The Biblical Story of David: A Critical Examination and Comparison with the Quranic Story
Originally posted on the Quran and Bible blog
“By Allah’s will they routed them; and David slew Goliath; and Allah gave him power and wisdom and taught him whatever (else) He willed. And did not Allah check one set of people by means of another, the earth would indeed be full of mischief: But Allah is full of bounty to all the worlds.”
– Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:251
One of the most legendary figures in the traditions of the Abrahamic religions is King David (Dawud in Arabic). Honored by Jews, Christians and Muslims, David is without a doubt one of the most famous men in history. However, as is often the case with historical figures, there are numerous and frequently contradicting traditions about the King of Israel. This fact can be observed when comparing the Biblical and Quranic versions of the story of David. Most of the information about David is found in the Bible, but as is often the case with Biblical information, the facts about David’s life are inconsistent and contradictory. In this article, we will examine the Biblical story of the life of David and analyze its inconsistencies. We will then study the Quranic account of his life and compare it to the Bible. Through this examination, we will see indisputable evidence of the weakness of the Biblical version, and instead establish the Quranic narrative as a more realistic and trustworthy account.
David in the Bible
The primary account of David’s life and reign as King of Israel is found in 1 and 2 Samuel, as well as 1 Chronicles. As such, we will be relying primarily on these books of the Tanakh to summarize and then examine the life of David.
The character of David is first introduced in 1 Samuel 16, where it is stated that God chose the young man as the heir to the throne of Israel:
“The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.””
At this point in time, David was a young man who tended his father’s sheep, and was still unknown to the people of Israel.
But the opportunity soon came for this unknown sheep herder to be thrust into the limelight, for Saul, then ruler of Israel, was being tormented by an “evil spirit from the Lord” and asked his court attendants to find someone who could play a lyre, which it was believed would alleviate Saul’s suffering. It was then that one of the attendants suggested that Saul seek out David, the youngest son of Jesse, who was known to play the lyre and was also a “brave man and a warrior”. Thus, the young David was introduced to Saul’s court and remained in the service of the king as his armor-bearer and to help him whenever the evil spirit returned to torment him some more.
Soon, war broke out between Israel and the Philistines, and arguably the most well-known story of David’s life was about to unfold. The mighty Philistine army was led by the giant Goliath, who challenged the Israelites to send one of their champions to fight him, but his challenge was not met for forty days due to the overwhelming fear among the Israelite ranks.
It was by chance that the young David, who was still tending sheep for his father, encountered the Philistine warrior. He had been sent by his father to check on his older brothers, who were soldiers in the Israelite army, and to bring them some food. Angered by the “uncircumcised Philistine’s” defiance of the “armies of the living God”, David went to Saul and requested that he be allowed to fight the colossal Philistine, but Saul initially refused, noting that David was just a young man with no combat experience, whereas Goliath had been a “warrior from his youth”. However, David recounted his experience with lions and bears as a herder for his father’s sheep, and confidently asserted that God would protect him from Goliath just as He had protected him from the lions and the bears. As a result, Saul gave him permission to fight the Philistine warrior. The rest, of course, is history, as David slew the mighty Goliath and the Philistine army retreated from battle.
From this point on, David became a trusted officer in Saul’s army. However, as his reputation spread among the Israelites, David’s growing influence began to worry Saul. Seeing that God had chosen David, Saul saw him as a threat and began scheming to eliminate him. One such scheme was the request to David to provide a seemingly impossible gift for the hand of Saul’s daughter, Merab:
“Saul replied, “Say to David, ‘The king wants no other price for the bride than a hundred Philistine foreskins, to take revenge on his enemies.’” Saul’s plan was to have David fall by the hands of the Philistines.”
However, the scheme did not go as planned, for David went out with his troops, killed 200 Philistines and brought their foreskins to Saul, far exceeding Saul’s request for only 100 Philistine foreskins. Seeing this as further evidence of God’s protection of David, Saul felt even more threatened and now saw David as his enemy.
As a result, Saul embarked on a relentless campaign to kill David, but was thwarted each time thanks to the efforts of Jonathan (Saul’s son) and David’s wife Michal, Saul’s daughter. However, despite Saul’s bloodthirsty attempts on his life, David did not return the favor. Instead, on at least two occasions, David spared Saul’s life, electing not to kill him when he had the chance.
To escape Saul’s relentless schemes, David eventually escaped into Philistine territory, settling in Gath. During this time, he raided the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites, killing all men and women but taking animals as spoils.
Eventually, war again broke out between Israel and the Philistines and David accompanied Achish, the king of the Philistines, to the battlefield. However, due to the mistrust of the Philistine officers, Achish sent David back home.
Meanwhile, Saul had gone to a “medium” in Endor and requested that she conjure up the spirit of the prophet Samuel. He did this after praying to God for guidance and receiving no answer. The spirit of Samuel prophesied that Saul and his sons would die the next day and that the Philistines would be victorious over the Israelite army. The reason for this sentence against Saul was that he had disobeyed God’s commands and hence his kingdom was now going to be taken away and given to David. And so it happened that Saul’s sons (including Jonathan, who had helped David and was sympathetic to him) were killed in the ensuing battle against the Philistines. Saul himself was wounded and committed suicide.
With his tormentor dead, David still mourned for Saul and Jonathan and instructed the people of Judah to do the same. He was then made King of Judah and, after a lengthy war with Abner (who was formerly the commander-in-chief of Saul’s army), also became the King of Israel. He was 30 years old when he became king of a unified Israel and would reign for 40 years.
One of his first acts as king was to conquer Jerusalem, which had up to that point, been occupied by the Jebusites. After his victory, he took many concubines and wives and many sons and daughters were born to him. Pleased with David’s obedience and service, God made a covenant with him, promising to establish his throne on Israel “forever”. Afterwards, David launched many military campaigns to subdue the Philistines, the Moabites, the Edomites and other nations.
