The Bible remembers David as founder, around 1000 B.C.E., of the dynasty that ruled First Temple Jerusalem. David is famous for his defeat of the giant Goliath, adultery with Bathsheba, and troubled relationships with his children (events reported in 1 Sam 16 through 1 Kgs 2 but not in 1 Chr 11–29). David is also remembered as a poet and musician to whom many psalms are attributed.

According to passages such as 2 Samuel 7, 1 Chronicles 17, and Psalm 89, God promises to maintain David's dynasty “forever.” This promise-tradition becomes the basis for hope, in some other biblical writings and postbiblical Jewish messianism, that God will eventually restore David's dynasty and kingdom in ideal form. Christianity understands the promises as pointers towards Jesus, whom New Testament writers portray as a descendant of David.

Meaning of the Name.

The meaning of the name “David” (dāwīd) is uncertain. It is most likely related to the Hebrew word dôd, which appears in the Song of Solomon with the meaning “beloved” and elsewhere with the meaning “uncle.” A connection with a term used for “leader” at Mari has been suggested (Tadmor 1958, p. 130) but not widely accepted.

The Historicity of the David Stories.

The earliest nonbiblical references to David, or rather the “house of David,” occur on a building stone fragment (Biran and Naveh 1993) and possibly a Moabite monument (Lemaire 1994), both postdating David by at least a century. Decisions about the historicity of the David stories thus turn mostly on one's dating of the accounts in 1 & 2 Samuel (generally agreed to be older than Chronicles) and assessments of their credibility and compatibility with the archeology of Jerusalem and other areas in the tenth century B.C.E.

“Minimalist” scholars such as Finkelstein and Silberman (2006) argue that the Samuel narratives were written at least two centuries after David's time and that Jerusalem was too undeveloped to have been the capital of a united Judah and Israel in 1000 B.C.E. They suggest that David was a tribal chieftain ruling only Judah. More “maximalist” scholars such as McKenzie (2000) and Halpern (2001) date the core stories much earlier, although they assume considerable propagandistic exaggeration. They doubt the narratives' report of David's loving relationships with Saul's family and innocence with regard to the deaths of Saul, Abner, Amnon, Absalom, and Amasa. McKenzie thinks that David did probably serve as a commander in Saul's army; Halpern does not. Both speculate that David gained control of Israel only after Absalom's rebellion and that he governed a far smaller territory than biblical tradition suggests.

“Of David” headings on many psalms could mean “dedicated to David” or “in David's style,” but have usually been taken to signify authorship, especially since some (see for instance Pss 18 and 51) mention particular incidents in David's life. However, these situational headings are almost certainly later editorial additions (Childs 1971). Some David psalms look old enough to have been composed by a tenth-century king, but they are too generic to illuminate his biography or personality. Some other David psalms, such as 51 (note the final two verses) and 122 (a Second Temple pilgrimage song) are quite unlikely to have come from David himself.

David as Presented in Biblical Sources.

Readers often try to merge their impressions of David from different biblical sources (and, perhaps, what preachers and teachers have said) as if these were simply glimpses of the same person through different windows. But they are more like paintings, portraying David in different ways and for different purposes (Steussy 1999; Brueggemann 2000). The following discussion treats the Davids of different canonical units as distinct figures, although scattered references to David in the Writings (outside Psalms) and the Prophets are treated in a single section, and the Qumran scrolls are discussed together with the apocrypha.

David in Samuel and Kings.

Through much of the twentieth century, discussion about David in Samuel-Kings focused on sources and editorial layers (see Campbell and O'Brien 2000). Special attention has gone to the proposal that these books include two large narrative blocks about David (often referred to as the History of David's Rise and the Succession Narrative) crafted as propaganda to support David, Solomon, and/or Rehoboam. In recent decades, however, attention has shifted to the literary artistry of the narratives (Gunn 1978; Fokkelman 1981–1993; Sternberg 1985; Miscall 1987; Polzin 1993 and 1993; Eslinger 1994; Alter 1999; Steussy 1999), often with focus on the final form. These literary interpreters usually explain seeming inconsistencies and discontinuities as deliberate compositional devices intended to highlight tensions around the stories' characters, including David and even God. Their work provides the undergirding for the analysis given here, which focuses on the David of the canonical narrative.

How then does David appear in Samuel/Kings? It is not difficult to read David as an innocent and faithful hero, prevailing with God's help against more powerful and worldly enemies. Saul, on this reading, has discredited himself and forfeited divine support before David ever arrives on the scene. When the man after God's own heart (1 Sam 13:13–14) finally appears, he elicits all our underdog sympathies: he is an eighth son, missing the feast in order to tend his father's sheep, but bright-eyed and handsome and immediately the recipient of divine spirit (1 Sam 16:10–13). He first enters Saul's court as a musician (1 Sam 16:17–23)—and maintains this poetic gift to the last day of his life (2 Sam 23:1–7). Soon his zealousness for and trust in God drive him to face an intimidating Philistine giant. “David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone …; there was no sword in David's hand” (1 Sam 17:50).

God, Saul (sometimes), Saul's children, and all the other Israelites love David, and David, in this reading, deals faithfully with all. However, Saul's murderous jealousy forces David to flee, wandering the hills with a fugitive band and eventually serving a Philistine king, Achish (1 Sam 18:11, 19:10–11, 22:1, 27:1–2). Although Saul himself acknowledges David as God's chosen king, David refuses to lift his hand against the previously anointed king (1 Sam 24 and 26). David is far from the battlefield when Saul dies (1 Sam 28–31). He kills the messenger who claims to have delivered the mercy blow to Saul, and he beautifully articulates his grief and anger over the deaths of Saul and Saul's son Jonathan (2 Sam 1). David, innocent of the deaths of Saul's supporters and heirs, is eventually anointed king of Judah and Israel (2 Sam 2:4 and 5:3).

