Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

A Sympathetic Look at Bathsheba

A Sympathetic Look at Bathsheba

This article is available in Spanish here.

I believe that Bathsheba has been unjustly criticised and judged by a number of people. She is described as a seductress by some, and as a conniving political opportunist by others, but I do not believe either of these descriptions match with how she is portrayed in Scripture. In this article I present a more sympathetic view of Bathsheba, and I aim to highlight, without imaginative or salacious embellishments, how the Scriptures depict her.

Bathsheba’s Bath – 2 Samuel 11:1-2

Almost everyone knows the story of when King David saw Bathsheba while she was bathing. This part of her story is mentioned in just a few verses with few details; however commonly held assumptions have influenced our understanding of the story. For instance, many people assume that Bathsheba was completely naked and brazenly exposed while she was bathing, but the Bible simply doesn’t say this.[1]

Customs of bathing in the ancient world, and in some cultures today, are very different to the way most westerners bathe. In many cultures, women do not have the luxury of a private bathroom and they bathe in more public places with a cloth or sarong wrapped around their bodies so that they are never completely naked.[2] We don’t know if Bathsheba was bathing in a public bath, or by a well, spring or river (cf. Judith 12:7-9), or if she was washing in the privacy of her own home or courtyard, but we do know that it was evening, so the light level may have been low. It is likely that Bathsheba was neither naked nor brazenly exposed when she was bathing.

2 Samuel 11:4b indicates that Bathsheba’s bath was part of a ritual cleansing. (This is clearer in the CEB, NRSV and NIV than in other English translations such as the NASB.) Devout Israelite women washed seven days after their period had finished, as indicated in the Law, and this may have been what Bathsheba was doing.[3]

The Bible does not tell us where Bathsheba was bathing, but it does tell us where David was. He was on his rooftop (after being in bed all day.) David’s palace would have been the largest building in Jerusalem, built on high ground, with the highest rooftop giving him a unique vantage point of the surrounding area, which was essential for security reasons.

Some assume that Bathsheba was hoping to attract the king’s attention and that she bathed in a seductive manner. However, it is likely that Bathsheba believed that David had gone to war with his fighting men—men who included her husband Uriah (2 Sam. 11:1). She may have had no idea that she was being watched.

A Royal Summons – 2 Samuel 11:3-5

After seeing the young[4] and beautiful Bathsheba, David sends for someone to find out who she is. As was the custom in biblical times, Bathsheba is identified by her relation to a man. In fact she is identified in respect to both her father and her husband. This identification indicates that she was a respectable person, as women with a dubious reputation were sometimes not identified by, and thus associated with, a named male relative. Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam, one of David’s top “Thirty” warriors (2 Sam. 23:34; cf. 1 Chron. 3:5)[5], and she was the wife of Uriah, also one of the “Thirty” (2 Samuel 23:39). The Bible depicts both as men of valour and honour.

When David found out who Bathsheba was, including the fact that she was a married woman, the text tersely states, “David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her” (2 Sam. 11:4a). Did Bathsheba have a choice in any of this? Could she have refused the messengers who had come with a royal summons? Could she have refused the sexual advances of the king?[6]

The Bible portrays Bathsheba as a young, respectable wife who was following the Law, but she probably felt powerless to refuse the king.

After David has sex with her—an act that was tantamount to rape—she returns home, defiled, and, as it turned out, pregnant. David expected Bathsheba to resume her life as Uriah’s wife. He did not want her as a wife, but in his senseless lust he seemingly did not anticipate that Bathsheba might become pregnant. (If she was bathing seven days after her period had finished, then her cycle was at the optimum time for conception.)

