A portrait of David playing the harp.

A portrait of David playing the harp.

The Biblical figure of David is legendary for confronting the giant Goliath with little more than a slingshot and some stones. And he’s known for uniting the people of Israel under his rule as king. In a new novel by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “March” and “Caleb’s Crossing,” David is re-imagined in all aspects of his humanity. He’s a humble shepherd, a brutal warrior, a loyal servant, a gifted musician, a sometimes-cruel husband and a great but flawed ruler. A vivid portrait of the man, and also the 10th century B.C., emerges as David’s life story is intimately told.


  • Geraldine Brooks Author of five novels, including "Year of Wonders" and the 2006 Pulitzer-Prize winning "March," and the nonfiction works "Nine Parts of Desire" and "Foreign Correspondence."

Read A Featured Excerpt

Credit line: From THE SECRET CHORD by Geraldine Brooks. To be published on October 6, 2015 by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2015 by Geraldine Brooks.


  • 11:06:54

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The Bible's King David has been depicted in many forms through the ages, in paintings, sculptures, books and films. A new novel by the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Geraldine Brooks offers an intimate portrayal of David as the fully realized man as she imagines his life from the time he was a boy tending sheep to his final years as king of Israel. David is both heroic and entirely human.

  • 11:07:28

    MS. DIANE REHMThe book is titled "The Secret Chord" and author Geraldine Brooks joins me in the studio. I'm sure many of you will have comments, questions. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send your email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Geraldine, it's so good to see you again.

  • 11:07:53

    MS. GERALDINE BROOKSI can't tell you how delighted I am to be back with you, Diane.

  • 11:07:57

    REHMThank you, Geraldine. The cover of the book has a harp on it and a harp is, apparently, what got you started on this book.

  • 11:08:11

    BROOKSThat's right, Diane. When my oldest son was just 9 years old, he turned to me and he said, "mom, I really want to learn to play the harp." And I thought, that's an extraordinary choice for a 9-year-old boy, but, you know, as mothers will any enthusiasm you try to encourage it. So I found him a harp teacher and I would take him to his lessons and the teacher had a gorgeous full-size concert instrument. And I would see my little boy playing it and it set me to thinking about that other boy harpist from long ago who was also, perhaps, an unexpected musician because he was also a ferocious warrior.

  • 11:08:59

    BROOKSAnd I did something I hadn't done for awhile and I went back to the Bible and looked for his story.

  • 11:09:05

    REHMYou looked for his story and yet, here in "The Secret Chord," you've tried to fill in many of the gaps.

  • 11:09:19

    BROOKSWell, you know, his story is scattered in various books of the Bible. It's not told consecutively. But when you piece together what is there, it's a masterpiece of storytelling. It's just that it's very abbreviated. So it's a very concise rendering of what was an extraordinarily eventful life.

  • 11:09:45

    REHMAnd you do not have him telling his own story. Instead, you use the voice of the prophet Nathan. Would you read for us from that early introduction where Nathan begins to speak?

  • 11:10:12

    BROOKS"I have lived to complete my life's great work. I have rolled and tied the scrolls with my own hands, sealed them with wax, secured them in clay vessels and seen to their placement in the high, dry caves where I played as a child. In the nights, which have become so long for me, I think of those scrolls and I feel a measure of peace. I remember it all so clearly that day at the turn of year, the month when kings go out to battle, how warily I broached the matter.

  • 11:10:47

    BROOKSIt might seem odd to say so, as my whole life in his service has been bent to this purpose, the speaking of truth, welcome or no, but it is one thing to transmit the divine through a blasting storm of holy noise, another thing entirely to write a history forged from human voices, imperfect memories, self-interested accounts. I have set it all down, first and last, the light and the dark. Because of my work, he will live and not just as a legend lives, a safe tale for the fireside fit for the ears of the young. Nothing about him ever was safe.

  • 11:11:29

    BROOKSBecause of me, he will live in death as he did in life, a man who dwells in the searing glance of the divine, but has sweated and stank, rutted without restraint, butchered the innocent, betrayed those most loyal to him, who loved hugely and was kind, who listened to brutal truth and honored the truth-teller, who flayed himself for his wrongdoing, who built a nation, made music that pleased heaven and left psalms in our mouths that will be spoken by people yet unborn."

