Calling the Virtue of Bathsheba into Question

modern_bathsheba_by_vieug

Though much is made of the transgression of King David whose motivations are obviously lustful, there is little in the tale to indicate what Bathsheba’s motivations were. who, though already legitimately married to a number of wives and concubines, goes up on the roof of his palace one day and notices Bathsheba bathing on the rooftops, decides he can’t live without her, calls her to the palace, sleeps with her and, when she becomes pregnant from the

In synopsis, King David, though already legitimately married to a number of wives and concubines, goes up on the roof of his palace one day and notices Bathsheba bathing on the rooftops, decides he can’t live without her, calls her to the palace, sleeps with her and, when she becomes pregnant from the

In a thumbnail sketch King David, who, though already legitimately married to a number of wives and concubines, goes up on the roof of his palace one day and notices Bathsheba bathing on the rooftops, decides he can’t live without her, calls her to the palace, sleeps with her and, when she becomes pregnant from the tryst, arranges for Bathsheba’s soldier husband, the unfortunate Uriah the Hittite, to be put at the forefront of a hot battle and have the main force of the army withdraw, leaving him to die.

This story is related in the Second book of Samuel within the Old Testament and there is no doubt that these actions are condemned, because later the prophet Nathan comes to King David and tells him the parable of a poor man who owned just one ewe lamb and how a wealthy man with many lambs took the poor man’s lamb to feed a traveler.

When King David is angered at the actions of this wealthy man, the prophet Nathan reveals that King David is this wealthy man. He tells King David exactly what sins he has been hiding, condemns him, and prophesies that David’s own wives will be given to his neighbor and that he shall lie with them in the sight of the sun, indicating that it will be done openly–unlike how David committed his sins.

Though the writer(s) of the book of Samuel (probably Samuel himself, but the prophets Gad and Nathan may have contributed) clearly condemn King David’s actions, the actions of Bathsheba are not condoned, condemned or otherwise judged.

It is very possible that she was merely the unfortunate victim of circumstances and that being called into the presence of the king, one who was powerful enough to order or arrange for her death, she felt she had no choice but to comply with the lustful demands of King David.

After Bathsheba’s husband was killed by the Ammonites, by David’s conspiracy with the general Joab who was over the armies of Israel, David called Bathsheba again, but this time was free to marry her. The spawn of their illegitimate coupling died shortly after birth, but Bathsheba later bore King David a son named Solomon, who would go on to be the successor to the throne.

In many readings of the Old Testament I wondered what Bathsheba felt about being married to the man who arranged for the death of her first husband and what her thoughts might have been about the whole sordid affair.

Then, a later passage in the Second Book of Samuel, threw a new light on her motivations.

Eventually, the prophecies of Nathan indeed do come to pass, and David’s own son, Absalom, turns against him, gathers an army and drives David out of his palace. David flees and leaves behind ten of his concubines to tend to the palace in his absence. In order to show everybody his dominance, Absalom pitches tents “upon the top of the house” and goes into sleep with his father’s concubines “in the sight of all Israel.”

It’s this last phrase, “in the sight of all Israel.” that shed some light upon Bathsheba’s motivations. If she was bathing on her rooftop would not this also be “in the sight of all Israel”? Why would a woman bathe on the rooftop, in the sight of the palace walls no less, if she was not hoping to catch the attention of someone–perhaps the king?

Of course, the common interpretation that Bathsheba was bathing on the rooftop may be called into question. We know for sure that King David was on the roof of the palace and all these years I’ve assumed (and it is a common assumption) that in order for David to see Bathsheba bathing she was on the rooftop as well.

If it turned out King David was using a telescope to peer through a window or some sort of other peeping then my whole theory of Bathsheba’s motivations goes out the window … along with the bathwater.

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