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. children of Israel

    The Holy Bible is the so called Black man's history book, our heritage. Blessed is he that readeth. So read and write that is our might with the Lord God Almighty. Math and science that's an alliance with Satan himself in defiance. (Revelation 16:17)

    October 13, 2013 at 3:48 am |
    • I Don't Get It

      children of Israel,

      How can you stomach that horrid, disgusting book?

      Leviticus 25:44-46

      "As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you. You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who have been born in your land, and they may be your property. You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever. You may make slaves of them, but over your brothers the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another ruthlessly."

      Exodus 21:20-21

      “When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money."

      October 13, 2013 at 3:57 am |
      • eleanor fitzgerald

        Human beings believe whatever they want to believe. The Bible was written by human beings who claimed their thoughts were revelations and declared them to be God's truths. Many were brilliant inspirations that provided mankind with very good rules for living in harmony with other human beings, but the stuff about slaves is ludicrous.

        October 13, 2013 at 6:36 am |
      • ploj

        U mean, how come u enjoy SWP's comments, right? Stick in your left ear u disgusting piece of trash

        October 13, 2013 at 7:36 am |
    • Cynthia Avishegnath

      Please don't use the Bible as another impediment in telling blacks not to excel academically, nor use it as an excuse why blacks don't excel, or use it as an instrument to shame those who do.

      October 13, 2013 at 5:36 am |
  2. children of Israel

    Ezra 6:18 as it is written in the book of Moses. *John 1:17 For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. *Ezra 7:6 This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel had given: *Matthew 15:1 Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, *Acts 23:9 And there arose a great cry: and the scribes that were of the Pharisees' part arose, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God. *Matthew 15:3 But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?

    October 13, 2013 at 3:02 am |
    • Cynthia Avishegnath

      Do you have an agenda and insinuation who the "children of Israel" actually are?
      Brits and Celts have tried to claim that they are the "original" Israelites.
      And Muslim Palestinians too. And some Ethiopians.
      So, are you joining the queue to be among those claiming to be the "original" Israelites?http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/.element/img/3.0/1px.gif

      October 13, 2013 at 5:45 am |
  3. Susan

    Modern Israel is there because of one man, and one man only. Hitler.....

    October 13, 2013 at 2:35 am |
    • Cynthia Avishegnath


      October 13, 2013 at 5:37 am |
  4. jeff

    This is a terribly written article, skewed and without purpose. Several statements are plain false.

    October 13, 2013 at 2:19 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Agreed. But then, everyone else agrees. Really bad piece.

      October 13, 2013 at 2:32 am |
  5. children of Israel

    Who the built the pyramids in Egypt? The children of Israel (Exodus 1:9-11) Why is the Egyptian pyramid on the back of a dollar bill? And the bald eagle is to the right *Matthew 24:28 For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. *Acts 17:30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: *Psalm 77:10 And I said, This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High. (Matthew 25:34)

    October 13, 2013 at 2:06 am |
    • G to the T

      Jew's built the pyramids? For real? The amount of ignorance in that statement is frankly breath-taking...

      October 14, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
  6. Fritz Hohenheim

    Why do you write about "King David" as if he was a real person? Despite all his "glorious kingdom" from the bible there is not a shred of archaeological evidence that he really existed and actually had a kingdom.

    October 13, 2013 at 1:52 am |
    • Paul K

      Until 1993 there was no proof of the existence of King David or even of Israel as a nation prior to Solomon. Then in 1993 archeologists found proof of King David’s existence outside the Bible. At an ancient mound called Tel Dan, in the north of Israel, words carved into a chunk of basalt were translated as “House of David” and “King of Israel” proving that he was more than just a legend.

      October 13, 2013 at 3:39 am |
  7. WrshipWarior

    "the laws hadn’t been written yet, and wouldn’t be for centuries." Really?? This person has absolutely no idea of biblical history. The law was given through Moses who lived several centuries before David.

    October 13, 2013 at 1:26 am |
    • Just_realistic

      He's a prof at Yale .. need anyone say more?

      October 13, 2013 at 2:26 am |
    • RangerDOS

      I don't think he was referring to the Ten Commandments, he was referring to the Talmud.

