By Rabbi Moshe Reiss
The first of David’s wives was Michal, the daughter of King Saul; followed by Ahinoam – mother of Amnon; Abigail – mother of Kileab; Maacah – mother of Absalom and Tamar and daughter of King Talmai of Geshur; Haggith – mother of Adonijah, Eglah mother of Ithream and Abital, mother of Shephatiah. David’s last wife was Bathsheba mother of Solomon.
Ahinaom may have been Saul’s wife/widow. Abigail was the widow of Nabal, leader of the land of Hebron. Maacah’s father was Talmai, King of Geshur, a geopolitical enemy of Israel. Marrying Saul’s daughter clearly enabled David to become an insider into the dynasty of Saul and marrying Saul’s wife/widow further enhanced the Saulide connection. Abigail, widow of Nabal helped David in his first critical political power position, controlling Hebron. Marrying Maacah bestowed upon David power in a Geshur a neighboring land. Was there a political motivation to the rape committed by Amnon (the heir apparent and son of Ahinoam) raping Tamar the daughter of Maacah? After Absalom killed Amnon (and became the heir apparent) he spent three year in exile in Geshur. Why would David marry Maacah if not for geopolitical/economic reasons? It does appear that the province of Maacah (after whom the princess was named) was left unconquered by Joshua 1 and descendants of Maacah and Absalom became Kings of Judah (Abiya and Asa - I Kings 15:2,10; II Ch. 11:20,15:16). David’s last wife was Bathsheba, their son Solomon succeeded David as King.
We know little about Haggith although her son Adonijah (by then the oldest living son) apparently believed he would succeed his father David but was defeated and killed by Solomon. We know little about Abital or Eglah or their children.
Four of David’s wives appear to have been instrumental in his quest for power - Michal, Abigail, Ahinoam and Maacah; we have sufficient information regarding the first three, but insufficient for Maacah. In addition we have sufficient information of David’s relationship with Bathsheba whose relationship with David appears to have been initially inspired by lust, yet she may well have had a value in his quest for power as well as we shall discuss later.
David’s first marriage had been contracted in the days when he was a young hero at the court of King Saul. He was the ‘wonder boy’ shepherd who had overnight soothed Saul’s depressive nature and suddenly became a warrior - a slayer of giants. Saul first promised his older daughter Merab to David as a reward for having defeated the Philistines. Upon successfully completing his task David discovers that Saul, for no apparent stated reason, had married Merab off to another man - Adriel 2 (I Sam. 18:19). In fact Saul had expected that the Philistines would kill David. ‘Better than strike the blow myself let the Philistines do it’ (18:17) and thus he never expected to have to marry David to Merab; he expected David to die. However David defeated the Philistines.
King Saul then offered David to marry his second daughter Michal. We are told that Michal, the King’s younger daughter loved David. This explicit statement is a unique instance in the Bible of a woman telling of her love to a man (I Sam. 18:20,28).3 Interestingly enough no indication is made that this love was reciprocated on David’s part; only that he was quite willing to wed the princess in order to become the King’s son-in-law (noted three times (18:18,23,26) and thus entering into the royal family. This will not make him an heir apparent; Jonathan is, but puts David in a powerful but dangerous position.
Saul set a bride-price for the groom David to receive Michal; to risk his life harvesting the foreskins of 100 Philistines. Again Saul did not expect David to succeed; we are twice that ‘Saul expected David to be killed by the Philistines’ (18:21,25). Again David succeeded in fact provided 200 foreskins. There is something humorous about King Saul’s demand of foreskins of Philistines known infamously in the Bible as the uncircumcised. When David marries Michal we are told ‘and Saul saw and knew that the Lord was with David; and Michal Saul’s daughter loved him. And Saul was more afraid of David’ (18:28-29). What an intriguing juxtaposition; Saul was more afraid of David because God and Michal favored David his son-in-law! He realized his daughter’s love was counter productive to his intent. In truth Saul was intuitively correct, David was indeed going to succeed him and displace Jonathan’s succession.
When Saul later sought to slay David, Michal assisted her husband escape thereby risking her father’s unpredictable and often violent wrath (19:11-13). Michal herself remains in the Palace. Did Michal expect her husband to return shortly? David, despite meeting with Jonathan (20:1-43) presumably near the palace does not return for her for many years.
Saul expected his daughter Michal to protect the ‘family dynastic business’ by being loyal to her father the King. What he realized was that her first loyalty was to her new husband. As the first King her father had no dynastic backing. Jonathan the heir presumptive had already accepted David as his brother and the likely heir to the throne (18:3-4). Jonathan later made a covenant of protection between himself and David (20:14-15). Both Michal and Jonathan would both protect David against Saul’s pursuit and violence. For reasons not clear at the moment David accepted that his connection to Jonathan would be more productive than connecting to Michal. Perhaps as we shall note later Michal could not bear children.
