Did David Rape Bathsheba?

“If I were asked this question, and I have been asked this question in the past, I would respond with a very qualified, ‘I’m not sure.’” - John Ellis


If you want to see someone who is reading something into the text, shave. Quick list from a previous post of yours:

  1. Scripture nowhere says Bathsheba was on the roof. That would be Leonard Cohen.
  2. Scripture nowhere says that women are guilty of “arousing sexual passion” in men. That would be Bill Gothard (slightly less of an expert on scripture than Leonard Cohen, IMO)
  3. Scripture nowhere says that Bathsheba was at all guilty here
  4. Scripture nowhere suggests that Bathsheba would know when David would “arise from his bed.”
  5. Scripture nowhere suggests that Bathsheba was trying to seduce David
  6. Scripture nowhere suggests that Bathsheba knew that she would be watched

On the flip side, here are some completely defensible points from the Scripture and the surrounding culture

  1. The Bible clearly states that it was “evening”, and the rabbis do indeed count that with three visible stars today. In other words, harder to see. (regarding your objection, does one need full light to figure out a woman is beautiful? Comes as news to those enjoying candlelit dinners, to put it mildly)
  2. David “arose from his bed”, suggesting that it was fairly late in the evening and dark.
  3. Bathsheba was doing a ritual bath about as soon as she was allowed; she seems pious.
  4. She may not have been allowed to put up curtains around her, or a shared, mikveh. In Jewish law today, it is to be a permanent structure—masonry or wood construction.
  5. Putting up a permanent wall around the mikveh is going to make that bath awfully cold when it’s not heated by the sun. (physics!)
  6. She did not contact David until weeks later when she knew she was pregnant, which isn’t the ordinary behavior of the lovelorn.
  7. Scripture does not blame her at all for her role
  8. She knew (and later saw the results) that David could order her or her whole family killed if she refused him.
  9. Regarding David’s character, David had taken Michal back by force, her husband Paltiel being threatened with death, and 2 Samuel 6 indicates a degree of ill will between the two. David later ordered her sons by Paltiel killed. So Bathsheba likely knew David was fully capable of enormous cruelty to a family.
  10. Nathan’s metaphor can reasonably be interpreted as a clear indication of cruelty to Bathsheba.
  11. If she sleeps with David, willingly or not, she knows she needs to go to that mikveh again the next night, and the neighbors just might start talking. Leviticus 15:18
  12. If she’s easily visible, anyone on their roof in the line of sight can see her, and she’d be attracting every pervert in the city, not just David. Leviticus 22:8
  13. If you’re going to accuse someone of being promiscuous, why not accuse the guy with over a dozen wives and concubines instead of the girl with one husband?
  14. Most women have no desire to be part of a harem, which is why most inhabitants of those in Ottoman Turkey were slaves. (white slavery, etc..) Moreover, the harem guards/eunuchs were partly there to prevent rival women from killing each other.

See the trouble with your argument, GN? There are simply a lot of Biblical and cultural reasons to reject the adultery/Bathsheba was a slut hypothesis. Instead of accusing Jay and I (and others) of reading into the text, perhaps you ought to address the arguments.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

[Bert Perry]

Regarding Mike Harding’s contention that it matters that Bathsheba was not “forced” (let’s use the root meaning, not our cultural meaning here), the simple fact is that David didn’t need to use physical force. The implied threat “if you do not do this, your whole family dies”, would be enough. So that point is moot in my view, because if you understand the scene, David didn’t need to use force.

Bert, this argument is moot in my view because you’re adding to Scripture by insisting there was an implied threat. Maybe there was, maybe there wasn’t. A power differential doesn’t always = implied threat / non-consensual relationship. That is one of the lies of the #metoo / #churchtoo movements.

Regarding the notion that adultery is mentioned, but rape is not, look at the passage. It doesn’t say “adultery”, either. We are at a point where we need to do some reasonable inferences, because (as Mike really ought to know and act on instinctively) the Hebrew language does not map 1:1 to English. We infer that sex occurred because Uriah is off to war and Bathsheba is pregnant and (most likely 5-6 weeks after the sex) contacts David when she misses her period for the second time and starts getting sick in the morning. We further ought to infer that it qualifies as rape because you simply have to “miss” too many hints of exactly that in Scripture to come to a different conclusion.