God continues to favor David, in this reading, with political and military successes. David brings the Ark of the Covenant with great rejoicing into Jerusalem, sacrificing his dignity to celebrate its arrival properly (2 Sam 6). David wishes to honor God with a “house” (Temple), but instead God promises to establish David's own house “forever” (2 Sam 7). David rules with deep concern for the well-being of his subjects and even Saul's descendants (2 Sam 8:15, 9:13, and 10:5).

David's men insist that their beloved leader not endanger himself by going personally into battle (2 Sam 21:17). Unfortunately, from the roof of his palace in Jerusalem, he glimpses a beautiful woman bathing on her roof. (Just what did she do to attract his attention?) He summons her and lies with her. When she reports pregnancy, David summons her husband Uriah, who stubbornly refuses to sleep with his wife. David finally returns Uriah to the front bearing an order for his own death, carried out by David's commander, Joab (2 Sam 11).

God sends the prophet Nathan to rebuke David, who immediately confesses his sin. God forgives him. The child he has conceived with Bathsheba dies, but she then bears him a legitimate son, Solomon, whom Nathan pronounces beloved of God (2 Sam 12).

Ultimately David loses four sons (note the “fourfold” of 2 Sam 12:6): Bathsheba's baby, his eldest sons, Amnon and Absalom, and, after Solomon's accession, the remaining eldest, Adonijah. However, God continues to protect David, and David's personally and divinely chosen successor, Solomon, punishes David's enemies, including David's violent general Joab.

This positive reading of David has dominated interpretive traditions, but virtually all aspects of it can be challenged in an attentive reading of the Samuel-Kings narratives. David is not a simple shepherd boy, but known even before his arrival in Saul's court as a warrior and courtier (1 Sam 16:18) whose first recorded words are, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine?” (17:26). Perhaps “there was no sword in David's hand” when he killed Goliath, but in the next verse “David ran and stood over the Philistine; he grasped his sword, drew it out of its sheath, and killed him” (1 Sam 17:50–51; in 21:9 David will reclaim Goliath's sword). The fairy-tale contrast between shepherd boy and sword-bearing warrior is thus undercut even within 1 Sam 17.

David indeed gives pious speeches, but always in public settings. Does that rhetoric accurately portray his internal thoughts and feelings? Biblical characters can, after all, lie—David lies to his employer in 1 Sam 27:10. The narrator rarely reveals David's inner intentions; our first glimpse into them is that “David was well pleased to be the king's son-in-law” (1 Sam 18:26). Is his wife lying when she tells her father, “[David] said to me, ‘Let me go; why should I kill you?’” (1 Sam 19:17)? When Saul later gives her to Paltiel, is it because David has meanwhile run off with Saul's wife (cf. 1 Sam 14:50 and 25:43; notice “master's wives” in 2 Sam 12:8)? David's wife Abigail may be his sister or half-sister, whom he marries in order to claim the estate of her rich husband Nabal (1 Sam 25:42 and 1 Chr 2: 16; Levenson and Halpern 1980).

The already-anointed David has reason to lecture his followers on respect for God's anointed (1 Sam 24:6 and 10, 26:9, 11, 16 and 23, and 2 Sam 1:14 and 16), and however righteously he laments Saul's death, David does not act to prevent it. Saul's heir Ishbaal reigns only two years (2 Sam 2:10), but David has, according to 2 Sam 5:5, been king of Judah for seven and a half years when the elders of Israel (which means, in the Samuel narratives, the northern tribes) come to him after Ishbaal's death. Did David become king of Judah while Saul still ruled Israel?

David expresses horror over political executions that pave his way to power (2 Sam 2–4), but he continues to employ Joab, the general on whom he pins the blame in one case. He kills the assassins in the second case, perhaps preventing them from revealing who actually hired them. He gets himself a palace and a harem (2 Sam 5:11 and 13) before bringing the ark up to Jerusalem (2 Sam 6:1–19). His wife's distress on that occasion may have to do with fertility-cult overtones to the proceedings (note the sexual connotations of raisin-cakes in the Song 2:5 and Hosea 3:1, the theme of “blessing” which in its most primitive meaning has to do with fertility, and David's uncovering himself, 2 Sam 6:20). God's smiting of Uzzah in the ark episode and rejection of David's plan to build a Temple in 2 Sam 7 may be warnings against trying to control God with religious objects.

Amnon's rape of Tamar (2 Sam 13) replicates David's sexual misconduct with Bathsheba. David contributes to the ensuing chaos by failing to discipline either Amnon for rape or Absalom for murder. David's loyal courtiers and mercenaries (not David) quell Absalom's rebellion; David shows no gratitude. His putative generosity towards Jonathan's son Mephibosheth is tarnished by his giving away of Mephibosheth's estates and keeping of him as a house prisoner (2 Sam 9, 19:24–30; compare Jehoiachin's situation in 2 Kgs 25:27–30).

In the Samuel “appendixes” (2 Sam 21–24) we receive further complicating information about David (Brueggemann 1988). He hands seven of Saul's descendants over for human sacrifice (21:8–9). We learn that Goliath was killed by someone named Elhanan (21:19). David prompts God to send a pestilence that kills tens of thousands of David's people (24:10–15).