  • 11:12:04

    REHMGeraldine Brooks, reading from her brand new book, a novel titled "The Secret Chord." How much do we really know from the accounts in the Bible of David's life?

  • 11:12:22

    BROOKSIn the Bible, it's probably the most complete life we have. We meet David as a small boy, a neglected child, the sort of afterthought of his family. He has older brothers who are very distinguished and celebrated, but he is off tending the sheep and he's not considered very significant until the prophet Samuel comes and anoints him and predicts that he will be the next king, but this is all kept secret. And then, we don’t encounter him again until, as a youth, he turns up at the famous battle of Elah and his fortunes change and he begins his rapid ascent.

  • 11:13:03

    BROOKSBut we follow him all the way through his life to extreme old age when he is on his deathbed suffering from tremors. It sounds a very recognizable kind of human suffering and he's failing and everybody is maneuvering around him to secure the succession to the throne. And it's an intense scene of scheming and palace politics and it reminds me of "Game of Thrones" actually.

  • 11:13:36

    REHMSo you must have done a tremendous amount of research for this.

  • 11:13:43

    BROOKSIt's a very different kind of research because we have this rich Biblical story, but we don't have a lot from other sources about David. There's one piece of archeological evidence that's explicitly about him. That's an engraving that refers to the House of David. There are archeological ruins that would be associated with a leader of his stature, but in the written records of the time, outside of the Bible, no.

  • 11:14:13

    REHMDo we know how large a man he was? Do we have any idea of how handsome he was?

  • 11:14:21

    BROOKSYes. The scriptures are absolutely explicit. He was extraordinarily handsome man. He had red hair, which must've been very remarkable at the time. But he was a well-formed, well-built, handsome guy who was attractive to everybody.

  • 11:14:41

    REHMAttractive to everyone. And, of course, for those of us who have not read the whole story of David, his relationship with Bathsheba comes up sort of immediately to mind. And you come to an astonishing conclusion about Bathsheba and David, that she was in no way attempting to entice him, but rather seeking privacy as she bathed on the roof.

  • 11:15:27

    BROOKSShe was doing her ritual purification that all observant Jewish women do once a month. And I can't help but come at this story from the woman's point of view. And, of course, you know, Biblical scholarship has tended to be a fairly blokey sort of a place so mostly we've had exegesis from a male point of view who see through the male gaze. I looked at it, what would it be like to be this young woman. Her husband is a soldier away in battle. He probably left her in a house staffed by men. Where would she go for privacy?

  • 11:16:06

    BROOKSShe would seek the darkness of the rooftop with her maid and she's overlooked by the palace where King David is pacing. He's distraught because it's the first time he hasn't been to battle with his troops. He's feeling his manhood threatened and he sees her and he sends for her. Well, what choice does she have? Can you say no to a king? I don't think so. Not in those day. So as somebody who lived and worked as a newspaper reporter with the women of the Islamic Middle East for a long time, I drew on what I had experience about how women in those culture negotiate their lives where they don't have a lot of overt power.

  • 11:16:50

    BROOKSThe law doesn't give them a tremendous amount of power so they have to use other methods to keep safe in what can be very perilous predicaments. So here's this young girl who is taken by the king. You can call it seduction, but I think rape would be a closer word to the truth of that encounter and then he sends her away and he has no intention of seeing her again. But, of course, she's pregnant.

  • 11:17:20

    REHMOf course, she is pregnant. And how old is she at the time? Do we know?

  • 11:17:27

    BROOKSWe're not sure, but, you know, considering -- putting two and two together, if she's attractive to the king, she's probably quite young and it would be typical for a young woman, because she doesn't, at that time, have any children with her husband, so I imagine her as 15 or 16.

  • 11:17:47

    REHMGeraldine Brooks, Pulitzer Prize-winner. Her brand new novel all about the life of King David and his world. It's titled "The Secret Chord." We'll take a short break here. Your calls, questions, are welcomed, 800-433-8850.