A Grieving Widow – 2 Samuel 11:6-14, 26-27

The narrative in 2 Samuel 11:6-14 recounts the ways David tries to cover up his involvement with Bathsheba’s pregnancy. David recalls her husband Uriah from active military service and encourages him to go home to sleep with Bathsheba. David was hoping that Uriah would take responsibility for the pregnancy. However, Uriah, who has a strong sense of honour, stays with David’s servants instead of going home to his wife. He was “unwilling to violate the ancient Israelitish rule applying to warriors in active service.” (source) Uriah’s refusal to sleep with his wife because of his sense of military duty is in contrast to David staying idly in his palace and not going to war, as was the expectation (2 Sam. 11:1).

David then plots Uriah’s murder. He writes a letter to Joab, the commander of his army, with instructions that ensure Uriah will be killed—a letter that David callously places in Uriah’s own hand to deliver to Joab. In the letter, David orders Joab to place Uriah in a vulnerable position in battle, and then withdraw military support from him. And so Uriah is exposed to the enemy and killed (2 Sam. 11:14-25).

Bathsheba is now pregnant and widowed, and she mourns for her murdered husband.

Bathsheba is not mentioned by name in the second half of 2 Samuel chapter 11, rather she is referred to as “the wife of Uriah”. This has the effect of distancing her from David’s crimes and schemes.

Chapter 11 finishes with a succinct update of the situation and a scary insight into God’s view of what David had done:

When Bathsheba’s period of mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased [or, was evil in the sight of] the Lord (2 Sam. 11:27).

God holds David, not Bathsheba, responsible for what has happened. This becomes even clearer in chapter 12. It is important to note that Bathsheba is nowhere criticized in the Scriptures.

A Little Ewe Lamb – 2 Samuel 12:1-14

David is blind to his guilt, so God sends Nathan the prophet to him with a message. Nathan tells David a parable about a rich man with many sheep and cattle, and a poor shepherd with one precious lamb. In the story, the rich man takes the one lamb of the poor shepherd.[7] David sees the injustice in the story. He becomes angry at the rich man and exclaims that the man must die. He still does not realise that he has acted just like the ruthless rich man, and Nathan has to point out to David, “You are that man!”[8]

David now realises what he has done and writes a song, Psalm 51, which expresses his contrition. David had broken three of the Ten Commandments: he coveted his neighbour’s wife, committed adultery, and had Uriah killed. God spares David life, but others will suffer because of his sins.

Adele Berlin notes that, “Bathsheba’s role is intentionally minimized to focus the story on David. David bears the responsibility and the condemnation, and from this point on he is beset by problems within his family that have political implications for his reign. This David is quite different from the man depicted in the Abigail story.” (Source)

A Bereaved Mother – 2 Samuel 12:15-24

David marries the widowed Bathsheba, and she gives birth to a baby boy, but the baby becomes dangerously ill. David fasts and prays, hoping that God will spare the boy’s life, but seven days later the boy dies. The biblical text devotes several verses which relate David’s prayers and grief for the baby, but we are not told of Bathsheba’s distress. She seems to suffer in silence. I feel for Bathsheba and the ordeal she faced because of David’s lust and wickedness.

David takes care of Bathsheba as his legal wife and we are told that he consoled her (that is, he had sex with her) after the death of their son. Bathsheba conceives and gives birth to another boy and named him Solomon. “And the LORD loved him” (2 Sam. 12:24). Things are beginning to look up for Bathsheba.

A Queen Mother – 1 Kings 1:11-31; 2:10-12

Many years pass. David has become an old man and is losing competence, and his eldest son Adonijah has set himself up as king.  Nathan the prophet goes to Bathsheba and says,

“Have you not heard that Adonijah son of Haggith[9] has become king and our lord David does not know it? Now therefore come, let me give you advice, so that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. Go in at once to King David, and say to him, ‘Did you not, my lord the king, swear to your servant, saying: Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne? Why then is Adonijah king?’ Then while you are still there speaking with the king, I will come in after you and confirm your words.”

Bathsheba follows Nathan’s instruction and goes to David and tells him what has happened. For those that think Bathsheba was a political opportunist, it is important to note that Bathsheba acted on Nathan’s advice here and not from her own initiative.