During one such military campaign, when the Israelite army was besieging Rabbah, David stayed in Jerusalem. What followed was one of the most controversial episodes of the king’s life, namely the adulterous relationship with a beautiful woman named Bathsheba. Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, was fighting on the front lines as part of the Israelite army, but David had fallen in love with her and eventually impregnated her. To avoid a scandal, David had Uriah recalled from the front lines and ordered him go to his wife, in an attempt to make it appear that Bathsheba had been impregnated by her husband, and not David. However, the honorable Uriah felt ashamed at having all the comforts of home while his comrades were fighting on the front lines. As such, he refused to go home and sleep with his wife. Frustrated, David schemed to have Uriah killed on the front lines instead, so that he could marry Bathsheba. His plan succeeded and Uriah was killed in battle.
With Uriah out of the picture, David was free to marry Bathsheba. However, he would be called to answer for his abhorrent sins. The prophet Nathan came to David and warned him of God’s impending judgment on him:
“This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”
Feeling remorse for having offended God, David repented of his sins and was spared death. Unfortunately, a punishment was still to be implemented, though not the one that was required by the Mosaic Law. Instead, David’s punishment was that the child from his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba would die. And so, the child was struck by an illness and died seven days later.
But this was not the end of David’s relationship with Bathsheba. After the death of their son, David slept with Bathsheba again and another son was born to them, whom they named Solomon.
For the rest of his reign, David had to deal with various insurrections and conspiracies, including one involving his son Absalom. The resulting conflict ended with Absalom’s death. Another insurrection led by a Benjamite named Sheba ended when a “wise woman” from the besieged city of Abel Beth Maakah persuaded her people to kill Sheba to avoid an attack by David’s forces.
Besides fighting off insurrectionists, David also attempted to achieve reconciliation with the Gibeonites, who had been persecuted during Saul’s reign. A severe famine which lasted 3 years during the reign of David was blamed on Saul’s abuses and giving reparations to the Gibeonites was seen as the only way to atone and lift the famine. The Gibeonites did not request any monetary payments but something else entirely:
“They answered the king, “As for the man who destroyed us and plotted against us so that we have been decimated and have no place anywhere in Israel, let seven of his male descendants be given to us to be killed and their bodies exposed before the Lord at Gibeah of Saul—the Lord’s chosen one.””
David accepted this request and handed over two of Saul’s sons from his concubine Rizpah and five of Saul’s grandsons from his daughter Merab, all of whom were executed by the Gibeonites.
One of David’s most significant acts in the last years of his reign was the purchase of the “threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite”, better known today as the Temple Mount, where Solomon’s temple would be built. David paid 50 shekels of silver for the land and built an altar to God. As a result, the plague that had struck Israel shortly after David’s census was removed.
When David had become old and was incapable of being king, his son Adonijah installed himself as the ruler of Israel. However, David was reminded by Bathsheba that he had promised her that their son Solomon would be the king after David. Thus, David installed Solomon as king. Finally, after 40 years as King of Israel and Judah, David died, bringing to end a legendary reign and beginning a long-lasting legacy. Speaking of David, the Book of Acts stated:
“God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’”
An Analysis of the Biblical Story of David
In the summary above, we have seen the story of David’s life and reign in detail. Now, we can begin the process of analyzing the Biblical story and see if it can stand the weight of critical scrutiny.
We mentioned that David was first introduced to Saul when the latter sorely needed relief from an evil spirit that was tormenting him. David was at this time a relatively unknown sheep herder, but his skill at playing a lyre allowed him to serve Saul and alleviate his torment. This is the story as recounted in 1 Samuel 16. However, this account is directly contradicted in the very next chapter, when Saul’s army was facing off against the Philistines. It was during this encounter that David slew Goliath. However, despite already having met David and having him in his service, Saul was apparently unaware of who David even was:
“As Saul watched David going out to meet the Philistine, he said to Abner, commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is that young man?” Abner replied, “As surely as you live, Your Majesty, I don’t know.” The king said, “Find out whose son this young man is.” As soon as David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with David still holding the Philistine’s head. “Whose son are you, young man?” Saul asked him. David said, “I am the son of your servant Jesse of Bethlehem.””
The contradictory nature of David’s introduction to Saul is obvious. As Thomas Paine stated:
“These two accounts belie each other, because each of them supposes Saul and David not to have known each other before.”
In fact, the contradictions do not stop there. As D. Rudman has observed:
“…so much of the material in the MT of I Samuel xvii contradicts that of the previous chapter: the second introduction of David’s family (xvii 12-13 cf. xvi 1-13), David’s return to tend the sheep at a time of crisis for Israel, despite being “a man of war” (xvii 15V. cf. xvi 18), David’s reappearance on the scene without reporting to his master Saul, despite his position in the court (xvii 20-31 cf. xvi 21-23), and Saul’s surprising ignorance of David’s identity (xvii 55-58).”
Another discrepancy in the story of David is the episode of the legendary duel between the young sheep herder and the Philistine warrior Goliath. As mentioned above and as is well-known, David killed Goliath. But this is only one version. Scholars have long noted that three versions of Goliath’s death are found in the Bible. The first one is found in 1 Samuel 17, but what about the other two? These versions are found in 2 Samuel 21 and 1 Chronicles 20, respectively, but most modern translations have hidden the discrepancy. Let us look at the passages in question as found in the New International Version:
“In another battle with the Philistines at Gob, Elhanan son of Jair the Bethlehemite killed the brother of Goliath the Gittite, who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver’s rod.”
“In another battle with the Philistines, Elhanan son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver’s rod.”
In a footnote to 2 Samuel 21:19, the NIV admits that its rendition of the verse is actually not representative of the actual Hebrew text, for it notes (emphasis in the original):
“See 1 Chron. 20:5; Hebrew does not have the brother of.”
