David (the king and the rabbi) goes Hollywood

Anthony Weiss


Perhaps Titian’s “David and Goliath”could be the model for the movie poster. (Wikimedia Commons)

Rabbi David Wolpe has never been too far from show business, physically or metaphorically. He is one of the country’s most visible and celebrated rabbis, and his pulpit at Sinai Temple is only a couple of miles from Fox Studios in West Los Angeles.

However, the distance just got a lot closer with the news that he has sold the rights to his new biography of King David, “David: The Divided Heart,” to Warner Brothers movie studio. The studio is developing the script in partnership with Gulfstream Pictures, which is co-headed by Mike Karz, a longtime member of Sinai. Wolpe has signed on as a consultant.

If handled properly, the David story should be cinematic gold. It’s brimming with sex and violence, and filled with enough machinations, murders and double-crosses to rival “The Godfather.” If you’ve forgotten how dark it gets, remember that it features one of David’s children raping another, and that David’s deathbed speech is an injunction to Solomon to rub out David’s old capo, Joab.

Wolpe’s book is a careful dissection of one of the Bible’s most complex and fascinating characters, and one hopes that the movie will follow suit. David is a figure of towering contradictions, both a stone-cold operator and a vessel for painfully raw emotion, a man loved by many but reluctant to love, a heavy-fisted ruler and a weak and bumbling father.

But Wolpe’s David may not be the only version of the Israelite king making its way to the big screen. In July, 20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment announced that they would be teaming with Ridley Scott to produce their own David film, likely focusing on his reign after slaying Goliath. Scott and Fox have already teamed up on another Bible movie, the forthcoming “Exodus: Gods and Kings.” Based on the trailer, the movie looks to be going for the full-bore epic treatment, and one suspects that Scott’s take on David would likely do the same.

And there’s more. Director Tim Chey has already completed filming on “David and Goliath,” which Chey assured the Christian Post would be “biblically correct in every way.” The film has a reported $50 million budget and will not lack for spectacle — it will reportedly feature the tallest man in Canada as Goliath.


Let’s hope all improve on the last major “King David” — a 1985 film starring Richard Gere. The New York Times’ Vincent Canby panned it, saying it “is not a good film” and “belongs in that category of stolid, almost-forgotten films that includes Henry King’s ‘David and Bathsheba’ (1951), in which Gregory Peck played David as a sort of Lincolnesque sinner.” The review also noted that, despite the PG-13 rating, the film contained “an unusual amount of violence, including two decapitations, a couple of throat-slittings and a lot of more or less commonplace assaults by spear and arrow.”

Speaking of unusual amounts of violence, no word yet on how any of the the new films plan to handle David’s gift to Saul of 200 Philistine foreskins.

Anthony Weiss is a Los Angeles-based staff writer for JTA.