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David, King of Israel, and Caleb in Biblical Memory

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  • Date Published: May 2014
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107062276

$ 82.00 (P)

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About the Authors
  • Of all the Bible's personalities, David is the most profoundly human. Courageous, cunning, and complex, he lives life to the hilt. Whatever he does, he does with all his might, exuding both vitality and vulnerability. No wonder it has been said that Israel revered Moses yet loved David. But what do we now know about the historical David? Why does his story stand at the center of the Bible? Why didn't the biblical authors present him in a more favorable light? And what is the special connection between him and Caleb – the Judahite hero remembered for his valor during the wars of conquest? In this groundbreaking study, Jacob L. Wright addresses all these questions and presents a new way of reading the biblical accounts. His work compares the function of these accounts to the role war memorials play over time. The result is a rich study that treats themes of national identity, statehood, the exercise of power, and the human condition.

    • Treats King David, one of the greatest figures in the imagination of the West
    • Shows the rivalry between David and Caleb in biblical memory
    • Presents a new model for understanding the formation of biblical literature, one based on interdisciplinary research on war commemoration
    • Suggests a new approach to biblical studies, one informed by questions from the discipline of Jewish studies
    Read more


    • Honourable Mention, 2015 PROSE Award for Theology and Religious Studies

    Reviews & endorsements

    "Another book on David? Yes, but definitely one of the best. Jacob Wright, a leading scholar of international renown, has written an erudite and eminently readable book. He offers fresh and new insights about the construction of the biblical figure of David but also about the composition of the David narratives. Wright masterfully demonstrates the ambiguity of the biblical portrait of David and how it reflects different political and ideological aspirations. The challenging confrontation between the figures of Caleb and David offers a better understanding of the biblical views about kingship and military courage. A must-read!"
    Thomas Römer, University of Lausanne and the Collège de France

    "Jacob Wright combines a superb knowledge of the history of ancient Israel and a sensitive literary skill in reading the Bible to bring King David to life as a fascinating personality and extraordinary political leader. Beautifully written and with broad appeal, this is a landmark book in biblical scholarship."
    Susannah Heschel, Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies, Dartmouth College

    "Jacob Wright’s erudite and illuminating book helps us understand the forces that shaped David’s story, offering new and vivid readings of this most complex figure."
    Rabbi David Wolpe, author of the forthcoming David: The Divided Heart

    "Written in a highly engaging style and with many arresting contemporary comparisons, Jacob Wright’s book on King David gives the most convincing answer to why the biblical authors produced a character of Shakespearean complexity. Drawing on the history of war commemorations, Wright argues brilliantly that much of the David story stemmed from the period of the exile, when the need to envision a nation without a state allowed for a royal founder who was fully human."
    David Biale, Emanuel Ringelblum Distinguished Professor and Director, Davis Humanities Institute, University of California, Davis

    "An original overture to the formation of David’s story, Wright’s book is filled with sparkling observations and scintillating questions. No one undecided about the biblical story should neglect this lucid volume."
    Baruch Halpern, author of David’s Secret Demons

    "With exquisite literary sensitivity, historiographic sophistication, and attention to questions concerning reception, political ideology, and cultural memory, Jacob Wright offers an original reading of the "quintessential survivor," David. Wright explores why and how biblical writers have framed and reframed not only the hero king himself but also his predecessor Saul and Caleb, another hero of biblical tradition, whose depictions are relevant to a full appreciation of the portrayals of David."
    Susan Niditch, Samuel Green Professor of Religion, Amherst College

    "Jacob Wright has made a significant contribution to the lively ferment that is under way in the interpretation of the David narratives. His proposal concerning the linkage between David and Caleb is somewhat of a surprise and has immense heuristic importance. This is a book to which future interpreters of David will pay attention, not least because of Wright’s clear articulation of an on-going constructive tradition."
    Walter Brueggemann, William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary

    "This bold and original work traces the development and growth of various Davids in the Hebrew Bible, showing how different stories reflect interests centuries after David’s putative reign. It argues compellingly that we cannot construct the real David, only different memories of him. This book is full of surprises, ranging from the importance of the relatively obscure Caleb for understanding David, to illustrating how modern modes of war commemoration help unlock the composition of these stories."
    Marc Brettler, Dora Golding Professor of Biblical Studies, Brandeis University

    "In engaging, limpid prose occasionally seasoned with humor, Wright argues that the stories of David and Caleb in the Tanakh were efforts in nation building. At the heart of Wright’s argument is 'war commemoration'. Depicting characters as either helping or hindering David in one of his many military endeavors is, according to Wright, a key means by which individuals and communities were deemed to be part of, or outside, the people of Israel by the postexilic redactors of Samuel 1 and 2 and Kings 1 and 2. In narratives featuring Caleb, Wright explores how redactors transformed this Kenizzite, or outsider, into an exemplary Judahite, or insider. Wright bases his readings on a 'supplementation' model of textual development rather than the traditional documentary hypothesis. The result is a fresh and fruitful perspective on ways David and Caleb were used to construct Israelite peoplehood after Judah and the Temple were destroyed by the Babylonians. Wright succeeds in making painstaking textual inquiry into a stimulating book for general readers and experts alike."

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    Product details

    • Date Published: May 2014
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107062276
    • length: 284 pages
    • dimensions: 218 x 145 x 20 mm
    • weight: 0.48kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Slings and arrows - remembering King David
    2. Flesh and stone - from war monuments to the David story
    3. King of Judah - the earliest account of David's life
    4. Tales of loyalty and betrayal - the cases of Keilah and Ziph
    5. The bones of Saul - the loyalty of the Gileadites
    6. Uriah the Hittite - a tale of royal modesty
    7. Ittai the Gittite - mercenary allegiance versus national solidarity
    8. David in exile - priests, statehood, and the Benjaminites
    9. Territorial transitions - the Transjordan, Israel, and Judah
    10. Chronicles - David as a catalyst of national unity
    11. Caleb and the conquest - inventing a new hero
    12. Caleb the warrior - the evolution of legends
    13. Caleb the Judahite - an iconic figure
    14. War-torn David - conclusions.

  • Author

    Jacob L. Wright, Emory University, Atlanta
    Dr Jacob L. Wright teaches Hebrew Bible and Jewish studies at Emory University, where he is a member of the faculty of distinction. His first book, Rebuilding Identity: The Nehemiah Memoir and its Earliest Readers, was awarded The John Templeton Award for one of the best first books in religion and theology. For his research on war commemoration, he received a prestigious faculty fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities.


    • Honourable Mention, 2015 PROSE Award for Theology and Religious Studies

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