Have been trying to say away from the David and Bathsheba dust up but, as with Kanye, can’t. help. myself. Going to weigh in and regret it later. Really like this piece. Very helpful and calm in distinguishing between a biblical definition of rape, and the one we use in our own day. Basically, the article says clearly what has been swirling around in my head the last week.
Which has been a circling round the differences between Tamar and Bathsheba:
Tamar warned Amnon and begged him to rethink his course of action.
Tamar tore her long sleeves and put her hand on her head and wailed as she went away.
Tamar lived in mourning for the rest of her life.
The text describes the whole episode as a ‘violation.’
Bathsheba didn’t do any of those things. Maybe they didn’t occur to her, but they were there, prescribed in the law, for her to do. She was in a city which is the ideal place to cry out, as the Bible says. She didn’t tear her robe. She didn’t give any warning. Once Uriah was dead she went and lived in the palace with David and had Solomon. The text doesn’t say either way, as it so often doesn’t, what she wanted to do. But her actions stand in muted contrast to those of Tamar and, well, women like Abigail.
And that’s the critical problem, and why I am so queasy with applying modern categories backwards.* The text treats both of these women as
1. Human and
neither of which the current victim narrative allows. Bathsheba and Tamar are both caught in impossible and ugly situations, one leading to a lifetime of isolated mourning, and the other to murder and then the loss of a child. Tamar is overpowered physically by her own brother. Bathsheba gives into the desires of David the King. But they are not children. They are not ‘the widow and orphan’ who are treated with such just and tender care in the scripture. Nor are they are not faceless and nameless. They are fully human—complex, sinful—and fully grown up.
Every age has been inclined to turn women into children. The purity culture has this sort of infantilizing effect on both men and women. Young People aren’t really capable of standing up and being human, of having agency, of making decisions, so let’s give them all these rules and tricks to help them along, so that they just won’t sin. The modern patriarchalism of places like the Vision Forum make women always children, prescribing their behavior and their very lives as if letting them think and act will ruin everything.
But the victim culture ends up in a similarly prescribed and narrow place. Why can’t Bathsheba be a complex, intelligent, sinful human person just like all other women? Why can’t she be caught in the same vortex of conflicting desires and motivations that complicate us all? That she could both desire her husband and desire to be with so powerful a man as the king? That she could choose the wrong thing and then hate herself? That she could be a jumble of thoughts and confusion that David absolutely took advantage of? But here’s the thing—we want to make the jumble of conflicting desires be something that makes her not responsible, that makes her almost, well, a child. Whereas the Bible doesn’t do that, because everyone—man and woman—has them.
In this way, Bathsheba can be likened to a lamb stolen from Uriah’s flock and yet also suffer the discipline of losing her own child. (It is hard for me to imagine that God would have taken the child, honestly, if the sin had only been David’s, but that’s pure speculation on my part, of course).
Who else is a lamb? Everyone, we all like sheep have gone astray. And that’s why Jesus applies all the lamb language to himself, he is both the lamb-victim, and the sacrificing-priest. In this sense we are all ‘victims’ of sin and death. It’s a victimization we bring down on our own heads.
And that’s what makes it so interesting. We can’t do otherwise, and yet we are culpable. We are all Bathsheba. We all need Jesus.
*We didn’t like it when previous centuries did this, why should we be allowed to do it now?