Years later after Saul’s death Michal figures in the negotiations aimed primarily at attaining reconciliation between Judea and other tribes (later known as the kingdom of Israel) who followed the Saulide dynasty. When Saul’s son Ishbosheth led the other tribes David was approached by Abner Ishbosheth’s military commander, for a union between the two sides. David demanded the return of Michal who he had long left home and who Saul had married off to Palti as one of his terms in the agreement. He sent the demand to Ishbosheth, with a reminder that ‘I acquired her for one hundred Philistine foreskins’ (II Sam. 3:14); he had after all paid for her. Ishbosheth acceded to this demand seemingly giving David authority over him. Palti, Michal’s husband reacts with great dismay wailing and lamenting, he follows her part way of the journey back to David her first husband. David referred to Michal as his wife (II Sam. 3:14) while the narrator refers to her as Palti’s wife (II Sam. 3:15,16). The reader is informed of Palti’s reaction, however Michal’s reaction is significantly absent. The author created a tragic triangular symmetry telling us that Michal loved David and implicitly that Palti loved Michal but did not tell us either love was reciprocated. Shortly after Michal rejoined David we are told that he took ‘more concubines and wives; more sons and daughters were born to David (II Sam. 5:13).
Nothing more is said of Michal’s relationship with David until the great day when the Ark was brought up to Jerusalem. In a celebration of this occasion, complete with sacrifices and blasts of the shofar, the King himself leading, gird in the linen ephod worn by priests, whirls with all his might before the Lord (6:14). It is the supreme moment of his life, and leads directly to his house being declared the dynasty of God (chapter 7).
When Michal was brought back from Palti she was identified as the daughter of Saul, and not as the wife of David (II Sam. 3:14). Earlier in I Sam. 19:11; 25:44 she was referred to as David’s wife. She is trapped in a dilemma of being the daughter of Saul the former King and her husband the present king. Saul and David had fought bitterly over the kingdom during her father’s lifetime and after his death fought a civil war for years to become the legitimate successor.
Michal ‘looked out the window and saw King David leaping and whirling before the Lord, and she loathed him in her heart’ (II Sam. 6:16). As David came to bless his house/family she did not even wait for him to enter the palace, but stood in the doorway blocking him, in a stunning attack pouring out her rage and venom. In the first and only dialogue she has with David (in the text) she said: ‘Did not the king of Israel honor today - exposing himself in the sight of the servant’s female servant’s, as one of the riffraff might expose himself!’ (6:20). These are very strong words to describe the feelings of the woman who had once loved David and risked her life for him. This is this remarkably scornful and sexually debasing language towards her husband and king from a once loving wife. She accuses him of exposing himself to the lowest of the low, the female servant’s of his male servants. The man is now the King of Israel, but she is noted as the daughter of Saul and not David’s wife.
To what did Michal allude when she said he ‘exposed’ himself? While many commentators suggest David was scantily clad nothing in the text suggests that. David was wearing an ephod, the priestly robe. Did she resent his was not wearing a royal robe? He was associating with the riff raff, while she acts as was part of an aristocracy. That, unlike her father, he was not a king with legitimate, sovereign status? Did she consider that David had illegitimately usurped the kingship from her father and his descendants?
David’s supposed nakedness was not the issue. 4 Did Michal, perhaps, sense that he demanded her back, tearing her away from a loving husband, not out of love for her as a person but rather as valuable dynastic property and a pawn in his political game? Her inner conflict between her father and two husbands; one loving and one probably not seem clear.
David response to Michal was that the Lord had chosen him over her father and over her father’s house, and made him prince over all Israel. David added that he would find honor among those she had scorned (6:21-22).
All of this occurred when David brought the ark to Jerusalem in a celebration with 30,000 persons and danced before the Lord and sings an intoxicated hymn (I Ch. 16:8-36). Saul never chose to bring the Ark back after it was hijacked during the days of Samuel.
The only other significant incident involving Michal was when she saved David from her father using ‘teraphim’ (I Sam. 19:13) to make up as if David were in the bed. ‘Teraphim’ are a form of household idol most notably used by Laban, Rachel’s father and Jacob’s enemy (Gen. 31:19-42). Rachel steals her father gods to presumably dilute his power (at least psychologically) against her husband Jacob. Rachel is the mother of Benjamin and ancestress of Michal, the loved wife of Jacob (Gen. 29:18). David from the tribe of Judah ancestress is Leah the despised wife of Jacob (Gen. 29:31). The author of the Books of Samuel chose to have Michal who is noted as loving David use ‘teraphim’ to save David and then have her criticize David when he is bringing the sacred ark to Jerusalem. Jacob loves Rachel and Michal loves David, unique incidents in the Hebrew Bible; both women use teraphim, idols, to help their beloved, each one of God’s favorites. The two love incidents connected with ‘teraphim’ and latter with the ark are intriguing juxtapositions.
