April 9, 2008 / 1:34 PM / 11 years ago

King David's no hero in "Jewish Da Vinci Code"

HERZLIYA, Israel (Reuters) - In a provocative new biblical novel that looks set to ruffle religious feathers, King David — the champion underdog who slew Goliath and ruled over a mighty and prosperous Israel — is actually the villain.

The heroes turn out to be his jilted wife Michal and a much-maligned ruler from a rival dynasty.

“Kings III” by Israeli author Yochi Brandes offers an alternative take on well-known Old Testament passages around the time of King David’s rule and paints a controversial portrait of a character beloved for centuries by Jews and Christians.

Like Dan Brown’s bestselling “The Da Vinci Code”, the book uses religious intrigue and conspiracy to create a pacy thriller which Brandes, who teaches biblical studies in colleges in Israel, hopes will challenge conventional thinking.

“I wanted the book to be provocative ... I’m writing an alternative to the biblical version of events,” Brandes told Reuters in an interview near Tel Aviv. “And like Dan Brown I’m piecing together theological ideas and making them accessible.”

Although Kings III is fiction, Brandes says it is based on ancient traditions from Jewish culture and teachings. One of her chief aims is to give a voice to the women who play silent supporting roles to the Bible’s male leads.

Michal, the daughter of David’s arch-enemy Saul, dominates much of the book. The Bible says David paid “100 Philistine foreskins” for Michal’s hand in marriage but Kings III focuses on the part where he breaks her heart and slaughters her family.

Brandes, who rejected an ultra-Orthodox upbringing that required deference to men and banned women from critical theological thought, said she chose Michal because she is one of the few women in the Bible who tries to determine her own fate.

“The role of women is very limited in the Bible,” said Brandes. “I brought them to the foreground to show they have a role behind the scenes, but also in the making of politics.”

CONQUERING HERO

The book is due to be translated from Hebrew into English and a film version could be in the pipeline.

Kings III is less controversial than the ‘Da Vinci Code’, which angered the Catholic community by promoting the theory that Jesus and Mary Magdalene married and had children. But Brandes says it is still likely to rile religious Jews.

That is partly due to Brandes’s efforts to challenge the biblical model of the conquering hero and to promote a gentler vision of political leadership — a message she acknowledges speaks to Israel’s modern conflict with the Palestinians.

The character of Jeroboam — traditionally portrayed as godless and wicked — is shown as an honourable ruler who defends his kingdom without greedily conquering more land.

David, one of the Bible’s great heroes despite moral foibles that include sleeping with biblical beauty Bathsheba then having her husband killed in battle, in the book cuts a more troubling figure who mercilessly executes his enemies.

“David has been seen as the conquering hero who stands for a greater Israel but the Bible hints at an alternative model that has been ignored,” said Brandes.

The message has obvious ramifications for the modern Jewish state, which was born out of war and whose continued occupation of the West Bank is not internationally recognised.

“The book is not talking specifically about the Palestinians, but it implies a sense of compromise about the land,” said Brandes. “Israel and the West have paid dearly for only focusing on the King David model of leadership.”

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