Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Was Bathsheba Raped?

WAS BATHSHEBA RAPED? Was she taken against her will by King David?
by Philip Dorr

David sees Bathsheba
art print by James Tissot


Roberta read commentaries on this from all angles.  She asked  Rabbis, she asked seminary theologians, she studied the Mishnah and, of course, read the Biblical account over and over and over again and again.  Taking everything into account this is her conclusion and from it she weaves a love story of depth and significance in DAVID AND BATHSHEBA…a publication of River North.

What is protuberant about the account in 2 Samuel 11:2-4 is its lack of detail.  It’s short and to the point and gives us hardly a toe hold.

“And it came to pass in an evening-tide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself: and the woman was very beautiful to look at.  And David sent and inquired after the woman.  And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?”  And David sent messengers, and took her: and she came in unto him, and he lay with her: for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house.  And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, “I am with child.” 
(King James Bible)

There is such a startling lack of detail that it gives rise to much speculation and more questions than answers.

On the face of it one would have to surmise that Bathsheba was forced into this unseemly relationship by sovereign demand, an abuse of power, at the very least.Some have suggested a very weak argument that Bathsheba might have been trying to lure the king into this compromising position but that is very unlikely and a motive is very, very hard to come by.


Oldest mikvah discovered in Europe.  An idea of where
Bathsheba should have been bathing.
photo credit:  Michael Freund


What can we learn from the passage?  Right away we know the reason she was bathing, ‘for she had purified herself from her uncleanness.’  She was performing the ritual cleansing after menstruation.  What’s peculiar about this, though, is that she should have done this at the local mikvah (purification bath) and been attended by a lady or ladies in charge of making sure the water was pure rainwater untouched by human hands or instruments.  In our passage above we find her ritually ‘washing’ herself, unattended, in the open, possibly on her roof or in a courtyard, where the rainwater would have been collected. She would have been completely naked, no jewelry or clothing, make-up, nothing.  King David knew two things - she was very beautiful and she was ritually clean, a point in the narrative that seems important, indicating that there were considerations of law oddly taken into account here.  If he intended on consuming her with disregard he would not have cared if she were pure or impure a fact not considered when Amnon raped Tamar, and, I believe, this subtle point would have been left out of the narrative altogether if David’s desire was simply to use her.

The ancient City of David and the palace that
David would have observed Bathsheba from.

Next he had to find out who she was and this is where the story gets interesting.  Here I will skip to the chase.  He’s told that she’s the daughter of Eliam, now deceased.  Eliam was one of David’s 30 mighty men, so David would have known him very well.  She’s the wife of Uriah the Hittite, also one of David’s 30 mighty men.  These men were like knights of King Arthur’s round table.  All a very close knit group.  One very interesting fact, that doesn’t get a lot of attention but gives Bathsheba even more clout in this situation, is that Eliam is the son of Ahithophel, David’s long time chief advisor, making her Ahithophel’s granddaughter.  It’s very possible, and more than likely Bathsheba grew up in the shadow of the warrior David.  If she had been living in our era she might have had a poster of David on her teenage wall.  That David had to ask who she was might have inferred that she was far enough away that he couldn’t recognize her or it was getting dark.  It’s very possible that he hadn’t seen her in a few years and she had grown up and filled out since he last saw her, a la, the movie with Brad Pitt, LEGENDS OF THE FALL.  It’s very possible that he knew exactly who she was and used the inquiry to deflect the fact that he’d been a Peeping Tom from his roof top pavilion.

Here was a woman who lived around power all her life and was not intimidated by it and, as we know from later narratives, with her son Solomon, knew how to use it.  David did not intimidate her.  And after her first son died she went on to have four more healthy boys with the King.

If we look with a broad brush we will see that these two people came together at a time in their lives when both were miserable, unchallenged.  We know that the King should have been at war.  We find Bathsheba, childless, cleansing herself of her impurity instead of going to the local mikvah, very possibly indicating a host of problems inside the house of Uriah, a mother-in-law perhaps?

‘Then David sent messengers to get her; and she came to him, and he slept with her, for she was cleansed from her impurity; and she returned to her house.’  He sent messengers, not servants, thugs or soldiers….messengers to get her…and ‘she came to him and he slept with her, for she had purified herself from her uncleanness.”…..  She consented to lay with him because she was ritually clean and could lie with a man.  If it were rape this information would be totally irrelevant and missing from the account.  There was a dialogue between them, it wasn’t ‘should we do this’ but ‘can we do this?’  Yes, ‘we can’ because ‘I’m clean.’  

This blog post opens up an often debated and sensitive subject, however, in the context of Roberta’s telling of the story these details weave naturally and convincingly into a probable storyline.  This story is so rich and so richly told in a culturally informed manner by Roberta in DAVID AND BATHSHEBA.  After reading this book these characters will leap off the pages of your Bible forever.

1 comment:

  1. Well, I've never thought of those things. This was an interesting reading, but I have mixed feelings about it.

    ReplyDelete