  • 11:20:02

    REHMAnd welcome back. If you've just joined us, my guest is Geraldine Brooks. And her new novel all about the life of King David is titled "The Secret Chord." Our first email raises this question, Geraldine. It says: Isn't it likely that the story of David is the story of several Davids? This story is in Samuel and Kings 1 and 2. It stretches over an entire life rather than an individual incident, as in most biblical stories. Could it not be one more story created by the scribes to cement Israel?

  • 11:21:00

    BROOKSI doubt that, Diane, because I think if you were going to make up a figure to cement Israel, you wouldn't make up this flawed guy. This guy is so complicated. He's so loving at one moment but he can be vicious at another. He betray -- he's a traitor for a while. He goes off and fights for the enemies of Israel. Why would you make up this guy? I tend to think that somebody very like this lived. And one of the reasons I chose the voice of Nathan to tell this story is there are wonderful cryptic references in Chronicles, where there are also parts of David's life explored, which state that the acts of David, the King, first and last, are told in the book of Nathan the Prophet.

  • 11:21:51

    BROOKSWell, of course, we don't have that book. It's lost to us or it's sealed up in a cave somewhere in Comron (sp?) and we haven't found it yet. But that's intriguing to me that there may be another account by Nathan, who is, you know, as one of the Hebrew prophets, one of the most fascinating and disturbing human beings that exists. Because these are the guys who stand up and tell truth to power, who aren't afraid to tell the king that he's failing, that he's not living to his own ideals. I love these guys.

  • 11:22:23

    REHMNow, you call him Nathan...

  • 11:22:26


  • 11:22:26

    REHM...as opposed to Nathan. Why?

  • 11:22:29

    BROOKSNathan is the King James Bible translation. But in this book, I've gone with the transliterations from the original Hebrew Bible because I wanted people to feel the unfamiliarity of this time. I didn't want people to say, Oh, this is the story I heard in Sunday school. Because in Sunday school, they left out the best bits.

  • 11:22:50

    REHMTell me about the times, tell me about the life of the ordinary during those times.

  • 11:22:59

    BROOKSSo this was where the research was different from what I would usually do, which is delve into archives and read everything that was written at that time and try and hear the voices. These voices are lost to us. We don't have journals and letters and court transcripts from this time. But what we have is material culture. So I took my 10-year-old son and we went off to Israel and we went to all the places associated with David. And as far as possible, we did what he would have done. Not the killing and the adultery but things like herding sheep on a hot afternoon in the desert and watching my son figure out how to keep the sheep doing what he wanted to do. It's a real exercise in leadership.

  • 11:23:43

    REHMI should say.

  • 11:23:45

    BROOKSAnd I think that's it's not a coincidence that so many people who become leaders in the Bible turn out, you know, start out as shepherds. And you do learn about understanding your flock and the individuals within it. If you want to get them to do what you want, if you want to lead them, you have to understand them.

  • 11:24:02

    REHMHow did your son feel about going with you?

  • 11:24:05

    BROOKSOh, he had a great time. We had so many adventures. I love to take my kids on research trips. I always have done. Because they have this unjaded view of the world. They notice things that we maybe would miss. They ask questions that we wouldn't ask. So I find them invaluable research assistants.

  • 11:24:24

    REHMSo one of the questions I'm sure a 10-year-old would ask is, How does a young boy go from herding sheep to become a king?

  • 11:24:40

    BROOKSThat's right. And I think, you know, one of the answers is you have to take the opportunities that fall in your way. David happens to be at the battlefield of (word?) Elah, not because he's been sent to fight, because he is still, you know, very low on the totem pole at home. He's still the shepherd. So he gets to go to bring food supplies to his older brothers. And while he's there, he notices there's this standoff, that the two forces are not really going into battle because the other side's champion is this big tall guy who comes down and yells and taunts.

  • 11:25:17

    REHMWhose name is...

  • 11:25:18

    BROOKSGoliath of Gath.

