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The Life of David (Jewish Encounters Series) Paperback – August 26, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Emphasizing biographies of Jewish luminaries but also including books on Jewish themes, the new Jewish Encounters series aims to satisfy the interest in popular and intelligent books on Jewish subjects. The inaugural book in this commendable venture is a well-executed biography of David, written by Pinsky, former poet laureate of the United States. His poetic language is singularly appropriate for recounting the life of the king who is traditionally accepted as the author of the poetic psalms, some of which are included in the narrative. Pinsky's broad scope is reflected in his references to Greek literature, Shakespeare, Dante, Simone Weil, Talmudists and Robert Frost, among others. He acknowledges his indebtedness to Robert Alter, whose definitive book The David Story appeared in 1999, but fails to mention recent biographies by Steven McKenzie, Baruch Halpern and Gary Greenberg. His primary sources are the actual biblical texts that recount David's life. Pinsky dispels the conventional image of David as a simple shepherd who slew Goliath and became Israel's greatest king, depicting him realistically with all his failings as an adulterer, assassin and predator. Pinsky also portrays David's stellar achievements, presenting him as a complex character who deserves to be seen in shades of gray. (Sept. 20)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Renowned poet, critic, translator of Dante's The Inferno, and former U.S. poet laureate, Pinsky brings his learnedness, literary finesse, and flair for vigorous interpretation to a vibrant and imaginative portrait of David, the biblical warrior, poet, king, and, according to Pinsky, wise guy. In shimmering, metaphor-rich prose, Pinsky considers the peculiarities, paradoxes, and timeless significance of David's often baffling story from his golden days as a handsome upstart confronting King Saul in "gangsterish" encounters to David's wild years as a desert Robin Hood and ascension to the throne. Observing that David's indelible story of daring, desire, power, and survival would fit right into Homer and Shakespeare, Pinsky is especially discerning in his portrayals of strong and strategic women, including Michal, with whom David shared equally intense love and hate, and Bathsheba, mother of Solomon. Witty, frank, skeptical, and clearly moved by mercurial David's chutzpah and losses, Pinsky brings remarkable lucidity, depth, and creativity to his dynamic and poetic reading of a legendary figure who has become emblematic of both destructive and heroic aspects of human nature. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Jewish Encounters Series
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Schocken; Reprint edition (August 26, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805211535
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805211535
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,131,216 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This latest by Robert Pinsky is perhaps his best work. The author's goal is to understand the complex, paradoxical life of David, not to deconstruct David according to post-modern analysis, biblical hermeneutics, or text-criticism. It's a lovely book to read since its subject is actually Pinsky's love affair with the biblical portrayal of David. As others have loved David, despite his faults, so too does the author.

Part of the charm of this volume is Pinsky's luxurious prose. Thus, for example, the author comments on David's lament when David learns that his general Abner has been murdered: "Where the lament for Saul and Jonathan is like a fountain, this poem is like an engraved amulet, implicit and enigmatic, where the earlier dirge is full-throated. A lament for one who is betrayed rather than one who falls in battle..."

If the reader is looking for analysis of what the Bible "means",
this is not the book for you. For those who have always been
irresistibly attracted to the Bible's poetry and want to find a soulmate, this is a volume to read and treasure.
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Format: Hardcover
Reading Robert Pinsky's work, one finds great difficulty placing the book in any particular genre. Biographic analysis of biblical characters seems something of a rage at the moment, some excellent, some not. "The Life of David," however, does not fit well with the genre. Unlike the Biblical scholar Baruch Halperin's brilliant "David's Secret Demons" Pinsky eschews footnotes or deep textual analysis. Instead, taking a poet's view, we see here a sort of emotional/artistic portrait of this most complex of biblical characters. Some may find frustrating the way the author moves over the story often moving down strange tangents only to circle back later.

To call the prose of a former laureate poetic may seem odd, but one must consider how well Pinsky textures his words. Perhaps given David's own poetic nature, only one who shared his great love of language could bring the King of Israel to life. While the trip may on occasion grow strange, those who wish to deepen their understanding of King David will find much here to give food for thought.
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Format: Paperback
Was King David pious? Was he a holy man who was divinely inspired to compose the biblical book of Psalms, the charismatic ideal leader whose offspring would never cease to lead Israel because he was so good, whose descendant would be the messiah who would save the world, a man chosen because of David's praiseworthy behavior? Or was he, like all men and women, sometimes good, sometimes ruthless, sometimes embarrassingly bad? Did he commit adultery with Bat Sheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite and have Uriah murdered, as the prophet Nathan berated him? Did he raise children who killed their brothers, one of whom raped his sister, and at least one of whom, Solomon, built temples for idol worship? Was he responsible for the death of his infant child when it was born and for the death of tens of thousands of his people in a plague?

Or, as the majority of people claim, did he do no wrong. Did Bat Sheba have a divorce decree that made David's liaison with her legal, and besides, did Uriah force David to give him Bat Sheba as a wife by blackmailing him when he was killing the giant Goliath, and therefore the marriage was illegal, as the Talmud contends? Robert Pinsky portrays David as a human being as the plain meaning of the biblical text in this beautifully written, lyrical, presentation of his life.

Pinsky is not alone in seeing the human fault-filled David. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in his Biblical Images tells his readers that they shouldn't expect an idealized portrayal of biblical figures because: "The great men and women who serve as examples and models for all generations are not described only in terms of glowing admiration. Their failings, failures, and difficulties are described."

Pinsky describes the events in David's life and comments on them.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The story of David is told in the Old Testament books of Samuel and Chronicles. A boy comes from nowhere and by courage and daring makes himself king of the Israelite tribes, and establishes his court in Jerusalem. There are actually two writings about this period. Some people believe that the first of these is a true story, written perhaps by a messenger attached to David's entourage.

It is one of the great stories of both literature and history, especially because it rings true in its details. It is especially fascinating because it happened 3000 years ago, and (if true) is unique. We have no other detailed account of a period that remote.

There is little that is pretty in it. The words "thug" and "mafioso" are often used. David is a master politician, but one who seems to have no higher goal than to defeat his enemies. He is unscrupulous. At one point he signs on as a mercenary for a tribe at war with his own people, but at the same time he raids and pillages isolated groups of that tribe, and to cover up his (double) treachery, slaughters every single person in the isolated groups he pillages. Later he steals another man's wife, and has the husband murdered. He deposes a king and delivers the king's family members to another tribe to be murdered. When one of his sons tries to depose him, he sends his henchman to fight the rebellious son, but when the son is killed, finds a way to blame the henchman, not the son. He always has it his own way. He dies in bed.

Modern people will be disgusted at how women are regarded in this period. David's first wife saves his life at great risk to her own, but David comes to despise her.
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