David tells Bathsheba, “As the Lord lives, who has saved my life from every adversity, as I swore to you by the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne in my place,’ so will I do this day” (1 Kings 1:29-30). David commands that Solomon be immediately anointed and publicly announced as his successor.

Shortly afterwards David dies and Solomon becomes king of Israel (1 Kings 2:10-12). Bathsheba had been one of King David’s many wives, but now she is the king’s only mother. Being the king’s mother, or the “queen mother”, is a step up for her.

A Royal Throne – 1 Kings 2:13-25

After David’s death, Adonijah, who had hoped to be king, approaches Bathsheba and makes a request: “Please ask King Solomon—he will not refuse you—to give me Abishag the Shunammite as my wife.” (Abishag was the young women whose job it was to keep the elderly King David warm and virile.) Bathsheba doesn’t seem to have had a problem with Adonijah’s request.

Adonijah, as well as Nathan, used Bathsheba as a go-between. They both seem to have recognised that she had diplomatic skill and influence with the king.

Bathsheba meets with King Solomon. The text says “the king stood up to meet her, bowed down to her and sat down on his throne. He had a throne brought for the king’s mother, and she sat down at his right hand” (1 Kings 2:19). Bathsheba is in a position of power and honour. She is on a throne at the right hand of her son, the king.

Bathsheba presents Adonijah’s request to her son, but Solomon perceives that gaining David’s “concubine” is part of a plot for gaining David’s throne, and he orders Adonijah’s execution (1 Kings 2:22ff).[10] With the removal of Adonijah, Solomon’s kingdom is now established (c. 968 BC).

In Wisdom Literature

The nation of Israel thrived under Solomon’s wise leadership. Solomon’s wisdom is also seen in his writing. He is traditionally credited as the author of the biblical books of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. In the Song of Solomon he mentions his mother fondly: that she crowned him with a wedding crown (Song 3:11).

Solomon also wrote much of the material included in the book of Proverbs, and from a couple of these proverbs we can see that Solomon respected the teaching of his mother (Prov. 1:8-9; 6:20 cf. Prov. 31:1ff). “Mother” is mentioned fifteen times in Proverbs, always with some sense that mothers deserve respect and should be spared the dishonour and grief caused by foolish children (Prov. 1:8; 4:12; 6:20; 10:1; 15:20; 17:25; 19:26; 20:20; 23:22, 25; 28:24; 29:15; 30:11, 17; 31:1ff). Did Bathsheba experience the grief of witnessing Solomon’s foolish foreign marriages and later idolatry (1 Kings 11:1-13 cf. Deut. 7:3-5)?

In Jesus’ Genealogies 

Bathsheba bore other children with David, including three more sons after Solomon. Two of her four sons are included the genealogies of Jesus: Solomon in Matthew 1:6 and Nathan in Luke 3:31. In Matthew’s genealogy four women are mentioned; three by name: Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth.  Bathsheba, however, is referred to simply as “the wife of Uriah” even though she was married to King David when she conceived and gave birth to Solomon. (Some English translations such as the NASB add Bathsheba’s name in Matthew 1:6, but her name is absent the Greek text.) Being referred to as “Uriah’s wife” seems to be an implicit reminder of David’s treacherous behaviour (1 Kings 15:5).


Bathsheba was a respectable young woman who suffered greatly because of King David’s actions. She was raped,[11] her husband was murdered, and then her first-born baby died. There is not the slightest hint of impropriety or guilt on Bathsheba’s part in the biblical text. David alone is held accountable and bears the responsibility for these terrible events, while Bathsheba seems to suffer in silence. Her situation improves with the birth of Solomon who was especially loved by God. Solomon becomes king in David’s place, and Bathsheba becomes the queen mother. Solomon seems to have a great deal of respect for his mother and he gives her a place of honour.