  • 11:25:19


  • 11:25:20

    BROOKSAnd so I had to re-imagine that because it is such a threadbare story, worn, worn, worn through retelling. So I went back to, what do we really know about fighting in second iron-age Israel? What weapons did they have? Where did they get them? How did they make them? What -- when they say that the two great armies were arrayed, did they really mean two great armies? Probably not. These were agrarian herdsmen. So it was probably more like a skirmish than a set piece battle.

  • 11:25:54

    BROOKSAnd I think that King Saul was being pretty savvy actually, not engaging, because the other side were better armed. They had iron weapons, whereas the Israeli tribes did not at that time. And he just wanted to keep them pinned down because if they're pinned down in the Valley of Elah, they're not running around cattle rustling. So it was pretty smart to just keep them in that one place while the herdsmen got their crops in for the season. But here comes David and he says, I can see a way to do this. The guy is really well armed, but that makes him not too mobile. You don't have to engage him in hand-to-hand combat. You can fight him from a distance.

  • 11:26:35

    REHMWhat kind of armor?

  • 11:26:37

    BROOKSWell, it's described in great detail in the scriptures. So we know that he was wearing the kinds of armor that you got if you could trade with the more advanced societies of the Aegean Sea. So he had imported armor, basically, scale armor that was not typical. And so he looked pretty fearsome.

  • 11:26:57

    REHMExcept for his forehead.

  • 11:27:00

    BROOKSHe had a helmet on but there was a little gap. And that is apparently where David's sling -- and David had learned how to use his sling, because to keep the sheep safe in Second Iron Age wasn't so easy. There were lions in those hills then. And he had kept the sheep safe from lions. So he said he knew how to do it and he had either a very good shot or a very lucky shot because he hit him right in the forehead.

  • 11:27:29


  • 11:27:30

    BROOKSAnd so the big man falls to his knees. And I don't know if you've ever seen a scalp wound but they bleed profusely. So there's blood in his eyes, he can't see. David runs up, grabs the very good broad sword, very sharp sword of his enemy, and beheads him with his own sword.

  • 11:27:51

    REHMAnd that is according to the Bible.

  • 11:27:55

    BROOKSThat is right.

  • 11:27:57

    REHMFrom there, what happens to David.

  • 11:28:01

    BROOKSSo, of course, King Saul is very enthusiastic. He wants to know whose son he is. He learns that he is gifted musically. Saul loves music. He also needs it for therapy. He has mental illness at this time. And so David becomes his armor bearer and his therapist. But he also becomes the bosom friend, the soul mate of the king's son, Jonathan. And this is the great love of David's life.

  • 11:28:37

    REHMNow, there, what do we know?

  • 11:28:43

    BROOKSFrom the plain words of the text, we know this was an extraordinary relationship. The scriptures say their souls were knit together. We know that Jonathan, over time, decides that David should be king, not him. He promises David that he will be his number two when David succeeds King Saul. And King Saul is not down with that. He wants his own son to succeed him, which is the fairly natural reaction. And so this is the first of many reversals in David's life, where the king turns on him, having lifted him up to be a commander in his army over time. He now sees the threat to his heritage.

  • 11:29:28

    REHMDo you believe that the relationship that David had with King Saul's son was one of physical love?

  • 11:29:42

    BROOKSWhen Jonathan is killed in battle, the poem of lament that David writes -- which we still have in the Psalms, one of the most beautiful poems ascribed to him -- has the most wrenching language of loss. It says, My brother, Jonathan, your love to me was more wonderful than the love of women. I think when you read that with modern eyes, to me, it describes unambiguously a full human relationship.

  • 11:30:17

    REHMDid that surprise you?

  • 11:30:20

    BROOKSI was surprised at how detailed the description of the ties between them were.

  • 11:30:29

    BROOKSHow vivid were they?

  • 11:30:32

    BROOKSSo vivid. Their -- the dialog that passes between them when Jonathan has to choose between his father and David, whom he loves, he chooses David.

  • 11:30:46

    REHMAnd David becomes king?

