by Libby Anne cross posted from her blog Love, Joy, Feminism
Created To Be His Help Meet, p. 207
I have written so often about the tendency of what I call “the purity culture” to blame women for men’s sexual actions. Even rape is too often blamed on the woman doing something to deserve it, inciting his lust with her clothing or her actions. Modesty is preached as the solution, and women are told to cover up. Women become responsible for men’s sexual actions. In this, the last section of Debi’s chapter on being “chaste,” we see this idea taken to a horrific extreme.
I Am My Brother’s Keeper
Because Bathesheba was indiscreet, she caused great calamity, resulting in the bloodshed and suffering of many. Her lack of discretion cost her husband his life, his comrades-in-arms their lives, her baby son his life, and the integrity of one whom God upheld as a man after his own heart. By simply doing what she thought she had a right to do, she was complicit in bringing ruin on an entire family line, including rape, incest, rebellion, and murder. David should have been with his men, but he was not out looking for a woman. She provided the opportunity for him to lust by her lack of discretion in where she chose to bathe. Her beautiful body won out in a contest between his flesh and his love for God. Generations have associated the name of Bathsheba with a wicked woman, yet she was the wife of a fine military man. All she lacked was modesty and discretion. Too often in life, many tragedies would never have taken place, if only . . .
I assume that everyone is relatively familiar with the story of David and Bathsheba. The long and short of it is that David saw Bathsheba while she was bathing, and then had her brought to the palace and had sex with her. She conceived, and in an effort to have what he had done covered up, David has Bathsheba’s husband and his entire unit killed in battle. David then marries Bathsheba, and God strikes their infant son dead for David’s sin. Ultimately, Bathsheba’s second son by David, Solomon, succeeds him as king. You can read the story in II Samuel 11.
Debi claims that that Bathsheba “provided the opportunity for [David] to lust” by “where she chose to bathe.” Growing up, I was taught that Bathsheba chose to bathe on her roof where she could be seen, and that she may well have chosen that location for her bath specifically to get David’s attention. In doing background research for this post, though, I’ve learned that this is completely false on a very obvious level. For one thing, nowhere does the Bible say Bathsheba bathed on her roof! Here is what II Samuel 11 says:
2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, 3 and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. 5 The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”
Thinking I must be crazy, I started looking up depictions of Bathsheba bathing, and they all show her on her roof. This has apparently been the Christian understanding of what happened for hundreds of years now, even though the text does not say she was on her roof.
What’s even more astounding is that the text actually makes it clear that she was noton her roof—or doing anything inappropriate.
Every time Debi mentions the definition of a Hebrew word or says something about the Old Testament, I’ve asked a Jewish friend of mine, Rachel Lazerus, to help me out. She went to a Jewish day school and contributed to my Judaism 101 panel last year. She who pointed out that Bathsheba did not bathe on the roof and answered my questions about what would have been involved in Bathsheba’s monthly purifying. When it comes to the Old Testament, and even the New Testament (with its discussion of Jewish customs and overlapping with Jewish history), Christians seriously need to spend more time listening to Jews.
So, according to Jewish law, women are made unclean by their menstrual period. After it is over and a certain number of days has passed, they must take a ritual bath in a mikveh. Bathsheba went to the mikveh. She was not simply taking a bath. Furthermore, she would not have chosen the location. The ritual bath requires full immersion, and the mikveh must be built to specific requirements. People didn’t have their own mikvehs in their homes—Bathsheba would have gone to the community mikveh. The mikveh isn’t like a bathing tub that could be moved, it is more like the Christian baptismal, which are built into churches specifically for baptisms. Further, the law required the individual bathing in the mikveh to be completely naked and completely immersed. That was part of the ritual and part of the requirement for cleansing.
Here is a description with a picture of the ruins of a mikveh from antiquity.
According to the classical regulations, a mikveh must contain enough water to cover the entire body of an average-sized man (Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 4b). The rabbis calculate the necessary volume of water as being 40 seah (most contemporary authorities believe this is about 150 gallons). The rabbis also specified that a mikveh must be connected to a natural spring, or to a well of naturally occurring water—like rainwater.
