King found guilty -- 3,000 years after the fact

December 18, 2006|By Chris Emery | Chris Emery,sun reporter

King David, the second monarch of the Israelites and a hero of the Bible, was defiant during his trial in a Northwest Baltimore courtroom. Wearing a golden crown and facing charges of adultery, murder and coveting another man's wife, he maintained his innocence on all counts.

"I was at my palace when he was killed," said David - being portrayed by Daniel Kirsch, a biblical scholar - when asked by the prosecuting attorney if he murdered the husband of a woman with whom he had had an affair. "I did not lay a glove on him, and if I had, it would not fit."

In his closing arguments minutes later, the prosecutor was blunt. "David did a bad, bad thing," Adam Rosenberg told the jury.

Rosenberg, a former prosecutor for the Baltimore City state's attorney's office, was one of the volunteers who helped stage a mock trial of King David yesterday morning in an auditorium at Baltimore Hebrew University. Organizers said the event, which was part of the university's Lifelong Learning program, was intended to explore the biblical account of the relationship between King David and Bathsheba, a tawdry tale of an ancient love triangle that ends badly for Bathsheba's husband, Uriah.

"We wanted to give people a sense of getting inside the issue, to be absorbed in the aura of David's time," said Barry M. Gittlen, a professor of biblical and archaeological studies at the university.

Gittlen said biblical scholars believe David lived about 3,000 years ago. He said the Bible portrays David as a heroic figure and beyond reproach until the Second Book of Samuel, when from the roof of his palace in Jerusalem, the king spies a bathing beauty.

In summary, the biblical account of the story given to yesterday's audience proceeded as follows: David finds out the woman is named Bathsheba and is married to one of his soldiers, Uriah. David ignores that inconvenient fact and sends for her. She soon becomes pregnant - while her husband is off laying siege to a foreign city. David later sends a message to his general, Joab: "Place Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest; then fall back so he might be killed." Sure enough, Uriah is killed while attacking the city of Rabbath.

"The modern reader is plainly presented with David's misconduct," Susanna Garfein, a biblical scholar at the university, told the 100 or so people who attended the mock trial yesterday. "David is portrayed as a taker. Why was this included in the Bible?"

One possible reason, the scholars suggested, was to put an official spin on the scandalous affair. "Perhaps it was a public event in its day and needed to be explained to the public," Garfein said.

Another purpose might have been to humanize the king. "The Bible says David is human and portrays him, warts and all," Gittlen said.

While the trial yesterday roughly followed the format of a modern jury trial, the antics on stage were decidedly tongue in cheek. When Bathsheba (played by BHU student Christina Broussard) was on the witness stand, David's lawyer (attorney Louis J. Glick) called into question her motives for bathing where the king could see her. "You wanted to be queen, didn't you?" he charged.

"No."

"You wanted your son to be king, didn't you?"

"He was a good boy," Bathsheba said with a shrug. "I wanted the best for him."

"As any good Jewish mother would," the attorney quipped, drawing laughter from the audience.

In the end, the audience voted and found David guilty on all three counts. Judge Ellen M. Heller, a sitting Circuit Court judge in Baltimore, deferred handing down a sentence, as she thought God had already taken care of that.

One of the audience members, Maurice Levie of Northwest Baltimore, said he personally did not think there was enough evidence to convict David, but that he enjoyed the drama of the event.

"I like Jewish history," he said, "and it was really well done."

chris.emery@baltsun.com

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