Bathsheba and King David

[tw for rape, w/in the context of a historical account, and rape culture, in glossing over it]

This is one of those post ideas I’ve mulled over a long time, sat on and ignored for months, and eventually came back to.

I’d like to say there was something I was a little uneasy about with this story since learning of it, but it didn’t really hit me, the odd discrepancy, and what’s never addressed about it, until I was sitting in the youth group room of an unfamiliar church — it was my junior year of college, I think, and there wasn’t any church in that town I was attending regularly — and I picked up some annotated Bible to browse through while I waited for others to arrive for the meeting.  I ended up reading a little commentary box about the story of Bathsheba and King David, and…

and…

and…

Do you know this story?  It’s one Christians only ever talk about like it’s a story of adultery.  Adultery, that was David’s big mistake.  That, and murder, of course.  Those are the named sins of the story.

and…

and…

and…

I read this little commentary box waiting for it to address the rest.  I don’t think it was the first time I’d noticed, but some things about the story stood out to me this time.  David had watched her bathing, which would have been creepy enough unto itself.  He was a King, and he had her brought to her chambers.

Does it say, anywhere, whether he gave Bathsheba a choice?  Realistically, could she have ever really have had one?

I was waiting for the commentary box to specify whether Bathsheba was at fault for “committing adultery,” too — that is, whether she chose this.  Whether or not, given the circumstances, she had any real opportunity to say no.  Whether this was something she willed, too — or not, and the implications therein.  But the focus was all on David.  She was just talked about as this… incidental accessory.  I couldn’t recall anyone ever questioning whether this “adultery” was consensual or not.

And even when I later thought about bringing this subject up on my own blog, I hesitated.

Because.

That’s King David I’d be talking about.

Beloved patriarch.  Icon of lineage.  Poster boy of devotion.

And sure, everyone knows he made a lot of mistakes, but to imply he was a rapist?

I fretted over what people would think and held myself at arm’s length and asked Don’t you think that’s going a little too far?

No.  I don’t.  But I worried.

Because it’s David.

And it wasn’t until recently this month, at the age of 22, that I finally saw someone acknowledge this for the first time by calling her “Bathsheba, who was taken advantage of by the king.”  And I felt, then, that maybe I wasn’t as irrational as I thought.  I felt relief.  And something else, more confused and bitter than that.

I was raised in the Church.  I deliberately immersed myself in Christian messages about and Biblical analyses of sexuality growing up.  Why did it take me this long to hear this?

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2 responses to “Bathsheba and King David

  • Calum P Cameron

    I don’t recall ever being any specific reason to assume that any of David’s harem of wives had a personal choice in their relationship status, to be honest. Bathsheba’s the only time I can recall him EXPLICITLY ignoring a woman’s consent, but I don’t think it would be unfair to suggest that most Biblical kings – indeed, most powerful men in pre-Classical times – were probably guilty of rape or near enough because they’d be coming from a culture that, even moreso than our own modern one, didn’t generally care much about making sure men respected women.

    Doesn’t mean David wasn’t a good king by the standard of Biblical kings. Doesn’t mean he can’t be viewed as a role model in other ways. But it seems to make sense to assume he’d have been very ill-equipped to be decent to women, from the point of view of how he’d have been taught to think.

    All of which is my roundabout way of suggesting that David being guilty of rape ought not to be very surprising, and yet evidently it IS a surprise for at least some of us, which I think reinforces your point of how absurdly little discussion there is and has historically been about that point within the Christian community.

  • epochryphal

    I distinctly remember the “wives submit ye to your husbands” being linked to sex, at some point, pretty sure by my youth group. And of course all the emphasis on Temptation and Lust and how men constantly struggle and women should be decent/modest and…..yeah. Bathsheba never stood out to me in all of that except as a naked woman on a roof, and the rest of the story was pre-scriptedly natural.

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