By 1 Kings, David is impotent, requiring bedwarming from a nubile woman to whom he does not respond sexually. The narrator tells us that David, a negligent father, had never questioned Adonijah (1 Kgs 1:5). Bathsheba, however powerless to protest in 1 Sam 11, is now an experienced manipulator; she and Nathan maneuver David into confirming a hitherto unmentioned and perhaps nonexistent promise to make Solomon heir. Second Samuel 23:1–7 notwithstanding, the last words actually reported from David are instructions for Solomon to take vengeance on Saul's kinsman Shimei, whom David had sworn to spare but of whom David now says, “You must bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol” (1 Kgs 2:6).

This negative reading of David is similar to earlier-discussed speculations about the historical David, but it rests upon the story as written, differing from the traditional positive assessment only in which aspects of the narrative it emphasizes, not in the seriousness with which it takes the narrative. Arguably, it takes the biblical narrative more seriously by attending to such fine details as the years given for David's rule in Hebron and Ishbaal's in Israel. But clearly, readers can arrive at either interpretation, or a number of others in-between, on the basis of the information given in the Samuel-Kings text.

Both interpretations agree that God favors David, to the point of promising him a house and kingdom “forever” (2 Sam 7:16). Positive interpreters of David usually assume that David must be, as he proclaims himself in 2 Samuel 22:21–27, deserving of such favor. Negative interpreters are more cautious of the assumption that one can reason from divine favor to human virtue. Such logic is sometimes affirmed in the Bible and beyond, but in Samuel God appears as a high king or patron entitled to reward anyone that God fancies. As events unfold, we see David approved, or at least unreproved, for a whole series of actions that in Saul's case are seen (by the narrator and/or interpreters) as grounds for divine rejection (Steussy 1999 and 2000). Such actions include offering sacrifice (1 Sam 13:8–14, 2 Sam 6:13, 17; 24:25); taking Amalekite booty (1 Sam 15, 27:9, 30:19–20, and 30: 26–31; David uses his to buy political favor); “sparing” or “having pity” (ḥml, 1 Sam 15:9, 23:21 and 2 Sam 21:7); self-deprecation (1 Sam 9:21, 10:22, 18:23 and 2 Sam 7:18); and leaving one's enemy to the hand of the Philistines (1 Sam 18:17, 18:25, and 29:11).

In the Kings narratives following David's death, David appears (after Solomon's invocations of his assassination authorizations) primarily as one favored and given promises by God. Some passages (such as 1 Kgs 3:14 and 9:4) present David as a keeper of statutes and commandments, but the main emphasis is on David's loyalty. So, for instance, 1 Kgs 11:33 contrasts Solomon's worship of other gods with David's walking in God's ways and doing “what is right” in God's sight. David becomes the comparator for evaluating all subsequent kings (only one of whom, Josiah, is said to exceed him, 2 Kgs 23:25); “for David's sake” God often ameliorates the punishment due to deficient kings (1 Kgs 11:12–13, 32–34; 15:4–5, 2 Kgs 8:19, 19:34, 20:6). Only once (1 Kgs 15:5) is David's most famous failure (“the matter of Uriah the Hittite”)—or any failure—mentioned. These positive subsequent references are another reason why tradition has overwhelmingly read the Samuel narratives in a manner favoring David.

David in Chronicles.

Chronicles shows clear literary dependence on Samuel-Kings, portions of which it repeats verbatim (although possibly drawing upon an earlier version), but Chronicles offers a different and less ambiguous take on David. Stories of David's wilderness banditry, service to the Philistines, adultery and murder, and parenting troubles are missing or only barely alluded to. (For instance, 1 Chr 12:1 mentions that David was at Ziklag “while he could not move about freely because of Saul,” not mentioning that Ziklag was, according to 1 Sam 27:6, granted to him by the Philistine king Achish.) Absalom's and Sheba's rebellions against David are also missing. One might suppose that the Chroniclers simply omitted negative stories about David, but David's victory over Goliath and friendship with Jonathan—stories that impress most readers very positively—are also missing. This suggests that the Chroniclers are not simply “cleaning up” David's story but are relatively uninterested in either David's personal life or ancient charges of treason and political assassination. The Chroniclers appeal instead to David as founder, symbol, and role model for the community of worship that they hope to nurture in their postexilic setting (Japhet 1993; Steussy 1999).

They wish first to show how David is unanimously supported by all the worthies of the people. To this end, although they omit many accounts of David's personal life and adventures, they include virtually all Samuel's lists of David's warriors, heroes, and officials. To these they add their own lists of warriors (see 1 Chr 12) and, especially, Temple personnel (see 1 Chr 23–26). These lists link the Temple-staffing arrangements of the Chroniclers' time to the great founder and promise-receiver, David. Indeed, even before David enters the narrative proper, we hear of his arrangements for “the service of song in the house of the LORD” and the house's gatekeepers and guards (1 Chr 6:31 and 7:2).

The Chroniclers do not merely list the worthies but stress the “single mind” with which these leaders support David and his projects (1 Chr 12:38, 29:9). They give David “strong support” (1 Chr 11:10). In a passage not present in Samuel, the chief of David's Thirty declares, “We are yours, O David; … and peace to the one who helps you!” (1 Chr 12:18). A few verses later we read, “[F]rom day to day people kept coming to David to help him, until there was a great army, like an army of God” (12:22). Chronicles' David reciprocates this regard by seeking the advice and consent of his people. For instance, in Chronicles' account, “David consulted with … every leader,” about his plan to bring the ark to Jerusalem, which he will do, he tells them, “if it seems good to you, and if it is the will of the LORD.” For their part, “the whole assembly agreed … for the thing pleased all the people” (1 Chr 13:1–4).

