Scala/Art Resource, NY

Israel’s most powerful king, David united the tribes of Israel, conquered Jerusalem, brought the Ark of the Covenant to rest in his new capital, cemented international relations through marriage and expanded his kingdom in every direction.

The biblical account of his rule has encouraged generations to remember David as a model king and his reign as Israel’s golden age. In Christian tradition, David is numbered among the prophets. In this mosaic from the church of San Marco in Venice, Prophet David holds aloft a scroll inscribed with the oath (written in Latin) that God makes to him in Psalm 132:11: “One of the sons of yours I will set on your throne”—interpreted in Christian tradition as a messianic prophecy.

Might the glorious biblical account of David’s reign simply be apologetic propaganda, intended to improve David’s reputation as ruler? asks McKenzie in his new book. But if that’s the case, why does the Bible reveal so many of the king’s flaws? As another Bible scholar, David Noel Freedman, has suggested, the mixed picture drawn by the Bible—presenting the king’s deepest failures alongside his highest achievements—provides the biblical account with a touch of realism that argues for its believability.