©2001 Kingdom of Spain, Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation/ARS, NY/Courtesy Lockport Street Gallery, Plainfield, Ill., www.lockportstreetgallery.com.

Who was King Saul? Rendered in muted colors in an etching by Salvador Dali (1904–1989), this portrait of a sensitive Saul presents a strong contrast to the warrior-king depicted in the Bible. But did he even exist? Just as the historical reliability of the biblical accounts of David and Solomon has come into question, King Saul, too, is often regarded as a legendary figure, even by those scholars who admit a historical basis to the Davidic tales.

Marsha White argues in the accompanying article that Saul must have been a historical figure. Combing through 1 Samuel, she has discerned a text she calls the History of Saul’s Rise. Just like the Davidic narrative, it seeks to justify the rule of a king who ascended to the throne under questionable circumstances. The existence of such a text, White believes, points to Saul’s having indeed been Israel’s first king.