Second, the Chroniclers credit David with virtually complete preparation for the Temple's construction. According to the Chroniclers, it is David who assembles materials and specifies arrangements for the Temple, reducing Solomon's role to execution of David's plan. The Chroniclers' special interest in David as worship patron prompts some changes of sequence in material taken from Samuel. First Chronicles 13–14 places the building of David's palace and his victory over the Philistines (from 1 Sam 5:11–25) after the story of David's first attempt to bring the ark into Jerusalem (1 Sam 6:1–11). This removes the awkwardness of having David build his own “house” before he attends to the ark, and makes David's subsequent (according to Chronicles, at least) acquisition of palace, harem, and children, not to mention his victory over the Philistines at Baal-perazim, appear as consequences of his concern for the ark. In Samuel, the only house blessed by God after the first ark moving attempt is that of a Philistine, Obed-edom the Gittite. In Chronicles' sequencing of the account, the blessing of Obed-edom's house is overshadowed by the blessing of David's house, and David's second, successful moving of the ark appears prompted by thanksgiving rather than envy of the Gittite's blessings.

The story of David's acquisition of the Temple site in 1 Chronicles 21 (paralleling 2 Sam 24:15–25) begins the climactic account of David's preparations for the Temple. David gathers “materials in great quantity,” then charges Solomon “to build a house for the LORD” and tells all the leaders of Israel to help him (1 Chr 22:5, 6, 17). Four chapters of staffing lists follow. David's career then culminates in two speeches (both unique to Chronicles' version of his story) about the Temple, the first to Solomon and the second to the people at large (1 Chr 28–29). He calls for obedience to God and generous support of the building project, recalling that “all things come from you [God], and of your own we have given you. (29:14)”

The third distinctive aspect of the Chroniclers' presentation of David is that he becomes a proponent of and symbol for inclusion of all Israel in the Temple project, over against the position, articulated in the closely related books of Ezra-Nehemiah, that only genealogically certified members of the families returning from Babylon qualify as true Israelites. Others (including, probably, those Judeans and Israelites whose families were not deported), become, in Ezra-Nehemiah, “foreigners,” “peoples of the land,” or even “adversaries of Judah and Benjamin” (Ezra 4:1–14 and elsewhere). Chronicles, by contrast, makes a point of mentioning that there are foreign women deep in David's own Judahite genealogy (1 Chr 2:1–15, although interestingly Ruth is not mentioned in this chapter). In Chronicles, not only Judeans but members of the northern tribes of Israel support David from the very beginning of his career (see again the list of warriors who come to him at Ziklag in 1 Chr 12). This theme climaxes in David's farewell speech, when he says to God, “[W]e are aliens and transients before you [God], as were all our ancestors” (1 Chr 29:15), deconstructing the claim that any Israelite at all has genealogical purity or “native” status.

David in Chronicles, then, leads an Israel that includes twelve tribes (contrast Ezra-Nehemiah's Israel, comprised only of Judean, Benjaminite, and Levite returnees). For the Chroniclers, David models faithful leadership and his people model the united spirit that the Chroniclers long for in their own community. For what purposes should be people be united? They should “offer willingly, consecrating themselves today to the LORD,” directing their hearts toward God in a spirit of generosity and joy (1 Chr 29:5 and 17–18). Having exhorted such a response from the people, Chronicles' David dies not as an impotent old man manipulated by a prophet and woman, but “in a good old age, full of days, riches, and honor” (1 Chr 29:28).

Other Appearances of David in the Hebrew Canon.

Leaving aside incidental genealogical and geographical usages of David's name (e.g. “as far as the stairs that go down from the city of David,” Neh 3:15), the Writings beyond Chronicles have little to say about David. Ezra-Nehemiah mentions David primarily as an organizer of worship and especially of music (Ezra 3:10 and 8:20, Neh 12:24, 36, and 45–46), a role we also saw assigned to David in Chronicles. The book of Ruth mentions David only in its closing genealogy (4:17 and 22), but this is an important usage because, in emphasizing the presence of a foreign woman in David's genealogy, Ruth, like Chronicles, makes David a symbol of Israel's inclusiveness.

Only three of the minor prophets mention David. Amos 6:4–5 contains a rather negative reference to David as musician (“Alas for those … who sing idle songs … and like David improvise”), but Amos 9:11 (often considered a later addition) promises restoration of David's house. Promises of restoration also occur in Hosea 3:5 and Zechariah 12:6—13:1, with the latter passage envisioning a process that includes repentance and lamentation as well as cleansing and glorification.

David plays a more prominent role in the books of the major prophets. Jeremiah articulates some bitter attacks on the Davidic monarchs of his own day (especially in 29:16–19, where God announces pursuit “with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence” because the king and his people “did not heed my words”). More often, however, Jeremiah's oracles name David in connection with promises of restoration. In them God promises days “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch” (23:5) and “David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of Israel” (33:15–26). Ezekiel mentions David in only two passages, both promising restoration of Israel and Judah under “one shepherd” (34:23–24 and 37:24–25).

