Bathsheba was King David's most famous wife because their marriage came after an illicit extramarital affair at the height of David's reign (circa 1005-965 B.C.). The story of Bathsheba and David has proved so enduring that its plot has been borrowed for countless romance novels, movies and daytime dramas.
Who Seduced Whom?
The relationship of Bathsheba and David centered on one question expressed by the Women in the Bible website: Who seduced whom?
Their story is told in 2 Samuel 11 and 12, set against the backdrop of David's war against the Ammonites, a tribe from a region east of the Dead Sea that is now part of present-day Jordan. 2 Samuel 11:1 records that the king sent his army out to wage war, but he himself stayed behind in Jerusalem. Obviously David was secure enough on his throne that he no longer had need to go to war to prove his military power; he could send his generals instead.
Thus King David was relaxing on a palace balcony above the city when he spied a beautiful woman taking a bath. Through his messengers, David learned that she was Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite, who had gone to battle for David.
This raises a key question: did Bathsheba set her cap for the king, or did David force his lust on her? Traditional biblical scholarship holds that Bathsheba couldn't have been ignorant of her home's proximity to the palace, given that David was close enough that he could see her taking a bath outside. What's more, Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, had left her to go fight for David.
Although feminist biblical interpretation contends that Bathsheba was a victim of David -- after all, who can say no to a king? -- other scholars find a clue to Bathsheba's complicity among King David's wives in 2 Samuel 4:11. This verse says unequivocally that when David sent messengers to fetch her, she came back with them. She wasn't coerced, nor did she use any of the many excuses she could have for not seeing another man, even a king, while her husband was away. Instead, she went to David of her own free will, and thus bears some responsibility for what happened afterward.
King David Isn't Innocent, Either
Even if Bathsheba had decided to seduce King David, scriptures deem David's sin in their affair to be greater for two reasons. Once he found out Bathsheba's identity, he knew that:
- she was married and
- he had sent her husband off to war.
Clearly a liaison with her would violate the seventh commandment against adultery, and a king of Israel was supposed to be a religious leader as well as a political leader.
Nonetheless, David and Bathsheba engaged in sexual intercourse, and she returned home. The whole thing might have ended there were it not for a subordinate clause in 2 Samuel 4:11: "she [Bathsheba] had just purified herself after her period."
According to Jewish purity laws, a woman must wait seven days after her menses end before purifying herself ritually in a mikvah, a special immersion pool, so that she and her husband may resume sexual relations. The biblical text implies that this ritual purification was the bath that David saw Bathsheba taking. Depending on the length of a woman's period, this seven-day injunction before purification virtually guarantees that a woman will most likely be ovulating, or close to ovulating, when she resumes having sex.
Consequently, Bathsheba and David had sex at one of the best possible moments for her to conceive -- which she did, with tragic results.