What about #MeToo 3,000 years ago: Should King David or Bathsheba get the blame?

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It’s the most notorious sexual encounter of ancient times.

In a remarkably candid account in the Bible (2d Samuel chapters 11 and 12), the great King David impregnates Bathsheba when both were married to others.

In the 21st Century, and especially with the recent rise of the #ChurchToo wing of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, there’s vigorous debate in print and online about whether Bathsheba intended to lure the king’s attentions, or the two shared equal blame for adultery, or David alone was responsible.

Last week on Patheos.com, Jonathan Aigner satirized an old-fashioned attitude (often the work of male writers) by listing this among mock themes for youngsters’ summertime Vacation Bible School: “It Was All Her Fault: How Bathsheba Trapped David.” Such was the tone of some classic paintings or Susan Hayward’s portrayal opposite Gregory Peck in Hollywood’s popular “David and Bathsheba” (1951).

Or consider reference works favored today among conservative Protestants. The “NIV Study Bible” says “Bathsheba appears to have been an unprotesting partner” in sexual sin, and Charles Ryrie’s study Bible agrees that she “evidently was not an unwilling participant.” The “ESV Study Bible” even brands Bathsheba someone of “questionable character.”

On similar lines, noted Jewish commentator Robert Alter of the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in 1999 that the Hebrew text may intimate “an element of active participation by Bathsheba in David’s sexual summons,” raising the possibility of “opportunism, not merely passive submission,” on her part.

But the “Women’s Study Bible” (2009) states that “adultery” signals mutual consent whereas this situation “was probably closer to rape.”

Other modern analysts insist it was “rape,” period. What’s going on here?

The sordid biblical story, in brief: Late one afternoon King David was idly strolling on the roof of his palace when he saw a very beautiful woman bathing. He assigned an aide to learn her identity. He reported she was Bathsheba, the granddaughter, daughter and wife of men well-known and respected in royal circles. (Was this to hint that the king should therefore keep hands off?)

Then comes the laconic pivotal sentence: “So David sent messengers, and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her.”

Later, Bathsheba notified David she was pregnant. David summoned her husband Uriah from the battlefield, hoping to cover up his own sin and pin the pregnancy on her spouse. But Uriah refused to cohabit with his wife while fellow soldiers were denied this comfort, thus obeying David’s own rule of chastity for soldiers. The king then ordered commanders to assign Uriah to the thick of battle, making sure he was killed. David was then free to add the widowed Bathsheba to his harem.

Thus, did David violate four of the Ten Commandments, against coveting a neighbor’s wife, adultery, lying and then murder. The prophet Nathan dramatically pronounced God’s judgment in a confrontation with David. “You are the man!”

Notably, Nathan did not meet to denounce Bathsheba as a sinner.

Continue reading “#MeToo 3,000 years ago: Should King David or Bathsheba get the blame?”, by Richard Ostling.

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