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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. Victor Linar

    Human Beings!!!!!!! God allmighty wants human beings to know the whole truth. you see Jews has the real religion from God, Muslims with Mohammad has the real religion by Gabriel, Christians believe in the true religion by Jesus. You see God wants us to know little of the true by every religion, because humans doesn't deserve to know the true, we are too dangerous,to know the true.

    October 12, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
  2. julius

    The author looks to be someone that has no clue whatsoever in Jewish history and especially in the bible. Just writing whatever is on his mind. It would be better before he writes something he should do some homework.

    October 12, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
    • stjamesmontreal

      I think getting three degrees, including a doctorate, from some of the best universities in the world in Hebrew Bible counts as having done some homework.

      October 12, 2013 at 11:50 pm |
  3. Swangus

    This article is so historically inaccurate compared to the Bible. Yale should be ashamed to have someone like this representing their divinity school.

    October 12, 2013 at 8:54 pm |
    • G to the T

      "This article is so historically inaccurate compared to the Bible." Well that pretty much sums up the bias most people have about the bible, so good for you!

      October 14, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
  4. noname

    This article was written by a one-sided Neurotic Economist!

    October 12, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
  5. Green

    CNN should be ashamed for posting this kind of unsubstantiated anti-Jewish DRIVEL. There is no basis of anything real in this diatribe.

    October 12, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
    • G to the T

      How is this anti-jewish? Are we not allowed to study the history of that region because what we find might (GASP) contradict the torah/bible?

      October 14, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
  6. SmartLawyer

    I love how the author attaches an economic motive to David's actions without offering any evidence whatsoever. No text, no witness, no archaeological find. The author simply deems it acceptable scholarship to write his inferences over the history on a whim. So let me add this: in 100 or 1000 years, when people look back at this time in history, they'll say the same thing: the only reason politicians were looking for solutions to the man made up problem of man-made Global Warming was economic. They sought to enrich themselves while cloaking themselves in the false arguments of altruism. And, just as sure, the people today will yell in response, "heresy!"

    October 12, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Economics is either the basis or a strong contributor to almost every decision ever made.

      October 12, 2013 at 9:19 pm |
  7. Southernsuga

    Judaism, as we know it today, was started by Ezekiel.

    October 12, 2013 at 8:38 pm |
    • Rami

      Thank you.

      October 12, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
  8. Lucy Gilchrist

    I couldn't discern from your article if you were honoring King David or disrespecting him. However, I checked my Bible to se if your perspective is correct about David seizing Israel. The Bible says that the Hebrews in Israel actually came to King David and requested to be a part of his kingdom, (2 Samuel 5:1-4). Also, concerning conquering Jerusalem, the Bible says that the reason David could conquer Jerusalem was because "the Lord Almighty was with him," (2 Samuel 5:10). God Himself chose Jerusalem as His city, (1 Kings 11:13). On a flat map, Jerusalem is in the very center of the earth.

    October 12, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
  9. Robbie

    Terrible article. Yale should show the author the door or perhaps night classes at another university. Poor understanding of Biblical history. Professor you get an E-

    October 12, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
  10. David Austreng

    Are you kidding me? Yale anti-semite, author. This conjure is dangerous. Sounds like the author has SERIOUS issues. It's historically wrong and people need to know that this is an inaccurate piece of text written from an anti Israel person. Shame on the writer. May your untrue words fall down on your own head, while Israel, in King David's words, let's you fall in your own trap, built for others. Shame on you, shame be on you for your untruths.

    October 12, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
    • David Austreng

      Thank you Dippy – I was SO angry when I read this, that I just was pounding on the keys. Thanks for the heads-up. It's really important to worry about a misplaced character in the face of an article that Hitler would enjoy. My blood is still boiling because of this nonsense – especially on CNN. This article is provocative and now that I think about it, so are you. Why not share some kindness – that's what Jews do – they share kindness in the face of people who hate them. I wonder what would happen if Jews decided to take revenge on the nations that have cursed them? Let's all pray that we never get that annoyed with the other nations.

      October 12, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
      • Rami

        I seen this kindness in the west bank and Gaza. I see their kindness is southern Lebanon. I seen it in East Jerusalem when they demolish/destroy people's homes, because they are not Jews. I seen all of that.

        October 12, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
    • Rami

      Oh my.. easy David, easy... The author fail to say ... after all this, this land belong to the Palestinians.

      October 12, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
    • jpyds

      Joel Baden is Jewish.

      October 12, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
      • G to the T

        LOL... too funny I know...

        October 14, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
  11. children of Israel

    How can Iraq be modern day Babylon? *Jeremiah 51:49 As Babylon hath caused the slain of Israel to fall, so at Babylon shall fall the slain of all the earth. (Revelation 18:9-11) *Jeremiah 33:17 Thus saith the Lord; David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel. (Hebrews 8:7-9) *Solomon's Song 1:5 I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon. *Jeremiah 51:50 remember the Lord afar off, and let Jerusalem come into your mind. (Revelation 21:2-12)

    October 12, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
  12. lolol

    Nobody predicted anything modern in ancient times. Their fake gods were always as stupid and violent as the believers without exception throughout history.