The passage concludes (II Sam. 6:23) with the remark that Michal remained childless all her life. There appears to be connection between the incident and this final statement, that she was barren as a punishment for her disrespect of her husband and King. However that may be incorrect. Michal lived with David at the palace before she helped him escape; she was then married by her father to Palti and lived with him for an unknown number of years. Michal had rejoined David when he resided in Hebron, he and his army then conquered Jerusalem, built a palace and had a successful war with the Philistines and brought the Ark to Jerusalem. These events all transpired during the period between Michal’s reunion with David and the incident over the Ark. This time is unspecified but several years probably ensued. Given that Michal lived with David known at the time to very fertile and with Palti it seems plausible that Michal may simply have suffered from infertility.
We are told that ‘Michal’ and Adriel had five sons (II Sam. 21:8); it is generally held by Jewish commentators that the name Michal is a scriptural error intended to read Merab, in as much as we are told Michal married Adriel (I Sam. 18:19) and she had no children until the day of her death 5 (II Sam 6:23). 6
Abigail is the wife of Nabal (whose name denotes a fool or glutton - it is difficult to believe this a real name), a wealthy landowner in the Hebron. She is noted as wise and beautiful (I Sam. 25:3) especially in contrast to her husband. Nabal asks ‘Who is this David and who is the son of Jesse? (I Sam. 25:10-11). Everyone in Israel was familiar with David and his status as first a hero and then his rebellion against Saul. His question is rhetorical and foolish. His slaves tell his wife of their master’s foolishness and she decides to take matters into her own hands. Her wisdom and beauty are apposite his drunkenness and foolishness. 7 She has been compared to the wise woman of Proverbs (31:10-31) based on her these texts. The Talmud considered her the most important of David’s wives and the most beautiful, placing her next to Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel, the Matriarchs.
When Nabal refuses David request for provisions for his army (in his war against Saul), David prepares to kill him. Abigail intercedes on her husband’s behalf and supplies David with the necessary provisions. She begs David in the name of the Lord who she notes will make him king not to shed her husband’s blood. David responds ‘Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt’ (I Sam. 25:33). She is the first person to declare David to be King though he is at the moment only a mere renegade. She prevents God’s chosen from murdering her husband. She then tells David that he will become King of Israel and asks to be remembered. This wealthy woman refers to herself four times in her brief talk as ‘your maidservant’ (I Sam. 25:24,25,27,31).
David listens carefully and blesses her. Her husband dies of ‘natural’ causes - he drinks himself to death as a reaction to Abigail having provided the needs for David army. The text also tells us that the Lord struck him down (25:38). David subsequently marries her and inherits Nabal’s valuable estate. 8 Abigail is the only wife actively requested by David in marriage (25:40). It is clear that David admired and perhaps even loved Abigail. They have a son, Kileab, but both mysteriously and surprisingly disappear rather quickly from David’s life.
David through Nabal’s widow gained some legitimacy and rules the territory of Hebron. Control of Hebron was a key to David’s success and reign. 9
When the text tells us that David married Abigail it adds that he also married Ahinoam of Jezreel (25:42-43).
Who is Ahinoam? King Saul wife was named Ahinoam daughter of Ahimaatz (I Sam. 14:50). Is it reasonable that these are two different women with the same very odd name? Why would a daughter be named the brother of Noam? Given the uniqueness of the name it appears David married Saul’s wife. But Saul is still alive! In the following verse we are told that David married Ahinoam Saul arranges a second marriage for Michal to Palti ben-Laish (25:43-44). Was Saul reacting to David’s kidnapping his wife? Does this reflect ‘what is good for the goose is good for the gander’?
When Nathan, the prophet admonishes David for having taken Bathsheba he says in the name of God ‘I gave you your master’s household and your master’s wives into your arms’ (II Sam. 12:8). The master is clearly Saul. What does ‘wives’ imply if not that Ahinoam, wife of Saul, became David’s wife? After Saul and Ishbosheth’s deaths David may have taken their concubines but nothing in the text suggests that. The only known concubine of Saul, Rizpah was taken by Abner (3:7) and David allowed her children (as well as Merab’s) to be killed by the Gibeonites (21:8-9). In one of Saul’s angry outbursts against Jonathan he calls him the ‘son of a rebellious woman’ (I Sam. 20:30). Is Saul referring to his wife who went with David? 10
Did David with his enormous charm and magnetic charisma succeed in seducing Michal and Ahinoam? Is it possible that Michal’s rage noted above is a reaction to finding her mother in David’s bed? Did David inherit or kidnap Saul’s wife and then marry her as a partial means of obtaining his kingship? Several scholars have indeed suggested that the two Ahinoam’s are the same person. 11
Alternatively if Ahinoam is not Saul’s wife David’s taking additional wives could be considered by Saul and Michal as a rejection of the Saulide connection and the creation of a new alliance with Abigail and Hebron. That could explain the conflict between David and Michal over the Ark incident.
Bathsheba is named as the daughter of Eliam (II Sam. 11: 3) himself the son of Ahithophel one of David’s counselors (II Sam. 23:34). 12 In Chronicles she is called Bat Shua daughter of Ammiel (I Ch. 3:5). (The Hebrew spelling of the names Eliam and Ammiel are identical the same letters are merely scrambled and re-arranged.)