In other words, the translators elected to alter the text to avoid a glaring error and simply cross-referenced 2 Samuel 21:19 to 1 Chronicles 20:5 as the reason for this deliberate deception. But this does not solve the problem. As Steven L. McKenzie, professor of Hebrew at the Bible Rhodes College observes (emphasis in the original):
“The name Lahmi is actually the second part of the word ‘Bethlehemite’ (Hebrew: beth-lahmi). The Chronicler’s solution to the contradiction, therefore, was to invent a brother for Goliath. He then made up a name for him out of the word ‘Bethlehemite’ from 2 Sam. 19:21.”
Hence, we not only have contradictory versions of who actually killed Goliath, we also have deliberate attempts by redactors and modern translators to hide these contradictions.
Moving on, we mentioned above that Saul eventually came to regard David as a threat to his rule. As such, Saul tried to eliminate David, first by sending him on impossible missions and then by trying to kill him directly. Regarding the former, one such mission was Saul’s request to David to provide a gift for his daughter’s hand, which was 100 Philistine foreskins, a mission that David performed very successfully, managing to bring twice as many foreskins. However, David’s own words later in his life contradicted the exact details of this grisly episode. According to 2 Samuel 3:14, when David requested that Ish-Bosheth (the son of Saul) return David’s wife Michal, he referred to the gift he had given to Saul:
“Then David sent messengers to Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, demanding, “Give me my wife Michal, whom I betrothed to myself for the price of a hundred Philistine foreskins.””
Moreover, what makes the entire episode rather questionable is that after escaping into Philistine territory to avoid Saul’s relentless efforts to kill him, David managed to earn the Philistine king’s trust, despite the fact that he had done so much to harm Philistine interests in past encounters. How could a man who had killed a Philistine champion and mutilated other Philistines have so easily found himself in the care of his enemies?
Next, we should consider the circumstances surrounding Saul’s death in the battle with the Philistines shortly after receiving the warning from Samuel’s spirit. The first issue concerns the actual incident of Saul’s consultation with the “medium”. As we saw above, after receiving no response from God, Saul consulted the medium, and was subsequently warned that he and his sons would die in the battle against the Philistines due to his disobedience of God’s commands:
“Because you did not obey the Lord or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the Lord has done this to you today. The Lord will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.”
Yet this reason is directly contradicted by another version of the story found in 1 Chronicles 10, which provided other reasons as well for Saul’s death:
“Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.”
The Chronicler’s statement is clearly at odds with 1 Samuel 28. Whereas 1 Samuel 28 stated clearly that Saul only consulted the medium after he had prayed to God and had not received a response, the Chronicler claimed that Saul “did not inquire of the Lord”. So, had Saul consulted God or had he not? The answer to this question depends on which source we use, but they both cannot be right.
Next, let us consider the actual circumstances of Saul’s death. Here too, the Bible provides contradictory information. We saw above that, according to 1 Samuel 31, Saul was wounded by Philistine archers and eventually killed himself by falling on his own sword. Here is how the story is told in 1 Samuel 31:3-6:
“The fighting grew fierce around Saul, and when the archers overtook him, they wounded him critically. Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.” But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him. So Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together that same day.”
1 Chronicles 10:3-6 says the same thing:
“The fighting grew fierce around Saul, and when the archers overtook him, they wounded him. Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and abuse me.” But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died. So Saul and his three sons died, and all his house died together.”
It is very clearly stated in both sources that Saul killed himself. It appears to be an open and shut case. Unfortunately, it is not. This version of Saul’s death is contradicted by another account found in 2 Samuel 1. According to this account, an Amalekite found a critically wounded Saul and finished him off at his request:
“Then David said to the young man who brought him the report, “How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?” “I happened to be on Mount Gilboa,” the young man said, “and there was Saul, leaning on his spear, with the chariots and their drivers in hot pursuit. When he turned around and saw me, he called out to me, and I said, ‘What can I do?’ “He asked me, ‘Who are you?’ “‘An Amalekite,’ I answered. “Then he said to me, ‘Stand here by me and kill me! I’m in the throes of death, but I’m still alive.’ “So I stood beside him and killed him, because I knew that after he had fallen he could not survive. And I took the crown that was on his head and the band on his arm and have brought them here to my lord.””
Moreover, yet another account states that Saul had been killed by the Philistines and not by his own hand or by an Amalekite:
“When David was told what Aiah’s daughter Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, had done, he went and took the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from the citizens of Jabesh Gilead. (They had stolen their bodies from the public square at Beth Shan, where the Philistines had hung them after they struck Saul down on Gilboa.)”
Undoubtedly, the three accounts contradict each other. Either Saul killed himself after being wounded by the Philistines or he was killed by the Amalekite after being wounded and attempting suicide or he was simply killed by the Philistines. All three accounts cannot be true.
Next, we come to the most controversial incident in the Biblical David’s life, the adulterous affair with Bathsheba. The details of this incident have been provided above. The account states that after being threatened for his abhorrent actions (committing adultery with Bathsheba and having Uriah killed), David repented and was spared death. However, this directly contradicts the Mosaic Law which required the death penalty for adultery. Hence, both David and Bathsheba should have been stoned to death. The Bible does not even mention whether Bathsheba was also allowed to repent or not. Only David is mentioned. However, they were still punished, though not according to the Law. According to the story, God struck the child that was born from the adulterous relationship with a lethal illness, which claimed his life after seven days. This punishment contradicts a basic principle of justice laid out in Deuteronomy:
“Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin.”
The same principle is laid out in the Book of Ezekiel:
“The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.”
Clearly, David and Bathsheba both deserved death for their sins, not their son. From the perspective of the Mosaic Law, the entire incident was a miscarriage of justice.