Or, the writer of Scripture purposely didn’t use the word rape because it wasn’t rape. Whereas, with David’s son, it was rape. Could it be this simple?

Regarding the claim that Nathan’s story doesn’t help us…PLEASE, let’s get some sense here. Again, pretty much everything else in that parable save the guest and calling Bathsheba a “daughter” instead of wife maps 1:1 with reality.

So, pretty much the whole setup of the parable doesn’t map 1:1 with reality.

Finally, regarding the claim that #MeToo and #ChurchToo have had no beneficial effects….um, did I miss something,

I don’t think you’re directing this statement toward me, but let me be clear, these movements needfully exposed much abuse and coverup. So, yes, they are producing some beneficial effects. However, they have also harmed women.

The text neither states nor implies it was night, or even dusk. The standard understanding is that David arose from a mid-day nap, common in that culture. Nothing suggests that Bathsheba’s bathing was a ritual bath, but you continue to state and re-state that notion as if it is accepted fact. As far as location, Keil and Delitzsch suggest it was in an open courtyard. Either way, it was clearly a location that could be seen from the roof top of David’s neighboring palace. How could Bathsheba not have known? Nothing suggests that David’s treatment of Bathsheba was brutal. If you insist on reading that into the text because of Nathan’s parable, the parable indicates slaughter. But you reduce slaughter to brutality to support the charge of rape. That’s not what the Bible says. You read what you want into the parable to support your suppositions.

Bible students know that one does not press every point in a parable, but rather stick to the main point and recognize the incidental details for what they are, incidental. The main point of Nathan’s parable was that David stole something that belonged to a man who had very little in contrast to David who had much.

I will stop here, rather than endeavor to argue with you point by point. What is clear is that you read invisible details into the account to support the unBiblical notion of rape, but ignore visible details that suggest indiscretion by Bathsheba. You seem to have an ax to grind. The more you write, the “axier” it becomes.

G. N. Barkman

Mark above mentions a claim that Rachael Denhollander advocated female leadership in her ERLC talk. Well, here is video—the part about Bathsheba is at about 20 minutes into it—and I simply do not see that. She does counsel SBC members and pastors to hold each other accountable, but again, as far as I can tell, she is committed to complementarian theology.

Tom, to accept the notion that Bathsheba had no idea of David’s power over life and death is more or less to suggest that she had no idea what a “king” was and what he did. Also see #9 above—we’re more or less assuming that an army wife would not pay attention to the factors that ended the war and delivered her husband home safe. More or less, that’s assuming that the poor woman was living under a rock, and with the same intellect.

Now is that compatible with being the granddaughter of Ahitophel, the mother of Solomon, and the architect of Solomon’s rise to the throne? Moreover, if one wants to go with GN’s idea that she was trying to seduce David, she knew when to schedule her mikveh to coincide with David’s arising from his evening nap or whatever on his bed/couch, but was unaware of how David had treated Michal and Paltiel?

Not in my book, brother.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

No, it was not mid-day. The Scripture says it was “evening”, “erev” in the Hebrew, also meaning “sunset”. Strong’s 6153, you can look it up. We can quibble over whether the modern “three stars” rule applied, but not whether it was evening. And again, David “rising from his bed” in the evening suggests more Dagwood Bumstead going for a snack at midnight than someone in Mexico rising from his siesta.

Nor is it in doubt that Bathsheba was doing a ritual bath, the text says in verse 4 “for she was purified of her uncleanness.” Precisely what “uncleanness” would we be talking about if not that removed in ritual cleansing per Leviticus 15? We can reasonably wonder whether the Jewish regulations around the mikveh at the time resembled those of today, but it’s simply not reasonable to state it wasn’t a ritual bath.

