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Love in the Palace



Charles David Isbell



The Bible treats characters with brutal honesty, never shrinking from the graphic details of the fears, the failures, the sins of its greatest heroes. Among the numerous stories that could be cited, perhaps the most graphic example is offered by the namesake of early Israelite religion, Jacob/Israel. The biblical story does not spare us the details of his greed for power in the family illustrated by the manipulation of his weaker brother to acquire the birthright (Genesis 25:27-34), and finally outright lies and deception to procure the patriarchal blessing from an aged and blind father (27:1-29).

But it gives us the sad results of these sinful actions as well, beginning with the painful and frightening alienation from his twin brother that resulted in forced exile from the land of his birth (27:41), progressing to open conflict with his father-in-law (29:25), and ultimately alienation from his brothers-in-law (31:1) that resulted in forced flight from his adopted country and the birthland of his wives and mother (31:20-21). His unsavory machinations finally landed him at one of life’s great crossroads, trapped between two worlds of deception and ruined relationships (Genesis 32) where only by becoming a different person was the old Jacob able to survive by becoming the new Israel (32.28). Yet even after he had found personal redemption, Jacob still had a price to pay for his actions, and the Bible offers no sadder picture than that of an old and lonely father, the deceiver become the deceived, tricked by his own sons into thinking that the favorite child of his beloved wife had died a lonely and painful death (37.29-35).

Clearly we are expected to remember that the youthful Jacob had deceived and broken the heart of his own father, as the biblical narrator forces us to confront the truth that while God may forgive evil actions, the consequences of those actions remain, often with a terrible price tag. That is to say, the biblical narrator designs his description of Jacob so that “the catalogue of misfortunes that befell him reads like a retributive counterpart, measure for measure, of his own offenses.”[i] In particular, we note how the narrator links the initial act of deceit by Jacob to the things that later happen to him at the hands of others. His own action had taken advantage of the darkness of his father’s blindness (Genesis 27:1), and thus it was that his future father-in-law took advantage of the darkness of the night (ba‘erev) to switch brides on him (Genesis 29:23). And exactly as we are told that Jacob came to his blind father “deceitfully” (bemirmah – Genesis 27:35), so he himself later complained to Laban, “you have deceived me” (using a form of the same root, rimmitani – Genesis 29:25). Finally, just in case we might have missed any of the numerous structural sign posts along the way, the narrator hammers home the point by his final description of the lives of the first three patriarchs. Abraham died, we are told, “at a good ripe age, old and satisfied” (Genesis 25:8). Isaac also died “old and well satisfied” (Genesis 35:29). But of Jacob the narrator can only report that the trials and tribulations that had dogged him from the moment of his initial foray into deceit against his brother and his father had bequeathed to him a lifetime of years that were “few and evil” (Genesis 47:9).

Several scholars have noted the structural similarities between the Jacob saga and the stories chronicling the life and career of David.[ii] David was the most beloved of all Israelite kings, a great musician, a legendary warrior, a deeply sensitive and spiritual man who cared about justice for little people and exemplified great faith in God. In particular, the description of the great king’s burning anger in response to the fictitious story of a rich man robbing a poor man (2 Samuel 12.1-6) shows that David’s conscience worked just fine. He knew what was right and he recognized wrong in the actions of others. The parable also indicates how David understood that consequences had to be faced, penalties paid, in this case the penalty for the theft of one lamb: four-to-one repayment (Exodus 22.1).[iii] Still, for all of his talents and gifts, one moment of sin gave birth to the episode that remains as a terrible blot on his career record and almost cost him his kingdom. The great bitterness of his story is that from the day of his action with Bat-Sheva until the end of his life, there was no additional positive achievement in his kingship, just the failing of an old and tired man weakening gradually until he finally died, powerless to control events around him. His sad end had its genesis in an initial act so utterly typical of Jacob that Everett Fox has correctly concluded, “David resembles no other biblical character so much as Yaakov.”[iv]

The story of David and Bat-Sheva includes a royal valley of bitter sorrow and confession in the picture of a mighty king, no longer on a sumptuous bed in a lavish palace, but lying seven nights alone, “all night on the ground” (12.16). Yet even following these intense nights of prayer, fasting, and confession (12.22), even after tradition recorded that the contrite king composed one of the most beautiful poems of repentance recorded in human literature (Psalm 51), the terrible results of the king’s sin remained.  Once again, as we learned in the Jacob/Israel cycle, being forgiven did not include being let off the hook of consequences!

