Adin Steinsaltz tries to save the honor of some biblical characters

   

Many people who read the Hebrew Bible recognize that it does not try to conceal the faults of even the most significant people, such as the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and its most famous kings such as King David and King Solomon. Yet, since the general public needs heroes without blemishes, there are rabbis who try to cover up the wrongs that the biblical heroes committed.

For example, although the Torah clearly states that King David committed adultery with Bat Sheba and had her husband murdered so that he could take her as his wife,[1] the Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 56a, states that David did no wrong. It offers various reasons why David acted properly, including that Bat-sheba and Uriah were divorced and that Uriah deserved death because he did not obey David’s order to go home.

Others recognize that David acted improperly, but still attempt to describe him as guiltless. The famed Bible commentator from Portugal Don Isaac Abarbanel (1437-1508) recognizes that scripture clearly states that David did wrong and asks how the Talmud could say that David did no wrong. He attempts to justify the Talmud in a manner many would find unsatisfactory. He writes,[2] “Since he repented and received his punishment, with this [punishment] his wrong was erased.” Adin Steinsaltz is one of many modern Bible commentators who sometimes takes this approach.

 

Hatanakh HaMevoar

The Hebrew volume Sefer Melakhim, “Book of Kings,” published by Koren Press,[3] is part of a series of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s commentaries on the Bible called Hatanakh HaMevoar, “The Explained Bible.” The book contains a wealth of information.

For example, Steinsaltz gives a general introduction to Kings and a chart showing a listing of all of the kings of Judah and Israel, dates of a few significant occurrences during their reign, the length of their rule, the nations that were prominent during their reign, and the names of the prophets who prophesied to the kings.

He divides each book into logical parts, in addition to the usual chapter divisions.[4] This book also has twenty-six pages of notes and sources. He gives the text of the book, the Masoretic musical notes, an additional short introduction before significant events narrated in the book, and two commentaries: one simply an explanation of words and what the verses mean; the other a deeper discussion of various issues the book raises. Examples of his deeper explanation are: Why did the Israelites place a virgin in King David’s bed to warm him in his old age in 1:2. It was because the people at that time either thought virgins are warmer than non-virgins or they felt that kings should be given the very best of everything. Why was it wrong for David’s son to want the marry the virgin who warmed his father’s bed? People might think that David had sex with her, which would be similar to David taking her as his wife, and it is wrong for a son to marry his father’s wife. Steinsaltz accepted the statement in 5:12 that Solomon uttered 3,000 parables and 1,005 songs as not being hyperbole and asserts that most of them were lost.

We learn much from his introduction. Among much else, he explains that the division of Kings into two, I Kings and II Kings, was not done by Jews. While the book focuses on the history of the divided kingdom of Judah and Israel, it also gives much information about what the prophets thought about what was occurring. The book states that it is relying on two volumes, the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah and the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel. These books no longer exist. It appears that they included much more history than this biblical book. It seems that the authors of Kings only took information from these two sources that reflected the authors’ world view. The authors do not always attempt to portray the kings in a favorable light. The book Kings is different in style than the biblical book Samuel and was apparently composed by different people.[5]

Steinsaltz tried on some occasions to show that Solomon did not act improperly. Verse 11:4 states that when Solomon was old, “his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not whole with the Lord his God,” which seems to indicate that he worshipped idols. Steinsaltz says no. He only allowed his wives and concubines to do so.

He did not attempt to justify every action in the Bible. He admits that the death bed instructions that David gave his son Solomon in chapter 2 to kill certain people was not proper.

 

[1] See my 2018 book “The Tragedies of King David,” published by Gefen Publishing House, where I detail the many tragic consequences that flowed from these acts.

[2] Abarbanel, Perush Abarbanel.

[3] Jerusalem, 2017.

[4] For example, chapter 3 is divided into three parts because of the three events discussed in the chapter.

[5] The Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 14b and 15a offers a traditional view of the authorship of these books.

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