In ‘Kings,’ Television Tackles the Conflicted Saul

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“Saul has slain his thousands, David his tens of thousands,” the Bible records the ancient Jews as chanting. The passage in the first Book of Samuel refers to the military prowess of Israel’s first king and his imminent successor. But it could just as well be measuring the relative impact each has had in Western culture.

The Library of Congress’s online catalogue lists just 43 books about Saul and 297 about David, with scores more in separate categories for drama, poetry and fiction. The database ARTstor links to just 59 artworks about Saul and several thousand of David, including the famous Michelangelo sculpture, as well as plates, tapestries, busts and ancient coins. A Google search even brings up a King David mouse pad.

Now comes a television series, “Kings,” which is giving Saul his star turn, and in its way introducing viewers to a more complex understanding of the Davidic narrative, one that accords with the perspective of many Bible scholars. Put another way, Saul is to “Kings” what Salieri was to “Amadeus,” a villain treated with respect, if not clemency.

Created and written by Michael Green, a writer with a Jewish day-school education and a Stanford degree in religious studies, “Kings” re-imagines the story of Saul and David as the present-day confrontation between Silas Benjamin, ruler of Gilboa, and David Shepherd, a soldier who will supplant him, thanks to the divine blessing conveyed by a minister named Ephram Samuels.

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