Another problem with the story is that it is not found in the other version of David’s life (i.e. 1 Chronicles). The Chronicler repeated many of the stories found in 1 and 2 Samuel (some with contradictory information as we have seen), yet the story of David’s adultery is curiously absent. The author even began the story in the same way as the author of 2 Samuel, with the war against the Ammonites:
|2 Samuel 11:1 – In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.||1 Chronicles 20:1 – In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, Joab led out the armed forces. He laid waste the land of the Ammonites and went to Rabbah and besieged it, but David remained in Jerusalem. Joab attacked Rabbah and left it in ruins.|
But while the account of the war in 2 Samuel 11 is interrupted by the Bathsheba affair and only completed at the end of 2 Samuel 12, the account in 1 Chronicles completely omits the story and instead only summarizes the war against the Ammonites. Scholars have noted this discrepancy and suspect that it was deliberate. For example, Marc Zvi Brettler observes that the Chronicler omitted many of the more sordid and embarrassing parts of David’s story. He states:
“Chronicles similarly omits the unflattering set of events that happened next in Samuel: the rape of David’s daughter Tamar by Amnon, her half-brother; the murder of Amnon by his half-brother Absalom; and the (largely successful) rebellion by Absalom, followed by his death. These events suggest a measure-for-measure punishment of David and his house. They reflect badly on David, so the Chronicler omitted them (perhaps with the hope that his book would displace Samuel as an authoritative version of history).”
Similarly, John C. Endres states:
“The stories the Chronicler omitted include many incidents in which David’s loyalty and character seem compromised, where he appears weakened by sin that affects him and most of his household negatively. […] The Chronicler omits much of the negative portrayal of David (“whitewash”), perhaps to make him appear more religious and saintly.”
These seemingly deliberate omissions have led some scholars to believe that the story of the adulterous affair was inserted by a later redactor.
Moving on, let us discuss the story of David’s reconciliation with the Gibeonites. It was mentioned above that during the reign of Saul, the Gibeonites had been greatly persecuted. During David’s reign, an attempt at atoning for Saul’s sins was made. The Gibeonites requested that seven of Saul’s male descendants be handed over to them so that they could be executed. Like the story of David and Bathsheba’s first son dying from an illness as a punishment for the adulterous affair, the story about the Gibeonites contradicts the principal of justice laid out in the books of Deuteronomy and Ezekiel. What had the descendants of Saul done to be executed for his sins? Why were they liable?
Furthermore, there is no record in the Bible of Saul’s alleged crimes against the Gibeonites, as even Jewish sources have noted. As J. David Bleich explains (emphasis in the original):
“The Gemara, Yevamot 78b, quite cogently poses the question: Where is it related that Saul killed the Gibeonites? In point of fact, Saul committed no untoward act against the Gibeonites. The Gemara replies that although Saul did not kill the Gibeonites, he did annihilate the priests who were the inhabitants of the city of Nob. […] Subsequent to the destruction of Nob, the Gibeonites who were dependent upon the priests for food and drink, no longer had a source of sustenance and consequently a number of them perished. Since Saul was, at least indirectly responsible for their death, Scripture regards him as culpable for the demise of the Gibeonites.”
Similarly, McKenzie states:
“…there is no reference in Samuel or anywhere else in the Bible to Saul’s execution of the Gibeonites. It is possible that the Gibeonites held a grudge against Saul for some act of his during his reign that went unrecorded. But the story in 2 Samuel 21 is a thinly disguised excuse for the bloodbath by which David secured his hold on the throne.”
It is also interesting to note, as McKenzie does, that during the rebellion of Absalom, a man named Shimei accused David of being a murderer and usurper of Saul’s throne, which would suggest that the executions of Saul’s descendants in the Gibeonite episode was a deliberate act of murder, designed to eliminate any possible threats to David’s throne. McKenzie also observes that 2 Samuel 9 originally followed 2 Samuel 21 (the latter mentions the episode with the Gibeonites). This makes sense since 2 Samuel 9 begins in the following way:
“David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?””
If this had occurred before the execution of seven of Saul’s male descendants as told in 2 Samuel 21, then David’s question would make no sense since there would have been several surviving members of Saul’s household. Yet 2 Samuel 9 only mentions Mephibosheth, the lame son of Jonathan, as the only survivor of the “house of Saul”. This very clearly contradicts the claim that David later handed seven of Saul’s male descendants over to the Gibeonites. For scholars like McKenzie, the correct order of the story suggests that David skillfully eliminated any potential threat to his rule.
A third discrepancy in the story of David and the Gibeonites is specifically regarding Saul’s five grandsons who were among the seven male descendants handed over to the Gibeonites for execution. As mentioned above, the NIV states that the five males were the sons of Merab. However, a footnote to the verse states (emphasis in the original):
“Two Hebrew manuscripts, some Septuagint manuscripts and Syriac (see also 1 Samuel 18:19); most Hebrew and Septuagint manuscripts Michal.”
In other words, most manuscripts of the Bible mentioned Michal, not Merab. In addition, the Jewish historian Josephus believed that Michal had five children with Paltiel, before she was sent back to David. So why did the translators elect to forego the overwhelming manuscript evidence and place Merab into the text instead of Michal? The reason may be to avoid casting light on yet another contradiction, since according to 2 Samuel 6:23, Michal was supposed to have been childless all her life:
“And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.”
Hence, a possible motive for the translators of the NIV to substitute Merab for Michal may have been to hide the contradiction!
Next, as mentioned above, near the end of his life, David purchased the “threshing floor” to build an altar to God. This site would become the Temple Mount where Solomon would build the temple. The reason David purchased the land was to stop the plague that was ravaging the Israelites due to David’s census. Before we discuss the significance of the “threshing floor”, we need to analyze the contradictory nature of the story of the census.
