Bathsheba has been unjustly criticised and judged by a number of people. She is described as a seductress by some, and as a conniving political opportunist by others, but I do not believe either of these descriptions match with how she is portrayed in Scripture. In this article, I present a more sympathetic view of Bathsheba, and I aim to highlight, without imaginative or salacious embellishments, how Scripture depicts her.
Bathsheba’s Bath – 2 Samuel 11:1-2
Almost everyone knows the story of when King David saw Bathsheba while she was bathing. This part of her story is mentioned in just a few verses of the Bible with few details. Commonly held assumptions, however, have influenced our understanding of the story. For instance, many people assume that Bathsheba was completely naked and brazenly exposed while she was bathing, but the Bible simply doesn’t say this.
Customs of bathing in the ancient world, and in some cultures today, are very different from the way most westerners bathe. In many cultures, women do not have the luxury of a private bathroom, and they bathe in more public places. Sometimes they bathe with clothes on, or with a cloth or sarong wrapped around their bodies so that they are never completely naked.
We do not know if Bathsheba was naked or not. We also do not know where she was bathing. She may have been bathing by a spring, like Judith (Judith 12:7-9). Or in a garden courtyard, like Susanna (Susanna 1:15ff). When Josephus wrote about the account, he said that David “saw a woman washing herself in her own house” (Antiquities 7.7.1 §130) What we do know is that it was evening—the usual time for bathing—so the light level may have been low. It is likely Bathsheba was neither naked nor brazenly exposed when she was bathing.
2 Samuel 11:4b may indicate that Bathsheba’s bath was part of a ritual cleansing. (This is how the CEB, ESV, NIV and NRSV, etc, understand it.) Devout Israelite women washed seven days after their period had finished, as indicated in the Law. If the cleansing in 11:4 b is before David had sex with her, then we are meant to understand that Bathsheba has had her period and that, when she does become pregnant, the baby cannot be her husband Uriah’s. But others think the cleansing in 11:4b occurred after David has sex with Bathseba. (There is a useful discussion on this point on professor Claude Marriotini’s blog here.)
The Bible does not tell us where Bathsheba was bathing but it does tell us where David was. He was on his rooftop. David’s palace would have been the largest building in Jerusalem, built on high ground with the highest rooftop giving him a unique vantage point of the surrounding area. This was essential for security reasons.
Some assume Bathsheba was hoping to attract the king’s attention and that she bathed in a seductive manner. However, it is likely she believed that David had gone to war with his fighting men—men who included her husband (2 Sam. 11:1). Bathsheba probably had no idea she was being watched.
A Royal Summons – 2 Samuel 11:3-5
After seeing the young and beautiful Bathsheba, David sends for someone to tell him who she is. As was the custom in biblical times, Bathsheba is identified by her relation to a man. In fact, she is identified in respect to both her father and her husband. This double identification indicates that she was a respectable person, as women with a dubious reputation were sometimes not identified by, and associated with, a named male relative.
Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam, one of David’s top “Thirty” warriors (2 Sam. 23:34; cf. 1 Chron. 3:5). And she was the wife of Uriah, also one of the “Thirty” (2 Samuel 23:39). The Bible depicts both as men of valour and honour. These men had fought alongside David; they were his trusted comrades.
When David found out who Bathsheba was, including the fact that she was a married woman, the text tersely states, “So David sent messengers to get her. When she came to him, he had sex with her” (2 Sam. 11:4a CEB). Did Bathsheba have a choice in any of this? Could she have refused the king’s messengers who had come with a royal summons? Could she have refused the king’s sexual advances?
The Bible portrays Bathsheba as a young, respectable wife who was following the Law, but she was probably powerless to refuse the king. On this point, John Piper states, “we are not exaggerating to use the word rape for David’s abuse of his power in the indulgence of his sinful lust in the way he took Bathsheba.” (Source: Desiring God)
After David has sex with her, she returns home, defiled. And she becomes pregnant. David expected Bathsheba to resume her life as Uriah’s wife. He did not want her as a wife. In his senseless lust, however, he seemingly did not anticipate that Bathsheba might become pregnant. (If she was ritually bathing seven days after her period had finished, then her cycle was at an optimum time for conception.)
