The Most Flawed of Heroes

How did David, a shepherd and poet, become Israel's king and the progenitor of the Messiah for both Jews and Christians?

With this review, Rabbi David Wolpe begins a new Beliefnet column on books about Judaism.

David is the most complex personality in the Bible, with the longest story. He took over the kingship of Israel after the demise of Saul. The life of this shepherd boy, whose great political achievements included pushing back the Philistines, moving the capital to Jerusalem, and consolidating the kingship, makes for a fascinating story.

David was a warrior, a lover, a disciple, a leader, a sinner, a musician and poet, a powerfully conflicted father and husband, and a leader whose impact was so powerful that he remains the fountainhead of messianism in the Jewish and Christian traditions. In Jewish tradition the Messiah is called "Messiah, son of David," and the longest genealogy in sacred Western literature is the New Testament's genealogy to prove that Jesus descended from the Davidic line.


The twists of David's life make for a powerful novel (most particularly "The King David Report" by Stefan Heym) and some persuasive scholarship. This may be why

, a terrific online publication that covers the expansive world of Jewish books, and the venerable Jewish publishing house


decided on a book about David to launch their Jewish Encounters series--brief, nicely designed books on major personalities, themes, and events in Judaism.

To kick off the series, the former Poet Laureate of the United States, Robert Pinsky, has written "The Life of David." Not King David, you note, but David. The title tells us a great deal about the poet Pinsky's intentions in retelling the saga of the Psalmist.


While Pinsky accepts the basics of biblical criticism (noting different sources for David's story) he does not enter into the essentially unanswerable question of what is historically accurate in this remarkable saga. Nor does he bother himself overmuch with the political side. This book is about David, the human being, the fantastically complex, charismatic, lucky leader of Israel.

One would think that what would most interest a poet is David the poet (most of the biblical Psalms are ascribed to David). But that is to assume poetry is about language instead of about the world. What engages Pinsky is this character who leaps off the page: the rake who schemes until his literal dying breath, but who is also a man of exquisitely sensitive understanding and eloquent emotion. David's story takes place in a time when politics and royal families were virtually identical. "The story of David is a story of flawed fathers, of unexpectedly powerful women and of defiant sons," Pinsky writes.

Seeing David from every angle
Read more on page 2 >>

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