It was previously mentioned that God commanded David to take a census of Israel (2 Samuel 24:1). However, a different version (yet again) in 1 Chronicles 21 states that it was Satan who incited David to take the census. Let us read the verses side by side:
|2 Samuel 24:1 – Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.”||1 Chronicles 21:1 – Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.|
The contradiction is clear and is made even clearer by the fact that, according to the Chronicler, the resulting plague that God sent on the Israelites was due to David’s command to Joab to include the tribes of Levi and Benjamin in the census, which Joab found “repulsive” (and so did God):
“But Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, because the king’s command was repulsive to him. This command was also evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel.”
Why would God have found David’s order to be “evil” if He had commanded David to take the census in the first place, as 2 Samuel 24:1 states? It can be plainly seen that in 2 Samuel 24, God was already angry at Israel, but in 1 Chronicles 21, He became angry after the census. Furthermore, the Chronicler contradicts 2 Samuel by claiming that the census was Satan’s idea and was not a command from God.
Another contradictory element of the story is the actual result of the census itself, since 2 Samuel 24 does not agree with 1 Chronicles 21 as to the total tally. According to 2 Samuel 24:9, the number of “fighting men” in Israel and Judah was 1.3 million (800,000 in Israel and 500,000 in Judah). However, 1 Chronicles 21:5 claims that the number was 1.1 million (630,000 in Israel and 470,000 in Judah), which may be due to the fact that Joab did not count the Levites and Benjamites. In any case, there is no way both tallies can be correct. Interestingly enough, Josephus provided yet another tally (while taking into account that Joab had not counted the Levites and Benjamites):
“Now the number of the rest of the Israelites was nine hundred thousand men, who were able to bear arms and go to war; but the tribe of Judah, by itself, was four hundred thousand men.”
Hence, the total tally according to Josephus was the same as reported in 2 Samuel 24, though the individual tallies for Israel and Judah were different. At the same time, Josephus was clearly more influenced by the report in 1 Chronicles 21, since he claimed that it was David who had ordered the census on his own authority (instead of following God’s command as stated in 2 Samuel 24) and that Joab had not counted the tribes of Levi and Benjamin.
Having analyzed these contradictions, we can finally come to the “threshing floor” which David purchased to build an altar to God. This piece of land would be the spot on which Solomon would build the temple. However, it was supposed to have other significance, for the author of 2 Chronicles equates it with “Mount Moriah”. Mount Moriah was, of course, supposedly the site of the “binding of Isaac”, when Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac as God had commanded. Surprisingly, however, the link between the “threshing floor” and “Mount Moriah” is found only in 2 Chronicles 3 and nowhere else. This is despite the fact that, if the Chronicler was correct, the “threshing floor” was the actual site of the binding of Isaac, one of the most important events in Biblical history! But if this was the case, then why was such an important site treated simply as just a “threshing floor” which belonged to a Jebusite? It seems that David (and the author of 2 Samuel) was completely unaware of the actual significance of the site (assuming it was the original site of Isaac’s near sacrifice) and neither God nor the prophets ever bothered to illuminate him! As Islamic scholars Abdus Sattar Ghauri and Ihsanur Rahman Ghauri rightfully observe:
“Had ‘Moriah’ been the name of the place, and that too, from the times of the Patriarch Abraham or even before that; and that too, in connection with such a conspicuous event as that of the offering of his only son for sacrifice at this place; how could it be possible that the angel of the Lord, and king David, and the redactor of the book, and the owner of the place, Ornan the Jebusite, might so indifferently, rather disdainfully, have disregarded even the mention of the proper name of this place throughout the narrative!”
Scholars have also stated that the reason for the absence of any association of the “threshing floor” with the “Moriah” of Genesis 22 is because no such association originally existed. As Rivka Gonen observes:
“The substitution of the Land of Moriah, a vague geographical location, with the universally known mountain on which Solomon built his Temple could not have occurred during the First Temple period, because Mount Moriah is not referred to in any other book save Chronicles. It has already been mentioned that Chronicles is a late book, the work of the editor sometime after the return of the exiles from Babylon. […] Thus the verse in II Chronicles began the tradition of identifying Mount Moriah with the Temple Mount.”
Hence, the association of the “threshing floor” with “Mount Moriah” was almost certainly an invention of a later writer. For further proof of this, the Book of Genesis states that Abraham’s journey to Moriah took three days. Given that Abraham lived with his family in Beersheba, it seems hard to believe that it would have taken him three days to get to the site (and still only see it at a “distance”). As Abdus Sattar Ghauri and Ihsanur Rahman Ghauri note:
“If he started his journey from Hebron, he had to travel twenty miles. If he started from Mamre, he had to travel only eighteen miles. If he started from Beersheba, he had to travel for about forty miles. Whatever the starting point of his journey be; as he was travelling on his donkey, and started the journey early in the morning, and undertook the journey earnestly; it may have taken him merely a day or so to reach his destination, had it been in Jerusalem (which was between eighteen to about forty miles from his every possible place of residence).”
Clearly, the association of the “threshing floor” with “Mount Moriah” cannot be sustained. The evidence is simply lacking.
Finally, we can note one final contradiction in the story of the purchase of the “threshing floor”. According to 2 Samuel 24:24, David paid 50 shekels of silver for the site and oxen, which the NIV notes is equivalent to 575 grams (1.25 pounds) of silver. However, 1 Chronicles 21:25 states that David paid 600 shekels of gold for the entire site, which is equivalent 6.9 kilograms (15 pounds) of gold. The important question is not really how much David paid (though there is an obvious contradiction) but whether he bought only the threshing floor and some oxen or the entire site. The answer again depends on which source we use.
In closing, the above analysis has provided strong evidence of the inconsistencies and contradictions surrounding the story of the great Biblical figure David. Let us now examine the Quranic account, and how it differs from the Bible’s account of David.
David in the Quran
Dawud (peace be upon him) is mentioned in various places in the Quran. He is regarded as a prophet who received the Zabur (often equated with Psalms) and was a righteous servant of Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He). Unlike the Bible, which provided a long account of David’s rise to power and specific events during his 40-year reign, the Quran does not provide a biographical account of the great prophet. Rather, as with most other Biblical figures mentioned in the Quran, David is mentioned in different places, sometimes in passing references and at times, in longer passages. Here, we will provide a short summary of the Quranic references to his life.
