T. Linafelt, C.V. Camp, and T. Beal (eds.), The Fate of King David: The Past and Present of a Biblical Icon

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 12 (2012) - Review

Linafelt, Tod, Claudia V. Camp, and Timothy Beal, eds., The Fate of King David: The Past and Present of a Biblical Icon (LHBOTS, 500; New York/London: T&T Clark, 2010). Pp. xxxi + 352. US $170.00. Hardcover. ISBN: 978-0-567-51546-9.

This volume celebrates David M. Gunn, who is championed as a pioneer of three movements within biblical studies: narrative criticism, ideological criticism (particularly feminist and gender criticisms), as well as cultural studies and reception history. Each of the 19 essays in this Festschrift employs a methodology rooted in one of these movements. Thus, this work exhibits “a relatively high degree of thematic coherence,” which according to the editors is somewhat unique amongst Festschriften (pp. xvi–xvii). A bibliography of Gunn's published work concludes the introduction (pp. xxvii–xxxi).

The essays of Part I, “Relating to David,” explore the literary characterization of David. In “King David and Tidings of Death,”[1] Jan Jaynes Quesada analyzes the seven (type) scenes in 1 and 2 Samuel where David responds to the news of death to “gain fresh insight into the text's multifaceted vision of the Lord's anointed” (p. 5). Unpretentiously analyzing the individual responses of David to news of death, Quesada concludes that these scenes operate symmetrically to espouse the reward-retribution logic of the Deuteronomistic History (p. 18). Francis Landy contributes “David and Ittai,” which considers David's interactions with Ittai and Zadok during his flight from Jerusalem during Absalom's insurrection. Through a meticulous and provocative study, which unfortunately becomes convoluted at times, Landy proposes that the text's rhetoric and symbolism present David as one who is confronted by his past while pondering his future. Via “echoes” and “resonations,” Mary Shields reads the David/Abigail narrative in light of the Wise Woman of Prov 1–9 in “A Feast Fit for a King.” Shields believes the text encourages such a study: “The very name of Nabal, ‘fool,’ and Abigail's characterization as a woman of ‘good insight’ (v. 3) provide the invitation” (p. 40).[2] David Penchansky, who imaginatively fills in lacunae of certain scenes in Samuel, contributes “Four Vignettes from the Life of David.” While entertaining at times, those who value grammatically and syntactically focused exegesis for reflection will struggle appropriating this essay.

In what will undoubtedly be the most controversial essay for many, “Reading Backwards,” Randall C. Bailey passionately targets a perceived hegemonic interpretive construct of hetero-normativity by reading the Samuel narrative with a queer hermeneutic via a technique that “withholds data from the reader until a strategic point” in order to encourage backtracking and rereading (p. 71). For Bailey, 1 Samuel 19 is that crucial juncture (p. 72). However, his method of interpretation seems to me problematic, especially as he appears too involved in his own method. The first five pages of his article, for instance, recount his experiences defending his hermeneutic; moreover, these recollections present him as having the final word that exposes his opponents as rigid ideologues. While his accusations may have merit, Bailey's introduction may cause some readers to activate their own hermeneutic of suspicion, this time against Bailey's arguments. On the whole, Bailey's methodological position should be respected; but in my opinion, in this case he stretches the text to its semantic limits and discusses certain passages in relative isolation. One wonders whether the semantic possibilities, which Bailey exploits, are actually narrower than what he argues here, once one considers the larger and canonical contexts of the text he has analyzed for this volume.

Walter Brueggemann opens Part II, “Canonizing David,” which discusses the imprint of David outside of 1 and 2 Samuel. In “Heir and Land,” Brueggemann interprets 2 Kgs 25:27–30 in light of 2 Kgs 2:1–4. Jehoiachin is used as a cipher for questions regarding the continuation of the Davidic throne. When particular prophetic passages are brought into the equation, Jehoiachin, as represented at the conclusion of 2 Kings, embodies the community's question(s) of dynasty, land, and landless heir. Danna Nolan Fewell in “A Broken Hallelujah” discusses the Davidic narratives in the context of the Primary History as a “constitutive” narrative for the post-exilic community (p. 105). According to Fewell, these narratives constitute “true mourning”[3] while representing the Second Temple community's external and internal threats as well as questions of theodicy that plague them. Philip Davies integrates intertextual and psychological analyses in “Son of David and Son of Saul.” Davies offers a typological comparison between Saul/David and Jesus/Paul in Acts, which may have also been in the mind of Saul of Tarsus (cf. Acts 13:13–41). Davies offers some intriguing thoughts, namely that Acts mentions Saul of Kish in the context of Saul's name change to signify continuity between “old” and “new” kingdoms (p. 126).[4] Yet, his particular method fosters only tentative conclusions, as Davies himself admits in the end.

