Bathsheba’s Bath

bathsheba

When I did research on Bathsheba for my thesis, a few people asked me why she was bathing outside, and some thought she was even bathing on top of a roof.

This month’s issue of Today in the Word from Moody addresses a similar question about Bathsheba: “Shouldn’t Bathsheba share a part of the blame in David’s moral failure in 2 Samuel 11 since she was bathing outside, attracting David’s attention?”

I was very pleased with Dr. Winfred Neely’s adamant response that Bathsheba was a victim and shared no part of the blame. Far too often I’ve seen her receive partial blame for King David’s sinful actions.

Here is a short exert from the fourth chapter of my thesis, which explains a few reasons why Bathsheba’s bathing does not not make her responsible in any way for David’s sin. (If you wish to read my completed thesis, you can order it on Amazon.)

Many who hold to the viewpoint that Bathsheba acted immorally make their case by claiming she bathed in a seductive or immodest manner near the palace. Yet, this idea overlooks several valid points. For instance, the participle “bathing” does not necessarily mean Bathsheba stood outside completely naked. The Hebrew word used here has a variety of meanings, including everything from washing one’s whole body to washing only one’s hands, feet, or face.[1] So, it is possible that Bathsheba washed only part of herself, and David saw a pretty face that he liked and desired to see more.[2]

Second, the text states that David saw Bathsheba from his vantage point on the palace roof. The text also indicates that Bathsheba and Uriah’s dwelling was lower than the palace when David says to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet” (v. 8). In verses 9–13, the phrase “go down” appears four more times. So Bathsheba presumably was in an enclosed courtyard with little to no reason to suspect a peeping Tom.[3]

It could also be that cultural etiquette of that time dictated people “looked out but not down, so as to preserve the privacy of others.”[4] In contexts where people lack indoor plumbing, various cultural allowances must be allowed. In support of this, Sakenfeld suggests a thought that occurred to her when she visited Manila: “Walking through a garden area early one morning, I encountered a man bathing. He was in a partially secluded area, but it was the only place he had; clearly it was my responsibility in that context to keep moving, not stare, in effect pretend to see nothing. So also Bathsheba may have been in the most private place available to her for bathing.”[5]

The point remains that Scripture does not suggest Bathsheba intentionally bathed in David’s view, and even if she had, the choice to sin still belonged to David. He could have looked away, but he chose to give in to temptation. As Baldwin states, “The glance becomes the gaze.”[6]

[1] Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, and M. E. J. Richardson, eds. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. Accordance electronic edition, version 3.0. (Leiden: Brill, 2000).
[2] David E. Garland and Diana R. Garland also suggest that there is no reason to suppose Bathsheba was fully naked: “If she were in public view, she would have washed without disrobing. There is no reason even to assume that she was naked. Public nudity was not acceptable in this ancient Jewish culture, but instead was considered shameful. There is no foundation for assuming she was some kind of exhibitionist.” “Bathsheba’s Story: Surviving Abuse and Loss,” in Flawed Families of the Bible: How God’s Grace Works through Imperfect Relationships (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2007), 156.

[3] Archaeological data shows that this type of enclosed courtyard was common for inhabitants during the Iron Age. For more information, see Amihai Mazar, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible 10,000–586 B.C.E. (New York: Doubleday, 1990), 486; Oded Borowski, Daily Life in Biblical Times (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), 16–20.

Archaeologist Eilat Mazar suggests that David’s palace was built outside the city walls with a commanding view of everything in the valley below. See Preliminary Report on the City of David Excavations 2005 and “Did I Find King David’s Palace?” BAR 32/1 (January/February 2006): 16–27.

[4] Katherine Doob Sakenfeld, Just Wives?: Stories of Power and Survival in the Old Testament and Today (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 72.

[5] Ibid., 72.

[6] Joyce G. Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel: An Introduction and Commentary, The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, ed. D. J. Wiseman (InterVarsity Press: Leicester, England, 1988), 232.