Main themes in the story
The story of Bathsheba describes two episodes in Jewish history:
Bathsheba was the beautiful grand-daughter of Ahitophel, a shrewd military and political counselor of David. She belonged to an elite warrior family, and her husband Uriah was a high-ranking professional soldier, one of the respected warriors called The Thirty.
Her father and husband were stationed at Jerusalem, directly under the control of the king. They were David's personal bodyguards, his champions, renowned for their bravery.
She was thus a member of an elite warrior family, something like the wife of a high-ranking samurai. Since her grandfather, father and husband were close allies of David's, it is safe to assume that she and David had already met before the famous scene where David sees her bathing.
It happened late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was
walking about on the roof of the king' house, that he saw from the roof
a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to
inquire about the woman. It was reported 'This is Bathsheba daughter of
Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite'. So David sent messengers to get
her, and she came to him, and he lay with her.'
Read 2 Samuel 11:2-4.
Bathsheba was most probably on the house's flat roof, a tented area often used by the women of the family for a variety of tasks. To get an idea of what this sort of house looked like, see the reconstructions of biblical houses at Bible Architecture: Houses.
In this case Bathsheba was washing herself after her menstrual period. The text makes a point of this post-menstrual purification, to show she was not carrying Uriah's child, but was at the stage in her menstrual cycle when she was likely to conceive.
David was on the roof terrace of the palace above, looking down. The
terrace may or may not have been screened by latticework (the mother of Sisera in
Judges 5:28 watched the road through a lattice, and a statue found in the
northern city of Ugarit shows a woman at a latticed window).
In any case, David saw her young
body and desired her. At the time, Bathsheba's husband Uriah was away,
fighting with the army - something David knew.
While she was at the palace she and David had sexual intercourse.
Afterwards, she returned to her home, and we hear no more until a few
months later, when she realized she was pregnant. She sent a message to David to tell
David responded by sending for Uriah. When the soldier-husband arrived in
Jerusalem and reported to David, the king told him to down to his home and wife. He hoped that Uriah would
make love to his wife, and that the child might be passed off as Uriah's.
Uriah seems to have known what was going on, and why he was summoned. There were plenty of people to tell him - outraged family members who had seen Bathsheba go to the palace, or soldier-friends who had watched her pass through the guard-house at the entrance of the palace.
The reconstruction of the gates at Gezer at Bible
Archaeology: War shows the sort of gates Bathsheba had to pass through. Note the
compartments at the side of each gate. These provided shelter for guards
on duty, and she and David's messenger could not have passed through
without the soldiers seeing them. The events of that night would have been known to many people.
Despite every inducement, Uriah stuck to this line of behavior, and David found himself backed into a corner. Enraged, he secretly ordered that Uriah be killed in battle. He gave Uriah a sealed letter addressed to Uriah's commander, ordering him to arrange Uriah's death.
When, soon after Uriah had returned to the
army and delivered the letter, he was sent into battle to storm the walls of a city.
Following David's instructions, the soldiers around Uriah pulled back
and left him alone,
so that he was surrounded by the enemy and cut down.
Did Bathsheba know that David had arranged to have her husband killed? Did she mourn for the death of a good man? Or was her mourning just pretence? It is impossible to tell. The story of Bathsheba's seduction as we have it in the Bible was edited by court story-tellers during the reign of her son Solomon, and doubtless influenced by Bathsheba and her son.
This is why
it is so hard to tell what really happened. We only know two things: what Bathsheba
wanted us to know, and what she was forced to acknowledge because it was
already public knowledge.
Struggle for the Throne
(1 Kings 1:1-37, 2:10-25)
When, despite her beauty, the king could not have
sexual relations with Abishag, it was considered time for a co-regency.
This meant that someone would rule alongside David, to help him. Most
people took it for granted that this co-regent would be the next
king. David's oldest surviving son was Adonijah, a young man impatient for power.
Not waiting for David to die, he proclaimed himself king and was accepted
as such by many people. The text implies this was done without David's
knowledge. It was a palace coup.
Working with her chief adviser Nathan, Bathsheba warned David what was
happening behind his back. In a brilliant speech, she made him suspicious
of Adonijah by describing the young man's support among the army. She told
him that almost alone among his children, Solomon remained loyal. She
appealed to his protective nature by telling him she feared for her own
life. And she astutely reminded David that he, not Adonijah, was king.
With the authority of a royal command and the backing of David's
well-disciplined mercenary troops, Bathsheba outmanoeuvred Adonijah in his
attempted coup d'etat and secured the throne for her own
hold on the throne was not initially strong enough for him to kill his
half-brother outright, though this would have to be done
if Solomon was to have a firm grasp on power. So after he ascended the
throne, Solomon allowed his half-brother Adonijah to live - for the time
being. But the situation had to be resolved, and no-one knew this
better than Bathsheba. The text at this stage contains an episode that is,
at the very least, hard to believe.
'So Bathsheba went to
King Solomon, to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. He rose to meet her,
and bowed down to her; then he sat on his throne, and had a throne brought
for the king's mother, and she sat on his right.'
This is the last we hear of Bathsheba. Her son was secure on the throne and her own position was safe. She could rest on her laurels.
(Above) Illustration from one of the first English translations of the Bible. This picture appears at the beginning of the Book of Psalms, attributed to King David. It shows David's invitation being delivered by a servant to Bathsheba, rising naked from her bath. Notice that 'King David' bears a striking resemblance to King Henry VIII as he appeared at the time of the Bible's publication. Cheeky...
Read about more fascinating women from the Bible
Bible Study Resource for Women in the Bible: Women of
the Old Testament
Bathsheba, wife of King David and mother of King Solomon