Part III is entitled “Singing David” and loosely discusses David's association with the Psalter. In “The Sharper Harper (1 Samuel 16:14–23),” Carole R. Fontaine provides the volume's best essay. She surveys harping iconography in the ancient Near East, highlighting the political connotations. She concludes that 1 Sam 16:14–23 exhibits such a connotation, which has been missed by previous scholars. Furthermore, Fontaine suggests that this scene is the literary mechanism whereby the author recounts how shepherd-David learned the tools that would allow him to become a cunning politician. Stemming from the superscriptions, Robert Culley, in “David and the Psalms,” considers the interplay between certain complaint psalms (Pss 54; 56–57; 59; 142) and episodes of David's life that recount particularly dangerous situations. Culley ultimately states, “Because of common, traditional language, the set of poems and the set of stories represent two different ways of talking about the problems of a person in danger or difficulty and in need of rescue or escape” representing “a rather rich network of possibilities that explore the theme of danger and rescue” (pp. 161–62). In “Penitent to a Fault,” R. Christopher Heard characterizes David negatively when he misdirects and employs “confession as damage control and penitence as public relations” (p. 173). Heard roots his conclusions in his reader-oriented approach to intertextuality and his willingness to take seriously the psalm's superscription as the hermeneutical lens, which contextualizes the psalm against 2 Sam 11–12. “Psalm 23 and Method” displays the interpretive arsenal of D. J. A. Clines, who puts his finger on the pulse of trends in contemporary scholarship by reading Ps 23 successively through rhetorical, deconstructive, gender, materialistic, post-colonial, and psychoanalytical criticisms.

Yvonne Sherwood begins Part IV, “Receiving David,” a section devoted to essays on reception history and cultural studies. In her erudite essay “Scenes of Textual Repentance and Critique/Confession,” Sherwood utilizes commentary on Ps 51 and 2 Sam 11–12 by certain Reformers and Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers to refute the stereo-typical dichotomies regarding the “religious” and “secular” (p. 188). While discussing the impact of Ps 51 on Theodore Beza's work before and after his conversion to Calvinism, Sherwood notes continuity between the Reformers, namely their preference for the eloquent voice of the Psalms to the voice of the prose narrative. Thus, the Reformers create a hierarchy for theological reflection. Sherwood brings Enlightenment thinkers into the intellectual continuum by suggesting that their work is a logical extension of the Reformers. Key is Sherwood's understanding of “criticism,” which she understands as krino (to separate, decide, judge, or accuse; p. 204). As the Reformers “criticized” (i.e. separated) corpora, establishing a hierarchy of usefulness, the Enlightenment thinkers “criticized” (i.e. separated) the text, particularly the corpora that had already been deemed less useful. Biblical testimony substantiates this progression. Because humanity is fallen, it stands to reason that the text would be fallen in certain respects. In light of this logic, Sherwood ultimately states, “[T]he effects that we call, retrospectively, ‘secularization,’ seem to come about first through the extension of the Bible's own critique, which is also God's critique of the inadequacy and sinfulness of the human” (p. 205). “From Babylon to David and Back Again” offers Burke Long's discussion of the reception history of Simeon Solomon's Babylon. This painting exhibits a history of title change that corresponds to the intellectual movements of the early 20th century onward. Thus, the history of the painting's reception exists as a “cipher to some of the cultural issues in play” (p. 228). David is relevant because the painting was entitled King David, David Playing to King Saul, and then David Playing Before Saul, all of which stem from the painting's musical component, sexuality, and sexual ambiguity. David Jobling analyzes extant fragments of an unrealized play David by Bertolt Brecht, a 20th century German playwright and poet. Jobling concludes that Brecht's David helped him mature, and Jobling speculates that this may explain why the play was abandoned. Furthermore, according to Jobling, Brecht exemplifies “how the Bible, for an artist in the Western tradition, is both an elephant in the room, which he or she must come to some sort of terms with, and an artistic world to inhabit: immense, comprehensive, inviting being viewed in an endless variety of ways” (p. 239; emphasis original). J. Cheryl Exum, in “A King Fit for a Child,” examines how certain children's Bible stories recount David. She focuses upon 1) if the works give a sense of David's complex character and ambiguous motives and 2) how the works deal with the “hard” material. Ultimately, Exum concludes that the David of the children's stories is less interesting and less appealing. By extension, Exum believes that such portrayals render God less interesting (p. 257). Athalaya Brenner, discusses the David/Michal relationship through a hermeneutical lens derived from a 1950 Akiva Kurosawa film Rashomon, which presents four versions of a sexual assault and murder. While having no concern for the “Truth” or “omniscient accuracy” of the relationship, Brenner seeks to tease the biblical fragments to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of the entire picture (pp. 262–63).