After a royal summons that brought about a wretched entrance into palace life, Bathsheba’s circumstances improved to the point that she had her own royal throne in the palace. Ultimately, Jesus was born through David and Bathsheba’s lineage, so Bathsheba has the distinction of being a great, great . . . grandmother of the Messiah. Bathsheba is depicted as an honorable woman in the Bible.


[1] For an unsympathetic look at Bathsheba, riddled with unfair assumptions, see Herbert Lockyer’s article on Bathsheba on Bible Gateway. Even his title, Bathsheba: The Woman Whose Beauty Resulted in Adultery and Murder, seems to put the blame on Bathsheba’s beauty, rather than on David’s actions. Lockyer’s articles on Dinah and a few other Bible women are equally heartless and unjust.

[2] In book 2 of his Jewish Wars, Josephus writes about first-century CE Essene women and men bathing in mikva’ot (ritual baths) with some clothing on: “Now the women go into the bath with some of their garments on, as do the men with something girded about them.” Wars 2.8.13 (161).
In the apocryphal Acts of Peter there is a disturbing story of a ten-year-old girl who was bathing with her mother and seen by a rich and powerful man. The man sends many messages to the mother asking to marry the girl. The mother refuses, and the man kidnaps the girl. The story is fiction, and written a thousand years after the David and Bathsheba story, but it does illustrate that respectable women might be seen while bathing.

[3] Mikva’ot, ritual Jewish baths, were common in Jerusalem between 100 BC–70 AD, but there is no surviving literary or archaeological evidence of similar ritual baths which date from David’s time, 1000 BC. (More on mikva’ot here.)

[4] Nathan’s parable recorded in 2 Samuel 12:1-4 of the shepherd and his “one little ewe lamb” might indicate Bathsheba’s young age. In some Rabbinical literature, Bathsheba is said to be a young child; however, she had already begun menstruating and was fertile when David had sex with her, so she must have been at least in her teens. In biblical times, brides were often young teenagers.

[5] In 1 Chronicles, Bathsheba is referred to as the daughter of Ammiel, rather than Eliam (1 Chron. 3:5). The name Ammiel has the same components as in the name Eliam but arranged in a different order. Ammiel means “my kinsman is God” while Eliam means “my God is kinsman”. (Several people in the Bible have more than one name. Even Solomon was named Jedidiah by God (2 Sam. 12:24-25).) Eliam’s father was Ahithophel, one of David’s top advisers.

[6] Cheryl Exum makes an interesting comment on Bathsheba’s rape: “Whether David rapes Bathsheba is a moot question . . . What Bathsheba might have done or felt is not the point; the point is we are not allowed access to her point of view. The issue of force versus consent, which is crucial for constructing the woman’s point of view, is not raised. Nor does the text describe an attempted seduction, which would give the woman a role, even if one in which she is manipulated. Bathsheba’s rape is semiotic; that is to say, her violation occurs not so much in the story as by means of the story. By denying her subjectivity. Plotted, Shot, and Painted: Cultural Representations of Biblical Women (Sheffield Academic Press, 1996) 22.

[7] Note that the lamb and the poor shepherd, allegorically representative of Bathsheba and Uriah, are portrayed as innocent and helpless in Nathan’s parable.

[8] The parable about the little ewe lamb is about ownership and theft, and seemingly implies that women were regarded as the property of men. This tells us about the view of patriarchal men at that time, rather than how God views his daughters.

[9] Haggith was Adonijah’s mother (2 Sam. 3:2-5 cf. 1 Chron. 3:1-9).

[10] Solomon had previously shown clemency to his half-brother Adonijah (1 Kings 1:51-53).

[11] There is no hint that Bathsheba consented, or that she even had the power to consent or refuse either the royal summons or the seduction. The imbalance of power between the king of Israel and Bathsheba was stacked against her. In the past, what happened between David and Bathsheba has been referred to as adultery, but with today’s understanding we call what happened to Bathsheba as rape. It was a terrible abuse of power on King David’s part.