I’m going to have to suggest that if you’re making mistakes that basic in looking at this passage, you would do well not to accuse others of reading things into the text that aren’t there. Those are two really, really dumb mistakes.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

It’s worth noting that if one accepts Gill’s notion that it was not yet getting dusky or dark, you are basically accusing Bathsheba—otherwise known as the faithful, chaste wife of Uriah the Hittite, warrior in Joab’s army—of putting herself on display before the full city in broad daylight. Let’s be blunt about this matter; not even whores did that. Proverbs 7 notes clearly that it was evening when the immoral woman came out. Tamar met Judah after the day’s shearing was done. The notion that it was broad daylight is a huge insult to Bathsheba that the text simply does not support. (again, you want to accuse someone of being sexually immoral, please start with the guy with a dozen women or more in his harem, OK?)

Oh, and by the way, another reason or two to suggest it was rape:

15. Bathsheba’s grandfather Ahitophel joins Absalom’s team when Absalom usurps the throne, and had Absalom won, Ahitophel knew that David would be killed. We can reasonably infer that Ahitophel had something of a grudge against David, and Bathsheba having been raped by David would certainly qualify as a cause for that. Seduced? Not so much.

16. Women often get a pretty good idea of when they’re at their most fertile, and in Hebrew culture, the end of the time of uncleanness per Lev. 15 coincides nicely with ovulation. So if, like many women, Bathsheba was aware of these changes in her body and what it meant for fertility, she had yet another reason to reject sex with David.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

[Bert Perry] Tom, to accept the notion that Bathsheba had no idea of David’s power over life and death is more or less to suggest that she had no idea what a “king” was and what he did. Also see #9 above—we’re more or less assuming that an army wife would not pay attention to the factors that ended the war and delivered her husband home safe. More or less, that’s assuming that the poor woman was living under a rock, and with the same intellect.

Bert, I’m not doubting she knew that David was king and all that entailed. But, I also don’t doubt that she knew David was a king who (usually) sought to live in covenantal obedience to Israel’s God. Regardless, my point is that just because he was king doesn’t mean she was incapable of making a consensual, informed, self-directed decision to commit adultery with David. Back to Mike’s point, if the author of Scripture wanted to be clear that David raped her, he very well could have done so. He chose not to do so.

Bert, you got my attention. You seem so certain, that I was inclined to holler “uncle”, admit I’d made mistakes and retire from the fray. That is, until I took time to consult half a dozen commentaries. All six of them made either one or both of the same “dumb” mistakes I made.

The “evening” reference is thought to indicate darkness by only one of the six. The others all posit that David arose from a mid-day nap and walked upon his roof in late afternoon or early evening. Several pointed out that it had to be light enough for David to “size up” Bathsheba’s beauty. It looks like I have good company with this “mistake.”

Regarding the ritual bath, most mention that as possible but not certain. I am now more inclined to believe that is probably the case, though it’s not air tight. But to conclude this proves Bathsheba’s piety was such that she could not have knowingly enticed David is a gigantic reach. You base your assessment of Bathsheba’s possible godliness on a flimsy thread, yet ignore reams of Biblical evidence regarding David’s genuine piety. David’s godliness did not keep him from committing adultery, any more than Bathsheba’s possible piety guarantees that she did not try to seduce David. We just don’t know, but the account provides suspicious circumstantial evidence. In both cases, what the Bible actually says takes precedence over possibilities grounded in either external sources or subjective speculations.

So now, thanks to your nudge, I have plenty of company to bolster my original opinion. You hang questionable conclusions upon slim evidence to exaggerate David’s sin, while ignoring more substantial evidence regarding Bathsheba’s possible complicity. That looks like ax grinding to me.

G. N. Barkman

Well, GN, I guess you found six commentators who were willing to re-define a word because the implications of using its standard definition is too hard for them, and who (except for one) are uneducated in Hebrew customs.

That’s what’s in play, brother. Regarding the word, it’s got significant religious connotations going all the way back to creation—“and there was evening, and there was morning”. It’s the time at which a person would become ceremonially clean after dealing with uncleanness, and it’s the time at which the start of the day was counted. There are words for afternoon, mid-day, and the like, and they do not include the word for “evening.” If you doubt me, look it up.

In the same way, again, precisely what “uncleanness” would we be talking about, if not that surrounding her period? Again, when Scripture uses the word, it’s almost entirely with reference to things like Leviticus 15, and the meaning of a “woman’s” uncleanness is also pretty consistent; it’s her period and the time afterwards. Even the fact that she conceives is testament to this; the egg dies 24-48 hours after ovulation, which occurs generally a week after the end of a woman’s period. Look it up.