We are introduced to the story of David and Bathsheba by being told that `at the time when kings go forth to battle, David sent Joab and his servants and all Israel [to war] . . . David tarried in Jerusalem’ (11:1). While David did not necessarily personally lead in every war; Joab was his commanding officer, the text seems very specific ‘at the time when kings go forth to battle’ and ‘all Israel’ went David did not. This ‘all Israel’ is juxtaposed to the same ‘all Israel’ who loved David (I Sam. 18:16) and over whom David reigned (II Sam. 2:15). What had the people said to Samuel about their need for a king - he will `wage our wars’ (I Sam. 8:20). How can one justify David presence in Jerusalem when all the people are out fighting the war?
While he tarried on his roof, David saw a beautiful woman bathing and his passion so arose that he sent messengers for her, took her and lay with her fully cognizant that she was married to one of his soldiers, Uriah, the Hittite who was at the battle front. It is unclear whether any force was exerted on the part of David. Did Bathsheba agree to this liaison; thus is she equally guilty of adultery or was she sexually exploited by David? Could Bathsheba have planned this encounter? Did she not know that the King could see her bathing from his roof? Why would she stand naked and bathe potentially in sight of the king if he were on his roof? Might it be considered that she seduced him? Bathsheba is depicted as completely passive but the Hebrew text is so tight (II Sam. 11:4) that the above speculation is suggested by Jack Sasson 13 and George Nicol. 14 On the other hand Alice Bach suggests that David may have sexually exploited even ‘raped’ Bathsheba. 15
It would appear that the bath was a ritual bath taken after her menstrual period. In that case she may have understood that she was fertile and it was possible she would become pregnant. People knew even in ancient times that ovulation occurs fourteen days after the beginning of a women’s period; after the ritual bath is the most fertile days for a women. 16 Thus it will be clear that David is the father when she sends a messenger proclaiming her pregnancy. Could she even be considered to have planned the pregnancy? 17 We do not know how long Bathsheba had been married to Uriah but she appears to have been a childless woman until David. 18
The words that this is a purification bath are not in the verse where it is stated that David saw a woman bathing, but in two verses on. ‘David send messengers, they took her, and she came to him. He lay with her and she was sanctified from her tumah’. (11:4) The Hebrew word ‘tumah’ means ‘unclean’ from her menstrual blood. But term is not used when David saw her coming out of her bath (mikvah - a purification bath 11:2) but after David slept with her, in an act of illicit sex. Was she ‘tumah’ - unclean, because of her act of adultery and felt it necessary to sanctify herself by purifying herself yet a second time? 19
Was this their sole interlude? The fact that she sent messengers to tell David she was pregnant, rather than tell him personally, suggests that David having alleviated his lust, may not have needed her again. 20 What reaction did Bathsheba expect from David?
David, certainly anxious to conceal this liaison orders her husband to return home. David expects Uriah to sleep with his wife and thus it will appear that he is the father of the unborn child. However Uriah comes to the Kings Palace and refuses to go home but rather remains with the king’s servants. 21 When David questions why this behavior, he responds that it is unthinkable for him to go to the pleasures of his home and wife while Israel and its Ark are in danger of war. Uriah – a Hittite - shows himself to be a loyal citizen (despite not being a Hebrew) and self sacrificing soldier. Or could it perhaps that Uriah suspected his wife and David’s cuckolding? 22 The text is, of course, criticizing David for not leading his army in war and instead sleeping with the wife of one of his soldiers who is battling the enemy. 23 David entices Uriah to drink hoping he will then go home, but David’s attempted cover-up is unsuccessful. David was no doubt astounded that a soldier rejects the opportunity to sleep with his beautiful wife before going back to the wars. Uriah’s behavior appears to quasi saint-like. According to Maurice Samuel’s Uriah’s position may be viewed as grating and either hypocritical (because he knew of the cuckolding24) or brutally pedantic and tactless. 25
David then develops another strategy, creating a capital crime to conceal a lesser crime. He sends a secret message, by the hand of Uriah to Joab, his Commander, to place Uriah in a dangerous place to ensure his death (11:15). Joab obeying his king sets up a battle which his men will lose and indeed an unspecified number of soldiers die.
Given David’s numerous sexual exploits was well known why David so feared a scandal? Was not this already known? After all David had sent messengers to bring Bathsheba and she sent messages to him about her pregnancy.
We are then informed that David took Bathsheba as his wife, after the conclusion of her mourning period for her late husband. Did Bathsheba understand the relationship between her husband’s death and David? How did she reconcile herself to her husband’s death/murder?