      October 13, 2013 at 2:58 am |
    • watchman

      This guy is an idiot..doesnt matter what lies you write..Jesus Christ is king..God told us it would be like this in the end...there is a shift coming that in actuality is already here..arise watchman be bold..youtube harbingers..isaiah 9 10 judgement..jonathan cahn..YeshuahaMachiach

      October 13, 2013 at 4:09 am |
  8. Bible Thumper

    Total nonsense!!! where do you get off sensationalizing the bible to sell a book? Read the bible well.. don't rely on third party heresay ... my goodness this is total distortion of history no wonder religion is going down the friggin drain!!

    October 13, 2013 at 1:17 am |
    • Sir

      You do know that the whole bible is 3rd party hearsay right?

      October 13, 2013 at 4:34 am |
  9. realfilidei

    Mr. Baden, please leave David to the experts, especially since people devote months and/ or years to him. He is not someone you can write about on a whim or distort for personal gain. For the record, I am no expert, but that does not stop me from correcting you since your writing is full of egregious claims.

    "David used belief as a lure to draw in the masses. But he didn’t care much what his people believed." How can you say this about the man that wrote Psalms or do you dispute that? David hated the wicked, but as a devout Jew he would have wanted his people to worship the Lord if simply because it pleased his Lord.

    There are many other horrendous parts to this article, they are concerning: the first King of Jews, the concept of Judah and Israel, why the Temple was created, and when the law given.

    October 13, 2013 at 1:03 am |
    • G to the T

      Thanks for clarifying. And where did you learn to read ancient Hebrew? Also – is your PHD in biblical history or some other discipline?

      October 14, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
  10. children of Israel

    Let us speak about Jacob brother Esau named Edom. Why is there volience in the state of Israel? *Isaiah 60:18 Volience shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; but thou shall call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise. -Who were the blessings giving to? (Genesis 27:29) *Nehemiah 13:2 howbeit our God turned the curse into a blessing. *Jeremiah 3:23 truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel. *Mark 12:29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: *Acts 3:12 And when Peter saw it, he answered unto the people, Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this?

    October 13, 2013 at 12:59 am |
  11. snowboarder

    even as a product of parochial school, I never understand how so many adults are caught up in this religious mumbo jumbo.

    October 13, 2013 at 12:53 am |
  12. Gary

    This is what you get if your start with the assumption that the writers of the scripture were corrupt political manipulator like you are.

    October 13, 2013 at 12:44 am |
    • snowboarder

      or just writers of fiction.

      October 13, 2013 at 12:48 am |
  13. AC

    It was a failed kingdom, part of the western part of greater Iraqi empire which bit them in the ass. The fact that we over emphasize these book so much say over the Lord of the Rings or Science is a matter of Rome's manipulation of Europe over several centuries.

    October 13, 2013 at 12:36 am |
    • Report abuse

      I'd like to report abuse – this article

      October 13, 2013 at 12:44 am |
  14. Ken

    The man who wrote this should be fired. I have never seen so many lies in one article before. What sources is he using to base these claims?

    October 13, 2013 at 12:26 am |
    • askasok

      Totally agree with Ken. Is this news or opinions? Let's see sources!

      October 13, 2013 at 2:49 am |
      • askasok

        Oh, just read at the top "Opinion by Joel Baden, special to CNN", LOL 🙂 In that case go ahead and make stuff up 😛

        October 13, 2013 at 3:09 am |
  15. Maksim

    Can't agree more with Duane DenBoer. The article is full of baseless and frankly false statements that could never pass in any kind of academic journal. Unfortunately, the media has power to publish anything that holds up to whatever internal standards it has established. Unfortunately, CNNs are consistently among the lowest ones from the pack of major media players. Thumbs down.