Really, there are only two reasons to do this, one related to the other. One can sort of argue that since she’s called “very beautiful”, that somehow it must have been at mid-day with full light. But experientially, I know that’s not true. Quite frankly, a lot of times it’s easier to tell if someone is attractive “if a little bit more is left to the imagination”, including dimmer light. Archeologists even note that the most consistent evidence of female beauty worldwide is the waist to hip ratio—and you don’t need to have full light to figure that one out.

The second reason to re-define “evening” and “uncleanness” is because if Bathsheba is taking a ritual bath at or after sundown, as the text states pretty clearly, the notion that she’s trying to seduce David becomes ludicrous. Really, this is (for anyone who’s ever enjoyed a candlelight dinner with one’s spouse) the only tenable reason, and it’s a nasty insult to Bathsheba.

Really, even if one does admit your claims, she basically has to spend a lot of time gazing up at David’s palace to see when he gets up and walks on the roof, mark where the sun is when he does (clocks being centuries away even if David is remarkably consistent), and then she’s going to have to set things up in her household to go out and take that bath repeatedly so she has a good chance of being noticed, and even then, she runs the risk of not being selected.

And all that time, being a closely knit city, her neighbors are going to notice that there appears to be a nudist around 4pm at 111 Temple Street, and they’re going to intervene somehow.

I’m sorry, but that’s a string of events that the Scripture does not record, and given the likely consequences for Bathsheba—being seen as wickeder than a whore—it’s one that I cannot accept. It’s right there with the “Two Wines” advocates rewriting John 2 and the “hymns only” crowd ignoring the clear implications of Psalms 149 and 150 because it mentions percussive instruments and dancing.

Axe grinding? No. It’s simply taking a look at how this could, or could not, have happened. Ugly reality is that the standard Christian narratives about the matter are nonsense, and I for one thank Mrs. Denhollander for calling us to account to stop our foolishness.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

The view that David raped Bathsheba has many contemporary supporters. In following the many discussions that have been taking place in recent weeks, I have noticed that some attempt to use Nathan’s parable as support for (or perhaps even proof for) the view that David raped Bathsheba.

A close examination of that parable, however, does not support the view that he raped her:

2 Samuel 12:4 And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.

Whatever someone concludes overall about whether David raped Bathsheba or not, the specifics of Nathan’s parable do not support such a charge. In the parable, the rich man did not take the lamb for his own consumption; the text says twice that the rich man dressed it for the consumption of a traveler who comes to him.

For the details of the parable to correspond fully to what would have had to have happened, David would have had to have taken Bathsheba so that he could give her to someone else—not himself. Otherwise, you have to say that in the parable David is represented by both the rich man and the traveler who comes to him, which is untenable.

Add one more commentary to the list. Eugene Merrill wrote in Bible Knowledge Commentary: “David arose, went to a rooftop of the palace, and from there happened to observe Bathsheba, wife of his neighbor Uriah. She was bathing out in the open. One may not fault David for perhaps seeking the cooler breezes of the late afternoon, but Bathsheba, knowing the proximity of her courtyard to the palace, probably harbored ulterior designs toward the king. Yet David’s submission to her charms is inexcusable, for the deliberate steps he followed to bring her to the palace required more than enough time for him to resist the initial, impulsive temptation (cf. James 1:14-15).”

“Having discovered her identity, he sent for her at once and and, assured of her ritual purity (cf. Lev. 12:2-5: 15:19-28), had intercourse with her. The bathing itself may have been for the purpose of ritual purification and would therefore not only advertise Bathsheba’s charms but would serve as a notice to the king that she was available to him.” (comments on II Samuel 11:2-5)

What, another Old Testament Hebrew scholar making dumb mistakes! (or not)

G. N. Barkman

Here is Baldwin, from TNTC:

The account of what happened is brief and objective. The king has an afternoon siesta, followed by a stroll on the roof, which of necessity involves going backwards and forwards, getting nowhere, a sense conveyed by the Hebrew verb form. From his vantage-point high above the homes of his citizens (note the double mention of the roof), the king is master of all he surveys. On this occasion he catches sight of a woman, and she is very beautiful; the Hebrew idiom adds ‘to look at’. The glance becomes the gaze.