Except for the Ariel oracle, in which God promises ruin to “the city where David encamped” (Isa 29:1–7), the book of Isaiah refers to David in consistently positive ways. Even when Isaiah rebukes the Davidic king Ahaz for wearying God, he then promises a sign of deliverance (7:1–16). Isaiah 9:2–7 and 11:1–5, often thought to be birth or coronation oracles for Hezekiah, promise “endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom” and celebrate the wisdom and justice of the branch who comes “out from the stump of Jesse.” Isaiah 37:35 promises deliverance of Jerusalem “for the sake of my servant David.” While these passages may originally have referred to members of a reigning monarchy, their lofty language with respect to the Davidic descendent has been reapplied, in both Christianity and Judaism, to a hoped-for future messiah.

David is mentioned by name only once in the exilic portion of Isaiah (40–55) but the dynamic of this oracle is quite striking. In it, God says to “everyone who thirsts,” “come to me; … I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David” (55:1–3). In this verse, God's covenant with David appears to be extended to the plural “you” of the faithful exilic community, an interpretation supported when the following verses parallel David's roles and those the people are now to assume. “I made him [David] a witness to the peoples … you [plural] shall call nations that you do not know” (55:4–5). This passage, although not typical of the general range of prophetic utterances naming David, presages application of the Davidic promise to the people as a whole in Psalms. The mysterious “servant” of Isa 40–55, who suffers for the people but will be restored, might conceivably be the surviving Davidic heir.

David in Psalms.

David's name occurs most frequently here in the phrase “psalm of David,” which appears in the headings of almost half the psalms in the Hebrew Psalter and even more in the Greek version. This Hebrew phrase has traditionally been interpreted as meaning that David composed the psalms in question, although for some psalms this seems unlikely. Parts of Judaism and Christianity have even regarded David as author of all the psalms. Some psalms also speak about David. The combination of David's roles as speaker and one spoken about, in prayers appropriated for ongoing individual and community use by both Jews and Christians, makes the David of Psalms even more complex than the David of the books of Samuel (Steussy 1999).

Psalms unmistakably depicts David as a king. The psalms that speak about David (18, 78, 89, 122, 132, and 144) all show him in royal roles. In 18:50 and 144:10 David appears as the royal servant whom God rescues. Psalm 78:70 describes David as God's chosen shepherd for God's people. Psalm 89 especially stresses the steadfast love (ḥesed), faithfulness, and covenant “forever” that God bestows upon David (89:3, 20, 35), being very explicit in verses 28–37 that God will remain faithful to David and maintain David's line on the throne even if David's offspring “forsake [God's] law.” Verses 38–51, however, accuse God of forsaking the covenant. “Where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?” (89:49). This question remains unanswered, and enemies still taunt the anointed at the psalm's end (89:51). In its present position in the Psalter, Psalm 89 appears as a lament over the fall of Jerusalem and its dynasty to Babylon, and asks what this means with respect to the covenant “forever” (McCann 1993; Wilson 1985).

Psalm 132, in the apparently postexilic context of the Ascents collection, also speaks of “a sure oath” sworn to David by God, but in this psalm's telling the oath is explicitly conditional: “If your sons keep my covenant …” (132:12). Prayers that “for your servant David's sake” God “not turn away the face of your anointed” and God's closing promise to “cause a horn to sprout up for David” (132:10 and 17) acknowledge that there has been a problem about covenant-keeping but seem to look forward to a reestablishment. It is not clear whether this is a promise for restoration of the monarchy, or whether the psalm envisions Jerusalem's priests as heirs of the promise (notice Zech 4's usage of lamp imagery and the term “anointed” for both the Davidic governor and the priest, and compare Zech 6:11–12's priestly language of sprouting/branching and crown with Ps 132:17–18).

Like the prophetic oracles of Isa 9 and 11, then, psalms referring to the Davidic covenant and God's promises of protection to the Davidic king can be read, along with other royal psalms that do not mention David by name (e.g. Ps 2) or are simply psalms “of David” (e.g. 72 and 110), as pertaining to a past monarchy in Jerusalem or as predictions of a future messiah to be established by God in fulfillment of the promises to David. In the latter case, David becomes important less for his past glory than as type of a leader to come.

David's speaking voice in psalms also has a generally royal tone (Eaton 1986). Royal identity is sometimes explicit, as in Ps 18. In many other psalms, the royal status is easily missed since the psalmist may also describe himself as persecuted, a “poor” one (e.g. 40:17 and 86:1). Therefore, not all psalms scholars agree that these imply a royal speaker or setting. However, none of the David psalms request help for problems such as childbirth, debt, or quarrels in the household. Instead they speak at length about military and political enemies, sometimes naming “peoples” as the opponents (56:7, 68:30), and their speaker assumes roles (such as “your servant,” giver of public testimony, and one who can sleep or even “dwell” in the Temple) associated especially with the king.

The persecuted identity of the speaker in so many of the David psalms is in part a consequence of the fact that most David psalms are individual laments. (Most of the Psalter's individual laments have David headings, although some David psalms aren't laments and some individual laments aren't David psalms). A lament is a prayer that complains of trouble or asks for help, so of course we tend to perceive its speaker as troubled rather than privileged. In addition, the thirteen headings that associate psalms with particular situations in David's life (Pss 3, 7, 18, 34, 51, 52, 54, 56, 57, 59, 60, 63, and 142) all make reference to unhappy situations, although in two cases (18 and 60) the psalms are said to have been composed after the trouble was over. All of the psalms of trust (11, 16, 23, 27, 62, 63, and 131) have David headings. (Psalms of trust are related to laments, but in trust psalms the expression of confidence which often occurs near the end of an individual lament becomes the dominant note.) The well-known “shepherd psalm,” 23, is a trust psalm. David's association with this genre is one factor in the popular conception of him as exceptionally pious and trustful in God.

