Bathsheba Wasn’t Raped and Why It Matters

John Carpenter

Perhaps the most bizarre litmus test of modern evangelicalism is whether one believes David raped Bathsheba. It’s the new signal of having overcome the “toxic patriarchy” and an “addiction” to power. To dare question whether it could be otherwise is, to some, a sign of barbarity. “Every civilized country in the world” considers what David did “to be rape,” writes Paul Carter at The Gospel Coalition. Carter does no exegesis, only noting that David’s guilt as a rapist is “not denied in the narrative.” Carter’s conviction about David’s status as a rapist is broadly shared by evangelicals who seasonally break out online to rehash the topic. More often than not, dissenters of the dogma are shamed.

Why this odd impulse to impugn David as a rapist? It’s not as though anyone defends David’s actions in 2 Samuel 11. Everyone starts by granting that David was guilty of both adultery and murder. Why is there a need to add rape to David’s rap sheet?

“She Came to Him”

David’s latter-day prosecutors would claim it’s simply what the text says, as in Carter’s glib reference to it as a “fact.” But it’s not. Second Samuel 11:4, while saying that David sent messengers (mal-’ā-ḵîm, one who conveys a message) who “took her,” also says “she came to him” (wat-tā-ḇō-w ’ê-lāw, אֵלָיו֙ וַתָּב֤וֹא). This two-word sentence consists of an active verb with a “waw” prefix attached to it, simply translated as “and,” as this prefix commonly is. A “waw” attached to a verb is usually a “waw consecutive” indicating the next action in the narrative. After the messengers, “she came to him.” The verb (wat-tā-ḇō-w) is active, meaning that the subject (Bathsheba) is acting, rather than simply being acted upon.

David and Diana Garland, of Baylor University, write, “David, not Bathsheba, is the subject of all the action described.” Richard M. Davidson, a professor of Old Testament Interpretation at Andrews University in Michigan, lists the verbs in the narrative, but omits Bathsheba’s “came” and claims the narrative shows “David’s initiative throughout, not Bathsheba’s.” Both of these claims are false. Such blatant misstatements of fact betray an ideological force that drives the interpretation. The verb means “come” or “go.” Bathsheba came. It doesn’t say she “was brought” or “compelled.” The object of the action is “him,” in this case it is David. Thus, “She came to him.”

It’s helpful in exegesis to ask why a phrase or sentence is in the text. What information do they provide that is not otherwise provided? Richard M. Davidson negates “She came to him” as essentially irrelevant, claiming she had no choice but an “obedient response to the explicit command of her sovereign lord.” There are several problems here: first, we’re not told the messengers conveyed an “explicit command.” Davidson must assume that. Second, she was able to resist, even the king in Israel, as we’ll see below. Third, this notion empties “she came to him” of any meaning. Why is it in the text? If she had no choice, why state “she came to him”? The reality is that “she came to him” states her action and agency.

Terminology of Rape

The 2 Samuel 11 account has no terminology that lends to rape. It simply says “he lay with her.” Only two chapters later, a rape is described in 2 Samuel 13:14, “being stronger than she [Tamar], he [Amnon] violated her and lay with her.” Note the differences between the two descriptions. Second Samuel 11:4 has no mention of David being stronger or by sheer force of intimidation “violating” her. The Bible is not ambiguous when it describes rape.

Duty to Protest

Davidson claims that David’s actions toward Bathsheba are “understood in biblical law, and so presented in [2 Samuel 11], to be a case of rape). Davidson provides no exegesis of the Law’s severe condemnations of rape (Dt. 22:25–27) to support this claim. In fact, in the laws on rape in Deuteronomy 22, a woman in a town has the duty to cry out (Dt. 22:24.) While doing so in Bathsheba’s case, if she was being raped, even if it would have been futile, she still had the obligation to register her protest. With her protest unfounded there is no evidence from biblical law that she was raped.

Lex Rex

Twitter-prosecutors routinely claim that in ancient Near Eastern monarchies, resistance to a king’s invitation was impossible. While that’s true of Israel’s neighbors, in Israel the king was not supposed to be absolute but an administrator of God’s law. Israel was “Lex Rex” – The Law was king. Israel was to be a constitutional monarchy with the Torah serving as constitution. Israelite kings were ideally to be under the Law; hence Saul was repeatedly rebuked by Samuel (1 Sam. 13:8-14; 15:17-23). Naboth refused to sell his vineyard to Ahab; Jezebel, from Tyre, did not comprehend how a king could be resisted; when Jezebel brought her pagan ways of absolute monarchy to Israel and confiscated Naboth’s vineyard anyway, Elijah condemned Ahab for it (1 Kings 21). The priests refused Uzziah the right to offer incense (2 Chronicles 26:16-21). Jeremiah told Zedekiah, speaking for the Lord, “You have not obeyed me” (Jer. 34:17). Obviously, in this Bathsheba incident, Nathan embarrasses King David with “You are the man,” the oppressive, rich criminal.

The Parable

David’s prosecutors point to Nathan’s parable in 2 Samuel 12:1-4 as proof that Bathsheba was an innocent lamb. But this is not how parables work. Parables typically have one point they are trying to make. The details in a parable serve the main point, they do not substantiate one. The point of Nathan’s parable is David’s guilt, that of adultery and murdering the one precious thing a poor man (Uriah) had. The text makes no comment on Bathsheba. Nathan is addressing David. If he had been addressing Bathsheba, his words would have no doubt been different.

Finally, there’s no evidence from David and Bathsheba’s later relationship that she felt herself to have been raped. Though details are scarce, their later marriage appears tender. David “comforted” Bathsheba after the death of their first child (2 Sam. 12:24). In 1 Kings 1, as Solomon is anointed David’s successor, David asks for Bathsheba and assures her that he will keep his promise to make her son Solomon king, thus showing his loyalty. Bathsheba concludes the meeting by comforting David on his deathbed, “May my lord King David live forever!” (1 Kings 1:31).

The Prosecutors’ Community

Why are the prosecutors so intent on painting David as a rapist? Their handling of 2 Samuel 12:4 doesn’t suggest that their true motives are dispassionate, ideologically free exegesis. Carmen Joy Imes, a professor of Old Testament at Prairie College in Alberta, Canada, claims she’s all for “attending to its details.” But she didn’t at all mention that “she [Bathsheba] came to him.” Ironically, Imes is correct that “We all miss things because we’re all embedded in communities that have shaped what we notice and what we don’t.”

The claim that David raped Bathsheba shows what is embedded at the heart of the community that makes it: a fundamental suspicion of authority. “The power imbalance” is to blame. Power imbalances always foster abuse, according to this “community.” These assumptions about authorities arise from what some have called “cultural Marxism.” Just as classic, economic Marxism assumed that all the institutions existed for the power and privilege of the bourgeois elite. So, “cultural Marxism” assumes that power is merely for the patriarchal, racial, or religious elite. It’s all a power play. These assumptions, whatever you might call them, are embedded in part of our culture. They are rarely laid out by those who hold them but smuggled into the debate with test cases such as David and Bathsheba.

Authority is Good

These test cases are, in fact, a litmus test. If you fail the test via dissension, you reveal that you’ve not accepted the proper assumptions and will be verbally beaten until you conform.

Embedded in the heart of much of the “social justice” cause are assumptions about authority. Authorities are always suspect. But this is profoundly unbiblical and anti-Christian. In scripture, parents, and by extension other authorities, are honored. In the Kingdom of God (Mt. 6:33), He reigns supreme and delegates authority in the state, family and church. In the Bible, authority is good.

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