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. Tony Austen

    I agree with the author of this article. Judaism is over-rated. David was a modern king, money was number 1, and politics. Modern Judaism, despites is ubiquitous "slaloms" was not as valued or over-rated as it is today!

    October 12, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
  2. Vic

    It is worth noting that the reason King David chose Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel while it was an independent city-state at the time is so profound. It is because where "Mount Moriah" is. "Mount Moriah" is the cite where Abraham went up to offer Isaac as sacrifice according to the will of God.

    Earlier Comment Post:

    October 12, 2013 at 7:34 pm |
  3. It's like asking "How does the Easter Bunny distribute all those eggs?"

    One fairy tale or another – they're all FICTION.

    October 12, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
  4. mike

    How does an article with so many historically errors and outright fabrications (polite for outright lie) get printed on CNNs.
    BLOG? Does CNN have any standards or safeguards in place. Would such an mistake filled and inaccurate piece be allowed on any other section of CNNs website or about any other faith? This is just the lastest misleading. error filled -article about the Bible and Christianity to appear in Your "belief" Blog. How about some honest and impartial reporting for a change or at least proof read it and check the facts. You can call it an opinion if you want but a lie is still a lie.

    October 12, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
    • bostontola

      5 lines of text with no examples.

      October 12, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
    • joe

      Everything that supports religion is based on lies, fabrications, misdirections, misinterpretations etc. etc. Any and all religions.

      It's just part of evolution. Simple, primitive man trying to understand his environment so he makes up fantasy about how it all works and by the power of numbers forces his beliefs on others. We still see it in the most backwards places on the planet like the middle east and India where they really believe it.

      Here in the U.S., religion has been relegated to the mentally deluded. One day in the not too distant future, it'll probably be in the medical books as a mental disorder.

      October 12, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
      • Just a guy

        Sorry bub – is NOT going to happen – you are the delusional person

        October 12, 2013 at 11:28 pm |
    • Robert Wise

      This seems impossible that an associate prof from Yale could write such a misinformed delusion of reference. This reads like an exercise of Israeli propoganda. The author seems to blurr the ancient Israelites with the State of Israel originated from 1948. Coo Coo

      October 12, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
  5. Zoom Brain

    It is obvious that Joel Baden has never read any of the ancient writings let alone the Bible. Very typical of today's research and journalism.

    October 12, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
    • bostontola

      So obvious there was no need for examples?

      October 12, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
    • mike

      Yes they are that obvious.

      October 12, 2013 at 10:40 pm |
  6. bostontola

    "David’s aim in inaugurating a site of worship in his capital was more economical than spiritual"

    Good thing Christianity isn't about money.

    October 12, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
    • Gabriel

      A visit to the Vatican might change your mind..

      October 12, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
      • bostontola

        Sorry, sarcasm.

        October 12, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
  7. Heather

    The level of Biblical illiteracy in this article is truly stunning.

    October 12, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
    • bostontola

      Enlighten us, please.

      October 12, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
      • z

        start with 1 Samuel 15 and read it through 1 Kings 2.
        http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Samuel%2015&version=NKJV, it is filled with historical details about David. Does not hide his strengths and weaknesses. Enjoy

        October 12, 2013 at 7:44 pm |
        • G to the T

          KJV should NEVER be used as reference against a person that can ACTUALLY READ HEBREW. Maybe he's read a more accurate translation than ended up in that joke of a book?

          October 14, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • motorfirebox

      The degree by which people mistake actually archeological research with "Biblical illiteracy" is what's stunning. The fact is, the historical record disagrees pretty strongly with the Biblical record. Much of the Bible's "history"–for example, all of Exodus–has zero historical basis.

      October 12, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
  8. tony

    Yesterday, upon the stair,
    I met a man who wasn’t there
    He wasn’t there again today
    I wish, I wish he’d go away...

    October 12, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
  9. Jesus Christ Son of God

    I hate it when I post something of value but it scrolls off...

    So, he was able to predict sheep would think there was a god and waste their time worshiping this god. And that god would have a son (by a virgin mary, tough time believing that one), and even though god was all powerful, let his son get nailed to a cross. Why didn't he predict something that would be useful, like put your food into a refrigerator will prolong its life?

    October 12, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
  10. John P. Tarver

    I am thinking that Abraham and Sarah having their final resting place in a cave in a hill inside Jebus made the conquest of the Jebusites an imperative for David. These facts added greatly to the religious power King David held.

