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Why I Told David’s Story—and Why David Matters Now

Tuesday, August 08, 2017| Permalink

Paul Boorstin is an award-winning writer, filmmaker, and author of the novel David and the Philistine Woman. He will be blogging here for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series all week.

The duel of David and Goliath, the ultimate clash of good against evil, is barely a page long in the Hebrew Bible (I Samuel, Chapter 17). The story is so familiar, each of us feels as if we own it. Why was I driven to take my version, the one that I have “owned” since I was a child, and bring it to life?

Growing up in Chicago as a Jewish kid with thick glasses and zero athletic ability, I was always the last to be picked for baseball, football, soccer, you name it. So when I learned at our synagogue about the unimposing David triumphing over the giant Goliath, I instantly chose the little guy as my role model. I was soon inspired by other “Davids” in history—from Joan of Arc to Nelson Mandela—underdogs triumphing over impossible odds. At the top of my list, of course, were the Jewish people, who for centuries were persecuted exiles, yet who overcame fearsome obstacles through spiritual strength.

Half a century after I first discovered him, young David is still my favorite “super-hero.” I find in his life the true meaning of heroism: as much a matter of moral character as physical courage. Beginning with the biblical text, I reimagined David’s story based on the narrative I envisioned between the lines, to discover what mysteries and surprises might be hiding there. My purpose in writing David and the Philistine Woman was to broaden the scope of the narrative to encompass the conflict of the Israelite and Philistine peoples. I also wanted to focus on the minds, motives and hearts of some of the Bible’s most fascinating figures, along with original characters—male and female—that I created.

While writing David and the Philistine Woman, I was determined to remain faithful to the spirit of the Biblical original. Beyond that, I wanted my novel to show that what links people of goodwill is not so much the god they worship as it is their bond of common humanity and shared compassion.

Researching the early years of the Hebrew Bible’s most beloved figure, I was surprised to discover a young man who is still a hero for us in the twenty-first century: For unlike Moses or Abraham, young David, as depicted in my novel and in the Bible, does not hear the voice of God. He must seek out that voice in the stirrings of his own heart. That is the spark that kindled my passion to tell this story. For like David, in our troubled world we must do the right thing without God whispering a command in our ear to direct our actions.

By the end of David and the Philistine Woman, David learns that whether or not it is ordained in heaven, nothing of value is achieved here on earth unless it is done by human hands. The task has never been more urgent for us than it is today.

Download a book club resource kit for David and the Philistine Woman here. Learn more about Paul Boorstin here.

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