    October 12, 2013 at 8:18 pm |
    • CNN Belief Blog Commentator

      Yea except you know a few 2000+ year old prophecies about Israel returning to its land independently against all odds being fulfilled in modern times among other things.

      October 12, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
      • Boojum

        That has never been fulfilled. There are no longer 12 tribes of any sort to speak of and so all of the 12 tribes have never "returned" to the Palestine area in all of history.
        You suck at this. Go play a videogame.

        October 12, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
      • G to the T

        Self-fulfilling prophecies are the weakest evidence of all...

        October 14, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
  13. reddeb

    For a few years, I've thought I'd really like to attend YDS, where Baden teaches, someday. An article like this makes me less enthused over the possibility. This is nothing but the most cynical possible interpretation of archaeology with no romantic attachment to the text (I'm not talking about a love is blind attachment but the passion for the subject, over one's image, that drives the best scholarship).

    Sure, David may not have penned all of the psalms ascribed for him, as it was considered kosher to ascribe the writings of a camp to the leader of that camp. But note that would still make him the spiritual model for a host of timeless poems. Even if you only believed he wrote a handful of them and even if you puzzled over redaction theories until you had removed half of his biographical details from Scripture, you still couldn't come close to this picture of King David nor of Israel. This is a willful negation of the *entire* story of who Israel and David were. It reminds me of the most caricatured portions of the Jesus Seminar–scholars who might have had some interesting and valid points to show wider Christendom if they weren't so hell-bent on being radical and rewriting every detail, even details that evidence would tend to support.

    October 12, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
    • G to the T

      "...as it was considered kosher to ascribe the writings of a camp to the leader of that camp." And what are basing that little nugget on? Certainly not anything from literary history where the practice is only found only in a few rare cases with the pythagrions. Ascribing something you wrote as having been written by someone else is called "pseudopigrapha" or as we know it in more common terms – forgery.

      October 14, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
  14. Jesus Christ Son of God

    Again, 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 8:07 pm |
  15. maybe1

    "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 Bible makes it sound as if? .. give me a brake, it sounds... like this article was written by a child... the Bible expounds upon each one of David's conquest...not to mention every other conquest by the people of Israel which were usually quite violent and the Bible does not hold back on any of the gruesome details... but anyways... The Bible does not "make it sound like everybody loved David..." the 12 tribes concept come from the time of Moses not David...(hundreds of years before david) Israel and Judah were much more like the separate states of Italy and Germany... same language, culture, and faith and came together to form a kingdom/nation ... or perhaps a better analogy is the U.K. considering the king came from the land that the other nation had been trying to conquer for centuries... and since David is actually from Judah (born and raised in Bethlehem) THE ENTIRE FOOLISH ARTICLE is void....

    October 12, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
  16. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    October 12, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
    • Observer

      The Bible says God killed ALL HUMAN BEINGS including children and fetueses.

      No Christians can show ONE SIN they commited.

      Oooooops!
      .

      October 12, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      October 13, 2013 at 11:32 am |
  17. mason

    Religion poisons everything. "Imagine" -John Lennon Jews & Arabs are the same race and they hate each other because of religion. Thanks again religion.

    October 12, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
  18. Mike

    So much of this article is pure speculation on the part of the author, stated as fact. How misleading, and how evident that the writer knows so little of actual Bible history – which provides far more information about how these events than the scant archaeological records which exist. It is sad that a news site like CNN offers such poorly informed fare for its readers. You should hold your writers to a much higher standard.

    October 12, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
  19. children of Israel

    Hebrews 8:13 In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away. *Ezekiel 21:23 And it shall be unto them as a false divination in their sight, to them that have sworn oaths: *Hebrews 9:1 Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary. *John 3:9-10 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? *Revelation 2:6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. *Revelation 2:15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. *Proverbs 6:16 These six things doth the Lord hate: *Romans 9:13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. *Exodus 15:3 The Lord is a man of war: the Lord is his name. (Mark 12:26)

    October 12, 2013 at 7:44 pm |
  20. David

    Jerusalem is not at the center of modern Israel – there is currently a campaign in the media and the political arena to make it so, but Jerusalem is still in Palestine. Especially the Jerusalem that counts. Thank you Joel Baden for your contribution in this campaign. First win the minds and then by force.

    October 12, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
    • David Austreng

      Where are your facts? Jerusalem IS the capital of Israel... This article and some of the writers sound like a sequel to "Dumb and Dumber...". It's offensive for Baden to insert Jesus, as if he's a real person. I think Christians are still trying to prove there was such a man. How can this moron be at Yale? I like reality. It's nice. I wonder what imagination land is like. Maybe it's nice too. However, reality and facts are quite nice because they keep you on solid ground in times such as these. People, don't be idiots. Find out the facts. If someone digs up a dinosaur bone and confirms it's from that era. Please, don't kid yourself and think it's a chicken bone that somehow some unseen ghost came and made it bigger – you see, it's nice to just get out of imagination land. You might just discover G-d....

      November 18, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
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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.