The Fate of King David: The Past and Present of a Biblical Icon, ed. T. Linafelt, C. Camp, and T. Beal (New York, t & t clark: 2010) xxxi + 313.[1]

 

David Gunn, the honoree of this Festschrift, has been one of the premier scholars in biblical studies, an innovator in three domains: narratology, feminist critique, and reception history. Linafelt, Camp, and Beal have done a fine job of honoring a fine scholar and teacher by organizing a book around the biblical figure of King David. Just the list of contributors, which contains almost every important name in the field, is an honor. The editors have divided the essays into four parts to respond to four issues: how the character of David can be read in various ways, how David was treated by those who formed the canon, how David is connected to the Psalms, and how David was received in art and literature. The editors have ‘set a table before us,’ and a very rich and well-organized one at that.

 

An essay commenting upon how a modern reader reads an earlier reader’s reading of an earlier canonizer’s reading of an earlier written text, itself a reading of an earlier oral tradition or traditions – creates a palimpsest of commentary. How can one review such an essay? And, all the essays in this book present this problem. I’m afraid that I can only add to the palimpsest by commenting on …. 

 

The opening essay by J. Quesada reads David’s reaction to seven announcements of death, giving us a fresh perspective on the David story and some interesting conclusions: For the Saulides, David engages in public mourning. For Uriah, David is nonchalant. For Bathsheba’s baby, he prays and then goes on with life. For his son, Amnon, he is indifferent. And for Absalom, he manifests deep parental grief. All this fits into the reward and punishment theology of the Deuteronomic narrator.

 

For me, the best essay in the book is R. Bailey on the queering of David and Jonathan, but also of Saul and Samuel. Bailey brings together all the texts that allude to homosexual activity in each of these characters. You, the reader, have to read this essay and follow Bailey’s slow adducing of the necessarily suggestive evidence. I, for one, am persuaded that there is something to this, though I disagree strongly with Bailey’s suggestion that we need to be “liberationists” who “must” highlight these matters. That would itself lead to a new orthodoxy in the reading of these traditions.

 

R. Christopher Heard’s reading of David as the hermeneutic author of Psalm 51 leads him to focus on David’s confession that he has sinned “against God alone.” Graciously, Heard cites Rosenblit’s amazing rendition of Bathsheba’s voice as she hears David recite this “confession.”[2] However, he goes on to conclude that this is not a sincere confession of sin but an act of damage control and public relations (173). The essay is well written but I do not agree. The ambivalence of David in the Psalm very much follows the ambivalence of the process of confession: one feels remorse, and one denies; one conceals, and one reveals; one experiences shame and existential guilt, together with confidence.

 

There are three classic essays in method. D. Clines’ essay on Psalm 23 displays several very different ways to read this well-known Psalm: rhetorical criticism, deconstructionism, materialist criticism, and even psychoanalysis. Y. Sherwood’s essay on the interpretation of Psalms of Théodore de BŹze, the successor of Calvin in Geneva, exposes clearly the very opulent reading of Psalms in Renaissance art and the highly pietist reading of Psalms in early Protestant literature. Psalms serve to spiritualize the biblical narrative, which leads to Psalm 51 becoming the paradigm for the consciousness of sin. And B. Long’s essay on the artist Simeon Solomon’s interpretations of David is a remarkable history of a gay artist, whose art reflects his preferences in a century that did not appreciate them. One of his works had several titles, the meanings of each of which are explained elegantly. That picture should, however, have been printed in a larger format to permit the reader to study it more carefully.

 

The character of Michal, daughter of Saul and wife of David, Palti(el) and then David again, is treated in several essays. A. Brenner’s essay assumes the first person voice for Michal and reads Michal as a woman of political consciousness and ambition who wants to return to David and assume her proper place in the history of Israel. J. McKinlay’s essay, a postcolonial reading, assumes that the purpose of the narrator is to suppress the Saulide line in the history of Israel. I am not convinced of these readings. There are certainly better interpretations of the figure of Michal.

 

The concluding essay by J. Havea is a very imaginative theater script (?) for the story of David and Bathsheba. Unlike D. Penchansky’s attempt at free hand interpretation that is largely projective and not well done, Havea’s work is very learned and brings out new dimensions in the story, though I personally prefer the reticence of the original text.

 

In sum, this is a fitting tribute to David Gunn from his distinguished colleagues and students with suggestive essays drawn together and organized in an intelligent and loving way. 

 

David R. Blumenthal

Jay and Leslie Cohen Professor of Judaic Studies

Emory University



[1]Reviews in Religion and Theology, 1 (2013) 85-87.

Disclosure: I know Tod Linafelt and served on his doctoral committee many years ago. I am also acquainted with Tim Beal from his years at Emory. I have no current connection to either of them.

[2] B. Rosenblit, “David, Bat Sheva, and the Fifty-First Psalm,” Cross Currents, 45 (1995) 326-40.