    October 12, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
    • tony

      Ooooh love those "facts" that keep coming out of the Bible.

      October 12, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
      • John P. Tarver

        You might like the mosque built on to of the hill as well.

        October 12, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
  11. Jason the Saj

    Citations, citations, citations...

    This article is based on the most loose and skeptical interpretations of history. And largely, uncongruent with historical facts and research.

    The Hebrew laws, the primary ones were actually long existent before David. Second, it wouldn't be until after the death of David's son Solomon that the tribes of Israel divided into two major factions Judah...and Israel.

    Just kind of sad how much is wrong with this article. About the only part right was that yes, David used force and strength to be a small dominant power.

    October 12, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
    • G to the T

      1) This is the OPINION section of a website – I think asking for a cited thesis is a bit much. 2) You have way too much faith in the source matierals vs someone that can ACTUALLY READ HEBREW.

      October 14, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
      • Star1

        What does that mean "someone who can actually read Hebrew"? Was the original scrolls not written in Aramaic and Greek also? Many translators and Bible historians in fact did read Hebrew. Jesus himself read Hebrew and read aloud the scrolls while teaching. If you can't read Chinese or French does that mean you can't trust someone who can?

        October 14, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
        • G to the T

          The original Jewish texts were written in Hebrew, it was only centuries later that they were compiled and translated into Greek (the septuagint). And it was this greek version that most bibles based their OT on. So if you know the Hebrew, you have a better chance of know what the original words/meanings were. So if you don't know hebrew, maybe it's best not to assume that you know those texts better than someone who can. That's all...

          October 15, 2013 at 10:09 am |
  12. aaron nelson

    Proverbs 3:5 "trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding"
    Any "bible scholar" who has no breath of Life in him will only find dead words. One who has no sense of Spirit can only rely on the world to explain mysteries the cannot understand. It is the Spirit who searches out the deep mysteries of God to teach and guide us. I pity those who have no depth or understanding. Like the movie the matrix until you unplug yourself from all the useless carp that is fire fodder and set your mind on things that have eternal value. There are two deaths. You don't come back from the second death. There are new signs everyday. The return of the King is imminent. The kingdom of heaven draws nigh.

    October 12, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
    • motorfirebox

      Whackos have been predicting things like that for more than two millennia. But those guys just didn't know what they were talking about, I'm sure you're the real deal.

      October 12, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
    • Observer

      News from THOUSANDS of years ago. Not one thing new.

      October 12, 2013 at 7:54 pm |
    • G to the T

      If the kingdom is immenent... can I have your stuff?

      October 14, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
  13. Martin Luther

    Joel Baden seems to be quite ignorant. Israel split into two factions, Israel and Judah many years AFTER David; not before! All I can say is, CNN seems to collect writers based on a litmus test of liberalism, practical atheism and other forms of infidelity. Knowledge and scholarship are evidently not important things to the wicked.

    October 12, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
    • motorfirebox

      Scholarship means reading more than just the Bible.

      October 12, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
  14. DW Duke

    Perhaps a few more classes in the history of the Hebrew people would be of benefit. 🙂

    October 12, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
  15. Jesus Christ Son of God

    So, he was able to predict sheep would think there was a god and waste their time worshiping this god. And that god would have a son (by a virgin mary, tough time believing that one), and even thought god was all powerful, let his son get nailed to a cross. Why didn't he predict something that would be useful, like put your food into a refrigerator will prolong its life?

    October 12, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
  16. Jim, New Jersey

    Not that anyone can notice.

    October 12, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
  17. Another Belief Blog Fail-Lie Exposed

    Wow, for a Yale educated person, this guy sure doesn't know anything about King David or the Bible. Lol, one of the first give aways was when he said King David united Israel and Judah which of course is untrue, and Iasrael and Judah would not even become separate kingdoms until well after David's death.

    LOL, The actual story was the Israelite tribes chose to have a King even though God told them that they should not have a King. So anyways, the Israelites chose to have a King and chose King Saul. Saul was suppose to conquer and destroy all the half-human caananite tribes, but instead Saul got greedy and decided he would start worshipping the pagan idols, taking pagan wealth for his own, and instead of destroying the half-humans he decided he'd make them into slaves. Saul is you archetypical king who might start off with good intent, but becomes power hungry and paranoid to try to keep his power. Unfortunately for Saul, David showed up and being quite popular after killing the giant Goliath, was looking like the favorite of the people, which made Saul jealous. David fled into the wilderness from Saul's wrath, and even got a chance to murder Saul, but spared his life. Saul would eventually be slain in battle with the Caananites and David became the new King. At this time Israel was one body, and the nation was not entirely formed yet. David would pretty much be a good king, until he offended God by deceiving his trusted soldier Uriah and sleeping with his wife. David would lose his son and his best friend Joab, but would continue to rule thereafter until his death.