  • 11:30:50

    BROOKSAfter Saul and Jonathan have been killed in battle, he becomes king, first of Judah, which makes sense because that's where he has his family ties, his tribal links. But eventually Saul's General Abner, who was there at the battle of the (word?) Elah, who's, you know, a crusty old general, realizes that to bring the tribes together, it will be necessary to have a leader of David's stature. So he goes and makes peace with David and David becomes then king of all Israel.

  • 11:31:28

    REHMGeraldine, I was astonished at the account -- I mean, there are many -- but the accounts of battle. I mean, so vivid and so awful.

  • 11:31:45

    BROOKSAwful. Absolutely awful. This was a brutal time. You can't write about this time and avert your eyes from the brutality. And I have to confess that I did, again, draw on my experiences as a modern Middle East correspondent for The Wall Street Journal for many years covering the terrible wars in that region. And, yes, we have modern weaponry. But the effects on the human body are not different. A battlefield in the desert two days later doesn't smell any different than it did in the Second Iron Age.

  • 11:32:27

    REHMI mean, people going at each other in ways that, I mean, even now, one would think, oh, surely that does not happen anymore. You are saying it's been happening from before Christ.

  • 11:32:49

    BROOKSIt has been. And, you know, anybody who thinks that anything's different, I just refer you to the ISIS videos. Those are -- there is a brutality in human nature that can be accessed. It seems, at the drop of a pin, we are ready to do the most unspeakable things to each other.

  • 11:33:10

    REHMGeraldine Brooks. Her new novel is called "The Secret Chord." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have a number of callers. Let's open the phones, 800-433-8850. Let's go to Cortland, N.Y. Chris, you're on the air.

  • 11:33:38

    CHRISHello, Diane.

  • 11:33:38


  • 11:33:39

    CHRISI'm a big fan of your show.

  • 11:33:41

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:33:42

    CHRISI have read that when the Bible was compiled, the religious leaders selectively chose which books to include. Could it be possible that the Book of Nathan is still in the Vatican?

  • 11:33:56

    BROOKSOh, wouldn't that be exciting? Chris, I love that idea. I think that's a whole other novel right there, finding the Book of Nathan.

  • 11:34:05

    REHMDo you believe it is somewhere?

  • 11:34:08

    BROOKSI think if it's somewhere, it's probably crumbling to dust. I think that by now, if somebody had it, we might have got an inkling. But you never know. I do love a good conspiracy.

  • 11:34:24

    REHMIs the -- or might the Book of Nathan hold such secrets as perhaps the Vatican or whoever might want to keep it secret?

  • 11:34:41

    BROOKSWell, you know, the Hebrew prophets were famous for telling people the truths that they did not want to hear. We just celebrated Yom Kippur and the (word?) Torah of the Yom Kippur is a castigation by one of the Hebrew prophets that just says, You think that you are standing there going without food and water is the fast that God wants and then you're going to go back and oppress your laborers and deal unjustly in your business dealings? Don't kid yourself. You know? And these are -- these guys are so frank.

  • 11:35:17

    BROOKSSo what we know that Nathan said to David that is in the scriptures is very harsh. I mean, when David murders, essentially, Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba, Nathan comes in and absolutely reams the king out. He tricks him into admitting his sin. And then he says, you know, The Lord gave you everything. He would have given you even more. And yet you've committed this huge sin. You know, you basically suck, is what he says. And I thought, it's extraordinary. We have that, you know? So who knows what else Nathan might have said.

  • 11:36:04

    REHMDo we know what the king's response was?

  • 11:36:07

    BROOKSYes. He takes it onboard. And this is why I love the complexity of this character. Not many powerful people are willing to hear that, you know? Many kings -- that would have been the last thing Nathan ever said. But, lo and behold, Nathan is the -- still a very important figure in the court as David lies dying. And it's Nathan who ensures that Solomon is the successor and the next great king. So David listens to criticism and then he tried to atone. He admitted his wrongdoing before all the people. He made a clean breast of his sin. He asked for forgiveness. He wrote the most wonderful psalms of atonement, talking about the need for him to have a contrite heart and to change his behavior.

  • 11:37:04

    REHMDoes he ask for Bathsheba's forgiveness?

