King David

Warrior + yahwist + expansionist + administrator = model king


The following article is reprinted with permission from
Ancient Israel: From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple
, edited by Hershel Shanks (Biblical Archaeology Society).

A Model King

The Bible tells the story of David’s reign in detail (1 Samuel 16 to 1 Kings 2:11), reflecting its importance as well as its length. David “reigned over Israel for forty years, seven and a half in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem” (c. 1009/1001-969 B.C.E.). His long reign was later regarded as Israel’s “golden age”; David himself was seen as the model king. 

David’s later glorification may seem paradoxical in light of the fact that he was a Bethlehemite, from the tribe of Judah, and not from any of the original, northern tribes (Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin). Furthermore, David was one of Saul’s adversaries, who had been banned because he was considered the personal enemy of the first Israelite king. Moreover, at the time of Saul’s death, David was serving as a mercenary in the army of the Philistines, Israel’s bitter enemy.

David and Saul

According to 1 Samuel 16:1-13, David was the youngest son of Jesse. The prophet-priest Samuel “anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.”

The Bible offers two accounts of how David became part of Saul’s household. In the first, Saul takes David into his service as his “armor-bearer” (1 Samuel 16:14-23). In the second version David, having killed the Philistine champion Goliath in single combat (1 Samuel 17), is officially presented to Saul as a hero. The biblical account of David’s rise to power may well represent an amalgamation of different traditions concerning the early relationship between David and Saul.

king david of israel

In any event, with the support of his friend Jonathan (Saul’s son), David was “made…a commander of a thousand; and David marched out and came in, leading the army. David had success in all his undertakings; for the Lord was with him: (1 Samuel 18:13-14.).

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Andre Lemaire is director d'etudes at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, History and Philology Section, of the Sorbonne, in Paris.

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