`The thing David did was evil to the Lord’ (11:27). David may have lightly attempted to convince Joab that his action was not evil, but to God it was clearly evil. David had provoked heaven and he will be punished. 26 Nathan the prophet accosts David to recount a parable of God’s view of the crime. He relates a story of a rich man with many flocks and herds who steals the only ewe lamb of a poor man. 27
David impulsively rules the punishment for this should be death. 28 Nathan then reveals to David that he is the rich man, Uriah the poor man, Bathsheba is represented by the single ewe and the flocks and herds (although not stated) are David’s concubines and wives. David is accused of two sins - murder and adultery. 29 For murder his punishment shall be ‘the sword shall never depart from your household. (II Sam. 12:10). For adultery his punishment is `[God] will raise up against you evil out of your own house . . Your wives . . . will lie with your friend . . . in sight of this sun . . . you shall not die . . . the child that is born to you shall surely die’ (12:11-14). 30 David readily admits his sin and the prophet responds that God will forgive, but David must nevertheless be punished. David’s immediate acceptance of his crime saves his own life but not that of the unborn child. `And the Lord struck the child’ (12:15).
Over the course of David’s life all the punishments Nathan prophesized materialize. The child dies, his son Amnon rapes his daughter Tamar, Absalom kills his brother Amnon and sleeps with his father’s concubines in the sunlight of the roof (the same roof in which David first saw Bathsheba) and rebels against him and his successor Solomon kills his remaining older brother Adinojah. David tragically discovers that his private life cannot be separated from his public life.
David prays fervently on behalf of the child and fasts yet to no avail after seven days the child died. When informed of the child’s death David got up, washed, anointed himself and ate. David goes to comfort Bathsheba (for the first time she is no longer referred to as the wife of Uriah). He comforted her and lay with her. How did she react to his ‘laying with her to comfort her’? David’s range of actions and reactions to emotions and feelings seem quite limited. In the same verse that David lay with Bathsheba (II Sam. 12:24) she becomes pregnant with Solomon.
Does Jewish law (halakha) consider her subsequent marriage to David and the birth of Solomon legitimate? Can murdering your lover’s husband and then marrying the wife make for a legitimate marriage? (Was Gertrude’s marriage to Claudius after the latter murdered Gertrude’s first husband – his brother - and Hamlet’s father legitimate?) We are told that David comforted and lay with Bathsheba after the child’s death, seven days after its birth. A mother is ritually impure for some purposes for seven days and then for an additional thirty three days until her blood is purified if the new born is a boy; and fourteen days and then an additional sixty six days if a girl (Lev. 12:2-5). He are not told the sex of the child who died. If the child named Yedidya/Solomon was conceived during this period (which the text suggests) the child might be a considered a ‘mamzer’ (the usual translation is ‘bastard’ but it is a form of illegitimacy). But more likely given the two periods of time for each gender the child would according to noted Jewish commentators be considered ‘pagum’ spiritually blemished or defective (Mishna Yebomoth 4:13). A ‘mamzer’ could not to be admitted into the ‘congregation of the Lord, even unto the tenth generation’ (Deut. 23:3). A ‘pagum’ would not be considered a valid Priest to officiate at the Temple. Solomon; of course built the Temple.
Nathan then says the Lord names him Yedidyah, beloved of God. As we shall see Nathan, the prophet becomes the child’s protector. Thus despite David having a child with a woman, both of whom committed adultery and whose husband he had murdered, God makes the child one of His chosen.
David changes his name to Solomon, perhaps because of his guilt over the adultery and as a form of legitimization.
Bathsheba disappears for years until the question of David’s succession arises. ‘[Adinojah, the oldest remaining son] conferred with Joab the son of Zeruiah, and with Abiathar the priest: and they following Adonijah helping him. But Zadok the priest, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and Nathan the prophet, and Shimei, and Rei, and the mighty men who belonged to David, were not with Adonijah. And Adonijah slew sheep and oxen and fat cattle by the stone of Zoheleth, which is by En-rogel, and called all his brethren the king's sons, and all the men of Judah the king's servants. But Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah, and the mighty men, and Solomon his brother, he called not’ (I Kgs. 1:7-10).
It is clear that two factions were engaged in a rivalry for the succession to David. One group contending for the throne were exclusively from the tribe of Judah including David’s nephew and primary military advisor Joab. The second opposing group included the Benjaminites – Shimei - were joined by Nathan and the ‘mighty men’ from David’s tribe of Judah. Shimei was a powerful captain of men of Benjamin who joined with David after the Absalom revolt (II Sam. 19:17). After Solomon’s victory his first sacrifice took place in Gibeon, a Benjaminite territory (I Kgs. 3:4). Is there a connection between Solomon and Benjamin? (In Chronicles Bathsheba children are named as Shimei, Shobab, Nathan and Solomon – was her son named after Shimei the powerful Benjaminite and Nathan after the prophet (I Ch. 3:5) both of whom later backed Solomon for the succession?)
We are all aware that Saul came from the tribe of Benjamin. After Saul’s death the civil war continued between David of Judah and the Benjaminites. The conflict continued with the death of Ishbosheth son of Saul (II Sam. 4:6), Shimei’s cursing David (16:8) and Sheba’s revolt (20:1-22) which David claimed to fear more than Absalom’s revolt (20:6). It would appear that David feared Saul’s dynasty as the real danger to his own dynasty. David’s marriages to Michel and Ahinoam would confirm this hypothesis.