Like the Bible, the Quran first introduces Dawud (peace be upon him) in the famous encounter with the Philistine warrior Jalut (Goliath). Led by king Talut (Saul), the Israelite army defeated the Philistines and Dawud (peace be upon him) killed Jalut:
“By Allah’s will they routed them; and David slew Goliath; and Allah gave him power and wisdom and taught him whatever (else) He willed. And did not Allah check one set of people by means of another, the earth would indeed be full of mischief: But Allah is full of bounty to all the worlds.”
Eventually, Dawud would become king and was commanded by Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) to judge according to His Laws and to remain on His path:
“O David! We did indeed make thee a vicegerent on earth: so judge thou between men in truth (and justice): Nor follow thou the lusts (of thy heart), for they will mislead thee from the Path of Allah: for those who wander astray from the Path of Allah, is a Penalty Grievous, for that they forget the Day of Account.”
And this he did as per Allah’s will, as attested in the Quran:
“And remember David and Solomon, when they gave judgment in the matter of the field into which the sheep of certain people had strayed by night: We did witness their judgment. To Solomon We inspired the (right) understanding of the matter: to each (of them) We gave Judgment and Knowledge; it was Our power that made the hills and the birds celebrate Our praises, with David: it was We Who did (all these things).”
The ahadith also describe Dawud’s piety and service to Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He). For example, a hadith in Sahih Bukhari states:
“Narrated Abdullah bin ‘Amr bin Al-‘As: Allah’s Apostle told me, “The most beloved prayer to Allah is that of David and the most beloved fasts to Allah are those of David. He used to sleep for half of the night and then pray for one third of the night and again sleep for its sixth part and used to fast on alternate days.””
He was also described as one who did not take his position as king as a privilege which he could exploit for his own comfort and gain. In another hadith from Sahih Bukhari, it is stated:
“Narrated Al-Miqdam: The Prophet said, “Nobody has ever eaten a better meal than that which one has earned by working with one’s own hands. The Prophet of Allah, David used to eat from the earnings of his manual labor.””
Dawud’s kingdom was made strong by the military strength provided to Him from his Lord. The Quran states:
“It was We Who taught him the making of coats of mail for your benefit, to guard you from each other’s violence: will ye then be grateful?”
It should be noted, however, that the Quran’s account does not provide any details which would agree with the Bible’s claims of widespread violence against various nations and the murders of countless men and women.
Also unlike the Bible, the Quran does not attribute the abhorrent sins of adultery and murder to the great prophet. However, he is shown as being repentant whenever he committed some unknown mistakes in his life. One such example is mentioned in the Quran:
“Has the Story of the Disputants reached thee? Behold, they climbed over the wall of the private chamber; When they entered the presence of David, and he was terrified of them, they said: “Fear not: we are two disputants, one of whom has wronged the other: Decide now between us with truth, and treat us not with injustice, but guide us to the even Path. “This man is my brother: He has nine and ninety ewes, and I have (but) one: Yet he says, ‘commit her to my care,’ and is (moreover) harsh to me in speech.” (David) said: “He has undoubtedly wronged thee in demanding thy (single) ewe to be added to his (flock of) ewes: truly many are the partners (in business) who wrong each other: Not so do those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, and how few are they?” And David gathered that We had tried him: he asked forgiveness of his Lord, fell down, bowing (in prostration), and turned (to Allah in repentance). So We forgave him this (lapse): he enjoyed, indeed, a Near Approach to Us, and a beautiful place of (Final) Return.”
It will be noticed that the parable of the ewes mentioned by the “disputants” is similar to Nathan’s parable mentioned in 2 Samuel 12. However, while Nathan’s parable referred to David’s alleged adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, the Quranic parable of the disputants does not specify what Dawud’s sin was. Unfortunately, this did not stop some Muslim exegetes from using Judeo-Christian traditions to determine what sin it was (nevertheless, adultery was not one of them). As Suzanne Haneef explains:
“Because the nature of this test is not stated in the Qur’an, some of the classical commentators sought to provide an explanation of it from Judaic sources.”
But as she also rightfully observes:
“It is quite unimaginable that God would bestow such high praise on a person, much less on a prophet, after he had followed his lust to commit the awful crime and sin that is reported of David (A) in the Old Testament, an explanation which was nevertheless accepted by some early Qur’anic commentators.”
In fact, Haneef relates that during the Caliphate of Ali ibn Abu Talib (may Allah be pleased with him):
“…the fourth caliph…considered what had been ascribed to David (A) in the Biblical narrative so grave a slander as to declare that if anyone narrated the story of David in the manner in which it was told by the story-tellers, he would have him flogged with 160 stripes, that being a suitable punishment for slandering God’s prophets…”
Of course, other exegetes were more cautious in blindly accepting the “Isra’iliyat” traditions. For example, Ibn Kathir stated:
“In discussing this passage, the scholars of Tafsir mention a story which is mostly based upon Isra’iliyat narrations. Nothing has been reported about this from the Infallible Prophet that we could accept as true.”
Finally, when Dawud’s life came to its predetermined end, his son Suleiman (Solomon) inherited his throne:
“And Solomon was David’s heir. He said: “O ye people! We have been taught the speech of birds, and on us has been bestowed (a little) of all things: this is indeed Grace manifest (from Allah.)””
Thus was the life of Dawud (peace be upon him), the servant of Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He). Unlike the Biblical account, the Quranic version of the great prophet’s life provides a much more consistent story, free of any contradictions and inconsistencies. Furthermore, given the Quran’s descriptions of Dawud (peace be upon him) as a righteous man, unlike the Bible, the famous statement about him found in the Book of Acts makes sense:
“God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’”
One wonders that if the stories about murder and adultery were true, would God have so honored such a man? The answer seems to be a resounding “no”.