Still, lying, trickery, and deception of family members do not compare to adultery and premeditated murder, both of which call for the death penalty.[v] Can it be that the biblical editors of the David story actually gave their approval to a sentence for the great king that was lighter than what anyone else would have received?[vi] Why indeed did the punishment of David fail to conform to the standards to which everyone else in the kingdom would have been held? We must observe in this connection that although he did escape capital punishment, David clearly suffered anything but a light sentence! Which parent among us would contend that the death of three sons and the devastation of a fourth beautiful and beloved child would be lighter to bear than our own death? However we may feel about his punishment, the theological point made by the literary structure of the David-Bat-Sheva episode is that it inexorably sets in motion a series of events that leave us as readers spent with emotion and sorrow. With masterful concern for symmetry, the biblical narrative leads us step by agonizing step through the four-for-one repayment exacted from David, balancing with perfect conformity the four-for-one sentence he had handed down for the fictitious wealthy man in the parable of Nathan.[vii] This symmetry, first noted by Rashi, grinds slowly and agonizingly through [1] the death of the unnamed child conceived with Bat-Sheva; [2] the rape of a beautiful daughter; [3] the murder of one son by another son; [4] the revolt and ultimate death of a favorite and beloved son, Avshalom. The focus of this paper is on the second and third parts of David’s punishment, the rape of Tamar by Amnon and the murder of Amnon by Avshalom. I will then turn briefly to the revolt of Avshalom and the struggle between Adoni-Yah and Solomon.



The rape of Tamar by Amnon, chronicled in 2 Samuel 13, is a story with salacious details fit for Hollywood, or almost even for Washington D.C. Sex, lies, deceit, murder—and all in the royal palace! The narrative is so brief as to seem almost abrupt. It is the familiar picture of a young man with raging hormones desiring sex with a young woman of great physical beauty. But it is also the story of that young man stooping to lies, deceit, and finally physical force in order to obtain his brief moment of sexual satisfaction. Sadly, it is ultimately the story of an innocent yet powerless young woman whose life is shattered by someone she trusted. As the story opens (v. 1), the narrator uses the theme word of this year’s Symposium. “Amnon loved [Tamar]!” Then with startling force, the narrator describes a horrifying episode with words that grip by their very simplicity. On the one hand, the feelings of “love” Amnon experienced for the beautiful Tamar are described (2 Sam 13.1, 4), employing the same Hebrew root [’-h-b] used to express the divine love of YHWH for His people,[viii] their obligation to “love” God in return,[ix] or the love of a man for a woman whom he wishes to marry and make his lifelong partner.[x]

On the other hand, regardless of the words used by Amnon, his actions define his true feelings. No reader of the story could possibly miss the clear implication that what Amnon experiences is not love, but raw animal lust, what Robert Alter aptly calls, “an erotic obsession,”[xi] and Kyle McCarter describes as “a series of gasping sighs” – ’et-tamar ’ahot ’avshalom ’ahi ’ani ’ohev.[xii] If the difference between love and lust is in the way one feels after a physical appetite has been satisfied, it is this difference that the narrator defines by his description of the feelings of Amnon following his forcible rape of Tamar. We read with sinking hearts that what had twice been described as love became hatred fourfold immediately after lust had been sated: “Then Amnon hated her with a very great hatred. Indeed, the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her” (2 Sam 13.15). Clearly what Amnon wants us to identify as love fails miserably to qualify by any definition of the word. He was not in love, he was merely in heat, and calling his emotion “love” was the ultimate bitter irony. But had the narrator told the truth from the beginning, the story would have lost its punch. And surely if Amnon had told the truth, he could not have deceived his own father. Suppose Amnon had said: “I am burning with cheap carnal lust for Tamar. All I want is a few moments of physical release because I don’t care about her, I am concerned only for my own physical pleasure.” That would have been the truth, but it doubtless would have failed to procure his father’s assistance in trapping his intended victim! So Amnon lied. He called his tawdry feeling by an elegant name—love!

But it was not love, as the conclusion of the narrative so clearly proves. And we are tempted to believe that just as he had never loved Tamar, neither was Tamar the one whom he hated. As he had loved only his own sexual desires before the rape, surely it was himself whom he hated after the fact. Once his physical appetites had been met, the beautiful girl who had so excited Amnon in the beginning of the story was thrown away like yesterday’s trash. This too the narrator makes clear by his literary artistry, this time using a chiasm of antonyms. What had begun with Amnon’s pleading bo’i, šikhvi (“come, lie down” - v. 11) is now twisted into qumi, lekhi (“get up, go” – v. 15).[xiii] Pigs rut out of instinct. Dogs see the moon and howl. They hear a sound and bark. They smell a certain scent and hump the closest thing to them. But none of these raw animal actions is called “love.” These post-rape actions of Amnon[xiv] disclose that what he had done was nothing more than what a pig or a dog does, an ugly truth made even dirtier by the narrator’s use of the elegant word “love.”