Woman Leaving the Bath, Pablo Picasso, 1901Postscript: Most people, when they think of Bathsheba, think of her at her bath. I had initially decided to use this image of a painting by Picasso, an image that wasn’t based on Bathsheba. But then I thought, “I’m sick of Bathsheba being so strongly associated with her bath, I’ll find another image.” I want to focus more on Bathsheba’s influential and honorable end with Solomon, not her helpless and miserable beginning with David.
Image credit: Thumbnail of “Woman Leaving the Bath”, Pablo Picasso, 1901 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Further Reading

Bathsheba’s “other” David: The Marginalization of Women and Christ as Answer by Tanya Riches
What you need to know about Bathsheba by Dalaina May

Related Articles

The “Shame” of the Unnamed Women of the Old Testament
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
Abigail: A Bible Women with Beauty and Brains
King Lemuel’s Mother: The other Proverbs 31 Woman
The Portrayal of Women in the Bible and Biblical Inspiration
Leading Together in the Home

Posted December 2nd, 2014 . Categories/Tags: Bible Women, Equality and Gender Issues, ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

46 comments on “A Sympathetic Look at Bathsheba

  1. Angie says:

    “… aim to highlight, without imaginative or salacious embellishments, how the Scriptures depict her.”

    Well done.

  2. Dean Hoff says:

    To build up Bathsheba you make King David into a rapist. I wouldn’t call that an objective biblical look at Bathsheba. Also her husband was one of King David’s mightiest, I don’t believe their is any indication her father was.

    • Marg says:

      Having sex without someone’s consent is rape. There is no hint that Bathsheba consented, or even that she had the power to consent to either the royal summons or the seduction. The imbalance of power between the king of Israel and Bathsheba was stacked against her. In today’s language we call what happened to Bathsheba as “rape”.

      It was a terrible abuse of power on King David’s part. And then he “dumps her”, sends her home. I think what King David did to Bathsheba was despicable.

      As to Bathsheba’s father: 2 Samuel 11:3 says: “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.”
      Eliam is mentioned in the list of David’s Thirty warriors, as is Uriah (2 Samuel 23:24-39, See 2 Sam. 23:34)

      In 1 Chronicles, Bathsheba is referred to as the daughter of Ammiel (1 Chron. 3:5). The name Ammiel has the same components as in the name Eliam but arranged in a different order. Ammiel means “my kinsman is God” while Eliam means “my God is kinsman”. (Several people in the Bible have more than one name. Even Solomon was named Jedidiah by God (2 Sam. 12:24-25).)

    • Gail says:

      So Dean, I’m curious to know what you would call it, then. I doubt if she could have refused when the men came to take her away from her home. It is hard to say what the cultural pressures would have been like to refuse the king’s orders, wouldn’t it? Regardless of what David did or didn’t do, I don’t see how this is building up Bathsheba as much as setting the record straight. So much has been read into the text that isn’t there.

    • Dave says:

      God, however, is extremely objective – and must be if he is just – and portrays all Biblical “heroes” in truth. Marg did not turn King David into a rapist; David, as a powerful, head-removing king abused his power over his subjects and sinned against the Lord. Scripture does not hide from us the many flaws of its central characters. Adam coveted his wife, Abraham lied, Jacob deceived, Moses murdered, Solomon lusted, Peter denied, Paul persecuted, and on and on. Yet God used each and every one of them in spite of their record of sin. What a picture of grace!

      To read anything into Bathsheba’s character is to add to the Word (seductress, whore, etc). Even if she was, that would not take the blame off of David. He is responsible for his actions, as are we all.

  3. Bev Murrill says:

    It is, unfortunately, the default of both men and women to blame the victim rather than the perpetrator. David knew that it was highly unlikely that he would be denied what he wanted, even when it was another man’s wife. His decision to stay home from what he was anointed to do as a warrior indicates that he was tired of the season of his life and as a result, he ended up using the wife of one of his most loyal supporters. Shame on him…

    and shame on those who try so hard to make it the victim’s fault. Even supposing the rape was not violent, rape is the expressing of power over another human being sexually, which is what David did.