A Grieving Widow – 2 Samuel 11:6-14, 26-27
The narrative in 2 Samuel 11:6-14 recounts the ways David tries to cover up his involvement with Bathsheba’s pregnancy. David recalls her husband Uriah from active military service and sends him home to rest. David wants him to sleep with Bathsheba. He is hoping that Uriah will take responsibility for the pregnancy.
Uriah, however, has a strong sense of honour and stays with David’s servants instead of going home to his wife. He was “unwilling to violate the ancient Israelitish rule applying to warriors in active service.” (source) Uriah’s refusal to sleep with his wife because of his sense of military duty is in contrast to David staying idly in his palace and not going to war, as was the expectation (2 Sam. 11:1).
David then plots Uriah’s murder. He writes a letter to Joab, the commander of his army, with instructions that ensure Uriah will be killed—a letter that David callously places in Uriah’s own hand to deliver to Joab. In the letter, David orders Joab to place Uriah in a vulnerable position in battle and then withdraw military support from him. And so Uriah is exposed to the enemy and killed (2 Sam. 11:14-25).
Bathsheba is now pregnant and widowed, and she mourns for her murdered husband.
Bathsheba is not mentioned by name in the second half of 2 Samuel chapter 11, rather she is referred to as “the wife of Uriah.” This has the effect of distancing her from David’s schemes, crimes, and his guilt.
Chapter 11 finishes with a succinct update on the situation and a frightening insight into God’s view of what David had done:
When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband Uriah was dead, she mourned for her husband. After the time of mourning was over, David sent for her and brought her back to his house. She became his wife and bore him a son. But what David had done was evil in the Lord’s eyes (2 Sam. 11:26-27 CEB).
God holds David, not Bathsheba, responsible for what has happened. This becomes even clearer in chapter 12. It is important to note that Bathsheba is nowhere blamed or criticised in the Scriptures.
A Little Ewe Lamb – 2 Samuel 12:1-14
David is blind to his guilt, so God sends Nathan the prophet to him with a message. Nathan tells David a parable about a rich man with many sheep and cattle, and a poor shepherd with one precious lamb. In the story, the rich man takes the one lamb of the poor shepherd. David sees the injustice in the story. He becomes angry at the rich man and exclaims that the man must die. He does not realise that he has acted just like the ruthless rich man, and Nathan has to point out to David, “You are that man!”
David finally realises what he has done. He writes a song, Psalm 51, that expresses his contrition. David has broken three of the Ten Commandments: he coveted his neighbour’s wife, committed adultery, and had Uriah murdered. God spares David life, but others will suffer because of his sins.
Adele Berlin summarises the situation: “David bears the responsibility and the condemnation, and from this point on he is beset by problems within his family that have political implications for his reign. This David is quite different from the man depicted in the Abigail story.” (Source)
A Bereaved Mother – 2 Samuel 12:15-24
David marries the widowed Bathsheba and she gives birth to a baby boy, but the baby becomes dangerously ill. David fasts and prays, hoping that God will spare the boy’s life, but seven days later the boy dies. The biblical text devotes several verses that relate David’s prayers and grief for the baby, but we are not told of Bathsheba’s distress. She seems to suffer in silence. I feel for Bathsheba and the ordeal she faced because of David’s wickedness.
David takes care of Bathsheba as his legal wife and we are told he consoled her (i.e. had sex with her) after the death of their son. Bathsheba conceives and gives birth to another boy and names him Solomon “and the LORD loved him” (2 Sam. 12:24). Things are beginning to look up for Bathsheba.
A Queen Mother – 1 Kings 1:11-31; 2:10-12
Many years pass. David has become an old man and is losing competence, and his eldest son Adonijah has set himself up as king. Nathan the prophet goes to Bathsheba and says,
Did you hear that Adonijah, Haggith’s son, has become king, but our master David doesn’t know about it? Let me give you some advice on how you and your son Solomon can survive this. Go to King David and say, ‘Didn’t my master the king swear to your servant, “Your son Solomon will certainly rule after me. He will sit on my throne”? Why then has Adonijah become king?’ While you are speaking there with the king, I’ll come along and support your words. (1 Kings 1:11b-14 CEB)
Bathsheba follows Nathan’s instruction and goes to David and tells him what has happened. For those who think Bathsheba was a political opportunist, it is important to note that she acted on Nathan’s advice here and not from her own initiative.