Part V opens with Judith E. McKinlay's “Through a Window.”[6] Inspired by Musa Dube, who suggests that reading contemporary and ancient texts side by side illuminates ideology and use of gender in domination discourse, McKinlay reads 2 Sam 6:12b–23 in conjunction with Fiona Kidman's House of Secrets (pp. 281–82). She asserts that her reading “brings hope that dominating powers do not have the last word” (p. 287). In the volume's final essay, “David W[E]aves,” Jione Haeva displays his creativity by offering an imaginative play of the David/Bathsheba narrative, holding in tension a tendency to develop beyond the control of the text with a desire to remember the flow of the narrative.

The editors accomplish their goal, to offer a compilation of essays that celebrate the legacy of David Gunn by being organized around the interpretive movements that he helped drive. Scholars or students who have been inspired by Gunn's work in the past will most likely experience similar feelings upon reading this volume. However, for those who disagree with the interpretive principles of the movements he pioneered, they will likely have little use for this volume. Incidentally, the editors have also produced a volume that functions as an alternative to the historical studies of David that have been reinvigorated over the past few years in the wake of Khirbet Qeiyafa.[7] Thus, the fate of King David is sealed. Despite one's area of expertise or interest, historical, literary, or theological, this biblical icon will continue to engender discussion, reflection, and creativity.

David B. Schreiner, Wesley Biblical Seminary

[1] Subtitles for each essay have been excluded due to essay limitations. reference

[2] It is worth pondering if, and if so, how, Nancy Nam Hoon Tan's work advances Shield's discussion. Tan has studied the “Foreign Woman” motif in Prov 1–9 and has suggested that its roots exist in the Deuteronomistic History with its denouncement of foreign women. See Nancy Nam Hoon Tan, The ‘Foreignness’ of the Foreign Woman in Proverb 1–9: A Study of the Origin and Development of a Biblical Motif (BZAW, 381; Walter de Gruyter: Berlin, 2008). Could it be that the Deuteronomistic History offers a contrast between David's “wise wife” and Solomon's “foreign wives?” Is this a contrast that the writer of Prov 1–9 was aware of? reference

[3] Versus “successful mourning” (e.g. the presentation of 1 and 2 Chronicles) which intentionally mitigates past hardship and suffering (p. 108). reference

[4] For further discussion on Saul's name change to Paul and its significance for Paul's identity and role as the Apostle to the Gentiles, see David Wenkel, “From Saul to Paul: The Apostle's Name Change and Narrative Identity in Acts 13:9,” AsTJ 66.2 (2011), 67–76. reference

[5] Davies himself admits as much in his final paragraphs. reference

[6] McKinlay is remarkably candid methodologically. This has a salutary effect on the readers of her essay, as it encourages them to reflect on their preferred method(s). reference

[7] However, the comments periodically leveled against historical-critical studies by the volume's contributors were distracting. Such comments incidentally testify to the methodological one-upmanship still present. For irenic debate to truly succeed, the absence of such comments may have been more profitable. reference