She Who Had Been The Wife Of Uriah The Hittite

When I posted a somewhat lengthy but still brief discussion of the women in Matthew’s Genealogy of Jesus Christ yesterday night [1], fairly quickly I received a series of posts that indicated that what I had written about Bathsheba may have been a bit too subtle for the taste of some readers, and that brought up a larger issue that I had not discussed explicitly but think it worthy to discuss at least at some length here. As I greatly enjoy, at least one reader of the post replied to my own post with a somewhat lengthy and excellent paper [2] on the narrative theology of the adultery of David and Bathsheba as an example of “power rape,” a term I must admit I do not utilize, but think it worthwhile to discuss, and which seeks to clear Bathsheba from any sort of blame because of the coercion that she was under. As is often the case when I read about matters of rape, there is a great ambivalence I feel about the argument both as a man and as a survivor of early childhood rape and incest. The paper itself highlights both sides of this ambivalence, and I will do my best to convey it helpfully here for the reader to understand as well.

In reading the account of Jesus’ Genealogy in the book of Matthew, it is particularly striking that the account does not name Bathsheba but rather points to her as the wife of Uriah the Hittite, something that the account in 2 Samuel also does. To many contemporary readers, this terminology seems to cast blame of Bathsheba for committing adultery and for being a willing, if not an actively tempting, participant in the adultery that is widely blamed for ruining David’s reign and bringing all kinds of problems on David himself. Uriah is blamed for being inattentive to his wife because of his loyalty to service in David’s army, such that he fails to take the very broad hints that David gives to sleep with his wife so that David can cover up his behavior, to the extent that David then cold-bloodedly orders his murder at the hands of the Ammonites. Bathsheba is viewed as a lonely woman who bathes outdoors in a deliberately provocative fashion in order to catch the king’s eye. In many ways, this sort of interpretation, which is the most common interpretation one hears or reads about the affair of David and Bathsheba, amounts to a blaming of the victims and an aspect of rape culture [3]. In somewhat chilling ways, it reminds us of the arguments that blame rape on the provocative dress or behavior of the rape victims rather than the desire to dominate and control and the unrestrained lust of the rapists themselves. After all, for time immemorial the classic way of defending the character and honor of rapists has been to attack the honor of degraded rape victims, thus leading to double victimization.

What, then, makes me ambivalent about the arguments of people like the Adventist scholar Davidson, despite the fact that my own personal experience of having suffered rape has made me view that as a particularly abhorrent crime, one that no amount of loneliness or frustration or anger or lust, despite the fact that I have all of those qualities in fairly abundant amounts, will induce me to commit or even to consider as a possible option? There are really two aspects of that, and both of them are worth discussing. For one, the author himself seeks to point out Ellen White’s example as a rare biblical commentator whose gender perspective gave her insight into a matter that many get wrong. The argument, which comes at the very tail end of the paper, after very excellent lines of argument that seek to exculpate Bathsheba from the sin of adultery in her own conduct, is unpleasant, and has the ring of feminism, something I am prone to look at with a great deal of personal alarm because such views attack me as a man on grounds of identity and not merely attack evil men on grounds of conduct that I have suffered from myself. It is a form of double victimization that I find myself extremely sensitive to. In this particular case, the obvious and problematic nature of many of Ellen White’s other pronouncements as a biblical commentator make this defense of her a rare example of a case she got it right, not likely to endear her views, even when correct, with those who have cause to lament how often she got it spectacularly wrong. That said, my agreement with the arguments the paper makes about Bathsheba do not spring from a great sympathy with Adventist thought but rather with the fact that I believe, in this case, they have made the correct case [4].

The second area I find problematic in its present and historical application is the matter of “power rape.” Given the considerable historical difference in power between men and women, and given the fact that even in our contemporary period women may feel pressure to accede to the sexual demands of others even where no pressure is intended by others, a matter that may lead to resentment and hostility where none is deserved, there are an alarmingly large number of situations that can be labeled as “power rape.” Some of these cases, it should be noted, like the relationships between young female teachers and younger male students, are areas where women are increasingly being recognized as perpetrators of sexual violence and not only the victims of it. Can a similar label be given to the tendency of many American and European men, for example, to seek out women from more traditional cultures where more respect is given to men than in our contemporary culture? Is it “power rape” to seek out people likely to honor and respect men? Would arguing so tend to reduce the validity of the term in the eyes of those not enamored of feminist discourse when it came to genuine cases of massive abuse of power, such as occurred in the situation of David and Bathsheba? Would the desire of many men to court or marry younger women be viewed in a similar light? Would the tendency of people throughout history to seek the wardship of young heiresses to marry for themselves or their heirs be viewed as a power rape given the potential of inducement and psychological coercion? Could someone be seen as guilty of psychological coercion without any conscious intent merely because of the power structure that existed between two parties? These are vexing questions, many of which strike very closely to home, and give me a great deal of unsettled and unpleasant feelings about terms that can be used to blame and stigmatize others, and myself.

Even so, when we look at the specific example of David and Bathsheba, it is clear that David failed in his responsibilities as a king by loitering about in Jerusalem rather than going off to war against the Ammonites as was his kingly duty. It is clear that David’s summons to Bathsheba to come to the palace was not one it was safe to disobey, and that David was clearly abusing his power for his lusts, something that makes the prophet Nathan’s exposure of his sins even more brave in retrospect, given the facts of the situation. David very nearly lost access to the Holy Spirit, lost his life, and lost his kingdom as a result of this sin. Those who point to God’s graciousness in allowing him to keep those things, despite the horrific consequences of the sin, often minimize the horror that God viewed such sins, and in that light the dignity that God gave Bathsheba by making her son the heir to the Kingdom of Israel, and in being one of the few women named in the genealogy of Jesus Christ, is immense. Rather than viewing the story of David and Bathsheba as a sign of God’s laxness towards adultery, we should see it as God’s act of favor to a woman who still continues to suffer slander to her own honor and reputation. And when we examine the matter of David’s abuse of his power to satisfy his lust for a married woman who happened to be bathing in the privacy of her own courtyard, we should not view the term of “power rape” as a way to club or attack other people, but rather we should look at such a term, if we look at it at all, to examine ourselves and to make sure that we do not abuse or take advantage of other people in pursuit of our own longings or out of our unrestrained lust combined with our ability to subtly coerce others into agreeing to that which they would otherwise be able to successfully resist.



[3] See, for example:

[4] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, History, Love & Marriage, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to She Who Had Been The Wife Of Uriah The Hittite

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