Let's talk about Bathsheba's Husband Uriah

Updated: Jan 16



A while ago in October 2019, there was a Twitter kerfuffle about King David. It began like this:

Matt Smethurst, a managing editor at The Gospel Coalition, tweeted:

"Adam fell.

Noah got drunk.

Abraham lied.

Jacob cheated.

Moses murdered.

Rahab prostituted.

David fornicated.

Jonah fled.

Thomas doubted.

Peter denied.

Paul persecuted.

We rebelled.


Jesus redeems."


Rachel Denhollander, the mother, wife, Christian, author, speaker, lawyer, and amazing warrior woman, that led the charge against child molester Larry Nassar responded with this:


"David raped. It's important we get that right."


And the kerfuffle began.


Many on Twitter lost their minds over the thought that King David was not merely an adulterer, but was instead a rapist. The online conversation that followed revealed some ugly ideas that are imbedded in too many of our sacred communities.


For example, some suggested the idea that Bathsheba should have chosen death instead of be sexually violated. This is a repugnant idea that is also thrown around in reference to Esther as well.


Another example that is commonly preached, shifts all the blame to Bathsheba. As in, she planned to entice and seduce King David by bathing in his view.


But what I want to focus on for a bit is not the traditional victim-blaming of Bathsheba, nor the obtuseness of people who can read a description of rape and not recognize it as rape without an explicit reference to rape. Nor do I wish to clarify the horror that so many Christians can read an account of a King's many abuses of power, from rape to murder, and confuse it with a seduction or love affair.


Instead I would like to take a look at Bathsheba's husband, Uriah the Hittite. While Bathsheba certainly suffers greatly because of King David, the story in 2 Samuel 11 is structured to portray Uriah the Hittite as the victim and foil to King David. In other words, they are the key actors in the story and they are opposites.


So what do we know about Uriah? He was married to Bathsheba. He was a member of King David's army. He behaved faithfully to the point that David had to give up trying to manipulate him and plan his murder instead. And, of course, we know he was a Hittite. The fact that Uriah was a Hittite is mentioned 3 times: 2 Samuel 11:3, 2 Samuel 11:6, and 2 Samuel 11:16.


Why mention this fact 3 times? Apparently, it is important. So, why is it important? Perhaps because Uriah the Hittite consistently behaves faithfully and obeys the law even though he is not an Israelite. After all, Hittites are often portrayed in the Bible as the enemies of God and of the Israelites. Meanwhile, King David, the Israelite, consistently ignores both his responsibilities as King and the law.


So the text reveals a dramatic reversal of expectations. Uriah - a Hittite no less - behaves more godly than the King of Israel.


Opposites. The faithful Uriah and the treacherous David.


Now for a fun conjecture. Another possible reason for multiple references to Uriah being a Hittite, is something more obscure and involves some information from extra biblical texts, specifically the Hittite laws governing rape and adultery.


In Sacred Witness: Rape in the Hebrew Bible, Susanne Scholz provides a translation and explanation of the Hittite rape law. It describes three scenarios, one of a woman raped in the mountains, the second of a woman raped in her home, and the third references a "husband discover[ing] the couple". Now the first one has no significance here.


The second one is interesting. If the rape occurs in her home, the ancient law assumes the victim is at fault. In Bathsheba's case the rape occurred in his home, not hers.


The third specification could speak to David's circumstances. If the husband "discovers" the couple, it is up to his discretion whether or not to kill both of them, either of them, or neither of them. Bathsheba's pregnancy would certainly be a shocking way for Uriah to discover David's treachery.


Now David as King would have had protection from rogue Hittite soldiers, but what if David needed to worry not just about Uriah, but all his other Hittite soldiers as well? How would they have felt about the King violating the wife of one of their faithful men while they were all risking their lives in battle, and conquering armies for David's benefit?


Obviously, the biblical text does not inform us of this Hittite law but it is interesting to consider it and whether or not King David knew about it. He does go to great lengths to try to cover up his abuse of power, including covertly murdering Uriah.


Whether or not King David worried for his life if Uriah discovered his violation of Bathsheba, or if David merely worried for his reputation, Rachel Denhollander is correct.


It is important we get rape right.


Even when, perhaps especially when, the rapist is one of our biblical heroes.


For Reflection:


Have you ever heard the idea that Bathsheba was responsible for King David sending for her?


If so, in what ways was blaming Bathsheba justified?


References:

Scholz, Suzanne. Sacred Witness: Rape in the Hebrew Bible. 2014.


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