David tells Bathsheba, “As surely as the Lord lives, who rescued me from every trouble, regarding what I swore to you by the Lord, Israel’s God, ‘Your son Solomon will certainly succeed me; he will sit on the throne after me’—I’ll see that it happens today” (1 Kings 1:29b-30 CEB). David commands that Solomon be immediately anointed and announced as his successor.
Shortly afterwards, David dies and Solomon becomes king of Israel (1 Kings 2:10-12). Bathsheba had been one of King David’s many wives but now she is the king’s only mother. Being the king’s mother, or the “queen mother,” is a step up for her.
Her Royal Throne – 1 Kings 2:13-25
After David’s death, Adonijah, who had hoped to be king, approaches Bathsheba and makes a request: “Ask King Solomon to let me marry Abishag from Shunem—he won’t refuse you” (1 Kings 2:17 CEB). (Abishag was the young woman whose job it was to keep the elderly King David warm and virile.) Bathsheba doesn’t seem to have had a problem with Adonijah’s request.
Adonijah, as well as Nathan, used Bathsheba as a go-between. They both seem to have recognised that she had diplomatic skill and influence with the king.
Bathsheba went to meet with King Solomon. The text says, “The king stood up to meet her and bowed low to her. Then he returned to his throne and had a throne set up for the queen mother. She sat to his right” (1 Kings 2:19 CEB). Bathsheba is in a position of power and honour. She is on a throne at the right hand of her son, the king.
Bathsheba presents Adonijah’s request to her son, but Solomon perceives that gaining David’s “concubine” is part of a plot for gaining David’s throne, and he orders Adonijah’s execution (1 Kings 2:22ff). With the removal of Adonijah, Solomon’s kingdom is now established (c. 968 BCE).
In Wisdom Literature
The nation of Israel thrived under Solomon’s wise leadership. His wisdom is also seen in his writings. Solomon is traditionally credited as the author of the biblical books of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. In the Song of Solomon, he mentions his mother fondly: that she crowned him with a wedding crown (Song 3:11).
Solomon also wrote some of the material he compiled in the book of Proverbs. From a couple of these proverbs, we can see that Solomon respected the teaching of his mother (Prov. 1:8-9; 6:20 cf. Prov. 31:1ff). “Mother” is mentioned fifteen times in Proverbs, always with some sense that mothers deserve respect and should be spared the dishonour and grief caused by foolish children. Did Bathsheba experience grief by witnessing Solomon’s foolish foreign marriages and later idolatry (1 Kings 11:1-13 cf. Deut. 7:3-5)?
In Jesus’ Genealogies
Bathsheba bore other children with David, including three more sons after Solomon: Shammua, Shobab, and Nathan (1 Chron. 3:5). Solomon is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:6. Nathan is mentioned in the genealogy in Luke 3:31. However, it is not clear if this Nathan is Bathsheba’s son or a son of one of David’s other wives or concubines but also named Nathan. (He is not the prophet Nathan.)
In Matthew’s genealogy, four women are mentioned, three by name: Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth. Bathsheba, however, is referred to simply as “the wife of Uriah” even though she was married to King David when she conceived and gave birth to Solomon. (Some English translations such as the NASB add Bathsheba’s name in Matthew 1:6, but her name is absent from the Greek text.) Being referred to as “Uriah’s wife” seems to be a reminder of David’s treacherous behaviour (1 Kings 15:5).
Bathsheba was a respectable young woman who suffered greatly because of King David’s actions. She was taken advantage of by David, and probably sexually abused, her husband was murdered, and then her first-born baby died. There is not the slightest hint of impropriety or guilt on Bathsheba’s part in the biblical text. David alone is held accountable. He bears the responsibility for these terrible events, while Bathsheba seems to suffer in silence. Her situation improves with the birth of Solomon who was especially loved by God. Solomon becomes king in David’s place and Bathsheba becomes the queen mother. Solomon had a great deal of respect for his mother and he gives her a place of honour.