Enquiries identify her family and her husband. Ignoring the fact that she is the wife of one of his serving troops, and aware only of his own desire (which he does not yet identify as lust), he overrides her personal feelings in the matter by sending messengers to take her. The bald facts are stated, including the detail that she was not pregnant when she came to David. Indeed, she was purifying herself when he took her: ‘Opposite the man who is the prey of blind passion stands Bathsheba, and by contrast her purity receives an emblematic aspect.’

And the woman conceived: in keeping with the viewpoint of the narrator, who has David in mind throughout, Bathsheba is not named. To David she had been merely ‘the woman’ rather than a person; moreover, no mention is made of the agony of uncertainty she had suffered, all the more so because a child of the king was involved. Now it was David’s turn to be dismayed.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.


One evening” (v. 2) during this period, David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace.” The preferred portion of an Israelite house on warm evenings was the sturdy flat roof (cf. 1 Sam 9:25), where one might relax in the comparative comfort of cool breezes.

David’s house probably was located on the highest ground within the old Jebusite fortress, and from his rooftop he would have had a commanding view of the city. From that vantage point, David “saw a woman bathing.” Since no Israelite house had running water at that time, bathing often may have been performed privately, in the enclosed courtyard that was a part of many Israelite houses; alternatively, it may have been done openly near the city’s public water source. There is no indication in the text that the woman deliberately positioned herself so as to entice David.

David noticed that “the woman was very beautiful,” and his desires were aroused. Accordingly, he “sent someone to find out about her” (v. 3; cp. 1 Sam 17:55–58). The messenger reported that the woman was “Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite”; thus, she was the daughter of one of David’s best fighters (cf. 23:34), the granddaughter of his most trusted counselor (cf. 16:23; 23:34), and the wife of one of his inner circle of honored soldiers (cf.2 Samuel 11:2–5 (1, 2 Samuel (NAC)): 23:39). Since David was properly informed of this latter fact, for him to pursue Bathsheba further was already to commit adultery with her in his heart (cf. Matt 5:28).

Notwithstanding the Torah’s prohibition (cf. Exod 20:14; Lev 18:20; Deut 5:18) and the fact that the penalty for adultery was death (cf. Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22), “David sent messengers to get her” (v. 4). Bathsheba “came to him,” perhaps because she was naive or simply lacked the will to resist the powerful king’s request, or perhaps because she desired to be unfaithful to her husband. The writer’s omission of an explicit motive behind Bathsheba’s action reinforces the conviction that this story is not so much about Bathsheba’s actions but David’s.

David “slept with her,” an idiomatic Hebrew expression indicating that he engaged in sexual intercourse with her. David’s sinful encounter with Bathsheba occurred “after she had purified herself from her uncleanness” (cf. Lev 15:19), that is, during the part of her monthly cycle when she was not menstruating and thus was more likely to conceive, which she did. When she had become aware of the bodily changes that accompanied the pregnancy, Bathsheba sent someone to David informing him of her situation.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Rajesh, the argument that Nathan’s story includes a metaphor for rape does not depend on whether the host actually eats the lamb. It depends on whether the host kills, butchers, and cooks the lamb, which the host certainly did. The brutality of killing and butchering parallels the brutality of rape.

And for the record, I’m pretty sure that the reason the host is not recorded as having eaten is because….it simply didn’t need to be said. Of course you would eat with your guests, and if you didn’t, they might wonder if they were being poisoned. To this day, Middle Eastern hospitality is built around communal dishes from which all are free to partake.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

[Bert Perry]

Rajesh, the argument that Nathan’s story includes a metaphor for rape does not depend on whether the host actually eats the lamb. It depends on whether the host kills, butchers, and cooks the lamb, which the host certainly did. The brutality of killing and butchering parallels the brutality of rape.

However, the parable doesn’t provide the graphic detail you insist it does. The ESV translates the verse, “but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” The Hebrew word translated “prepare” does not convey “the brutality of killing and butchering.” There is a Hebrew word that could have been used that means “to butcher” or “to slaughter,” but that word isn’t used here.