    I love the clarity of your thoughts and arguments, Marg.

    • Marg says:

      Thanks Bev.

      Someone who has a problem with what I’ve written even holds Bathsheba responsible for Uriah’s death. His logic is that if Bathsheba had said “no” to David, assuming that was even possible, Uriah would not have been murdered.


      • Bev Murrill says:

        The person who feels that Bathsheba had any ‘rights’ to say no is clearly a man… who has no idea what it feels like to be disempowered in a relationship

        Also, I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone take a male blogger to task over how they’ve written their blog… but I’ve seen it often with female bloggers… it’s hard to understand why that is, but it feels very patronising…

        • Marg says:


          Vashti, who was queen, had the audacity to say “no” to her husband’s summons. And look at what the king did to her. Kings were powerful.

  4. Donald Johnson says:

    I agree it was a power rape by David. Scripture says David sinned but does not say Bathsheba sinned.

    A few quibbles:

    1) Overlook in US English means to not see (something) as in “I overlooked the scarf on the floor.”

    2) Going into a mikveh does not imply being naked; if she was this implies she thought no one was watching.

    3) In Nathan’s parable, I would not use the word “compared” to describe the relation between the ewe lamb and Bathsheba, as the parable was meant to describe the situation in a cloaked way, so that David’s own words would condemn him.

    4) I think Abishag’s job was to keep David warm and attend to him, but since he did not “know” her, I do not think it was to keep him virile.

    5) It is traditional for Ecc. and Song of Solomon to attribute Solomon as author, but it is not actually stated that this is the case, at least in an unambiguous way.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Don,

      In the LXX it is clearer that Abishag’s role was to invigorate David’s virility. I wouldn’t want to go into the specifics of how she may have done this. While it says that “David didn’t know her”, it also says that Abishag slept with with David, she nursed him, and she ministered to him. Abishag was the more active person in this unusual relationship.

      • Peter Llewellyn says:

        Several Hebrew stories in the Bible are coy about sexuality, especially where sexuality is used by a woman. I don’t know why this is – my friends who teach Hebrew seem to agree that the texts contains these allusions in a humorous manner “wink, wink, say no more” as the British manner of such allusions has it. Wherever there is a degree of sexual tension in the narrative this mechanism pops up. If this is applied to the story of David’s last days, Abishag is brought in to test whether David is still potent enough to be king, and he fails – and the manoeuvring for the crown begins. Bathsheba and Nathan are first off the mark, and the long battle for the succession comes to a fairly satisfactory end. Those who don’t want to see the sexual innuendo in the Hebrew stories therefore may do so, but are up against the grain of the way Hebrew narratives are told. Hence the LXX is more specific, the Greek culture lacking this element.

        Because Solomon’s kingship is the result of so much intrigue – traced all the way back to David’s use of his power to exercise his will over Bathsehba and Uriah, tarnishing his best warriors in the process – his reign is tainted from the beginning. In the Deuteronomistic scheme of things, the text is able to draw out both positives and negatives about Solomon. In my view the negatives outweigh the positives – even his much vaunted “wisdom” is purchased from Egypt in the form of educated civil servants.

        • timothy says:

          Peter, can you be specific on the Greek elements? Maybe I’m just not hip to it, but LXX reads pretty straightforwardly to me. I’m not seeing any innuendo not present in the Hebrew original. (btw, I agree with the sexually charge interpretation.)

          And can you offer a source on Solomon’s wisdom deriving from Egyptian civil servants?