After a royal summons that brought about a wretched entrance into palace life, Bathsheba’s circumstances improved to the point that she had her own royal throne in the palace. Ultimately, Jesus was born through David and Bathsheba’s lineage. So she has the distinction of being a great, great … grandmother of the Messiah. Bathsheba is depicted as an honourable woman in the Bible.
 For an unsympathetic look at Bathsheba, riddled with unfair assumptions, see Herbert Lockyer’s chapter on Bathsheba in his book All the Women of the Bible (on Google Books.) Even his title, Bathsheba: The Woman Whose Beauty Resulted in Adultery and Murder, seems to put the blame on Bathsheba’s beauty, rather than squarely on David’s actions. Lockyer’s chapters on Dinah and a few other Bible women are equally heartless and unjust.
 In the Book of Susannah, which is part of the Septuagint, two elders lust after the virtuous Susanna when they see her walking alone in her husband’s private garden (Susannah 1:7-8). When she bathes in the garden, things get nasty (Susannah 1:15-16ff).
In the pseudepigraphical Testament of Reuben, Reuben laments that he had sex with Bilhah after he watched her “bathing in a covered/ secret place” (Test. Reub 1.37-40; cf. Jubilees 33:2-4).
In the Coptic fragment of the apocryphal Acts of Peter there is a disturbing story of a ten-year-old girl who was bathing with her mother and seen by a rich and powerful man. (The text doesn’t say where they were bathing.) The man sends many messages to the mother asking to marry the girl. The mother refuses, and the man kidnaps the girl.
In Callimachus’s version of the myth of Actaeon, the Greek goddess Artemis turns Actaeon into a stag after he happens to see her bathing naked in the woods. He is then torn apart by his own hunting dogs.
In chapter one of The Shepherd of Hermas, a Christian work written in the early second century, Hermas, a slave, struggles with thoughts after he helped Rhoda, his owner and a Christian, out of the river where she was bathing. We are not told what Rhoda was wearing, if anything.
Clement of Alexandria makes a reference to Dion, a contemporary of Plato, who had commented on the modesty of two women. Dion’s comment seems to presuppose that the women bathed in public spaces and that their modesty was extraordinary.
Dion, too, the philosopher, tells that a certain woman Lysidica, through excess of modesty, bathed in her clothes; and that Philotera, when she was to enter the bath, gradually drew back her tunic as the water covered the naked parts; and then rising by degrees, put it on. Clement, Stromata 4.15.
These accounts were composed hundreds of years after the David and Bathsheba story, but they illustrate that respectable women (and goddesses) could innocently bathe outside and might be seen while bathing.
Exodus 2 contains a story that occurred well before the story of David and Bathsheba. Here Pharaoh’s daughter goes to the river to bathe (Exod. 2:5). This story also shows that respectable women, even princesses, could bathe outside and might be seen.
 In book 2 of his Jewish Wars, Josephus writes about first-century Essene women and men bathing in mikva’ot (ritual baths) with some clothing on: “Now the women go into the bath with some of their garments on, as do the men with something girded about them.” Wars 2.8.13 §161; cf. 2.8.5. (See the following footnote also.)
 Mikva’ot, ritual Jewish baths, were common in Jerusalem between 100 BC–70 AD (less common in other parts of Judea and in Galilee), but there is no surviving literary or archaeological evidence of similar ritual baths that date from around David’s time, 1000 BC. (More on mikva’ot here.)
 Nathan’s parable recorded in 2 Samuel 12:1-4 of the shepherd and his “one little ewe lamb” might indicate Bathsheba’s young age. In some Rabbinic literature, Bathsheba is said to be a young child; however, she was fertile when David had sex with her, so she must have been at least in her teens. (In biblical times, new brides were often in their early or mid-teens.)
 In 1 Chronicles, Bathsheba is referred to as the daughter of Ammiel, rather than Eliam (1 Chron. 3:5). The name Ammiel has the same components as in the name Eliam but arranged in a different order. Ammiel means “my kinsman is God” while Eliam means “my God is kinsman”. Eliam’s father was Ahithophel, one of David’s top advisers (2 Sam. 15:12; 1 Chron. 27:33).