    October 13, 2013 at 12:19 am |
  16. DODO

    It's quite similar to how the "good Christians" cheated and stole the land from our native Americans and forced many of them to leave their homes.

    and strankzy weed patch's tretts to secksually assault palin's family escape your sense of outrage

    October 12, 2013 at 11:48 pm |
    • snowboarder


      October 13, 2013 at 12:03 am |
  17. Duane DenBoer

    This article shows how low academia has sunk. This author makes many statements without even a hint of support. He seems ignorant of what the Bible actually says about this time, and also seems to ignore the archaeological and historical evidence that supports the historicity of the biblical record. What finds we do have, such as the Jehoash inscription, the engraved stone from Hezekiah's tunnel, and Sennacharib's prism, clearly support the biblical record (so well that their historicity is doubted only because they so closely corroborate the biblical record). That being said, the author here ought to give some sort of authority upon which he bases his claims. It is not wise for us to accept the musings of an over-inflated, modern, humanistic mind concerning the lives of men who lived in a time beyond the reach of his great intellectual prowess. This author is every bit as biased as any ancient historian – even more so, in my opinion. His biases, however, can not be checked as those of the ancient historians were, for their readers had far more access to fact-checking sources than we will ever have today. So if I am to trust one or the other...I trust the ancients.

    October 12, 2013 at 11:38 pm |
    • realbuckyball

      There is nothing "historical" about the Bible.
      The fact that a few names are named in the Bible, and found somewhere, IN NO WAY authenticates ANYTHING about the Babble. Greek myths named real places. Harry Potter mentions London. Get it ?

      October 12, 2013 at 11:46 pm |
    • realbuckyball

      There were no "ancient historians". There is not even a word for "history" in archaic Hebrew.
      Obviously you were indoctrinated in Babble College.

      October 12, 2013 at 11:49 pm |
      • loudestenemy

        There were definitely ancient historians.

        October 13, 2013 at 2:12 am |
    • Reality # 2

      From p. 3 of the comments–

      Then there of course is this: (only for the new visitors to this blog)

      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).

      The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And DAVID, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

      Such startling propositions – the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years – have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity – until now.

      The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

      The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence.

      October 12, 2013 at 11:56 pm |
    • snowboarder

      of course, none of what you say is actually true.

      October 13, 2013 at 12:05 am |
  18. realbuckyball

    Such garbage.
    Before any kingdom, there was the Tribal Confederation. They demanded a king, (against the advice of their "prophets" who tried to tell them a central authority could/would be abused), so a central authority figure could lead them into battle.
    The main reason Isra-EL exists today, and remember it as we do, is due MOSTLY to the "Persian imperative". King Artaxerxes sent Ezra back, with two (new) things in his hand, from exile. 1. A letter confirming the king's authority to rule in his name, the way he was instructed, and 2. the newly created Pentateuch, which was cooked up in exile for the specific purpose to politically unite the clans, post exile. Artaxerxes is THE ONE human, who is the MOST responsible for the Bible being what it is, and the political ent'ity we know today as Israel. So sad. Too bad. Facts are facts.

    October 12, 2013 at 11:34 pm |
    • snowboarder

      Israel exists because of holocaust guilt.

      October 13, 2013 at 12:07 am |
  19. children of Israel

    Allah, Jehovah, Yahweh are the Devil names. People honor Jesus with their lips and hate Christ with their heart. (Hebrews 8:10) Christ is from the tribe of Judah who came in the flesh (1st John 4:3) When you say Israel, that is Jacob. And Jacob son is Judah. Salvation is only for the children of Israel the twelve tribes, they know who they are by grace and truth. They keep the laws, statutes and commandments, do you? (John 14:15) *1st Samuel 12:15*

    October 12, 2013 at 11:33 pm |
    • Rodents for Romney

      Yahweh is Jebus' father. Jebus called him "father". What planet do you live on ?

      October 12, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
      • Keith

        Whichever it is neither of you two dingbats lives on this Earth. Both of you need to get lives, arguing over this garbage will send you insane although i strongly expect you are both looney already.

        October 12, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
        • realbuckyball

          Said the troll who hangs out here anyway .

          October 12, 2013 at 11:44 pm |
        • realsuckeyballs

          said the t.a.rd. who has posted on here more than anyone... get a life

          October 13, 2013 at 12:08 am |
    • snowboarder

      that is one big bunch of looney!

      October 13, 2013 at 12:09 am |
  20. Vic

    King David – A Man After God’s Own Heart

    Earlier Comment Post:

    October 12, 2013 at 11:14 pm |
    • snowboarder

      of course, the idea that any man is in any god's favor is plainly preposterous.

      October 13, 2013 at 12:11 am |
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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.