But our narrator wants us to believe that something even worse than rape happened to Tamar that day. Pleading with her violator not to expel her from the room, the beautiful young woman tells Amnon something we can scarcely imagine: “This wrong, to send me away, is greater than the other [thing] you have done to me” (v. 16). We must note that by her use of the word š-l-h in the sense of “divorce” in 13:16, Tamar was fully a child of her pre-modern environment in which, “rape was a dire fate, but one which could be compensated for by marriage, whereas the violated virgin rejected and abandoned by her violator was an unmarriageable outcast, condemned to a lifetime of ‘desolation’ (verse 20).”[xv] In literary terms, the heartless expulsion/divorce of Tamar after his forcible rape of her, the locking of the door, and the scornful reference to her not by name but merely as “this woman” (v. 17), peel away the layers of deception from the words of Amnon. All of our mothers used to tell us, “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say!” In this case, what Amnon did to Tamar both in raping and in rejecting her sweeps aside any thought about the possible truth of his plaintive expression to Yonadav claiming to “love” the girl.

Here too, as we noted in the examples of Jacob and David, the actions of Amnon speak more loudly than mere words, and here too, his actions often prove to have unintended or unforeseen consequences. For we soon learn that hatred was not the province of Amnon alone. Tamar’s big brother Avshalom burned with hatred too, and if there is one thing males who abuse females ought to fear, it is a big brother, especially one like Avshalom. This big brother was not the kind to rage out of control for a moment and then get over it. Listen to the ominous tone in his words of consolation to his beautiful sister immediately after her terrifying ordeal (13:20): “Keep quiet for now!” As we will soon learn, the hatred of this big brother for the rapist of his sister was so intense that he could seethe in silence for two long years without saying a word about the matter (13.22-23). This was not flash-point anger, but the kind of cold, calculated, and utterly efficient fury that is truly frightening.

Parenthetically, even though the biblical narrator has not included anything specific about it, we must pause to consider exactly what David must have been feeling when he heard the news that his beautiful daughter had been raped. This the narrator has helped us to do by his thoughtful structuring of the stories. In the narrative about David and Bat-Sheva, the Hebrew verb š-l-h carries great significance. While what David does is not called rape or described as a physical overpowering (le‘annot) of Bat-Sheva, it is clear that she had been given little say in the matter, and š-l-h helps us to understand this. No less than four times, David “sends” either messengers or a message, each time with the full power of the throne behind them.  First he sends an underling to find out about Bat-Sheva, and learns from the report her name, family identity, and that she is married (11:3). Then he sends messengers to take Bat-Sheva from her own home and bring her to the palace where he “lies with her” (v. 4). Upon learning that she is pregnant, David sends orders to Joab designed to help him cover up his action (v. 6). When his initial plan is foiled by the refusal of Uriah to spend the night with his own wife while his soldier buddies are bivouacked in the field, David coldly sends the loyal soldier back into harm’s way, requiring him to carry to Joab the very letter that ordered his death (vv. 8-15). Finally, David receives confirmation that his orders to murder had been carried out when Joab sends the message to him (v. 18). 

There is in all of these descriptions absolutely no room for the wishes of Bat-Sheva to be considered. Indeed, she is mute except for the single report that she sends to the king after their encounter: “I am pregnant” (v 5). We must underscore here how modern societies have come to view a boss demanding sexual favors from an underling whose job performance and pay raises he controls. And we must bear in mind that David was the king, the ultimate boss. He did not ask, he coldly sent and took! For this reason, there is surely no option but to define his action as rape, and it is in this context that the news of the tragedy that had befallen his own daughter must have pierced his heart like a dagger. Just to ensure that we don’t miss the point, the narrator calls upon the very word that had underscored the helplessness of Bat-Sheva, telling us it had been David himself who sent (š-l-h) his own daughter into the bedroom of rape and terror (13:7). Of course we may argue that he had no idea of the consequences of his command to Tamar, just as he had failed to consider the possible consequences of his unlawful tryst with Bat-Sheva. But consequences there were. And in both cases, it was a royal order directly from David that had set these consequences in motion. There must have been a moment, one awful moment, when David realized that not only had he provided a negative role model for his son, but he had also been duped into playing a critical role in the violation of his own daughter. It is impossible even to imagine how he must have felt in that moment.

