Here we go again! Another “bad girl of the Bible” in need of our voice in telling her true story. This Sunday’s reading from the Hebrew Bible is the story of David and Bathsheba (if you’re not familiar with the story, see below). Even many progressive commentators continue to describe what happened between a powerful king and a powerless subject adultery. Thankfully, some recent commentaries (mainly by women) have called the incident what it really was: rape.
WHOSE FAULT WAS IT?
It will take many more of us to raise our voices in order to restore Bathsheba’s good name. Consider the recent book (and Facebook page) Really Bad Girls of the Bible: eight more shady ladies from Scripture (argghh, it’s a series). The chapter on Bathsheba tells us that “Bathsheba captured the wandering eye of a king.” Notice who is the subject of the action here: the powerless woman.
Another example, a Bible study outline, is entitled “Bathsheba: The Woman Whose Beauty Resulted in Adultery and Murder.” The author goes on: “Her beauty made her victim to a king’s desire” and “co-responsible in David’s sin.”
And this gem: “Caught in the Tempter’s Trap—The Story of David and Bathsheba”
“Bathsheba is not guiltless either. She may not have purposely enticed David, but she was immodest and indiscreet. To disrobe and bathe in an open courtyard in full view of any number of rooftop patios in the neighborhood was asking for trouble. She could easily have bathed indoors. Even so in our day, some women do not seem to realize what the sight of their flesh can do to a man. They allow themselves to be pushed into the fashion mold of the world and wear revealing clothes, or nearly nothing; then they wonder why the men they meet cannot think of anything but sex. We must not fail to instruct our younger girls in these matters, particularly as they enter their teen years. Christian parents should teach their daughters facts about the nature of man and the meaning of modesty, then agree on standards for their dress.
“David found out who the beautiful bather was, sent for her, and the thought became the deed. There is no evidence that this was a forcible rape. Bathsheba seems to have been a willing partner. Her husband was off to war and she was lonely. The glamour of being desired by the attractive king meant more to her than her commitment to her husband and her dedication to God. They probably cherished those moments together; maybe they even assured themselves that it was a tender and beautiful experience. Most do! But in God’s sight, it was hideous and ugly. Satan had baited his trap and they were now in his clutches.”
BEAUTY WAS TO BLAME?
The insidious rule of patriarchy declares that men must be protected from the beauty of women’s bodies. They simply cannot help themselves. And when they succumb to temptation and take what they deem to be rightfully theirs, they place the blame on their victims: “her beauty captured the wandering eye of a king; her beauty made her victim to a king’s desire; she was asking for trouble.”
Bathsheba may indeed have been gorgeous. I love the sensuality of Benjamin Victor’s sculpture pictured here. Her body is beautiful. But that does not mean that it’s an object to be used, abused, and then blamed for another’s actions. And that’s true for all bodies – whether “beautiful” in a classic sense or not.
It may seem a small thing, this insistence on recognizing this story for what it is: Bathsheba’s #MeToo moment. But it’s not a small thing. The patriarchal religion that originally told the tale is still too much in operation. And the writers and commentators (both male and female) who perpetuate the abuse by blaming the victim need to be called out. And writers, commentators, preachers, and teachers who soften it by calling it adultery need to be called in.
I get it. These stories are so ingrained in us; we don’t always see what’s right in front of us. But if we’re going to dismantle the religious foundations of patriarchy, we must bring to light all the #MeToo moments of biblical women like Bathsheba.
And listen to them!
2 Samuel 11:1-15 (from The Inclusive Bible)
In the spring, that time of the year when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out along with his officers and troops. They massacred the Ammonites and laid siege to Rabbah. David, however, stayed in Jerusalem. As evening approached, David rose from his couch and strolled about on the flat roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman –a very beautiful woman – bathing. David made inquiries about her and learned that her name was Bathsheba, and that she was the daughter of Eliamand the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Then David sent messengers to fetch her. She came to him, and he slept with her, at a time when she had been declared ritually clean after her monthly period. Then she returned to her house. But she conceived, and sent this message to David: “I am pregnant.”
Then David sent a message to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. When Uriah came, David asked how the campaign was going. Then he said to Uriah, “Go home and wash your feet after your journey.” As he left the palace, attend-ants followed him with a gift from the king’s table. Uriah, however, did not go home that evening. Instead, he lay down at the palace gate with all the king’s officers. Learning that Uriah had not gone home, David said, “Uriah, you have had a long journey; why did you not go home?” Uriah answered, “Israel and Judah are under attack. So is the Ark. Joab and your officers are camping in the open. How can I go home to eat and drink and to sleep with my wife? YHWH lives, and as you yourself live, I will not do such a thing.”
Then David said to Uriah, “Stay here another day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem another day. On the following day, David invited him to eat and drink with him and got him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to lie down on his blanket among the officers, and did not go home. In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it with Uriah. The letter said, “Put Uriah opposite the enemy where the fighting is fiercest, and then back off, leaving Uriah exposed so that he will meet his death.”
“Bathsheba” image used with permission