Yoder-Short: Misreading Bathsheba

Jan 27, 2020 by

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New analysis indicates that when King David saw Bathsheba, she wasn’t bathing nude but “was actually heading out the door to run some errands while wearing leggings as pants, causing the king to stumble.” This “research” is courtesy of The Babylon Bee, a satirical website (babylonbee.com).

Jane Yoder-Short

Yoder-Short

I smile, but realize blaming women for male stumbling is no joke.

The story of David and Bathsheba is unsettling. Biblical interpretation is and has been slanted. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, published in 1710, focused on David’s sin but made Bathsheba share the blame: “He lay with her, she too easily consenting, because he was a great man.” How do we know she too easily consented?

In 1979, Frederick Buechner wrote in Peculiar Treasures of David “carrying on with Bath­sheba” in a “scandalous liaison” with “a beautiful but conniving” woman.

The NIV Study Bible says “Bathsheba appears to have been an unprotesting partner.” Ryrie’s Study Bible agrees that she “evidently was not an unwilling participant.”

Misconceptions follow Bathsheba. Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” places a beautiful Bathsheba on the roof. “You saw her bathing on the roof/Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you/She tied you to a kitchen chair/She broke your throne . . .”

No, Leonard, the text says nothing about her being on the roof, and she wasn’t the one doing the tying. We realize you are being poetic and mixing yourself in with David, but you’ve made it too easy for us to visualize Bathsheba as the seducer.

The Babylon Bee’s satire of David and Bathsheba could have gone a different direction. How about a midlife crisis joke? David has skipped the battle and seems bored. Why is he on the highest roof in the neighborhood, late in the day, scanning other people’s courtyards?

Perhaps The Babylon Bee could write about David feeling the need to prove sexual prowess. Perhaps David could choose to get a risqué midlife tattoo instead of taking Bathsheba.

David knows what he is doing. He is clearly told Bathsheba is Eliam’s daughter and Uriah’s wife (2 Sam. 11:3). She belongs to someone else.

The narrator doesn’t tell us Bathsheba’s thoughts. Did she fear for her life? Marital infidelity held the death penalty (Lev. 20:10)? Did she cry out, which was the proof for rape (Deut. 22:22, 24)? We can’t rewrite the story, but we can be careful what we read into it.

We know when Nathan tells the parable that convicts David, the lamb is innocent. There is no indication that Bathsheba was looking to cause David’s stumbling. Our eyes can be tainted by past interpretations. We forget that compliance and consent are not the same.

Our society is in the habit of blaming woman for rape. It was what she wore. She shouldn’t have been there. She shouldn’t have had that drink or worn leggings.

No one asks to be raped.

If you are concerned about leggings and feel that fashion has gone too far, don’t worry. The latest forecasts predict the next fashion craze will be cape dresses. Men can stop worrying about stumbling. Or can they?

Joking aside, we all stumble. Let’s take responsibility for our failures and our assumptions. Misreading Bathsheba makes it easier to misread the stories around us.

Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.


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