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Monday, August 21, 2017

David and the Philistine Woman

Paul Boorstin, the author of David and the Philistine Woman, asks readers in the book group questions he provides at the back of the book how they viewed the biblical David before reading his novel.  I saw him primarily as a clever strategist.  After the youthful phase described in Boorstin's book, he would have needed  to continue to build and maintain a following.  This was a man who founded a dynasty.   I also associate David with the rabbinical teaching that he wasn't allowed to build the Jewish Temple because there was blood on his hands.

 Boorstin writes about a David who was a shepherd and played the lyre.  He had a sense of destiny, as the novel opens, but it wasn't entirely clear to him what that destiny would be.  I confess I was more curious about the Philistine woman mentioned in the title.  So I accepted a free copy of  David and the Philistine Woman.  My review, as always, is an honest one.


Although David is the protagonist of this novel, the Philistine Nara is an additional viewpoint character who makes a strong impression from the moment that she is introduced forging a sword in her father's smithy.   There's a cross-cultural taboo against women having any contact with weapons because of the supposed terrifying power of women's menstruation.   So from the beginning, it's clear that Nara is a woman who isn't afraid to break with conventions.   This is why she is the character in this book who continued to interest me most. 

Nara came to worship a goddess called Ashdoda.   Ashdod was one of the Philistine cities, but it wasn't the city where Nara lived.  This seemed odd to me.  When I ran a search on Ashdoda, I discovered that she wasn't an established divinity.   Ashdoda was a nickname that archaeologists had given to an excavated figurine found at Ashdod.  You can see a photo of their Ashdoda at the link I've provided.  Learning about the origin of Ashdoda gave me additional insight into the Philistines that I wouldn't have had without having read Boorstin's novel.

Given the authenticity of the biblical characters and context in David and the Philistine Woman , I was surprised to see an error that would go unnoticed by most readers.   It had to do with the royal emblem under King Saul which Boorstin says was the Lion of Judah.  David belonged to the tribe of Judah, so all the Kings descended from him displayed the Lion of Judah as their symbol.  The heritage of Saul, however, was different.  His tribe was Benjamin.  So his royal emblem would have been the Wolf of Benjamin.   This is important to recognize because there was civil war after the death of Saul over which tribe would have royal status.  This is described in the biblical Book of Samuel.  It's an event that is outside the focus of Boorstin's book which only deals with the early part of David's life.  Yet tribal conflict was a factor in the political rivalry of Saul and David, and I feel that Boorstin should have made reference to it.

Despite the oversight mentioned above, I thought that David and the Philistine Woman was well written.  David, Jonathan and Michal were sympathetic.  I also loved Nara and the cult of Ashdoda.  I'm glad I read this book.



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