 Cheryl Exum makes an interesting comment on Bathsheba’s difficult situation: “Whether David rapes Bathsheba is a moot question . . . What Bathsheba might have done or felt is not the point; the point is we are not allowed access to her point of view. The issue of force versus consent, which is crucial for constructing the woman’s point of view, is not raised. Nor does the text describe an attempted seduction, which would give the woman a role, even if one in which she is manipulated. Bathsheba’s rape is semiotic; that is to say, her violation occurs not so much in the story as by means of the story. By denying her subjectivity. Plotted, Shot, and Painted: Cultural Representations of Biblical Women (Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), 22.
 The lamb and the poor shepherd, allegorically representative of Bathsheba and Uriah, are portrayed as innocent and helpless in Nathan’s parable. However, the three main characters of the parable were not designed to correspond with Uriah, Bathsheba and David in all, or even most, details. The parable was primarily designed to vividly show David that he had been cruel and unjust. And it worked.
 The parable of the little ewe lamb is about ownership and theft. This perhaps tells us about the view of patriarchal men at that time. It does not tell us about how God views his daughters.
 Haggith was Adonijah’s mother (2 Sam. 3:2-5 cf. 1 Chron. 3:1-9).
 Solomon had previously shown clemency to his half-brother Adonijah (1 Kings 1:51-53).
 “Mother” is mentioned in Proverbs 1:8; 4:12; 6:20; 10:1; 15:20; 17:25; 19:26; 20:20; 23:22, 25; 28:24; 29:15; 30:11, 17; and 31:1ff.
 Josephus wrote that David “was overcome by that woman’s beauty, and was not able to restrain his desires, but sent for her, and lay with her” (Antiquities 7.7.1 §130). In both Josephus’ account and the biblical account, there is no hint that Bathsheba consented, or that she had the power to consent or refuse either the royal summons or the seduction. The imbalance of power between the king of Israel and Bathsheba was stacked against her. In the past, what happened between David and Bathsheba has been referred to as adultery but, with today’s understanding, we call what happened to Bathsheba as rape. It was a terrible abuse of power on King David’s part.
© Margaret Mowczko 2014
All Rights Reserved
I like the note the CEB Study Bible has for 2 Samuel 11:2-5. It assumes, however, that Bathsheba and David were each on their respective rooftops, which may not have been the case. The last sentence is telling.
David was pacing on the roof of his palace. Bathsheba was bathing on the roof of her house. Neither one of these activities was unusual in the crowded setting of a walled city. Bathing was often on the roof. There was no drainage system inside a house for bathing. Bathsheba may have been doing ritual cleansing related to her menstrual period (11:4). There is no suggestion that Bathsheba intended to attract David’s attention. The text gives no support to the idea that she was a seductress. David’s palace would command a view of the rooftops of most of the city, and many people might have been in view while bathing. The text does tell us that he found her beautiful (11:2), and he inquired about her identity. The report came back that she was married to Uriah the Hittite, one of David’s own officers (11:3). This doesn’t discourage David, however. He sends messengers to get her, which can be translated as “he took her” (11:4). The prophet Samuel used the same verb in his warning to the elders about kings who “take” from the people (1 Sam. 8:10-18). David’s sex with Bathsheba is adultery under the menace of power. The narrative gives no indication that David would have seen this woman again, except that she sent word that she is pregnant.
The only reason we hear about Bathsheba is because she became pregnant: she told David she was pregnant (a risky move), Uriah didn’t comply with David’s schemes, and her son Solomon became king. Otherwise, we probably would never have heard of her. Did David send for and have sex with other women that we’ve not heard of?
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Richard M. Davidson, “Did King David Rape Bathsheba? A Case Study in Narrative Theology,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 17.2 (Autumn 2006): 81–95. (Source)
Bathsheba’s “other” David: The Marginalization of Women and Christ as Answer by Tanya Riches
What you need to know about Bathsheba by Dalaina May
Mary and the Women in Matthew’s Genealogy of Jesus
Abigail: A Bible Women with Beauty and Brains
The Disturbing Story of David’s Ten Concubines
King Lemuel’s Mother: The other Proverbs 31 Woman
Leading Together in the Home: Honour Your Mother and Your Father