  5. Retha says:

    In a certain sense, I don’t want to compare Nathan’s little ewe lamb story too closely to David’s. For example, it is the lamb that is slaughtered and Uriah that is slaughtered, so a straight comparison between Batsheba and the lamb is too direct.
    For that reason, I would not assume she is very young from the “little lamb” part, or that a woman was dehumanized in comparing her to a sheep.
    But the point is that she is never blamed at all, and the comparison is to a slaughtered lamb. God could, if he saw 2 people as guilty, have made it a story about 2 sinners in cahoots. He did not. The likely answer is that there was two innocent-as-lambs people in this situation, and David should take all the blame for killing one innocent person, and for sleeping with another innocent person who does not share in his sin.
    Because lambs usually stand for the innocent, I find Nathan’s story even more reason to believe this was rape.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Retha,

      In the Old Testament Law if a man acted improperly to a woman, the man had to pay a recompense to her father or other senior male member of the family. Sexual misconduct was seen as a crime against the family rather than just a crime against the woman herself. So Uriah is the victim twice over in this story about David and Bathsheba: his wife is defiled and he is killed (1 Kings 15:5).

      This idea that women were somewhat “owned” by men is one of the reasons Bathsheba is so silent in the text, and that is why she is referred to as a lamb in the parable, while Uriah and David are referred to as men. I don’t think the concept of slaughtering is highlighted in the parable, but ownership.

  6. Good observation on David and Bathesheba. I wasn’t aware of Bathsheba being villified. I do believe David was villified in this story by sending away Bathsheba’s husband Uriah, leading to his death in order to have Bathsheba for himself and he later repented after Nathan the prophet compared him to rich man who stole froma poor man. I also think it is a bit of stretch to say David raped her as it was not very clear in the bible that it was rape. However, it is clear David pursued and lay down with another man’s wife and therefore sinned before God but later repented. Great post anyway.

    • Marg says:

      Hi CT,

      Other people have told me that they weren’t aware of Bathsheba being vilified and I am heartened to hear of it. I was graphically reminded of her vilification when I was searching for images to go with this article. Almost all the images of Bathsheba on the internet were of a totally nude woman, some were very stark. I initially decided to go with a beautiful image by Picasso of a woman somewhat discretely drying herself with a towel, an image that wasn’t based on Bathsheba. But then I thought, “I’m sick of Bathsheba being so strongly associated with her bath, I’ll find an image of a throne.” So that’s what I went with. I want to focus more on Bathsheba’s powerful and honorable end, not her miserable beginning.

      As to her “rape”: I clarify this in an endote. According to the values of that time, what David did to Bathsheba was adultery. According to values in modern western society, it was rape.

      As far as I can make out, the Old Testament Law only recognises rape when the victim is an unmarried, virgin. The reason seems to be that a young woman who has been raped has much less monetary value than an “undefiled” young woman. That is, her family get a lower dowry if the raped girl gets married, and there’s a big “if”. For example, Tamar and Dinah never marry.

      The following passage sheds some light on ancient attitudes:

      Deuteronomy 22:22-29
      Adultery: Verse 22 If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel. [A married woman is guilty of adultery with or without consenting to the sex.]

      Fornication: Verses 23-24 If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you. [A virgin raped in town is guilt, with or without consent.]

      Rape: Verses 25-28 But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. Do nothing to the woman; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor, for the man found the young woman out in the country, and though the betrothed woman screamed, there was no one to rescue her. [A virgin raped in the country is innocent.]

      Dowry: Verses 28-29 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives. [The young woman must be looked after.]

      These laws do not cover every situation but are meant as guiding principles. Moreover, these laws were made for the nation of Israel in ancient times and have been superseded by Christ’s law – love.

  7. Raymond Lambie says:

    Mathews Gospel does not mention her name, She is known only as She who was the Wife of Uriah the Hittite. So obviously, she is not respected by the writer of Mathews Gospel

    • Marg says:

      Hi Raymond,

      Actually, being identified by a male relative was, and is, a sign of respect in honor-shame cultures, such as those in Bible times. The confusing thing in Matthew’s gospel is that Bathsheba is identified by her deceased husband, and not by David who was her husband at the time that she conceived and bore Solomon.

