Weekly Meeting: The Secret Chord

The Secret Chord
The Secret Chord

Part of Which Challenges:

  • The Conference Read Down – got this at Book Expo

What You Should Know:

  • This is not David the hero/king.  David is not often beloved. In fact, his flaws are often highlighted.
  • Trigger warning for Tamar’s rape.  It was brutal. There is also an acknowledgement of Bathsheba’s rape
  • There is a lot of violence.  Not only war, but murder.
  • Spelling will be different than it is accepted today.  There were a few times when I had to check Wikipedia to make sure I had identities right.


  1. Would David make a good leader today? Why or why not?
    1. Let’s be honest, David is essentially an ancient war lord who was able to unify multiple tripes.  I studied religious studies as an undergraduate, but most programs are either theology or anthropology.  When I focused on the Old Testament it was from the King James bible, thus a bit if a conservative Christian POV.  It’s not like David is the focus of much in my childhood Jewish education.  He is glossed over as a hero.  He was Casanova, mixed with JFK, mixed with Paul McCartney, mixed with Julius Cesar.  When I graduated with my degree I realized David was none of that.  He was a man who had become the myth.  I am not sure he would have made a great leader today because doesn’t paint a picture of a man who an especially great leader in his own lifetime.  If fact, even Brooks seems to suggest (like the Bible) that Solomon was a better leader.
  2. What is David’s worst crime? His greatest achievement?
    1. :Let’s flip this and start with his greatest achievement.  The way Brooks write’s the politics, there seem to be many trips with many versions of one religion and one language.  I suspect that David brought that all together and started the creation of what we now know as Judaism.  I once suggested this to a family member (on the Jewish side) and he got upset.  It’s easy to recognize that Christianity borrowed from all the pagan religions around Europe, but even Jews have a difficult time seeing it in their own religion.  Even if David specifically wasn’t responsible for creating biblical Judaism (pre-Greeks), then he laid the foundation.  His worst crime remains Tamar and his unwillingness to punish his son for her rape.  For those who don’t know.  David’s only daughter, Tamar, was raped by her half-brother Amnon.  It is very graphic in the book.  Her full brother, Absalom’s eventual rebellion is triggered by David’s unwillingness to punish Amnon, his oldest son, for the rape.  Not only does Amnon ruin Tamar as a tool for diplomacy, but he (with this book) physically ruins her beyond taking her virginity.
  3. What is “the secret chord”? Why did Brooks choose this phrase as the novel’s title?
    1. Leonard Cohen wrote Hallelujah in the 80s.  I heard it in the 90s when Jeff Buckley covered it.  I love both versions until I think about the lyrics.  In general, it’s about many biblical romances.  Primarily, it is about David seeing Bathsheba bathing on the roof of her home.  He thinks she is so beautiful and inspired to compose a song.  Think of the inspiration as him feeling an orgasmic closeness to god.  Give the context of David’s rape of Bathsheba (widely acknowledged beyond this book), it really isn’t the most wonderful song.  The secret chord is expressed by the word Hallelujah.  Why pick this as the book title?  I think because it perfectly describes the feeling of the book.  It is, on the surface, the story of the king chosen by god, but it also shows the man behind the myth.

Who will like it:

  • those who like other books by Brooks.
  • those who like biblical fiction and can deal with the rape scenes.
  • those who like fictional looks at historical figures.


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