How King David predicted modern Judaism
Modern Jews are precisely the community King David envisioned, says scholar Joel Baden.
October 12th, 2013
09:05 AM ET

How King David predicted modern Judaism

Opinion by Joel Baden, special to CNN

(CNN) - Most American Jews consider Judaism to be mainly a matter of culture and ancestry, according to a recent poll. An even higher percentage describe themselves as emotionally attached to Israel. For this we have one person to thank: King David.

The Israel we know today is a nation that David created virtually out of thin air. Before David, there were two territories, Israel to the north, and Judah to the south.

By sheer force of personality—and, to be fair, substantial military strength—David combined these two lands under a single crown (his). Not only had this never happened before; no one had ever thought of it before.

Although the Bible makes it sound as if everyone loved David, and were desperate to follow him, this wasn’t really the case. David took power by force.

The people of Israel and Judah became part of David’s kingdom because he conquered them—they had no choice in the matter. Their only option was to abandon the land that they had held for centuries. And in a tight real estate market—every family believed that they had eternal rights to their property—moving was pretty much out of the question.

We tend to think of Israel in biblical terms: the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the land of the 12 tribes. These concepts were created in the wake of David’s reign.

Everywhere that the Bible speaks of Judah and Israel together—the stories of the patriarchs, the Exodus, the conquest—we encounter the ramifications of David’s actions.

The borders of the modern state of Israel today are, roughly, David’s borders, or at least those attributed to him by the biblical authors. (For the record: the West Bank was part of David’s kingdom; the Gaza Strip was not.)

And at the center of Israel, both ancient and modern, is the holy city of Jerusalem. This, too, is David’s doing. Before David, Jerusalem was a long-standing independent city-state, belonging to a long-lost people called the Jebusites.

MORE ON CNN: Why everyone fights over Jerusalem

Recognizing that its central location would be perfect for the capital of his newly united state—the ancient equivalent of Washington—David conquered it and wiped out its former inhabitants.

Because David is credited with founding the Temple in Jerusalem—although Solomon built the actual structure, David chose the site, set up an altar, and laid the conceptual groundwork—it’s natural enough to assume that there was some religious motivation at work.

But, in fact, David’s aim in inaugurating a site of worship in his capital was more economical than spiritual. Temples were sites of commerce—Jesus knew this—and having a culturally significant relic, in the form of the Ark of the Covenant, was sure to draw the people in.

Every lamb sacrificed in Jerusalem meant profit for the sanctuary, and for the king who controlled it. Every pilgrim meant a night’s stay in a local bed and breakfast (all fully taxable, of course).

David used belief as a lure to draw in the masses. But he didn’t care much what his people believed. The creation of the unified kingdom of Israel wasn’t based on shared religion.

The inhabitants of the north had very different practices from those in the south. And none of them was following Jewish law—the laws hadn’t been written yet, and wouldn’t be for centuries.

What united the people of David’s kingdom was, quite simply, that they lived there. It was a political state, not a religious one.

Israel then, like today, was primarily a political entity, and only secondarily a religious one. Those who considered themselves attached to Israel believed and practiced a whole range of things, or not; just like those who are attached to Israel today.

A Pew poll released earlier this month demonstrates the continuing pull of David’s Israel. Millions of American Jews financially support the modern state of Israel, either through donations or through tourism.

MORE ON CNN: Study: American Jews losing their religion

We feel the pull of the land, the sanctity of the ancient streets of Jerusalem. We fly El Al, we stay at the hotels, we eat at the restaurants, we pay to enter various sites.

That is: We’re still doing just what David wanted us to do. We are precisely the Jews who David envisioned—believing whatever we want, just so long as we spend our money in Israel.

Joel S. Baden is the author of “The Historical David: The Real Life of an Invented Hero,” and an associate professor of Old Testament at Yale Divinity School. The views expressed in this column belong to Baden.

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Belief • Israel • Jerusalem • Judaism • Middle East

soundoff (869 Responses)
  1. Zhang

    It is indeed a shame today's Jews, including Mr. Baden, seem to despise their own ancestors more than most Goyim do. Unsurprising, but shameful all the same

    January 12, 2014 at 5:32 pm |
  2. Johnjonjon

    Uhm yeah, there is no real historical evidence king David ever existed. And the alleged predictions seem tenuous at best.

    October 27, 2013 at 6:01 am |
    • Stephen

      John, To say that David never existed is really an anti semitic comment. You have just trashed the history of the Jewish people. These type of comments are also made concerning the suffering of Jews in world war II.

      October 28, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
  3. Ron

    Messianic Psalm 45: "You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has annointed You with the oil of gladnes above Your fellows."...The writer of Hebrews tells us that King David was writing of Messiah Jesus. Hebrews 1

    October 25, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
  4. Ron

    Messianic Psalm 22: continued..."For dogs have surounded me; A band of evildoers has enompassed me; They pierced my hands and my feet, I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me; They divide my garments among them, And for my clothing they cast lots." ....Psalm 22:16-18 Written by King David 1000 B.C. Awesome!

    October 25, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
  5. Ron

    Messianic Psalm: 22:1 "My God ; My God, why have You forsaken Me?" ...Jesus quoted this on the cross, as fulfillment of this Psalm.

    October 25, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
  6. Ron

    Messianic Psalm: 110:1 "The Lord said to My Lord: sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies Your footstool." .... Jesus referred to this Psalm to indicate that Messiah is really David's Lord, as they were calling Jesus the son of David. Jesus is indeed David's Lord. PTL

    October 25, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
  7. Psalm 23

    A song of David

    The Lord is my shepherd,
    I shall not want.
    2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
    He leads me beside quiet waters.
    3 He restores my soul;
    He guides me in the paths of righteousness
    For His name’s sake.