In this article, we have examined the Biblical and Quranic versions of the life of David. In a detailed analysis, we summarized the Biblical account and identified several contradictory elements in the story. These contradictions cannot be reconciled but are not at all surprising given that the Bible has multiple sources on the life of David, which were written by different authors in different time periods (e.g. 1 and 2 Samuel vs. 1 Chronicles). In contrast, the Quranic account, while very brief, lacks any of the contradictory elements found in the Bible.
And Allah knows best!
 There is no doubt that David (peace be upon him) did actually exist and was not a “fictional” character, as skeptics often claim about many of the Biblical figures. The skeptics generally agree that David was a historical king, though they question the size and wealth of his kingdom as portrayed in the Bible. For more on this, see Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts (New York: The Free Press, 2001), pp. 128-130.
 1 Samuel 16:1 (New International Version).
 1 Samuel 16:11.
 1 Samuel 16:15-17.
 1 Samuel 16:18.
 As we will see later in the analysis of David’s story, this version of his introduction to Saul is directly contradicted by another account which is ironically also found in 1 Samuel!
 1 Samuel 17:8-11, 16.
 1 Samuel 17:17.
 1 Samuel 17:32-33.
 1 Samuel 17:34-37.
 As we will see, however, this famous story from the Bible is also contradicted by other versions.
 1 Samuel 18:25.
 1 Samuel 18:29.
 1 Samuel 19.
 1 Samuel 24; 1 Samuel 26.
 1 Samuel 27: 1-3.
 1 Samuel 27:8-9.
 1 Samuel 29.
 1 Samuel 28:6.
 1 Samuel 28:16-19. As we will see later, this part of the story has another, contradictory version.
 1 Samuel 31. In the next section, we will discuss the contradictions in the Bible surrounding Saul’s death.
 2 Samuel 1.
 2 Samuel 5: 4-5.
 2 Samuel 5:6-7.
 2 Samuel 7:16.
 2 Samuel 8.
 2 Samuel 11:1.
 2 Samuel 11:2-5.
 2 Samuel 11:6-13.
 2 Samuel 11:18-21.
 2 Samuel 11:27.
 2 Samuel 12:11-12.
 2 Samuel 12:13.
 Leviticus 20:10 required the death penalty for both the adulterer and the adulteress:
“If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.”
 2 Samuel 12:15-18.
 2 Samuel 12:24.
 2 Samuel 15.
 2 Samuel 20.
 2 Samuel 21:1.
 2 Samuel 21:5-6. As we will see, this part of the story contradicts Mosaic Law.
 2 Samuel 21:8. The NIV indicates that it was Merab’s five sons who were executed, but a footnote to the verse states that most manuscripts mention Michal, not Merab. We will discuss this inconsistency in greater detail in the next section and suggest a possible motive for the NIV translators’ decision to put Merab into the text instead of Michal.
 2 Samuel 24:24-25. The rather mundane description of the land as simply the “threshing floor” will be further discussed in the next section. We will also discuss the contradictory versions of David’s purchase of the site.
 The census story also has another version, which we will discuss later.
 1 Kings 1:17.
 1 Kings 1:30.
 1 Kings 2:10-11.
 Acts 13:22.
 1 Samuel 17:55-58.
 Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Edited by Moncure Daniel Conway. San Bernardino: Wildside Press LLC., 2014, p. 116.
 D. Rudman, “The Commissioning Stories of Saul and David as Theological Allegory”. Vetus Testamentum 50, no. 4 (2000): 519-530.
 2 Samuel 21:19.
 1 Chronicles 20:5.
 Steven L. McKenzie, King David: A Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 76.
 Regarding the actual act of mutilating the Philistine soldiers, it is clear that it was not seen as sinful behavior, since David was never reprimanded for it. Further still, he spent most of his time in Philistine territory as a raider, killing untold numbers of people, men and women, while capturing large amounts of spoils. Yet, the Bible (1 Kings 15:5) states that in David’s whole life, God only considered his actions against Uriah the Hittite to be sinful (!):
“For David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his life—except in the case of Uriah the Hittite.”
 This “medium” is better known as the “witch of Endor”.
 1 Samuel 28:18-19.
 1 Chronicles 10:13-14.
 2 Samuel 1:5-10.
 2 Samuel 21:11-12.
 Perhaps even more egregious is the fact that, according to the story, David and Bathsheba were allowed to stay together! In fact, he even impregnated Bathsheba again, leading to the birth of Solomon!
 Deuteronomy 24:16.
 Ezekiel 18:20.
 In fact, Bathsheba is only mentioned once by the Chronicler (1 Chronicles 3:5) and in a completely mundane way:
“…and these were the children born to him there: Shammua, Shobab, Nathan and Solomon. These four were by Bathsheba daughter of Ammiel.”
 Marc Zvi Brettler, How to Read the Bible (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2005), p. 132.
 John C. Endres, First and Second Chronicles (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2012), p. 49.
 See McKenzie, op. cit., p. 157.
 J. David Bleich, Contemporary Halakhic Problems (New York: KTAV Publishing House, Inc., 1989), p. 16.
 McKenzie, op. cit., p. 136.
 2 Samuel 16:5-8.
 McKenzie, op. cit., p. 136.
 2 Samuel 9:1.
 McKenzie, op. cit., pp. 136-138. He also suggests (p. 138) that Michal, the daughter of Saul, did not have any children with David since any child from their union would be a descendant of Saul, and thus a potential threat to David’s throne.
 Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 7:13.
 1 Chronicles 21:6-7.
 Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 7:13.
 Ibid. Josephus wrote:
“Now king David was desirous to know how many ten thousands there were of the people, but forgot the commands of Moses…”
 2 Chronicles 3:1.
 Genesis 22. The only difference is that this verse refers to the “land of Moriah” instead of “Mount Moriah”.