  • 11:37:09

    BROOKSNot as far as we know. However, he does make amends to her in the end. Because of their sin, their first child of the -- the child born of the adultery dies as an infant. And David's amends to her is by making her second son Solomon king at her request.

  • 11:37:29

    REHMAnd we'll take a short break here. More of your calls, your email, when we come back for Geraldine Brooks, "The Secret Chord."

  • 11:40:02

    REHMWe have many emails and phone calls. We'll try to get to as many of you as we can. First the title, Geraldine. "The Secret Chord." Where did Miss Brooks come up with the title? This is from Howard. Did she get it from Leonard Cohen or did both get it from an earlier source I'm unfamiliar with?

  • 11:40:30

    BROOKSWell, that little nine-year-old harpist became a 13-year-old harpist, and when he was preparing for his Bar Mitzvah, he decided that he would play a wonderful harp arrangement of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." And so, I am indebted to him, both for the inspiration for the book and for the idea for the title. But Leonard Cohen and I are both referring to the idea that David played the harp so magnificently that he had a way of making music that pleased God.

  • 11:41:07

    BROOKSAnd nobody else could play the chord that he could play. And that idea of the secret chord is intriguing. And I think the music is one of the parts of the book that I had the most pleasure in researching and writing about. Because we really don't know a lot about ancient Hebrew music. But we know that David filled his court with music and many references to the singing men and women. Of course, most of the Psalms are ascribed to David and there are directions to the choir master about how they're to be sung and how they're to be accompanied. So, music was a huge part of this man's life and his personality.

  • 11:41:46

    BROOKSSo, music was a huge part of this man's life and his personality.

  • 11:41:51

    REHMHere's a Facebook comment from Gina, who says I disagree with those who try to read homosexual intention or practice into the close friendship between David and Jonathan. Close male friendship does not have to imply a sexual type. Only with modern eyes is this an interpretation, mainly because of the lack of heterosexual intimacy between males in the modern West.

  • 11:42:30

    BROOKSMaybe. I would say mainly because we've moved into a period where more of us are willing to accept that love comes in many forms. And that we no longer despise different love. It's true, it's open to interpretation. And that listener absolutely has every right to support her own view. And I felt that to see it as not a full relationship would have been a harder interpretation for me to accept. But then, we're all very different in that.

  • 11:43:19

    REHMLet's go to Chesterfield, South Carolina. Hi there, Doug. You're on the air.

  • 11:43:26

    DOUGHello. How are you doing?

  • 11:43:27

    REHMGood, thanks.

  • 11:43:29

    DOUGI'm really impressed with your author.

  • 11:43:34

    REHMSo am I.

  • 11:43:35

    DOUGBut I'm very curious, having been obsessed with the book of (unintelligible) daily readings, and having read David and Ezekiel. I'm very curious, because I do believe that, you know, those worthy of the greatest forgiveness have the greatest capacity to love. But I'm very curious that why Ezekiel 34:23 seems to prophesize Christ coming back as the Prince. Which would then mean I.e. Christ. Because he was, you know, he was a house was built for him by God, for him to wait, you know, in heaven.

  • 11:44:16

    BROOKSYeah, well...

  • 11:44:16

    DOUGHe never totally ascended. He was like waiting to be dispatched.

  • 11:44:20

    BROOKSI think that it's fascinating how much the New Testament rests on the story of David. That, you know, Jesus comes from the House of David, as you mention. He is, he's born in Bethlehem because Mary and Joseph had to go there, because the House of David is being counted in a census. So, he is viewed as a descendent. And really, the Prophecy of Nathan, that he will have a line that will last forever, Christians believe that that is reference to Christianity.

  • 11:45:01

    BROOKSThat the throne and the line that lasts forever is Christ.

  • 11:45:07

    REHMFascinating. Let's go now to St. Louis, Missouri. Jeff, you're on the air.

  • 11:45:14

    JEFFHello. Thank you, Diane. Can you hear me?

  • 11:45:17

    REHMCertainly. Go right ahead.

