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

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One should not conclude that Bathsheba was a callous woman, but rather that the narrator has intentionally shaped the portrayal of her character for a purpose. Bathsheba's role is intentionally minimized to focus the story on David. David bears the responsibility and the condemnation, and from this point on he is beset by problems within his family that have political implications for his reign. This David is quite different from the man depicted in the Abigail story.

Stand Up, Speak Up

If Bathsheba is portrayed as passive in her early relationship with David, she becomes strongly active toward the end of David's life in her successful attempt to ensure that her son Solomon will inherit the throne. 1 Kings 1 shows her plotting, along with the prophet Nathan and other supporters of Solomon, to convince David that he has promised the kingship to Solomon. David is by now a pathetic figure who had lost control over his sons long ago. The first three of David's sons have already died, and the succession will be decided between the fourth son, Adonijah, and the destined heir, Solomon, The operative familial relationship is the mother-son relationship, and it is emphasized in the way the narrator refers to the characters: "Adonijah, son of Haggith" (1 Kgs 1:5), and "Bathsheba, Solomon's mother" (1 Kgs 1:11).

Bathsheba succeeds in having her son designated as David's successor, but her importance in the narrative does not stop when he has become king, as we see in 1 Kings 2. When David dies, the unsuccessful Adonijah, who has been assured by Solomon that no harm will come to him if he proves worthy, asks Bathsheba to convey a request to Solomon, for she is considered influential. Adonijah requests that one of David's concubines, Abishag, be given to Adonijah as his wife. It sounds innocent enough--a small consolation prize from the king to his brother who has lost the throne. Bathsheba conveys the request, with a small change in the wording, to Solomon, whereupon Solomon reacts violently, interpreting the request as an attack on his position as king. The request costs Adonijah his life.

Why did Bathsheba agree to convey this request? There are several possible explanations. Perhaps Bathsheba understood the impropriety of the request (it has been interpreted as tantamount to claiming the throne) and knew how Solomon would react. She might have been happy to see Adonijah killed so that he could not remain a rival to her son.

Or perhaps Bathsheba would have been only too happy to have Abishag removed from Solomon's household and transferred to Adonijah's. Abishag had been in David's bed when Bathsheba came to convince the feeble old king to designate Solomon as his successor. And, although David did not have sexual relations with Abishag, she was, in a sense, a younger rival to Bathsheba herself for David's favors and perhaps for future influence over Solomon. Whatever the explanation, Bathsheba plays an important role in the succession of Solomon to the throne.

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Adele Berlin

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