Whether or not most of the David psalms were, as argued here, originally royal, nonroyal readers find it quite easy to identify with the situations of persecution the David psalms describe, and nonroyal readers have found great comfort in reciting the Davidic psalms of trust, especially Ps 23. Without even realizing they are “interpreting,” readers apply language of battles and enemies to their own problems, and hear in assurances of divine loyalty to David the promise that God will also be loyal to those who “cry out” today. This means that David in Psalms is not only the archetypal king, but also Everyman and even Everywoman, human before God, role model for how to pray out of the troubles that so often disturb the human spirit.

While the bulk of the David psalms speak with an “I” voice, some (such as 124, 126, and 129) articulate concerns and thanksgivings of the community. In addition, the speaking voice of many “I” psalms (such as 51) can also be heard as the community's. This makes the David of Psalms not only a representative of the praying individual in whatever place or era, but representative of Israel, or more widely the community of faith, as it moves through its history of relationship to Israel's God. This role of David as community representative may draw upon an older concept of the Judean monarch as representative of the people before God (Eaton 1986).

Jewish and Christian traditions have sometimes regarded the entire Psalter as the work of David, even in the face of headings ascribing some psalms to other individuals, such as Moses (90) or Solomon (72, 127), or groups, as in the Asaph (50, 73–83) and Korahite (e.g. 84–85, 87–88) collections. David could only have authored all the psalms, however, if he had prophetic foresight. Some psalms (such as 137, ascribed in the Septuagint, where it is 136, to David) unmistakably address situations much later than David's, and the editorial shaping of the Psalter as a whole reflects the history of Israel up into the Second Temple period (McCann 1993; Wilson 1985; Psalms, book of). David as author of the whole Psalter represents virtually every aspect of relationship to God, from obedience to Torah (e.g. Pss 1 and 119) to prayerful trust to exuberant praise. Such a David is both repentant sinner and righteous sufferer, past hero and type of the future, representative of faithful individuals ostracized by the community and of the history and hopes of that community.

David in the Apocrypha and at Qumran.

The books of the Apocrypha, like those of the Hebrew Bible, portray David in terms of their own most burning questions. First Maccabees cites David as a merciful ruler (2:57) who is militarily successful through God's support (4:30). One Esdras, like the closely related Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah, remembers David as the guiding force behind construction of the Temple and designation of its staffing arrangements (1:5 and 15; 5:60, and 8:49). In 2 Esdras, concerned with God's faithfulness in the face of history's troubles, David appears first as builder of a city that transgresses and falls (3:23-27), next as an intercessor (7:108), and finally as ancestor of the messiah-to-come (12:32). In 4 Macc 3:6–18, the story of David pouring out water brought by his soldiers (2 Sam 23:13–17) becomes an illustration of reason's superiority to emotion.

Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) often refers to David as founder of the Jerusalem dynasty and recipient of God's covenant with that dynasty (45:25, 48:15, and 51:12). Chapter 47, however, gives a narrative account of his reign that merges details found in Samuel's version of the story (David killing Goliath, praise for David's “ten thousands” of killings) with Chronicles' characterization of David as founder of the Temple service and model of faith. David's “sins” are never named, we hear only that God took them away (47:11); David is subsequently mentioned as a standard for virtue in 48:21 and 49:4. God's mercy to David, in the eyes of this writer, cannot be blotted out even by Solomon's misadventures with women (47:19-22).

In line with the developing tradition of David as composer (2 Macc 2:13 mentions Davidic writings collected by Nehemiah), the Apocrypha also offer us a psalm (on the Qumran version, see below), usually listed as Ps 151. In this brief poem, almost certainly written centuries after David's death, “David” tells how he, smallest and youngest among his brothers, was taken from his shepherding to defeat Goliath and remove disgrace from Israel. The poem may reflect the Second Temple community's yearning for a similar victory over taunting enemies, as well as the general human interest in underdog stories.

The Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran are an additional source of information about Jewish thinking on David in the period that produced most of the apocryphal writings. Some writings found at Qumran anticipate a future Davidic messiah (an anticipation that we saw developing already in the Hebrew Bible and will see played upon again in the New Testament), although other Qumran scrolls indulge in messianic speculation without mention of David (Schiffman 1992).

The Qumran scrolls in general, and the Psalms scroll of Cave 11 in particular, also show a strong interest in David as poet and prophet (Flint 1997), with “Davidizing” features even beyond those of the Masoretic Psalter. First, this Psalter, probably considered “scriptural” by its users even though it has a quite different ordering than the eventually accepted Masoretic Hebrew Psalter, includes a short prose section (11QPsa XXVII, 2–11) praising the accomplishments of David, to whom it attributes a total of 4,050(!) psalms and songs that, it says, “he composed through prophecy.” Second, it includes psalms beyond the usual 150, among them the “last words of David” from 2 Samuel 23:1–7 (although due to scroll damage only the last line of this is preserved) and two psalms (one about God choosing David and one about his battle with the Philistine) of which the Greek Psalm 151 seems to be an abridged translation. Third, the Qumran Psalter's sequencing of psalms, especially late in the book, seems to suggest Davidic authorship for all the psalms by wrapping ones without Davidic superscriptions into sequences bracketed by psalms that do appear Davidic. Like the ancient Greek, Aramaic, and Syriac translations, the Qumran Psalter adds some Davidic headings not found in the Masoretic Psalter tradition.

