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Book Review :: King David: A Biography by McKenzie

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).

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