The prophet Nathan instructs Bathsheba to inform David of Adonijah’s attempted to usurp the succession without his knowledge, ‘remind’ him of his promise that Solomon will be the heir to the throne and ‘confirm’ David’s promise. (I Kgs. 1:11-14). This succession story is new information to the readers. We recall Nathan’s being protective of Solomon, but would he devise such a story or perhaps being a prophet he ‘knew’ intuitively the rightful succession. This issue is debated by many commentators. 31 Was David too infirm to know if he had promised Bathsheba? He was ‘old and advanced in years . . . and could not be warm . . . and could not ‘know’ Abishag (I Kings 1:1,4). What else could he not know? His servants brought Abishag, a young pretty virgin to warm and attend him in ambiguously sexual terms. Did they think David already too infirm to communicate? We do not know who these servants were or their relation to the competing factions seeking to control the succession. But they chose not to bring David his prophet or his High Priest both associated with Bathsheba and Solomon.
Bathsheba approaches the King while Abishag was ministering to him (1:15). Instead of Nathan’s questioning suggestions she makes statements; that Adonijah has already anointed himself by offering sacrifices in front of the royal princes - but excluding Solomon. Furthermore she tells David that he had promised the succession to Solomon and must choose now or she and her son may well face their death. The remainder of the succession story since it is well known to be repeated, we simply wished to note that in Bathsheba first meeting with David (the adultery scene) she seemed both ambiguous and passive; here in protecting her son, as a mother, she is both direct, resourceful and calculating. She clearly outmaneuvered Adonijah and his supporters. This may suggest that perhaps she was not as she appeared in their original encounter. In her next encounter with Adonijah while the text is highly ambiguous on her role (2:13-18) she brings a request from him to her son, King Solomon; the result is Adonijah death. Before the request the King bows to his mother and has a throne brought for her to sit on his right (2:19); she is clearly the most successful of David’s wives.
This may raise the question of who is Bathsheba? In the Book of Samuel she is called the daughter of Eliam (IISam. 11:3) and in the Book of Chronicles Bathshua daughter of Ammiel (I Ch. 3:5); both the female names and the father’s name seem linguistically related.
Anne Gardner in an intriguing speculation suggests that Bath-Sheba was in fact Sheba’s daughter and their son Solomon then combined the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. 32 Joab’s act of killing Abner (who was military leader of the Benjaminites at the time) disrupted the alliance with the Benjamites; we recall David’s intense anger (II Sam. 3:28-39). David instructs his successor Solomon to kill Joab who had killed Abner and Sheba – Solomon’s grandfather according to this theory - and Shimei who represented an independent power. Gardner further points out that after the Kingdom split into two – Judah and Israel - Benjamin remained with Judah. 33
Gardner suggests that a redactor deemed Sheba, a traitor to David, an inappropriate father-in-law to David and grandfather to Solomon and named a warrior father to Bathsheba and married her to another Davidic warrior - Uriah. 34 The value of this analysis is that, if true, it confirms David’s use of marriage as a manner of increasing his power, as we have seen elsewhere and a not unusual royal strategy. David married the daughter of Sheba well before he became a traitor and when a Saulide connection may indeed have appeared necessary to David’s dynasty.
David’s behavior regarding Bathsheba presented serious problems for the Rabbis. Most (but not all) adopted an apologetic stance: They suggested that the child who died was Bathsheba’s punishment for having enticed David. ‘The suspected women set her eyes on one who was not proper for her, what she sought was given to her and what she possessed was taken from her’ (B.T. Sotah, 10A). An additional interpretation suggested by the Rabbis is a writ of divorce by Uriah in case he disappeared during the war. Thus they claimed David did not commit adultery (BT Shabbat 56a). Of course Uriah had not disappeared. This same version blames Uriah for disobeying his King and not visiting his wife. Additional versions suggest that David failed a test promulgated by the ‘Satan’ as a righteous person but it was not a capitol ‘sexual impropriety’ (BT San. 107a). In this way David is being compared to Job, a righteous person who feared God and shunned evil (Job 1:1). (Surprisingly Talmudic Sages and later Hebrew sources are more complimentary to Michal than one might expect. 35) The Dead Sea Scrolls also took a stance of apologia towards David sins. 36 The entire incident of Bathsheba and Uriah is totally excluded from the history as recounted in Chronicles. One well known medieval commentator Isaac Abarbanel (1437-1508) rejected the apologetics and simply accepted that David sinned five times. 37
The mystical kabbalists justified David’s murder of Uriah and by extrapolation his adultery with Bathsheba through the concept of gilgulim – reincarnation of the soul. Uriah is defined as having the soul of the snake who enticed Eve (Bathsheba) to eating the fruit and then fed it to Adam (David).
