David is familiar to most people as a great hero in the Bible because of his confrontation with Goliath of Gath, a (giant) Philistine warrior. David is also known because he played the harp and wrote psalms. However, these were only some of David's many accomplishments. David's story also includes many marriages that influenced his rise and fall.
Many of David's marriages were politically motivated. For example, King Saul, David's predecessor, offered both of his daughters at separate times as wives for David. For centuries, this "bond of blood" concept -- the idea that rulers feel bound to the kingdoms ruled by their wives' relatives -- was often employed, and just as often violated.
How Many Women Married David in the Bible?
Limited polygamy (one man married to more than one woman) was permitted during this era of Israel's history. While the Bible names seven women as David's spouses, it's possible that he had more, as well as multiple concubines who may have borne him unaccounted-for children.
The most authoritative source for David's wives is 1 Chronicles 3, which lists David's descendants for 30 generations. This source names seven wives:
- Ahinoam of Jezreel,
- Abigail the Carmel,
- Maachah the daughter of King Talmai of Geshur,
- Eglah, and
- Bath-shua (Bathsheba) the daughter of Ammiel.
The Number, Location, and Mothers of David's Children
David was married to Ahinoam, Abigail, Maacha, Haggith, Abital and Eglah during the 7-1/2 years he reigned in Hebron as king of Judah. After David moved his capital to Jerusalem, he married Bathsheba. Each of his first six wives bore David a son, while Bathsheba bore him four sons. Altogether, scripture records that David had 19 sons by various women, and one daughter, Tamar.
Where in the Bible Did David Marry Michal?
Missing from the 1 Chronicles 3 list of sons and wives is Michal, daughter of King Saul who reigned c. 1025-1005 B.C. Her omission from the genealogy may be linked to 2 Samuel 6:23, which says, "to her dying day Michal, daughter of Saul, had no children."
However, according to the encyclopedia Jewish Women, there are rabbinic traditions within Judaism that pose three claims about Michal:
- that she was really David's favorite wife;
- that because of her beauty she was nicknamed "Eglah," meaning calf or calf-like; and
- that she died giving birth to David's son Ithream.
The end result of this rabbinic logic is that the reference to Eglah in 1 Chronicles 3 is taken as a reference to Michal.
What Were the Limits on Polygamy?
Jewish Women says that equating Eglah with Michal was the rabbis' way of bringing David's marriages into line with the requirements of Deuteronomy 17:17, a law of Torah which mandates that the king "shall not have many wives." David had six wives while he ruled in Hebron as king of Judah. While there, the prophet Nathan tells David in 2 Samuel 12:8: "I would give you twice as much over," which the rabbis interpret to mean that the number of David's existing wives could be tripled: from six to 18. David brought his number of spouses to seven when he later married Bathsheba in Jerusalem, so David had well under the maximum of 18 wives.
Scholars Dispute Whether David Married Merab
1 Samuel 18:14-19 lists Merab, Saul's elder daughter and Michal's sister, as also betrothed to David. Women in Scripture notes that Saul's intention here was to bind David as a soldier for life through his marriage, and thus get David into a position where the Philistines could kill him. David didn't take the bait, because in verse 19 Merab is married to Adriel the Meholathite, with whom she had 5 children.
Jewish Women says that in an effort to resolve the conflict, some rabbis argue that Merab didn't marry David until after her first husband died, and that Michal didn't marry David until after her sister died. This timeline also would resolve a problem created by 2 Samuel 21:8, in which Michal is said to have married Adriel and borne him five sons. The rabbis assert that when Merab died, Michal raised her sister's five children as if they were her own, so that Michal was acknowledged as their mother, though she was not married to Adriel, their father.
If David had married Merab, then his total number of legitimate spouses would have been eight -- still within the limits of religious law, as the rabbis later interpreted it. Merab's absence from the Davidic chronology in 1 Chronicles 3 could be explained by the fact that scripture doesn't record any children born to Merab and David.
Amid All the Wives of David in the Bible 3 Stand Out
Amid this numerical confusion, three of the many wives of David in the Bible stand out because their relationships provide significant insights into David's character. These wives are Michal, Abigail and Bathsheba, and their stories greatly influenced the history of Israel.
References for the Many Wives of David in the Bible:
- The Jewish Study Bible (Oxford University Press, 2004).
- "Michal, daughter of Saul: Midrash and Aggadah," Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/michal-daughter-of-saul-midrash-and-aggadah at The Jewish Women's Archive. http://jwa.org/encyclopedia.
- "Merab," Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/merab-bible entries in Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia at The Jewish Women's Archive. http://jwa.org/encyclopedia.
- "Michal," Women in Scripture, Carol Meyers, General Editor (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000).
- "Merab," Women in Scripture, Carol Meyers, General Editor (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000).