If you’ve ever visited an ancient historical site in Israel, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a mikveh (Jewish ritual bath)–or the remains of one. The picture to the left, for example, is an ancient mikveh at the popular tourist attraction Masada–the site of a Jewish fortress community from the first century CE.
Since the mikveh at Masada was far from any natural spring, it presumably functioned as a cistern for rain, and the Masada residents immersed therein. Though stagnant rainwater could hardly have been hygienic, this mikveh would still have met the legal requirements to purify; in Judaism, ritual purity and hygiene can be two very different categories.
Bathsheba did not choose her bathing location. She went to the community mikveh and bathed according to the requirements of the law. David was walking the roof of his palace, which would have been one of the highest buildings in Jerusalem, and from that height he saw her bathing in the community mikveh. The mikveh walls were not tall enough to conceal Bathsheba from the eyes of a man on the roof the palace, but that was not her doing. David sends a servant to find out who she is because she was at the community mikveh, not in her own home—if she’d been bathing at her house and he’d seen her there, he would simply have needed to find out whose house it was.
Bathsheba was not tempting David. She was not being “immodest.” She was not trying to get his attention. She was following the Jewish law and doing what every other woman did—bathing naked in the community mikveh several days after her period, to purify her ritual uncleanness. This information is honestly not that hard to find. All you have to do is start asking questions about what all is involved in this Jewish ritual bath that is mentioned, and how it takes place.
But on some level, this is irrelevant. Even if Bathsheba had seen David on the palace roof and then gone up on her own roof and danced in fancy underwear to get his attention, that would not make what David chose to do her fault. Women are not responsible for men’s sexual choices—and vice versa. People are responsible for their own sexual choices. Period.
And you know what? God himself puts all the blame on David.
26 When Uriah’s wife [Bathsheba] heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.
What of the incest, rape, and turmoil that visits David’s family in future years, as a result of this incident? Who does God blame that on? We get our answer in II Samuel 12, when the prophet Nathan visits David with a message from God:
7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. 9 Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’
11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”
13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.”
Guess what? No one in the Bible blames Bathsheba for what happened. No one. Not even David. David didn’t say Bathsheba had tempted him. God didn’t place any blame on Bathsheba—absolutely none at all—even as he was heaping plenty and more of blame on David. Sometimes I really wish Debi would actually read the Bible.
But what this passage in Debi’s book does point to is her utter insistence on blaming women for every failing of men. Her ideology removes responsibility from men. Debi is the sort of person who blames women’s rapes on the women—because clearly, they must have done something to bring it on. The idea that men could be something other than sex obsessed animals without an ounce of self control appears to be foreign to her. In her hands, David becomes Bathsheba’s victim—this in spite of the fact that it is unlikely Bathsheba was given any choice when David called her to his palace to have sex with her. In Debi’s hands, rapists become the victims of the women they rape, lured in by their victim’s clothing or gait and unable to resist.
Debi finishes this section with this:
Your life is not your own. You are bought with a price, the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We will all stand before God for acts of the flesh, even the ones we are responsible for in a careless way. Remember the warning in Mathew 5:28: the woman is part of the adultery when she puts herself in a place that causes a man to lust after her.
As a woman who lives in the world, I know how easy it is to have sexual thoughts about people—and I also know that sexual attraction is there regardless of clothing choices. If I really thought that every time a man looked at me and thought sexual thoughts about me it would be credited to me as committing the serious sin of adultery, I’m not sure I’d leave the house.
More than anything, I am so thankful that I no longer hold these views about men and about sex. I am so glad that I now have a view of sex and sexuality that focuses on not causing harm rather than on following rules. I am so relieved that others’ sexual thoughts and sexual acts are their own responsibility, not mine. There is so much freedom that comes with letting go of the crippling shame and guilt and fear that is so woven through Debi’s writings.
Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Libby Anne blogs at Love, Joy, Feminism
Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the religious right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving fundamentalist and evangelical religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the problems with the “purity culture,” the intricacies of conservative and religious right politics, and the importance of feminism. Her blog is Love, Joy, Feminism
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NLQ Recommended Reading …
Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce
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