Blenkinsopp, Joseph. David Remembered: Kingship and National Identity in Ancient Israel. Grand Rapids, Mich. Eerdmans, 2013. 219 pp. Pb; $26.00.  Link to Eerdmans

In 2009 Blenkinsopp wrote a short introduction to what he called “early Judiasm” in which he argued that origins of Judaism are to be found in Ezra and Nehemiah. This short book described the return from exile as the real beginning of the Judaism we encounter in the New Testament even if that origin stands on a foundation of earlier stories about pre-exilic Israel.  In his earlier work, Blenkinsopp mainly focused on the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, supplemented by 1 Esdras and Josephus.

Blenkinsopp David RememberedBlenkinsopp’s new book studies the same period, but he focuses solely on how the earliest writers of the Second Temple period “remembered David.”  He does not really enter into the discussion of a historical David” nor is he concerned with biblical archaeology for the early monarchy. His task in this book is to trace how the failed dynasty of David was transformed by the post-exilic prophets into a hope for an eschatological restoration of a kingdom to Jews.

After an introductory chapter in which he traces the fall of Judah and the end of David’s dynasty according to 2 Kings and Jeremiah, Blenkinsopp traces the remnants of that line in the early exile (ch. 2-3). In these chapters he argues that while it is possible that the demise of the Davidic line led to interest in a revived Benjamin-Saul dynasty in the early years of the exile, there is very little evidence to support the assertion. The pro-Jeremiah family of Shaphan seems to have had some influence, even to the point as serving as governor until Gedeliah was assassinated, but they fell short of reviving a Davidic kingdom.

Turning to the prophets, Blenkinsopp discusses Deutero-Isaiah’s view of David (ch. 4). There is only one reference to David in Isaiah 40-66, at the conclusion of chapters 40-55 the prophet refers to “tokens of love showed to David.” There are some translation issues with this line, but Blenkinsopp takes this as an allusion to the perpetual covenant offered to the Davidic line in 2 Sam 7. Since the line has come to an effective end, there was a need for re-thinking this “perpetual covenant” in the early post exilic period.  Cyrus, rather than David, will be God’s anointed one.

Chapter 5 focuses on Zerubbabel as the “new David” in the early post-exilic world.  In order to do this, he collects all of the prophetic texts which refer to Zerubbabel in Haggai and Zechariah.  There are quite a few texts that seem to imply that Zerubbabel was seen by these prophets as a kind of “heir to the throne” who was used by the Persians to keep Judea loyal during a particularly stormy period in Persian history.  In fact, it is possible that Zech 6:9-15 is a reference to a secret coronation of Zerubbabel as a new King of Judah.

Beginning in chapter 6, Blenkinsopp connects the post-exilic dream of a restored kingdom to the original stories of David. Beginning as far back as Amos, Blenkinsopp shows that prophetic texts read and reread the story of David in new contexts, finding in David the model for what would become the Messianism of the second half of Zechariah. Whether that represents one or two later prophets is not particularly meaningful to Blenkinsopp’s argument since they both would be among the latest texts in the Hebrew Bible.

In chapter 7, He points out that even the canonical shape of the twelve minor prophets can be seen as implicitly eschatological, looking forward to a reunification of the twelve tribes of Israel. By ending the collection with Malachi’s prediction of the return of Elijah to turn the children back to the fathers, the twelve-book collection anticipates a turning of Israel back to the land and to their first king.

Chapter 8 finishes the post-exilic survey by examining the later Zechariah traditions (Zechariah 10-14). These rather complex chapters are among the latest material in the prophets and consequently have the most detailed messianic hope in the Hebrew Bible. This chapter was the most stimulating for me since Blenkinsopp is doing something of an “intertextual study.” He uses this language several times (p. 154, especially), although there is no effort to define what he means by the term. Essentially, Zechariah finds earlier texts (or traditions) and reuses them in a new context. For this study, these intertextual connections take older texts like the Exodus and Jeremiah and apply them to the current political and religious situation of Judea in the Second Temple period. Since this is a brief study rather than a detailed commentary, Blenkinsopp does not always clearly signal what his intertextual connections are, and when he does, there is no explanation of why he thinks Zechariah used a particular text. For the most part, he may omit this detailed methodological step because of the nature of the book, or because the links are “obvious.”

Blenkinsopp’s final chapter brings his story of David Remembered into the Judaism of the first century as a “resistance movement” to imperial power. When reading the chapter title, I expected to find to sorts of anti-imperial observations that one finds in studies on Revelation or Paul, but that is not the case. He sticks to the texts and avoids the sort of sociological or political agenda that usually plagues anti-imperial studies.

He this chapter begins with a very brief survey of various Second Temple documents, including the Qumran literature and Psalms of Solomon. While there is some allusion to a revival of the Davidic dynasty, it is not as prominent as might be expected and in Qumran it the coming king messiah is subjugated to the coming priestly messiah. After simply observing this as a fact, Blenkinsopp does not every ask why this is the case. Why did most strands of Judaism in the second temple avoid the language of a Davidic messiah or a revived Davidic kingdom?

The second section of the chapter surveys the presentation of the Maccabean revolt and the various messianic pretenders in Josephus.  While there is nothing new in the material, Blenkinsopp does observe that it is remarkable that there is no Davidic monarchy at all in the Maccabean revolt, the Hasmonean dynasty or any of the messianic pretenders. In fact, it is only in the New Testament’s presentation of Jesus that there a revival of David’s kingdom is particularly prominent. Again I am left wondered why Jewish Christianity developed a Davidic messiah while other forms of early Judaism did not.

Conclusions. I found Blenkinsopp’s book fascinating, especially since I have an interest in how later writers use and reuse earlier traditions.  I think the survey might have been improved with more attention to Davidic Messianism in the Psalms. While there is a short section on David’s relationship with the worship of the Second Temple, it seems to me that the final form of the Psalter provides another line of evidence for the development of the idea of the return of the Davidic kingdom.  I also notice that there is little in this book on Joel, arguably the last of the prophets.  I suspect this has to do with the lack of specific mention of David in that prophet, but as a late prophetic voice, I expected to see more from that prophet. Most New Testament readers will find his few pages on Jesus disappointing – the book feels like it building up to a grand conclusion in Jesus the son of David, but the gospels are dispatched in a few pages.

Nevertheless, David Remembered provides a good survey of the development of the Davidic Messiah from the exile to the first century. It is good to see a kind of thematic biblical theology that extends into inter-canonical literature. While the book focuses more on the earliest days of the Second Temple period than the first century, it provides an excellent introduction to the Messianism of the Second Temple period.

Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.