      I have written about honor-shame culture and customs of identification in my article “The ‘Shame’ of the Unnamed Women in the Old Testament”. Needless to say, values and customs in Bible times are very different to those in modern western society.

      • Peter Llewellyn says:

        I agree, Marg, that the way Matthew refers to Bathsheba is both honourable and a sharp reminder to the reader that she, along with the other women in Jesus’ genealogy and of course Mary herself, is the subject of at least dubious innuendo and probably vilification, along the horrible lines all too familiar in patriarchal societies including the Christian churches. Matthew’s Gospel anticipates this and presents only these “tainted” women in the genealogy. I see it as an indirect legitimation of the extra-marital conception of Jesus.

  8. Gwen Meharg says:

    It has been my experience that Bible Gateway will remove offensive sexist articles if you call them on it. I can only imagine that if multiple people wrote and offered an alternative the bigotry might stop.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Gwen,

      I emailed Bible Gateway a while ago about the article on Dinah where Herbert Lockyer stated that if Dinah had stayed at home she would not have been raped. While I never heard back from them, I noticed that they removed the offending statement. Perhaps I should write to them about the Bathsheba article too.

  9. William Hooks says:

    This is all about cultural divide trying to use todays culture to explain yesterday’s.

    • Marg says:

      William, your comment is an exaggeration. I have stuck to the biblical text throughout this article, and brought in the cultural context of the Ancient Near East to help explain certain situations in the narrative. Only once have I made a reference to today’s culture, and that is in an endnote.

    • Gail says:

      It seems to me that you have it backwards William. The traditional reading imposes today’s culture on the text, ignoring the realities of the power connected with David’s monarchy. The post gives a more clear picture that takes into consideration the place of women in that culture.

  10. Lars says:

    David absolutely raped Bathsheba. The prophet’s allegory is an exact Amd very clear charge of the crimes David truly committed. He became a rapist, murderer, liar, and schemer. If he could have caused the baby to be aborted, he would have. Rape and murder recycled itself in his house due to the sins of the father. The depravity of man is severe. This brings home the true extent to gods mercy and grace. Why David wept over the death of the baby, unique to any man in scripture, may testify to the possible illegitimacy of David’s own birth (he said he was conceived in sin in the Psalms). Paul was also a raging murderer and killed countless people. I think most people just find rape to be more unforgivable that murder. To properly identify rape and murder with a major author of the psalms is too much for most.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Lars,

      I’ve find it interesting that some have balked at the idea David was a rapist, but not at the idea he was a murderer.

      David was living in another time and place, with a culture and value system very different to that of first world countries today, and I find much of his behaviour reprehensible. God saw beyond that. This is indeed testimony to God’s mercy and grace.

      I don’t believe David was illegitimate. He was speaking about the extent of his own sinfulness in Psalm 51, not his mother’s. Moreover, it is likely that in his deep remorse he used some exaggeration or poetic license in his song. I don’t think we can take Psalm 51:5 at face value. I don’t think David meant verse 5 to be understood an expressive outpouring of his guilt and sorrow, not as a historical or theological statement.

      Psalm 69:8 (which uses a poetic device common in Hebrew poetry: the repetition of concepts) shows that David’s brothers and his mother’s sons are the same people. Whatever the case, the Scriptures are clear that David was the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons. Jesse is undeniably David’s father.

  11. timothy mcmahon says:

    Hi, Marg. Great treatment of Bathsheba. I’ve always been perplexed by the unsympathetic views of this woman who was in an impossible position.

    Just one quibble. You made the point that Solomon referred to his mother’s teaching in Song 8:2. But the speaker in that verse is Shulamit, not Solomon. The 2nd person pronoun is masculine, so it must be Shulamit speaking.

    (Solomon does refer lovingly to his mother’s Torah in Proverbs 1:8 & 6:20.)

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