    After David was Solomon, who indeed completed the First Temple, though David laid down the groundwork. Solomon would lead a pretty decent life and help finalize the conquest of Canaan. At this time Israel is still one united body. Solomon's offence against God was that he married many pagan women and allowed them to put their pagan idols in the holy city. and would cause the other 12 tribes to worship the idols of wood and stone. For this God promised after Solomon that the land would be rent asunder. Indeed it was, after Solomon's death the israelites split into two kingdoms; Judah to the South and Israel to the north. Much of the rest of the Old Testament is devoted to the eventual fall of both the north kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians, and then the south kingdom, along with the Assyrian empire to the Babylonians. The ancient jews would be taken captive into Babylon, but as their prophets predicted, allowed to return to their promised land and rebuild after Babylon is destroyed by the Persians.

    Honestly, I am surprised CNN would allow this guy to write an article so confirmably falsifying the Biblical and even extra-biblical historical narrative. Most people would expect Yale to teach better too, but I guess Yale either is substandard in education or it is purposefully creating a false narrative because it is aligned with the Enemy. Either one is likely as the ivy league has produced every failed businessman and politician that have torn up America beyond repair and stole all of America's money and also is a home to the Skull and Bones (love to see an article about their beliefs in bathing in excerment and whacking it in coffins.) If you don't believe in the Bible that's fine, but why falsify the story? Even besides falsifying the Bible, this article falsifies the narrative the non-biblical historians and non-Christian Jewish tradition teaches. Seems to me like CNN Belief Blog has an agenda of misinformation and disbelief.

    October 12, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
    • samuel

      The bible is fake and garbage it is a lie

      October 12, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
      • DW Duke

        Samuel's comment is "fake and garbage, it is a lie." 😛 🙂

        October 12, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
      • Richard

        Regardless of your beliefs of the Bible, the article is factually incorrect. Even if the Bible is full of lies, the writer told those lies incorrectly. It would be like giving a false account of a fiction book – regardless of the validity, your knowledge on that book is wrong. This writer is way off in the history of Israel and Judah.

        October 12, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
    • Joseph

      Thank you for that clarification! For someone in the Yale Divinity School, someone has not read the Bible.

      October 12, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
    • Text 101

      Nice summation ... if not a little colorful and a little loose with some of the Hebrew account.

      Here an earlier comment I made that applies ...

      Mr. Baden, as do many scholars, probably spent more time reading commentaries about the bible that actual reading it. As so often happens scholars end up as the last call after the game of telephone has finally reached them!

      October 12, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
      • CNN Belief Blog Commentator

        Yes I just read your post along this line. I definantly agree to the theory of it. You may perhaps be correct, however I am starting to think these "scholars" have an agenda of their own. Either they are incompetant and therefore their schools are incompetant or they have an agenda which targets pretty much only one beleif system, one deity, and on message. It seems to me that if they were incompetant that they would either 1) Be more equal in doling out bullcrap abotu ALL religions/beliefs and 2) Redact or remove things once they find out they are false.

        So while I agree with your premise Text 101, and believe it should not be discounted, I tend to lean more towards the side that they (CNN Belief Blog and this "scholar" in particular) have an agenda that they are carrying out purposefully. I could be wrong though and you may be correct, it is very likely they are just incompetant. Either way both roads lead to the same place; that Belief Blog needs to be seriously reformed.

        October 12, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
    • G to the T

      "...even though God told them that they should not have a King. " And then you lose all academinc credibility and I stop reading...

      October 14, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
  18. Jack

    All religions and myths are outdated and retarded.

    October 12, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
  19. RichS

    The writer has a very cynical view of David, saying his monetary interests outweighed his spiritual life with God. God said of David that he was a man after His own heart. The so-called facts about David expressed by the author are mostly his own invention and really have no basis in fact. Not even talking about theology, just Biblical history. To ignore the Bible accounts of those recorded in the Bible is fallacy.

    October 12, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
    • motorfirebox

      The Bible is a source of historical information. But to accept it as the only source is a greater fallacy than to ignore it completely.

      October 12, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
  20. Moderate this

    You free speech denying sons of beaches !

    October 12, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
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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.