (1543-63) specifically anathematized a series of propositions which it considered Pelagian. The result is, as Küng has shown, that both Karl Barth and Trent teach a strongly anti-Pelagian Christocentric doctrine of justification. Nevertheless, the question of how man is justified before God does not exhaust the question of justification. … [I]t is highly doubtful whether Küng has demonstrated anything other than that Barth and Trent both hold that justification is primarily a divine act arising through the work of Christ. There are at least four areas in which Barth and Trent are in serious disagreement: namely, the nature of justification ; the freedom of the will; the nature of election ; and the assurance of salvation. Küng fails to ask the crucial question, which is this: What do Barth and Trent have in common that Calvin and Trent do not also have in common? The answer to this question is that Barth and Trent have considerable less in common than Calvin and Trent. … What does it mean to say that a man is justified? It is a trivial matter for Roman Catholic, Anglican and Reformed theologians to agree that man is justified by a divine act of grace through Christ, for to fail to accept this would be to deny the doctrine of their churches as laid down by the Council of Trent, Orange II, the Thirty-nine Articles, and the various confessions of the Reformed churches. … But what is the difference between the unjustified and the justified? What happens in justification? What is justification? It is one thing to agree how something occurs; it is quite another to agree on what the entity in question actually is.
McGrath also believes that Küng “confuses the matter by introducing modern Roman Catholic scholars, whose teaching counts as theological opinion, and not as the authoritative teaching of the Church.”
It is our contention that Küng, by presenting the more theocentric, Bible-oriented section of opinion within Roman Catholicism, and by presenting only those aspects of Barth’s theology of justification which are capable of harmonization with this section, has not represented the true state of affairs. This does not mean that Küng has misrepresented Barth’s theology of justification: rather, we are of the opinion that he has been unduly selective.
Because of the prominent role that Barth’s doctrine has played in the ecumenical discussions, Catholics and Protestants argue over whether Barth’s doctrine was more Catholic in orientation or more Protestant. Bruce L McCormack takes issue with Douglas Harink’s claim that “Barth’s doctrine of justification anticipated in all its essential features Harink’s own version of Paul’s teaching on this subject.” He argues that the defining element of the Calvinistic Protestant doctrine of justification is John Calvin’s notion of double imputation—specifically the notion of an alien righteousness outside of us (extra nos)—that came out of the Osandrian controversy in 1551. The intention of this defining element was to free the grounds of justification from anything God does in us (in nobis)—even if it is by grace—under the conviction that it would undermine Christian assurance.
Barth’s justification is forensic through and through, McCormick argues. In Barth, justification does not occur through the faith of the one justified but in eternity past and consists primarily, as we have already noted, in acquittal. Justification takes place in Christ because it is in Christ that God restores his own righteousness by destroying both sin and the sinner. The justification of man is really Christ’s justification in Barth’s forensic framework. In Barth faith is merely our becoming aware of our justification, not even an instrumental cause. Thus, McCormack concludes that Barth’s doctrine of justification is not only protestant, but radically so, for not even our faith makes it effective for us; only Christ’s faithfulness, death, and resurrection makes justification effective. “Christ’s history is as such our history … [and] participation in Christ is not something that has first to be realized by means of an independent work of the Holy Spirit, but is already real even as the God-man carries out his work.” Barth sees both our being and God’s being “constituted by way of anticipation” in His eternal decision of the covenant of grace in which the God-man takes God’s reprobation and we get God’s mercy. Just because Barth does not use the language of imputation does not remove the element from the heart of his doctrine, McCormack argues, only in his doctrine imputation does not occur at a moment in time when the believer puts his faith in Christ. Rather, it happens in eternity past.
Although Barth’s doctrine has perhaps caused more openness between Protestants and Catholics towards fruitful ecumenical discussion, this has not taken place without serious controversy over whether this should have ever taken place, whether it reflects true agreement between essentials of Protestant and Catholic teaching on justification or naïvety. If nothing else, Küng has inspired a new approach to ecumenical theology that relishes in the areas of continuity between Barth (and Calvin for that matter) and Trent. Whereas Protestants and Catholics in time past were more narrowly aiming their energies at polemical writings that emphasized the areas of disagreement between them, Küng’s interpretation of Barth has caused a shift in focus on appreciation for elements that are similar.
 Karl Barth, “A Letter to the Author,” in Hans Küng’s Justification (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John KnoxPress, 2004), lxvii-lxviii.
 “I have been guilty of a thoroughgoing misunderstanding and, consequently, of a thoroughgoing injustice regarding the teaching of your Church, especially that of the Fathers of Trent.” Ibid., lxviii.
 Hermann Häring, “Justification: Then and Now,” trans. Katharina Gustavs, in Justification, xxii.
 Ibid. Häring seems to imply that this was part of the reason Küng ultimately denied papal infallibility, for which the Vatican rescinded his authority as a teacher of Catholic theology.
 Ibid. xxv.
 Alister McGrath, “Justification—’Making Just’ or ‘Declaring Just’?: A Neglected Aspect of the Ecumenical Discussion on Justification,” Churchman, vol 96 no 1 (1982): 44-45.
 Alister McGrath, “Justification: Barth, Trent, and Küng,” Scottish Jounral of Theology, vol 34 no 6 (1981): 525.
 Ibid., 527.
 Bruce L. McCormack, “Justitia aliena: Karl Barth in Conversation with the Evangelical Doctrine of Imputed Righteousness,” in Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges, ed. Bruce L McCormack (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2006), 168.
 Ibid., 191.