Review of Keith Bodner, David Observed
Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 8 (2008) - Review

Keith Bodner, David Observed: A King in the Eyes of His Court (Hebrew Bible Monographs 5; Sheffield: Phoenix Press, 2005). Pp. xii + 198. Cloth, 50.00, US$85.00, Є75,00. ISBN 1-905048-23-8.


With his usual flare for style and pervasive sense of humour, Bodner examines the life of David in his new book, David Observed: A King in the Eyes of His Court. Yet, the work is not really about David at all. Bodner flips the textual character roles and gives the starring role to the supporting characters, thus relegating David to the role of supporting actor; this plan is laid out in the brief introduction.  Bodner claims that students are his target audience, but he does not mention the context in which he expects the book to be utilized; he leaves this to the reader’s imagination.

In Chapter Two, “Eliab and the Deuteronomist,” Bodner considers David’s older brother Eliab as a Bakhtinian “double-voiced” character and explores the significance of this in foreshadowing the later actions of David. The next chapter deals with 1 Samuel 21-22.  Here, Bodner expands on Reis’ theory that Ahimelech, the priest, is not truly duped by David into deceiving Doeg but is actually a co-conspirator. Bodner returns to Bakhtinian analysis in his next chapter and explores the theory that 2 Samuel 3 uses the technique of “pseudo-objective motivation,” the idea that the narrator takes on the voice of the crowd rather than being an objective know-it-all.

The prophet Nathan is the focus of the next chapter.  Bodner takes the three Nathan episodes together in order to present a holistic picture of this character. Chapter Six then focuses on text critical issues in 2 Samuel 11:1, particularly the potential confusion between messengers and kings; however, his claim that this latent ambiguity foreshadows intentional ambiguity to come seems coincidental at best. Similarly, chapter Seven focuses on 2 Sam 11:3, and explores the text-critical issues that are present in relation to 4QSama.  The next two chapters focus on Joab.  In Chapter Eight, Bodner explores the character of Joab as a reader response critic of David. The next chapter focuses on the textual variants between the MT and the LXX in 2 Sam 11:22-25; however, the analysis here is designed to be comparative rather than competitive.

The interesting relationship between Bathsheba and Ahithopel is explored in the next chapter as a possible explanation for why Ahithopel joins Absalom’s rebellion. In Chapter Eleven Bodner adds to the list of parallels between Genesis and the Deuteronomistic History by drawing parallels between Solomon’s rise and Jacob’s blessing in Genesis 27, with passivity being the key element of the rising character. His final chapter focuses on the oaths that involve Solomon, using Austin’s speech-act theory. According to Bodner, these oaths play a large role in the ultimate characterization of Solomon and the narrative transition between the Davidic and Solomonic reigns.

Each chapter is quite different in content and style and could be read as separate pieces (many of them have appeared in previous publications) but these diverse pieces are held together by the common theme of examining David through the cast of supporting characters. This allows the reader to approach the text as a complete book to be read from cover to cover or to approach it as a useful compilation that can be read for the content desired. It also leads to an interesting feature of this book. Because each chapter could be a stand-alone unit and the work is not meant to be an overview of the entire text of the Davidic reign, it could be criticized for its piecemeal approach to the text. Therefore, if one is looking for a course textbook, this is not the answer. However, this weakness also leads to its greatest strength. Several of the individual passages are examined in various chapters but from different methodologies or perspectives; this allows readers to get a sense of the dynamics of the texts and the diversity involved in interpretation. This is particularly true with his approach to variant readings. Because he shows little interest in establishing a “more authentic” text, Bodner focuses on the differences in interpretation each reading would produce. This unique approach to text-criticism (if such a label is even appropriate) is one of the more innovative concepts in the book.  Also, because of the numerous theories being proposed or expanded on for the first time, this work is most appropriate for scholars already familiar with the text and hoping to engage with it in order to further their own research. This does not mean that is cannot be used by the student audience that Bodner envisions.  It is well written and most of the terminology is at least minimally defined, but it would be most beneficial to advanced students who already had some experience of these text in particular and hermeneutics in general.

Ellen White
University of St. Michael’s College