    4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I fear no evil, for You are with me;
    Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
    5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
    You have anointed my head with oil;
    My cup overflows.
    6 Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
    And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


    October 20, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
    • Psalm 23



      October 20, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
  8. Bill

    The author displays a sad lack of Biblical knowledge and needs to quit trying to rewrite millennia old history

    October 20, 2013 at 9:26 am |
    • Ron

      Right, delusional like so many in here.

      October 25, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
  9. David

    A book about David is on the New York Times best seller list.

    October 20, 2013 at 7:50 am |
    • Ron

      The Bible is the Best Seller by far, year in and year out, both here in the US as well as around the world. It seems the books of men are not as highly esteemed as one might think. lol

      October 25, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
  10. Ron

    CNN, is this really how you want to spend your time?

    October 19, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
    • Ron

      CNN, you forgot to delete this one.

      October 25, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
  11. Observer

    Another Psalm:

    (Psalm 137:8-9) “Babylon, you are doomed! I pray the Lord’s blessings on anyone who punishes you for what you did to us. May the Lord bless everyone who beats your children against the rocks!”

    Just as important as the others.

    October 19, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
  12. Haime52

    Why do these "discussions" devolve into a cacophony of gibberish unrelated to the article they purport to comment on? The author most be spending too much time at some frat house.

    October 19, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
  13. Bob Arctor

    Btw, that's across the board...ANYONE operating under the assumption that their guano doesn't stink because they're part of an "elite" group is worthy only of contempt. Unless I missed the memo, it's been my understanding that we're ALL God's chil'n...

    October 17, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
  14. Observer

    (Psalm 137:8-9) “Babylon, you are doomed! I pray the Lord’s blessings on anyone who punishes you for what you did to us. May the Lord bless everyone who beats your children against the rocks!”

    October 16, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
    • Slade Farney

      > (Psalm 137:8-9) “Babylon, you are doomed! I pray the Lord’s blessings
      > on anyone who punishes you for what you did to us. May the Lord bless
      > everyone who beats your children against the rocks!”

      What a ghastly thing to write! Regardless of what is alleged to have been done to "earn" such vengeance - no God-loving person uses violence on children. And this is called a "holy book!" But then we must recall that King David was a mass murderer of epic proportions, slaughtering whole towns and villages of Gentiles without the faintest excuse that he was provoked.

      I am still waiting for Baden to explain why he contradicts what he wrote his own book. For reference, let me offer the cites again:

      Joel Baden is contradicts himself and common knowledge on many points in that essay, including this:

      "David combined these two lands under a single crown (his). Not only had this never happened before; no one had ever thought of it before."

      But on the bottom page 117 of Baden's own book, "The Historical David," Baden writes about Saul, predecessor to King David:
      "... Israel, the northern territories over which Saul had ruled."

      Were the two kingdoms combined previously as Baden says in the book, or had "no one ever though of it before" as he says in this essay?

      Let's look at http://www.science.co.il/Israel-history.php

      "The descendants of Abraham crystallized into a nation at about 1300 BCE after their Exodus from Egypt under the leadership of Moses (Moshe in Hebrew)."

      So Baden's book is right, and Baden's essay is wrong, wrong, wrong. Pretty bad fail for a professor.

      October 16, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
  15. OA

    Sounds like this was written by a Palestinian. How can he say David wrote the bible without any proof?
    There is proof of Hebrews in Egypt. The tomb of amin has a Jewish prayer engraved in its walls.

    October 15, 2013 at 9:07 pm |
    • Jabron

      Very subtle nuance that I missed on my first read! Way to go OA!!

      October 18, 2013 at 12:11 am |
  16. Universe

    Quran says (Islamic Scripture)

    “The example of Jesus, as far as GOD is concerned, is the same as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him, "Be," and he was.” Quran [3:59]

    It does not befit God that He begets a son, be He glorified. To have anything done, He simply says to it, "Be," and it is. [19:35]

    “No soul can carry the sins of another soul. If a soul that is loaded with sins implores another to bear part of its load, no other soul can carry any part of it, even if they were related. ... [35:18]

    “They even attribute to Him sons and daughters, without any knowledge. Be He glorified. He is the Most High, far above their claims.” Quran [6:100]

    “Recall that your Lord said to the angels, "I am placing a representative on Earth." They said, "Will You place therein one who will spread evil therein and shed blood, while we sing Your praises, glorify You, and uphold Your absolute authority?" He said, "I know what you do not know." [2:30]

    “They say , "We live only this life; we will not be resurrected. If you could only see them when they stand before their Lord! He would say, "Is this not the truth?" They would say, "Yes, by our Lord." He would say, "You have incurred the retribution by your disbelief." [6:30]

    “We have honored the children of Adam, and provided them with rides on land and in the sea. We provided for them good provisions, and we gave them greater advantages than many of our creatures.” Quran [17:70]

    “O children of Adam, when messengers come to you from among you, and recite My revelations to you, those who take heed and lead a righteous life, will have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.” Quran [7:35]

    “O children of Adam, do not let the devil dupe you as he did when he caused the eviction of your parents from Paradise, and the removal of their garments to expose their bodies. He and his tribe see you, while you do not see them. We appoint the devils as companions of those who do not believe.” Quran [7:27]

    “Losers indeed are those who disbelieve in meeting God, until the Hour comes to them suddenly, then say, "We deeply regret wasting our lives in this world." They will carry loads of their sins on their backs; what a miserable load! [6:31]

    Thanks for taking time to read my post. Please take a moment to visit whyIslam org website.

    October 14, 2013 at 9:40 am |
  17. Reality # 2

    Putting a kibosh on Judaism:

    origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

    New Torah For Modern Minds

    “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. (prob•a•bly
    Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell).

    October 14, 2013 at 7:49 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.