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‘David’ Author Adds a String to his Bow

Bernard Mann, author of the historical novel

Helen: Bernard, how and why did you come to write this historical fiction on David?

Bernard: I wanted to focus on his reunification of the kingdom, overthrowing Philistine domination with the Hittite compound bow and reorganization of the army, support of women's authorship of several books and sagas of the Tanach, and taking the Castle City of Shalem and making it Jerusalem, among other great achievements.

I realized I had missed much by reading Samuel at face value. For example, the battle at Michmash with the Philistines, master-minded by Saul, ended in a key victory for Israel that freed the land of Philistine domination for a number of years until Saul and Jonathan were slain at the battle of Mount Gilboa, where none-too-steep slopes allowed chariot access with relative ease and the Philistines retook Israel from north to south, a tragedy in all aspects of Israel's life. This is one reason for David's later adoption of the compound bow and organization of large archer brigades which were key to Israel's overthrow, with finality of chariot-rich Philistine domination.

David & Avshalom: Life and Death in the Forest of Angels

What were some of your other discoveries?

David's acquisition of the game-changing compound bow, alluded to over-simply in the lost Sefer Hayashar, Book of the Upright, in Joshua and Samuel, was a weapon substantially larger and stronger than the older, smaller bow used by Israel and many other peoples. It was possibly designed by the Hittites and improved by them. Its constitution of three separate parts: center, top, and bottom, overlapping and glued and bolted together, with a stronger sinew as bowstring, the whole of the weapon larger and more capable of shooting larger arrows to longer distances than older bows. This breakthrough allowed archers to stand farther away from the enemy. In David's case, chariots and their Philistines were key, and his archers were now, with greater distance, under better protection and within better reach of their targets. I figure that David learned of the stronger, better weapon from the Hittites of Hevron, while he was still in refuge from Saul at Philistine Ziklag, or possibly shortly after being anointed and crowned in Hevron; also possibly through Uriah, one of his favorite warriors, but certainly no later than his early years at Jerusalem.

Any new interpretation of the years preceding David's time?

Several, including one of how Abraham resisted pressure by Canaanite priests to sacrifice Isaac in the fire-pit of their god Moloch. I tell of a recitation by a descendant of Eliezer, Abraham's faithful servant, recounting the near-sacrifice of Isaac, saved by his father with the ruse of a tethered ram that reveals the harsh truths of Canaanite child sacrifice and the pressures placed by their priests on foreigners in their lands, as well as on their own male populations. These are abysmal realities confirmed by sacrificial graves of 20,000 or more male children at the Phoenician-Canaanite colony of Carthage found in modern day Tunisia.

Other reflections on Uriah? Batsheva?

The wrongdoing of David's taking of Batsheva from her husband was compounded by the king ordering Yoav and troops to abandon Uriah at the wall of Rabat-Ammon in the midst of battle, where he was killed by the foe, though not without a fierce display of screamed anger at David, throwing his heavy shield and sword towards Yoav's feet. David's misdeeds become even more egregious when the reader understands that Hevron's Hittites, a key colony left by the retreating Anatolians who had conquered Egypt, had certainly sworn allegiance to David after he was anointed and crowned. And their 'hometown hero,' Uriah, had been named by David to his honored band of champion fighters, the Thirty. David's flaunting of savage disrespect and murderous action surely incited Hittite thirst for revenge against David when Avshalom raised his banner of patricidal rebellion against his father some twenty years later in Hevron and marched against Jerusalem. Then, after David's retreat to Mahanayim, east of the Jordan and the woodland, called in the book the Forest of Angels, for a climactic confrontation. (This woodland was so-named by me for the biblical narrative of the angels, in Jacob's dream, who descended from and then re-ascended to Heaven.) Avshalom was slain by David's men after a fierce but short battle won by David's smaller but more seasoned forces, free of Avshalom's faulted vanity that compelled him to prance his white mount along the rebels' front lines just as the two sides faced off, his fatal error.

Could you elaborate on your findings on the roles of women?

A surprising and wholly refreshing discovery in Samuel was David's patronage of women writers and his inclusion of them in the "circle of writers" of his court. One of these important literary figures was Judith, who can be found in Harold Bloom's The Book of J, the woman he and other scholars have concluded were authors of much of Genesis and other historical writings of the Torah/Tanach, the Hebrew original Bible. I also concur with many that women writers wrote other works, including the Book of Ruth, given that Ruth is named as the great-grandmother of David, certainly prompting the king to commission a gifted writer, highly likely a woman, who could best understand another woman's treading through history, to write his family's heritage.

What did you conclude regarding David's taking of Salem, the 'Castle City'?

Another remarkable sub-story was David's taking of the battlement-strengthened Yevusi-Canaanite city of Salem, close to 1000 BCE, offering the chance for many Canaanites to remain in peace, and engaging in robust urban construction, including a revered plaza for the Tabernacle, later replaced by the First (Solomon's) Temple, the building of David's palace, various capital city structures and warriors' quarters, and defensive improvements. David also donated land close to the city for refuge to Philistines exiled from the city of their birth. These kinsmen of Goliath and other foes of David were won over by his friendship, joining the king in defending against Avshalom's final attempt to slay David in battle at the fabled Forest of Angels.

Then, there's the 23rd Psalm I penned in script found by archaeologists dating to the 10th-11th centuries BCE. And, there's my telling of warriors' feasts and songs sung and boasting tales shouted as they must have been recited at the time, and much more.

Roy Bernard Mann passed away in 2022

David & Avshalom • Life and Death in the Forest of Angels, by Bernard Mann, 2017 
Amazon, and paperback 2018



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