David’s relationship with women is surprising and problematical as a model for a Hebrew leader; eight wives and ten concubines he seem to resemble a profile of an Oriental Monarch rather than of a righteous leader. Heretofore the most sexually active of the Hebrew personalities in the sacred texts was Jacob who had two wives and two concubines; the concubines were a direct outgrowth of his wives infertility; all four mothered his children – the twelve tribes. Was David aware of the Deuteronomic verse on not ‘acquiring more and more wives (Deut. 17:17); the Talmud on the basis of David stated that the limitation on wives was eighteen.
Ancient commentators and interpreters have not always accepted the same view or logic we modern readers accept. James Kugel, emeritus Professor of Hebrew Literature at Harvard University and currently Professor at Bar Ilan University (Israel and a Modern Orthodox Jew) stated their views as follows: ‘They assumed that the Bible was a fundamentally cryptic text: that is, when it said A, often it might really mean B. . . Interpreters also assumed that the Bible was a book of lessons directed to readers in their own day. It may seem to talk about the past, but it is not fundamentally history’. 38 (One commentator suggested that the Talmudic apologia for David was based on various Sages claiming to be David’s descendants and their own behavior in their own times. 39)
David’s numerous marriages may have assisted his rise to power; Michal, a Royal Princess; Abigail a power in Hebron; Ahinoam, a Royal wife, Maacah another Royal Princess and possibly to Bathsheba. These marriages increased his power and his eventual reign and helped him gain ascendancy over Saul and his descendants.
As a young man he was anointed by Samuel in view of his entire family and ‘the spirit of the Lord came upon David’ (I Sam. 16:12-13). And yet he never seemed to embrace that act. He aggressively sought out power in order to guarantee his kingship. Did David not understand that having been anointed by Samuel guaranteed his future kingship? Was he too impatient to let God’s plan materialize?
For much of David’s life his behavior is quite inexplicable and paradoxical given this anointment. He seems to behave as if this momentous anointment had never occurred. Was David skeptical about the implication of having been anointed or lacking in emunah (faith)? Did he believe he had to proactively intervene in order to ensure it a reality; did he doubt or fear it would not come on its own.
If we needed any indication that David was God’s chosen, his sins, his marriages and the numerous deaths associated with his rise to power should be more than sufficient proof. 40 Perhaps God chooses people unrelated to their worth and related only to His purposes?
1 Spanier, Ktziah, ‘The Queen Mother in the Judean Royal Court: Maacah – A Case Study’ in Brenner, Athalya, A Feminist Companion to Samuel and Kings, Sheffield University Press, Sheffield, 1994.
2 The Septuagint Codex Vaticanus does not include the Merab marriage proposal. P.K. McCarter suggests it may have come from a later redactor,
‘I Samuel, a New Translation’ (N.Y., Doubleday, 1980) pg. 306-308.
3 Prior to this we are told Saul loved David (16:21), Jonathan loved David (18:1,3) and all Israel loved David (18:16); all using the same Hebrew root ‘ahava’. Thus the ‘ahava’ that Michal expressed to David may be different that the modern romantic love between a man and a woman.
4 Cheryl Exum, Murder They Wrote, pg. 184, in Bach, Alice, ed., The Pleasure of Her Text, (Trinity Press, Philadelphia, 1990).
5 One Talmudic sage suggested that David married both sisters, another that Michal later died in child birth, another that Michal adopted Merab’s children after her death (BT San. 19b).
6 In the Masoretic text Michal is listed; some Septuagint codices state Merab, Solvang, Elna, K., ‘A Women’s Place is in the House’, JSOT #349 (Sheffield University, Sheffield, 2003) pg. 106. David allowed the five sons, noted as the sons of Adriel and Michal to be hanged (II Sam. 21:8-9). It is clear David did not protect these grandchildren of Saul with the exception of Jonathan’s son, Mephishobet, whom he had committed to protect.
7 J.D. Levenson and B. Halpern, The Political Import of David’s Marriages, JBL, 99/4, 1980 and J.D. Levenson, I Samuel as Literature, CBQ, 40, 1978. pgs. 511-513.
8 George Nicol, ‘David, Abigail and Bathsheba, Nabal and Uriah’, Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament, 1998, #1.
9 According to the Book of Chronicles David has a sister named Abigail (I Ch. 2:16). But her husband is named Ithra (or Jether) (2 Sam. 17:26; I Ch. 2:17). After Nabal’s death did David’s sister rule over Hebron? Were there two Abigail’s – one David’s third wife and one his sister, who were sisters-in-law? Or is possible that they are the same person? That implies that David married his sister after the death of his rival Nabal to inherit her estates. Could David marry his sister - it was not unheard of in the ancient mid-east. Levenson, CBQ, pg. 27.
10 Levenson and Halpern, JBL, pg. 515.
11Jon Levenson, CBQ, pgs. 27-28 and James C. Vandererkam, David’s Complicity in the Deaths of Abner and Eshbaal, Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 99/4, 1980, pg. 528.
