David and Bathsheba (2 Sam 11)
David is a heroic figure in the Hebrew Bible: a handsome, brave, and talented warrior-king who receives special favor from God. At the same time, David’s characterization in biblical narrative is ambivalent, emphasizing his flaws as well as his virtues. The story of his interactions with Bathsheba and Uriah is one such account of David’s moral failings.
Did you know…?
- David tells Uriah to go to his house and wash his feet. Feet is a common euphemism for genitals in the Hebrew Bible, and the instruction that Uriah should wash his feet at home implies that he should have sex with his wife.
- The book of Psalms attributes many of its poems to David, including Psalm 51, which bears the superscription, “A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”
- The New Testament book of Matthew begins with a genealogy of Jesus that deliberately highlights some of the more scandalous moments in the Davidic line, including that “David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah.” By saying “wife of Uriah” instead of “Bathsheba,” the genealogy underscores David’s adultery rather than his kingly glory.
Is this story about David and Bathsheba or David and Uriah?
When we first encounter Bathsheba, we learn she is “the wife of Uriah the Hittite” (
Although Bathsheba is at the center of the story’s action, through all of this drama we never hear her speak, nor do we have any indication of her feelings about David or Uriah. Instead of acting, she is acted upon. Even after her child dies, we hear not that she mourned but rather that “David consoled his wife Bathsheba” (
Why is this story of David’s failings included among other texts that portray David as a hero?
The prophet Nathan’s parable used to rebuke David in
Second Samuel 11-12 is the result of a process of editing over time by multiple hands. As scholar Jacob Wright notes, the story is likely built on a battle report of Uriah’s death that originally lacked the current story’s sexual intrigue. As it now stands, the story of David, Uriah, and Bathsheba gives voice to a deep skepticism about the institution of kingship, a skepticism that persists throughout Samuel-Kings alongside other voices praising David as a divinely chosen hero. In addition to providing a richer, more complex portrait of the figure of David, this narrative underscores the composite nature of the Hebrew Bible, showcasing how different perspectives on ancient stories have been worked and reworked into the texts we know today.