David in the New Testament.

David appears in the New Testament in a variety of roles reflective of what we have seen in the Apocrypha and at Qumran. He is recipient of God's dynastic promise and therefore ancestor of the Anointed, model of virtue whose actions help define what is acceptable, and prophet able to foresee the future. In the New Testament, David's psalmic roles of praying with the individual and as representative of the community are transferred to Jesus, the Paraclete (in John), and the Spirit (in Paul).

The view of David as a prophet who could foretell the future is explicit in Acts 2:30 (“since he was a prophet”) and implicit in a series of passages, including Acts 1:16–20 and 2:25–35, Rom 4:6–8 and 11:9–10, and Heb 4:3–8, that cite Psalm texts as predictive. Acts 4:25–28 cites Psalm 2, which is not “of David,” in this manner, suggesting that the whole Psalter (not just the David psalms) is understood as Davidic. In Mark 12:35–37, Matthew 22:41–45, and Luke 20:41–44, Davidic authorship for Psalm 110 plays a crucial role in the argument that the messiah will not be a descendant of David.

Such an argument is striking, since multiple New Testament passages assert that Jesus is indeed a descendant of David (although neither Mark nor John give Davidic genealogies for David, and the speakers in John 7:42 seem unaware of a Bethlehem birth). Matthew 1:1–17 and 20; Luke 1:27, 32 and 69; 2:4, and 3:23–38 all mention Jesus' descent from David through Joseph; this information is linked to the claim that the Galilean Jesus was born in Bethlehem (see Mic 5:2). Romans 1:3, 2 Timothy 2:8, and Revelation 3:7, 5:5, and 22:16 also make Jesus a descendant of David. These writers therefore expect fulfillment of the Davidic promises in Jesus (Lk 1:32; Acts 13:34 and 15:16). In the Hebrew Bible, these promises involve an earthly kingdom, an expectation that surfaces in the stories of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mk 11:1–10 and Mt 21:1–10; Luke's version does not invoke David by name) and in Jesus' conviction and crucifixion as “King of the Jews.”

However, in New Testament usage the phrase “son of David” is also associated with expectations of healing, including but not limited to the casting out of demons (Mk 10:47–48, Mt 9:27, 12:23, 15:22, and 20:30–31, Lk 18:38–39). This association probably develops from the idea of the eschatological kingdom as a place in which there will be no sickness or death.

Finally, a small number of New Testament passages (Heb 11:32 and Mk 2:25 with its parallels in Mt 12:3 and Lk 6:3) allude to David simply as a virtuous individual of the past, whose actions are cited in the gospels as precedent for Jesus' behavior.

David in Postbiblical Tradition.

David in postbiblical tradition carries all the significances that we have seen in canonical sources. In liturgy and religious thinking he continues to figure as ancestor of and prophet pointing to the Anointed One, and as poet and musician in his own right. All three of the monotheistic world religions invoke him as a role model for faith and action. Meanwhile, his personal story as portrayed in Samuel-Kings has fascinated storytellers and artists.

Different strands of Judaism and Christianity vary in the emphasis they place on messianic prophecy, but the promise traditions and visions of an ideal kingdom associated with David continue to be evoked even in less prophetically oriented forms of Judaism and Christianity. Traditional forms of the Jewish Amidah (a central liturgical prayer) and blessings after meals and after the reading of the Haftarah (text from the Prophets) express hope for the restoration of David's kingdom. In Christianity, Davidic motifs appear with particular frequency in the seasons of Advent and Christmas, as with, for example, the many carols mentioning Bethlehem, “City of David.”

To the extent that David is recognized as the author of Psalms and appears as a figure in the psalms, he is also invoked by the usage of palms in both Jewish and Christian liturgies, and becomes in that sense a model for how the communities will pray.

All three of the monotheistic traditions refer to David as a role model. Even secular society speaks approvingly of his courage against Goliath. The Qur'an refers to this story, to the justice of David's judgments, and in passing to his cursing of nonobservant Israelites (). Rabbinic tradition has generally defended David's virtue (Bassler 1986), sometimes even with respect to Bathsheba, as in the assertion that she was unmarried, because David had decreed that everyone going to war should first divorce his wife (Šabb. 56a). Sanhedrin 107a reports a view that David brought trial upon himself by overconfidently praying to be tested; the same tractate reports David's claim that he could have resisted, but did not wish to appear to triumph against God. Christian preachers occasionally assert that Bathsheba “led him on,” then shift to praising David's exemplary penitence. A different and less traditional appeal to David appears in the literature citing David's relationship with Jonathan as scriptural precedent for the acceptability of gay unions (e.g. Horner 1978).

Western art has frequently portrayed David typologically (Hourihane 2002). He appears as ancestor of Christ especially in the “Jesse tree” motif, and kings are frequently painted as David (who appears with his harp as the King of Spades in many card decks). David is also portrayed as archetypical penitent. Since the Renaissance, attention has focused less on David's theological roles than on his human glory and/or vulnerability as a child playing the lyre and venturing out against Goliath, as a mature man eyeing Bathsheba and mourning Absalom, or as an aged one manipulated by wives and counselors. Donatello's fifteenth-century bronze (highly controversial in Florence at the time because of its homoerotic overtones) shows a slim boy of almost effeminate beauty, while Michelangelo's huge sixteenth century marble gives us a calm but physically powerful David. Chagall's King David, by contrast, expresses some of the painter's own lamentation.