12 Ahithophel deserted from David to Absalom in the latter’s rebellion Perhaps as a result of David’s adultery with his grand daughter; did he think his grand daughter had been sexually exploited? In the rebellion Ahithopel recommended to Absalom that he publicly go into his father’s concubines (II Sam. 16:21). When Absalom failed Ahithopel hung himself (II Sam. 17:23).
13 J. Sasson ‘Absalom’s Daughter’, pgs. 187-196, in Dearman, J.A. and Graham, M.P., ‘The Land that I Will Show You’ (JSOT 343, Sheffield, 2001).
14 George Nichol in ‘The Alleged Rape of Bathsheba’ JSOT #73, 1997.
15 Bach, Alice, Women, Seduction, and Betrayal in Biblical Narrative, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997, pgs. 137, 149-150.
16 Hertzberg, H.W., I & II Samuel, (S.C.M. Press, London, 1964) Pg. 310.
17 Mia Diamond, ‘Who Seduced Whom’, Mosiac, Cambridge, Ma., Spring 1992, pg. 27)
18 Klein, Lillian, R., From Deborah to Esther, Sexual Politics in the Hebrew Bible, Fortress Press, Minn., 2003, pg. 59-60.
19 Klein, pg. 57.
20 Samuels, M., Certain People of the Book, Knopf, N.Y., 1967, pg. 225.
21 In those days soldiers during a war remained with troops (even palace troops) and did not see their wives. Smith, Robertson, ‘Religion of the Semites’ (London, Adam & Charles Black, London, 1894) pgs. 455, 488.
22 George Nicol, David, Abigail and Bathsehba, Nabal and Uriah, Scandanavian Journal of the Old Testamet, 1998, #1, pgs. 138-143.
23 In the Book of Chronicle, a history told from a pro Davidic perspective, the whole incident is not mentioned.
24 Meir Sternberg discusses this in great detail in ‘The Poetics of Biblical Narrative’ (Indian University Press, Bloomington, 1895).
25 Samuel’s pg. 227-228.
26 Fokkelman, J.P., Narrative Art and Poetry in the Books of Samuel, Volume 1, King David, (Van Gorcum, Assen, The Netherlands, 1981) Pg. 71.
27 The Koran without telling of David and Bathsheba relates the following as Nathan’s parable with title ‘The Sin of David’: ‘And has the story of the antagonists come to you; when they climbed the wall of the upper chamber, when they came in to David? And when he feared them, they said, 'Fear not; we are two antagonists, one of us hath wronged the other, so judge justly between us. . . . This my brother had ninety-nine ewes and I had one. Then he said, "Give me control of her," and he overcame me in his plea.' David said, 'Verily he hath wronged thee by asking for thy ewe as an addition to his ewes, and verily most partners act injuriously the one to the other, except those who believe and work righteous works; and such are few.' And David supposed that we had tried him; so he sought pardon of his Lord and fell, worshiping, and repented. And we forgave him that fault, and he hath near approach unto us and beauty of ultimate abode.’ Sura 28:.20-25.
28 The penalty for stealing is not death, but the penalty for murder which is what David did is death. David is not sentenced to death because he repented.
29 While the parable is a fine literary device, the poor man does not die, the lamb dies. The lamb could also be Bathsheba who also does not die, but is violated. Her consent is never mentioned.
30 The punishment for adultery is death for both the man and women (Lev. 20:10). Both David and Bathsheba are allowed to live.
31 Uffenheimer, B., Early Prophets in Israel, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1999, pgs. 295-296 and Camp C. V., Wise, Strange and Holy, JSOT Series 320, Sheffield University Press,, Sheffield, 2000, pgs. 156-158.
32 Gardner, Anne, E., The Identity of Bath-Sheba, Revue Biblique, 2005, #112/4
33 Gardner, pg. 530-531
34 Gardner, pg. 533-534)
35 See Louis Ginzberg in ‘The Family of David’ and Tamara Eskenasi in ‘Michal in Hebrew Sources’ in Clines, David, J.,A., and Tamara Eskenasi, eds., Telling Queen Michal’s Story, (JSOT #119, (Sheffield University Press, Sheffield, 1991(.
36 Porter, Stanley, E., and Evans, Craig, A. eds., ‘The Scrolls and the Scriptures: Qumran Fifty Years After’, Journal For The Study of the Pseudepigrapha, #26, Sheffield University Press, Sheffield, 1997, Craig A. Evans, ‘David in the Dead Sea Scrolls, pg. 187-191.
37 Rosenberg, A.J. Ed., Samuel I, Judaica Press, N.Y., 1976, Pg 316-319.
38 Kugel, James, How To Read The Bible’, (Free Press, N.Y., 2007) pg. 27.
39 Sandra R. Shimoff, ‘David and Bathsheba: The Political Function of Rabbinic Aggada’, Journal for the Study of Judaism, 1993.
40 James C. Vandererkam, noted above and Halpern B., David’s Secret Demons: Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King, Grand Rapids, Mich. W.B. Eerdmans, 2001.