Bathsheba’s story captures our attention. Painters, such as Jean-Léon Gérôme or Rembrandt, have depicted her bathing provocatively. Actress Susan Hayword brought her story to life in the 1951 film “David and Bathsheba,” nominated for five Academy Awards. Authors speculate on her life in historical fiction works.
I’ve even stumbled across various forms of this social media meme:
Notice the words “David had an affair,” a fairly common phrase. I thought little of it the first time I saw the meme, but when I conducted research for my thesis on Bathsheba, my perspective changed.
I started with the notion that Bathsheba tends to get a bad rap. I had always figured the details regarding her responsibility in the situation were ambiguous, and thus we should be careful with assumptions about her character. But the more I delved into the biblical text the more I realized her story wasn’t as ambiguous as I thought.
- We often say Bathsheba bathed on top of a roof. >>> The text and cultural studies indicate she was probably in an enclosed courtyard.
- We portray Bathsheba naked. >>> The Hebrew word is ambiguous. She could have been washing her hands or her feet only (while fully clothed).
- We view Bathsheba as a woman whose immodesty caused a king to stumble. >>> We should instead view David as a “peeping Tom.”
- We point out that Bathsheba “came to the palace.” >>> We fail to mention David sent messengers (plural) to fetch her.
- We tend to call the situation an affair. >>>The evidence from the text suggests it was rape.
- We bestow upon Bathsheba partial blame. >>> The biblical author placed the blame fully on King David.
But why do the details of one story really matter? Does our view of Bathsheba affect how we live out our Christian faith? I believe it does.
As I researched, I found current examples in which Christian writers and editors failed to be empathetic toward victims and demonstrated a “lack of understanding and discernment in regard to sexual predation, child abuse and rape culture mentality” (quote from: Heather Celoria).
Even sadder, some spiritual leaders rape or sexually abuse young women, and many of the victims still receive partial blame in situations where a spiritual leader is fully at fault.
How we interpret biblical narratives affects how we interpret events around us.
Now, when I hear phrases like “David had an affair” or “Bathsheba bathed on a roof,” I don’t just simply think about how she gets a bad rap. I think about how she was an innocent victim, and I think about the “modern day Bathshebas” who exist today.
Bathsheba’s story ought to prompt careful thought because the repercussions of allowing negative stereotypes to persist are very real. I long for the day when believers eradicate the line of thinking where the victim shares partial blame for a perpetrator’s sin.
One step toward that end is sharing the “true” Bathsheba story.