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Realpolitik in David

October 18, 2007

Enemy sighted, enemy met, I’m addressing the realpolitik
Look who bought the myth, by jingo, buy America — REM

The similarities between the account of David’s rise to power in 1 Samuel and the Apology of Hattusili informs many scholars’ discussions of the biblical material. I have found that having the students create smear-tactic campaign adds from an imaginary opposition candidate for king of Israel helps to focus students on just how much smut David hangs out there. However, the real question always alludes me: why include all these sordid tales?

I’ve played with a few standard reasons: it has to be included because this is “history;” the Davidic hierarchy is trying to put a positive spin on what his detractors are saying (a la Hattusili); etc. However, I’ve been wondering as of late if the real answer is closer to what Barack Obama did in publishing his biography the other year: if you put all the dirt out there before they do, you disarm its power for your opponents.

Now, to be sure I don’t think that DtrH or even the material of 1 Sam stems from the time of David. However, the account and acknowledgment of these uncomfortable bits from before David’s coronation seem less apologetic than Hattusili and this makes me wonder if the realpolitik function is the same. Is the story to answer questions posed by opposition, or to disarm opposition by denying them their scandals?

  1. Phillip permalink
    October 19, 2007 12:44 pm

    Jim…I’ve been struggling with the same sorts of questions with my students. In some ways, it is much easier if you hold that the Succession Narrative is old–very old. If the text is Solomonic (which I am certainly not suggesting it is), you seem to have a very strong political argument that you can make with students. These narratives of David’s life MUST be told because they are well known and the legitimacy of the Davidic Line is up for debate. (Also, the narrative explain why David’s other sons don’t come to power). It has always struck me as odd, however, that if you put this narrative later in the history of ancient Israel, the problematic stuff is harder and harder to explain. I wonder what the more minimalist among us do?

    I like the ideas of Campaign Ads against David, by the way.


  2. jimgetz permalink*
    October 19, 2007 4:18 pm


    The nature of the material does provide an interesting problem for dating it high. I already hold to a double redaction of DtrH, but I’m unwilling to chalk up a third redaction even earlier.

    I’m glad you like the Campaign Ads. It’s been one of the few group exercises I’ve managed to pull off with my 8AM class. Interestingly enough it turned more into an example of hermeneutical blindspots than realpolitik since none of the students noticed that David is working for the wrong side when Saul dies.

    At least it got them reading the text critically….

  3. October 20, 2007 5:44 pm

    I studied this part of the Hebrew Bible in some depth while a student in Germany a few moons ago. To the extent that I follow the debate, it remains in German-language terms.

    In Germany, die Aufstiegsgeschichte Davids continues to be dated, by and large, to the late 10th cent. Walter Dietrich’s work on this and related narrative complexes is fabulous. See his David, Saul, und die Propheten (1992), and Die fruhe Konigszeit in Israel (1997).

  4. jimgetz permalink*
    October 23, 2007 12:22 pm

    John thanks for the references. History (or historicity) of biblical texts isn’t my main schtick. I’m a ritual scholar at heart. However, it is interesting that despite the posturing of many in the States, Britain and Denmark, there are still pockets of consensus that date these texts early.

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