King David's wife and King Solomon's mother game on the scene because of David's wandering gaze.


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Reprinted from Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia with permission of the author and the Jewish Women’s Archive.

Bathsheba, the wife of David (reigned c. 1005-965 B.C.E.) and the mother of Solomon (reigned c. 968-928 B.C.E.), is featured in each of these roles in one major narrative sequence in the David stories, and she is characterized quite differently in each.

The account in 2 Samuel 11-12 of how Bathsheba came to be David’s wife makes clear that the circumstances are morally problematic. Yet because her character is suppressed, she emerges untainted by the adultery and murder for which David receives full blame. Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam and wife of Uriah the Hittite, becomes the object of David’s lustful gaze. The story implies that David should have been at the battlefield, leading his troops, but instead he is at home in Jerusalem. From his rooftop he sees a woman bathing; David has her brought to his royal residence and lies with her. Afterward she returns to her home. The adultery results in a pregnancy; this sets in motion David’s plan to pass the child off as Uriah’s and, when this fails, to legitimize the child as his own by ensuring that Uriah will be killed in battle so that David can marry the widowed Bathsheba.

Her Minimized Role

David and Bathsheba 1562 Musée du Louvre, Paris  M. DisderoBathsheba seems to know nothing of David’s plan, and, indeed, it unfolds outside her purview. Bathsheba is “on stage” in this story very infrequently and is silent except for the announcement of her pregnancy, which she does not deliver in person. No hint is given of her inner life or of her complicity with or resistance to David’s actions. We see her next after her husband, Uriah, has died, and she reacts as a proper wife would. 2 Sam 11:26 emphasizes her status as Uriah’s wife: “When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him.” Immediately after the mourning period, David marries her and she bears him a son.

The child born to David and Bathsheba becomes ill and soon dies. David is portrayed as a distraught father, praying and fasting that the child might live. Of the mother we hear nothing, except that after the child has died, “Then David consoled his wife Bathsheba, and went to her, and lay with her; and she bore a son, and he [or she] named him Solomon” (12:24).

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Adele Berlin is Professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of Maryland.

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