King David and Bathsheba

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Bathsheba and David oil painting by Jan Matsys Louvre 1562

David and Bathsheba (1562), oil on wood painting by the Flemish painter Jan Massys (1510-1575), 162 cm x 197 cm, Louvre Museum, Paris

According to The Old Testament, Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, an officer in the army of David, the King of the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah. After the death of Uriah, she became the wife of David. After the death of David, one of her sons, Solomon, succeeded to the throne, making her the Queen Mother. She is also an ancestor of Jesus Christ, according to Matthew (1:6).

Bathsheba was born as a daughter of Eliam, the son of Ahitophel, David’s famous counselor from Giloh, a city of Judah, and hence she was from David’s own tribe.

King David once saw Bathsheba, then the wife of Uriah bathing. Seduced by the beauty of her body, he immediately sent for her, had sex with her and made her pregnant with his child. To conceal his sin, David summoned her husband Uriah from the battlefield with the hope that Uriah would cohabit with Bathsheba and believe that the child was his. But Uriah was unwilling to violate the Kingdom’s rule regarding soldiers in active service, and preferred to remain with the troops rather than go to bed with his wife.

When David’s efforts to convince Uriah to go to bed with Bathsheba failed, the King ordered his general Joab to abandon Uriah to the hands of the enemy so that he would be killed. After Uriah was killed, David made the widowed Bathsheba his wife.

In a sense David had committed multiple crimes and sins: adultery with his trusted and sincere soldier’s wife, plotting to conceal or misrepresent her pregnancy, and the planned betrayal and the resultant killing of Uriah, the patriotic soldier and a faithful husband. So the Lord the God was displeased with the action of David, and the Lord sent Nathan the Prophet to reprove King David.

Nathan narrated the parable of the rich man who took away the only little ewe lamb of his poor neighbor to David, who expressed his anger against the injustice. Then the prophet applied the case to David’s action with regard Bathsheba.

David immediately confessed his sin. But Nathan prophesied that David’s house would be cursed and punished.

Soon Bathsheba’s child by David had an illness and died a few days after birth, which the King accepted as the punishment for his sin.

David’s son Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar, soon after the David-Bathsheba case, strikingly parallel sexual misconduct by both father and son. After the rape, Amnon loathed Tamar, and sent her to her full brother Absalom, who took her into his home. When Tamar’s father King David heard of her rape by his son, he was angered but did nothing. However, Absalom hated Amnon for his rape of Tamar and after waiting for two years, he had Amnon murdered.

Later, Absalom led a violent rebellion against the kingdom to dethrone his father, David. As a testimonial for his claim to be the new king, Absalom had sexual intercourse in public with ten of his father’s concubines. The entire episode is considered a tenfold divine retribution for David’s impregnating the woman of another man.

In David’s old age, Bathsheba plotted for the succession to the throne of her son Solomon, instead of making David’s eldest son Adonijah the king.

The Chronicles draws a veil over David’s faults, omits all references to how Bathsheba became David’s wife, and gives only the names of her four children: Shimea, Shobab, Nathan and Solomon.

Some modern writers have argued in a sense that puts the blame on Bathsheba for willfully seducing David. According to their argument, Bathsheba’s house was about twenty feet away from David’s palace. Because women in those times were exceptionally modest about showing their bodies, Bathsheba seems to have deliberately displayed her nudity to David to seduce him. She did so because she wanted to get rid of Uriah, a lowly-paid soldier of poor social rank, so that she could move in with the king.

The story of Bathsheba has been a favorite subject for painters and artists of several centuries, most of them titling their works such as ‘Bathsheba at Her Bath’ or variations of it. Some of the most famous ‘Bathsheba Bathing’ paintings created were Bathsheba at Her Bath by Rembrandt, Bathsheba with David’s Letter (1654) by Willem Drost, Bathsheba (1870) by Karl Briullov, Bathseba at her bath (1594) by Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem, Bethsabée (1889) by Jean-Léon Gérôme, Bathseba im Bade (1834) by Francesco Hayez, Bad der Bathseba (1552-1554) by Francesco Salviati, Bathseba im Bade (1480) by Hans Memling, Bethsabée au bain by Paolo Veronese (1528-1588), and Bathseba bei der Toilette by Pieter Lastman (1583-1633).

There are slight variations in the story depicted in the case of some of the artists, as many of them showed David as a voyeur or spying on Bathsheba, while Rembrandt depicted David as sending her a letter telling her to choose between her husband and her devotion to the king.

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