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Tower of David
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The outside of the Tower of David in Jerusalem, Israel. Photo: Ian Scott.

Tower of David
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Inside the Tower of David in Jerusalem, Israel. Photo: Chris Yunker.

Extent of the kingdom of David

(Around 1035-961 BCE) King of Judah and Israel 1000-961 BCE.
Our main sources for the life of David are the Biblical books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles. The sources are for its time unusually balanced, presenting both negative and positive aspects of his personality as well as investigating it in depth. It is generally assumed that the sources for his life are predominantly trustworthy, and that they were written down a fairly short time after the death of David. Yet, it is clear that these sources are written by sympathizers of David. Some of the stories of his life are apparently legends, like the famous story of his fighting the giant Goliath.
Beyond the Biblical texts, there is no historical proof of a Hebrew king named David. The few exceptions date about 100-200 years after his death, and usually refer to "the house of David", but never to a King David. Some historians have, therefore, question the historicity of David, and it is quite plausible to understand David as a legendary figure instead of a historical one. But even if this should be the case, many elements of his biography must have historical roots, referring either to one or more kings from the Hebrews' older history.

Religious importance
David is together with Abraham and Moses one of the most central personalities in Judaism. With David the process of turning the Hebrew religion into a monotheistic cult was completed. He established Yahweh as the supreme deity of Jerusalem, and other divine names became merely titles to Yahweh. He founded Jerusalem as the religious centre of Judaism, by making it the permanent residence of the Ark — the wooden coffin representing the highest god of the Hebrews. He strengthened the religion by uniting the Hebrew tribes, and provided a regional strength for the two lands of Judah and Israel.
The figure of David would over the following centuries develop a prominence greater than might typically be related to his roles as king and warrior. The role of Messiah — the promised king who would deliver the Jews from the burden of foreign rule came to be formed upon the ideals and characteristics of David. When the supporters of Jesus claimed that he was, in fact, the Messiah, they supported this by tracing his lineage to David (through Joseph, who, according to tradition, was his legal, but not his biological father).

David was born in Bethlehem, as son of the shepherd Jesse, and was a grandson of Boaz and Ruth. There are no records of his age at no point, but it appears likely that he was born between 1040 and 1030 BCE. According to the earliest stories, he was both musical and brave, the latter trait proven by his defeating the giant Goliath of the Philistines.
His reputation allowed him to be appointed armour-bearer to Saul, first king of Israel. His success as a warlord made Saul offer him the hand of his daughter Michal. David's position was by then so strong that he was able to negotiate a double dowry.
But as David's popularity continued to rise, Saul felt threatened and chose to banish him from the court. David installed himself in the Judean desert, as the leader of a gang of outlaws and refugees living from theft. Eventually he entered the service of the Philistine king Achish, who appointed David ruler of the town of Ziklag. Through these years, David maintained and improved his good relations with important men of the Judean tribes.
1000 BCE: Saul and three of his sons dies in a battle with the Philistines. David takes advantage of the situation, and with the help of his allies, assumes power over Judah, and establishes himself as king with Hebron as his capital. David would still face some years of fighting with Ishbal, Saul's sole surviving son.
In order to secure his position, David forms a harem by marrying daughters of important Hebrew chiefs. But the relations between his wives are difficult, resulting in future tensions and conflicts.
Ishbal is murdered by his own courtiers, leaving David with no contenders for his kingship.
993: David is anointed king of Israel.
As king of the two kingdoms, David sets out on a campaign against most of the neighbouring peoples. Quickly, the Philistines, Moabites, Arameans, Edomites Ammonites, and Jebusites are defeated. From the Jebusites, David captured their holy city of Zion or Shalem, which was renamed Jerusalem.
Soon the reign of David becomes dominated by fractions within his family, in which his oldest son Absalom is the most rebellious. Fights take place between David's men and those of Absalom. Absalom is eventually killed, but more problems await after David chooses his son Solomon as heir, at the cost of Adonijah, the oldest son and natural heir after Absalom's death. Adonijah flees the kingdom but instals himself outside David's kingdom, while trying to forge alliances against Solomon.
961: David dies a natural death, and is buried in Jerusalem. He is succeeded by Solomon.
David's long-lasting political impact was both substantial, as well as exaggerated, in some respects. His kingdom did fall apart after his death, as Israel left the alliance. Yet, he had formed a state that would survive many more rulers to come.

By Tore Kjeilen