 Abdus Sattar Ghauri and Ihsanur Rahman Ghauri, The Only Son offered for Sacrifice: Isaac or Ishmael? With Zamzam, al-Marwah and Makkah in the Bible and a Brief Account of the History of Solomon’s Temple and Jerusalem, Second (Revised) Edition (Al-Mawrid, 2013), Location 1793. Kindle Edition.
 Rivka Gonen, Contested Holiness: Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Perspectives on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (Jersey City: KTAV Publishing House, Inc., 2003), pp. 41-42.
 Genesis 22:4.
 Genesis 21:34. See Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers: https://biblehub.com/commentaries/genesis/21-34.htm.
 Ghauri and Ghauri, op. cit., Location 1817.
 Christian apologists have attempted to harmonize the two accounts by claiming that the author of Samuel only provided the price for the threshing floor and oxen whereas the Chronicler provided the price for the entire site. See for example Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Peter H. Davids, F.F. Bruce and Manfred T. Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), p. 242.
But this argument only explains the contradiction of the different prices paid. It does not explain the contradiction of whether David purchased only the threshing floor and some oxen or if he purchased the entire site which is now known as the Temple Mount.
However, regarding the different prices paid by David, it could be argued from a close reading of 1 Chronicles 21 (specifically verses 22-25) that David actually bought the “site” of the threshing floor and not the entire “Temple Mount” (emphasis ours):
“David said to him, “Let me have the site of your threshing floor so I can build an altar to the Lord, that the plague on the people may be stopped. Sell it to me at the full price.” Araunah said to David, “Take it! Let my lord the king do whatever pleases him. Look, I will give the oxen for the burnt offerings, the threshing sledges for the wood, and the wheat for the grain offering. I will give all this.” But King David replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.” So David paid Araunah six hundred shekels of gold for the site.”
There is no indication that David purchased the entire lot but rather the specific “site” of the threshing floor. Of course, given the fabulous wealth of David’s kingdom, it is hard to believe why he would not have simply purchased the entire land. He certainly could have easily afforded it!
 Surah Al-Isra, 17:55 states:
“And it is your Lord that knoweth best all beings that are in the heavens and on earth: We did bestow on some prophets more (and other) gifts than on others: and We gave to David (the gift of) the Psalms.” (Yusuf Ali translation)
Also, Surah An-Nisa, 4:163 states:
“We have sent thee inspiration, as We sent it to Noah and the Messengers after him: we sent inspiration to Abraham, Isma’il, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes, to Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, and Solomon, and to David We gave the Psalms.”
However, as Suzanne Haneef cautions (emphasis in the original):
“David (A) was especially honored being the recipient of a divinely revealed scripture known as the Zabur, meaning ‘writing,’ ‘scripture’ or ‘book’. And since the Psalms are the sacred text ascribed to David (A), Muslims have equated the Zabur with the Psalms, although which psalms, if any, actually originated with David (A) is unknown” (A History of the Prophets of Islam: Derived from the Quran, Ahadith and Commentaries (Chicago: Kazi Publications, Inc., 2003), Volume 2, p. 236).
Dr. Jerald F. Dirks urges even more caution (emphasis in the original):
“As the Qur’an refers to a book of revelation, i.e., Zabur, given to David, the equation is often made that Psalms is Zabur. However, this equation appears to be erroneous, even though Psalms may very well include some portions of Zabur” (The Cross and the Crescent: An Interfaith Dialogue between Christianity and Islam (Maryland: Amana Publications, 2001), p. 54).
 Surah Sad, 38:17 states:
“Have patience at what they say, and remember our servant David, the man of strength: for he ever turned (to Allah).”
 For a more detailed account, see Suzanne Haneef, op. cit., pp. 229-244. For the Quranic account of Saul, see pp. 225-228. It should be noted that the Quran provides a much more sympathetic account of Saul, describing him as a righteous king who was faithful to Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He).
 Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:251. Unlike the Bible, however, there is no contradiction in the Quran in this regard.
 Surah Sad, 38:26.
 Surah Al-Anbiya, 21:78-79.
 Sahih Bukhari, 21:231. See also Sahih Muslim, 6:2595.
 Sahih Bukhari, 34:286.
 Surah Al-Anbiya, 21:80.
As mentioned above (note #1), modern scholars have questioned the Biblical description of the power and wealth of David’s kingdom. However, since the Quran does not provide any detailed accounts of just how large (or small) David’s kingdom was, the claims of the skeptics (if they are true) do not raise any serious objections to the Quranic account of David. Certainly, even if David’s kingdom was much smaller in scale than the Bible claims, it could still have been a military power in the region. Indeed, the 1993 discovery of the now famous “House of David” inscription at Tel Dan shows that David’s kingdom was well known even to the enemies of the Israelites. As Finkelstein and Silberman explain, the inscription:
“…is dramatic evidence of the fame of the Davidic dynasty less than a hundred years after the reign of David’s son Solomon. The fact that Judah…is referred to with only a mention of its ruling house is clear evidence that the reputation of David was not a literary invention of a much later period. […] Thus the house of David was known throughout the region; this clearly validates the biblical description of a figure named David becoming the founder of the dynasty of Judahite kings in Jerusalem” (The Bible Unearthed, op. cit., p. 129).
 In the same way, the Quran does not agree with the Bible regarding the battles waged by the Israelites against the Canaanites. Whereas the latter claims that there were widespread acts of genocide against the indigenous populations on the order of God, the former does not state this at all.
Indeed, as Finkelstein and Silberman explain, the archaeological evidence shows:
“No evidence for David’s conquests or for his empire. In the valleys Canaanite culture continues uninterrupted” (Ibid., p. 131).
 Surah Sad, 38:21-25.
 Haneef, op. cit., p. 238.
 Ibid., p. 240.
 Ibid., p. 241.
 Surah An-Naml, 27:16.