  • 11:45:19

    JEFFOkay. To the suggestion that David's story was likely not made up because they wouldn't have included the flaws in that great leader's character. And I just want to suggest that we have other examples of, like the Epic of Gilgamesh, and that great leader had some astounding flaws. We would consider flaws. And likewise, the myths of the Greek gods that were developing, sort of around the same time. The gods themselves had a lot of flaws in their characters. Just a suggestion.

  • 11:45:56

    BROOKSI think that that point is well made. If he is a created character, he's one of the great works of literature. So, it's a win-win either way.

  • 11:46:12

    REHMI want to go back to David's abilities and the use of his strength in battle. He apparently kills 200 Philistines as a bribe price so that he can marry McHale? Tell me about that.

  • 11:46:38

    BROOKSSo, okay, this is where you really earn your money as a historical novelist, I think. Because we can all relate to the strong human emotions of lust and love for your children and blind love for your children that leads you to not chastise them. And maybe to let them grow up with character flaws, as David does later in his life. We can all identify with what it feels like to be plucked from obscurity and to have success in your chosen fields of endeavor. But we can't, really, as modern people, identify with the idea that it would be a good idea to ask for 100 foreskins from your slain enemy.

  • 11:47:22

    BROOKSI mean, who wants to talk about posting the circumcision? So, as a novelist, I'm trying -- your job is to imagine everything as fully as you can. But did I want to go there? Not especially. So, yes, David is asked for 100 foreskins, but because he's an overachiever, he brings back 200 and he wins the right to marry Saul's daughter Michal, and the most interesting thing about that story to me is the line in the scripture that says, Michal loved David.

  • 11:48:00

    BROOKSShe's the only woman in the Bible, as far as I've been able to determine, who is given agency in her own marriage and that great love then turns into a very bitter hatred over the course of time. Because of the terrible retribution that her father exacts on her when she, too, like her brother Jonathan, chooses David over the King.

  • 11:48:27

    REHMOver him.

  • 11:48:28


  • 11:48:29

    REHMAnd here is an email in regard to Bathsheba, it says, it's so important to talk about the Bible from the point of view of the Bible's women. Who are often painted as temptresses and the purveyors of sin, instead of people.

  • 11:48:53

    BROOKSExactly. And one of the things, I think, that drew me to this story is that there are so many strong women characters in it. There's Abigail, who is another one of David's wives and she's the woman who saves her foolish husband from David's retribution. David is asked for supplies and the husband says, I'm not giving them to that outlaw. And Abigail realizes that this will have deadly consequences, so she gets the supplies together and she takes them to David. And she apologizes for her husband.

  • 11:49:29

    BROOKSAnd later, not too long after, when her husband dies, David asks to marry her, because he admires her acumen. So, she's a wonderful character. I think Bathsheba is a wonderful character because she negotiates the bad hand she's been dealt. At the beginning of their relationship, somehow, to be there at the end of his life, to get her son on the throne. And then my favorite of all is Michal, because she is taken from David and given in marriage to another man, which is a completely dishonorable thing to happen to both of them.

  • 11:50:11

    BROOKSAnd 10 years pass before David's in a position to get her back. And he makes it a condition of assuming the kingship that he gets his wife back. But in 10 years, she's fallen in love with the other guy. And the other guy is devoted to her and he follows her for miles, through the desert, calling out not to take his wife away. It's brutal. And so, when she comes back into David's life, she's embittered, and she's full of hate. And she waits until she can take a psychological revenge that is the most perfect retribution that you can imagine.

  • 11:50:49

    REHMYou're not going to leave us hanging there, are you? Oh, my goodness, really, how long did it take you to write this?

  • 11:51:03

    BROOKSI was thinking about it for a very long time, you know, from the time my son was nine and my oldest son is 19 now. So, that's a fair piece of time, but I really sat down to research and write it, I would say, three years it took me.

  • 11:51:20

    REHMBeautiful, beautiful writing. All right, let's go to San Diego, California. Daniel, beautiful, biblical name.

  • 11:51:29

    BROOKSVery beautiful.

  • 11:51:30

    REHMYou're on the air.

  • 11:51:32

    DANIELHi Diane. I love your show.

