The Historical David, by Joel Baden

The public has a taste for biographies of great people who on closer inspection turn out to be not so great after all. The curtain has been pulled back on Thomas Jefferson, Bill Clinton, Mother Teresa and even Jesus.

We should be weary of the revelations: home-run hitters admit to using performance-enhancing drugs, politicians turn out to have swindled us, trusted clergy and coaches are found to have misbehaved. Our craving to hear more debunking tells us a lot about our low estimate of human nature and about the feeble expectations we have of ourselves. But it also reveals a moral core. We are appalled by the revelations because we know not to cheat; we shake our heads because we know how to be good and we want to be good.

Best sellers have been mocking Jesus for some time now. We may suspect that Jesus is accustomed to this, having learned the hard way when he was on Earth. Now other biblical characters are being subjected to reductionist critiques as well. Joel S. Baden, an associate professor of Old Testa­ment at Yale Divinity School and author of The Historical David, assumes that religious folk are unaware of David’s real life and think of him as a hero—the sweet singer who composed Psalms and was prayerfully submissive to God and bold in fulfilling God’s plans.