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Published by: Jim West on Aug 28, 2013
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Joseph Blenkinsopp, David Remembered: Kingship and National Identity in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), 2013.

Of this volume none less than John Barton has written "Joseph Blenkinsopp's treatment of the king of Israel who became the prototype for the Messiah is characteristically lucid and informed with intense historical and theological learning. . . . An enthralling read." And Lester L. Grabbe remarks "Much has been written on the historical David in recent years, but there has been a gap in studies of how the David story was later interpreted in the Second Temple period. Blenkinsopp fills that gap with this masterful yet readable account, tracing how the David tradition was remembered and applied from the last days of the kingdom of Judah, through Zerubbabel and Nehemiah, the prophetic expectation of a future king like David, to the concept of a protective Davidic messiah in the Roman period and, finally, Jesus as a Davidic descendant." Both are on the mark. It is indeed an enthralling read, and Blenkinsopp’s contribution truly does fill a gap. After introducing the subject, Blenkinsopp describes, in chapter one, ‘The Eclipse of the House of David’ (pp. 1-27). Chapter two, ‘After the Disaster: The Benjamin-Saul Alternative” (pp. 28-41) continues the descriptive narrative and chapter three, ‘Under the Yoke of Babylon: The Gedaliah Episode’ helps readers come to terms with the use to which the Davidic tale is put among the survivors of the destruction of Jerusalem. In chapter four,

Blenkinsopp turns to ‘The Theological Politics of Deutero-Isaiah’ (pp. 54-70). Chapter five, the heart of the book (as I understand it) concerns ‘Zerubbabel’ (pp. 71-103) and focuses our attention on texts in Zechariah and his utilization of the ‘Davidic’ story. Chapter six is considerably shorter and is titled ‘From Zerubbabel to Nehemiah and Beyond’ (p. 104-114). It is the ‘beyond’ bit which is most engaging here, for in that subsection Blenkinsopp exegetes ‘David and the Levites’. Chapter seven, ‘The Dynastic Theme in Eschatological Prophecy’ (pp. 115-137) and chapter eight, ‘Davidic Messianism in the Later Zechariah Tradition’ (pp. 138-160) bridge the chasm between the Old Testament and the New, which comes to center stage in chapter 9, ‘Resistance to Imperial Rome’ (pp. 161-181). A bibliography and the usual indices conclude the volume. Blenkinsopp asserts in his introduction that he wishes, as far as possible, to keep… the David theme steadily in view throughout (p. 3). From the point of view of this reviewer, he achieves that aim. But that isn’t his only aim. His broader purpose is to illustrate the fact that Affective communities which cherish the legends [of significant persons or events] do not have the same concern as academic historians to get the past right. To show what forms this cherishing took with respect to David after the dynasty founded by him came to a violent end will be one of the goals in what follows (p. 9). In other words, what became of David in the tradition and why are the main points which Blenkinsopp will concern himself with. His careful working through the material of the latter prophets in particular is majestic. His conclusions, too, are eye-opening and succinctly put: In pragmatic and realistic terms, the David of Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah represents an accommodation to the increased importance of the temple and its personnel during the Persian and early Hellenistic periods. Ultimately, however, it made it easier to incorporate the dynastic theme into a broader and richer vision of the future (p. 114). What the other theologians who wrote what came to be known as the Hebrew Bible did with David and his legacy occupies Blenkinsopp throughout. But the brilliance of the volume comes to full fruition in the concluding chapter where, among other things, B. observes

From beginning to end, attempts to restore the Davidic dynasty, or predictions of its future or its eschatological restoration, were without exception protests against imperial rule (p. 161). He can hardly be considered wrong on this point. It is a brilliant flash of insight that is at the same time so simple and so obvious that it’s hard to resist the temptation to slap oneself on the forehead and say ‘duh! Why didn’t I see that?’ But, amazingly, Blenkinsopp notes Apart from Akiva’s identification of Shim’on bar Koziba as King Messiah, the gospel record about Jesus is the only explicit attestation of royal, Davidic messianism throughout the entire period of Roman rule (p. 176). That strikes one as surpassing odd given the supposition that messianic fervor was so red-hot (or so we’ve been told) during the Roman era. Yet Blenkinsopp makes his case and it’s water-tight. This is an instructive, delightful, intelligent, informative, well written, worthwhile read. That’s true of everything Joe writes- and this latest volume is just confirmation of that fact. Were I to offer a criticism, however, it would be that Blenkinsopp nowhere mentions Zwingli. Surely he could have managed to work in a reference to him somehow or other (no matter how irrelevant such a reference would have been). And that’s the point- were I to offer a criticism… But I’m unable to find anything to criticize. I sincerely doubt anyone else will either.

Jim West Quartz Hill School of Theology

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