Film portrayals of David, such as Henry King's David and Bathsheba (with Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward), Bruce Beresford's King David (with Richard Gere in the title role), and Leonard Nimoy's made-for-TV David (with Nathaniel Parker as king) have generally echoed the positive accents of religious interpretation. Some of the best literary portrayals, by contrast, have focused on less flattering aspects of David's story. Works from John Dryden's “Absalom and Achitophel” through Stefan Heym's King David Report have explored political aspects of David's tale, while Joseph Heller's God Knows poignantly and irreverently portrays the human tragedy of David's family.


  • Alter, Robert. The David story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel. New York, London: Norton, 1999.
  • Bassler, Jouette M. “A Man for All Seasons: David in Rabbinic and New Testament Literature.” Interpretation 40 (1986): 156–169.
  • Biran, Avraham, and Joseph Naveh. “An Aramaic Stele Fragment from Tel Dan.” Israel Exploration Journal 43 (1993): 81–98.
  • Brueggemann, Walter. “2 Samuel 21–24: An Appendix of Deconstruction?” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 50 (1988): 383–397.
  • Brueggemann, Walter. David's Truth in Israel's Imagination and Memory. 2d ed. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002. Compares four canonical pictures of David.
  • Campbell, Antony F., and Mark A. O'Brien. Unfolding the Deuteronomistic History: Origins, Upgrades, Present Text. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000. See for discussion of sources and editorial layers in Samuel-Kings.
  • Childs, Brevard S. “Psalm Titles and Midrashic Exegesis.” Journal of Semitic Studies 16 (1971): 137–150.
  • Eaton, John H. Kingship and the Psalms. 2d ed. Sheffield, U.K.: JSOT Press, 1986. Out of print.
  • Eslinger, Lyle M. House of God or House of David: The Rhetoric of 2 Samuel 7. Sheffield. U.K.: JSOT Press, 1994.
  • Exum, J. Cheryl. “Bathsheba Plotted, Shot, and Painted.” Semeia 47 (1996): 47–73. Handling of David-Bathsheba story in film and paintings.
  • Finkelstein, Israel, and Neil Asher Silberman. David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible's Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition. New York: Free Press, 2006. Minimalist treatment of historical David.
  • Flint, Peter W. The Dead Sea Psalms Scrolls and the Book of Psalms. Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah, Volume 17. New York: Brill, 1997.
  • Fokkelman, J. P. Narrative Art and Poetry in the Books of Samuel. 4 vols. Assen, The Neth.: Van Gorcum, 1981–1993. Some volumes out of print.
  • Frontain, R. J., and Wojcik, J., editors. The David Myth in Western Literature. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 1980. Out of print.
  • Gunn, David M. The Story of King David: Genre and Interpretation. Sheffield, U.K.: University of Sheffield, 1978. Out of print.
  • Halpern, Baruch. David's Secret Demons: Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King. The Bible in its world. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2001. Maximalist approach to historical David.
  • Horner, Thomas Marland. Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 1978.
  • Hourihane, Colum, editor. King David in the Index of Christian Art. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002.
  • Isser, Stanley Jerome. The Sword of Goliath: David in Heroic Literature. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003.
  • Japhet, Sara. I & II Chronicles: A Commentary. OTL. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox, 1993. Good material on inclusiveness in Chroniclers' theology.
  • Lemaire, André. “'House of David' Restored in Moabite Inscription.” Biblical Archeology Review 20 (May/June 1994): 30–37.
  • Levenson, Jon D., and Baruch Halpern. “The Political Import of David's Marriages.” Journal of Biblical Literature 99 (1980): 507–528.
  • McCann, J. Clinton, Jr., ed. The Shape and Shaping of the Psalter. Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993.
  • McKenzie, Steven L. King David: A Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Maximalist approach to historical David.
  • Miscall, Peter D. 1 Samuel: A Literary Reading. Bloomington: Indiana University, 1986.
  • Polzin, Robert. Samuel and the Deuteronomist: A Literary Study of the Deuteronomic History. Part Two: 1 Samuel. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.
  • Polzin, Robert. David and the Deuteronomist: A Literary Study of the Deuteronomic History. Part Three: 2 Samuel. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.
  • Schiffman, L. H. “Messianic Figures and Ideas in the Qumran Scrolls.” In The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity, edited by James H. Charlesworth, pp. 116–129. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992.
  • Sternberg, Meir. The Poetics of Biblical Narrative: Ideological Literature and the Drama of Reading. Bloomington: Indiana University, 1985.
  • Steussy, Marti J. David: Biblical Portraits of Power. Studies on Personalities of the Old Testament. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1999. Studies the Davids of Samuel-Kings, Chronicles, and Psalms separately.
  • Steussy, Marti J. “The Problematic God of Samuel.” In Shall Not the Judge of All the Earth Do What Is Right?: Studies on the Nature of God in Tribute to James L. Crenshaw, edited by James L. Crenshaw, Paul L. Redditt, and David Penchansky, pp. 127–161. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2000.
  • Tadmor, Hayim. “Historical Implications of the Correct Rendering of Akkadian dâku.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 17 (1958): 129–141.
  • Wilson, Gerald H. The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter. Chico, Cal.: Scholars, 1985.
  • Wilson, Gerald H. “The Use of the Royal Psalms at the ‘Seams’ of the Hebrew Psalter.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 35 (1986): 85–94.

Marti J. Steussy