  • 11:51:35

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:51:35

    DANIELSo, regarding the most famous of the David stories, the one where he slays Goliath, or Golyat, if we're using the Hebrew name of the hero from Gath. There are two accounts of the slaying of Goliath. One in First Samuel 17, which is the familiar one where David kills Goliath. The other in second Samuel, Chapter 21 where David is elderly and his, one of his heroes, Elhanan, kills Goliath. And there's a rather clumsy attempt at harmonization of this in Chapter 20 of First Chronicles.

  • 11:52:17

    DANIELAnd scholars point out that there is reason to believe that First Samuel 17, as, you know, a piece, is a later interpolation and it's reasonable to presume that stories of glorious deeds, either real or invented, could have accreted to the David materials. So, I guess why I always appreciate a close reading, it seems somewhat misguided to presume that we can, at 3,000 years removed, and with our, you know, ineradicable modern lens, reconstruct the life of David.

  • 11:52:49

    BROOKSWell, I couldn't agree more and that's why it's a novel. You know, you can't know, but I think it's worthwhile to exercise some imagination on these stories. And certainly, I'm not the first to be enticed by the riches this story has to offer our imagination. So, obviously, I would never claim that I can tell you the truth of what happened 3,000 years ago. But my goodness, I had a lot of fun imagining how it might have been.

  • 11:53:20

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And finally, to Reed in Tallahassee, Florida. You're on the air.

  • 11:53:31

    REEDThank you, Diane. And welcome back.

  • 11:53:33

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:53:34

    REEDAs a Sunday school teacher for years who taught high school students, you know, I -- of course, it was in a Protestant church. And so, we concentrated a whole lot on the New Testament, but I stressed, too, what Jesus taught in Parables. And this was not new. The Old Testament is full of Hebrew rabbis who taught in parables. I was wondering if your author -- and I love this as a novel. I can't wait to get it and read it. But I'm wondering if she did her research and did her trek across Israel. Did it change her in any way? Did she start to believe that, man, this stuff happened. You know?

  • 11:54:14

    BROOKSI was inclined to think that some part of it certainly happened before I set out. But I think that what fascinated me was I had, in my mind, the idea that the tribal life of the Second Iron Age was gonna be a lot more primitive. So, when I read in the Scriptures, he lived in a palace, I'm thinking, yeah, what kind of a palace could that have been? You know, I'm thinking, oh, it was maybe just sort of a big house. But when you go and look at the archeology of the period, it was a palace. It was highly decorated, it was beautifully constructed.

  • 11:54:47

    BROOKSSo, I was kind of relieved that I could actually put him in a palace. What I couldn't do, that I wanted to do, was put him on a horse, because they didn't ride horses, and much as I love horses and love writing about relationships between people and horses, they had very few horses at that period. And they used them to pull chariots. They rode mules. So, I had to get into mules and learn about mules.

  • 11:55:14

    REHMYou had lots of learning to do. Here's a final email from Pat, who says, when I was young, it bothered me that David wrote so many Psalms claiming purity and righteousness. His behavior with Bathsheba and especially with her lawful husband was so publicly known and terribly wrong, even at the times in which he lived that I thought he was terribly arrogant. But as I have aged, I believe David came to truly know God in a way that accepted forgiveness and cleansing to a degree that he was not bogged down by any guilt. Too bad he was still arrogant.

  • 11:56:12

    BROOKSI think she's right. I think he probably was quite arrogant. However, there are so many wonderful lines in the Psalms, where he's imploring God to fix him as a man. He is putting himself in the hands of the divine, saying, purge me with hyssop until I am pure. And when we were in Israel, we were sitting, my 10-year-old and I, on a hillside. And we plucked some hyssop and we rubbed it between our fingers and we smelt that fragrance that is so crisp and purifying. And you realize that he was seeking, he was a seeker.

  • 11:57:04

    REHMGeraldine Brooks. Her brand new novel titled, "The Secret Chord." Geraldine, how wonderful to see you. Your book is marvelous.

  • 11:57:18

    BROOKSThank you, Diane, for having me. It is so wonderful to be with you.

  • 11:57:22

    REHMThank you. And thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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