Perhaps the saddest words in the story are spoken by Tamar: “Such a thing is not done in Israel” (13.12). Readers hearing this plaintive cry from Tamar might reasonably expect her next words to mention the certain wrath of her powerful father, the king, who would doubtless deal harshly with anyone who dared to harm his beautiful child. So no reader can fail to be shocked and offended that a father did not rush forward to defend his innocent daughter! But Amnon never worried about David, apparently because he knew all along that what Tamar claimed was incorrect. Such a thing was done in Israel, and at the highest level of society, for exactly such a thing had been done by the king himself! In short, Amnon knew that David could not correct or reprove his own son because he had lost the moral high ground. To be sure, just as he had done at the fictitious report of Nathan, once again David became angry at the report of the rape of his daughter (13:21), but he did not, because he could not, do anything.

The narrator also makes it clear that modern readers of the story are not the only ones to be offended at the inactivity of the father whose daughter had been violated. As we would expect, big brother “hated” the rapist who had pretended to love and then had hated his sister. What is more, it soon became clear that Tamar’s big brother also hated his own father whose sexual sin with Bat-Sheva had left him morally powerless to correct Amnon. This we learn from the fact that Avshalom not only invited David to the sheep-shearing party at which he had Amnon murdered, he “urged” David also to attend (see 13.24-25). Interpreters are divided about the reason for his attempt to include David among his guests. One possibility is that inviting only Amnon would have been too transparent, given the obvious hatred of Avshalom for the violator of his sister. A second possibility is that, “Avshalom is making David his go-between to lure Amnon to his death, just as Amnon made David his go-between to lure Tamar to her violation.”[xvi] John Mauchline has suggested a third alternative, arguing that Avshalom was encouraged by the inaction of David to believe that his own ambition to become king could be realized sooner rather than later.[xvii] This would fit well with the picture of Avshalom’s motivation painted by his subsequent revolt against David chronicled in 2 Samuel 15-18, but it also leads to the presumption that had David accepted this invitation from Avshalom, he would have been murdered along with Amnon.

And the method of murder chosen by Avshalom once again recalls the actions of David himself. We remember that David’s first plan of cover-up had been to order Uriah home to sleep with Bat-Sheva, providing a reasonable explanation for her pregnancy. As we read it, we are struck with the cool efficiency of David in dealing face to face with the man whom he had so recently and cruelly wronged. It requires a cold heart indeed to give a gift to (11:8) and then to throw an extravagant eating and drinking party for the person one has wronged maliciously, to pretend that he is a friend,[xviii] but that is exactly what David did, hoping for one last chance that a drunken Uriah would weaken and finally visit his already pregnant wife (11:13). Even more chilling was the ease with which David switched from Plan “A” (tricking Uriah into thinking he had impregnated Bat-Sheva) to an even worse plan “B” (murder). When even the drunk soldier refused to make things easy for the king, the death of Uriah became the only possibility to prevent what David had done in private from becoming front-page public news.

The case of Avshalom and Amnon is both similar and different. Now it is the violator himself whom the avenging big brother intends to dispatch. And there is no plan “A” like requiring Amnon to marry and thus redeem socially the girl whom he has violated.[xix] Amnon had to die. But like his father, Avshalom had no qualms about drinking with a man, his own brother,[xx] whom he intended to murder. In fact, Avshalom’s instructions to his servants illustrate his view that alcohol was nothing more than a convenient tool to assist in the murderous plot: “When the heart of Amnon is merry with wine and I tell you, ‘strike Amnon down,’ then kill him” (13:28). And when he allays the potential fear of his servants at the prospect of killing a prince, Avshalom boasts with the confidence of one who believes he himself will soon be the all-powerful monarch: “I am the one giving the orders” (v. 28).



The narrator now makes Avshalom his central character. Forced by his crime to flee to the safety of his mother’s family (13:367), he still maintains center stage in Jerusalem as the object of the great love of his father (14:1).[xxi] But even when reconciliation had been effected, we see almost at once that the mind of Avshalom remained preoccupied with toppling his father. Two things must be recalled. First, we are reminded of Avshalom’s ability to seethe with the heat of revenge for “two full years” (13:23) and still retain enough venom to carry through his original intention to murder Amnon. Second, we must note once again that when Avshalom had arranged to have Amnon brought to the place where he was to be murdered, he had also urged David to be there, and we can guess what might have happened had David accepted. So when the narrator observes that “Avshalom stole the heart of the men of Israel” (15:6), we realize that the evil intentions of Avshalom have been burning again for another “two full years” (14:28).[xxii] This time the object of his anger was David himself.

The methods by which Avshalom pursued his ambition are quite familiar already in the narrative. He lied shamelessly to his own trusting father, convincing David that he was going “in shalom” to fulfill a vow to YHWH (15:7-9). But no sooner was he out of sight than he sent out spies (15:10), sent for an advisor who had served David, and organized a conspiracy immediately so dangerous (15:12) that David was forced to flee from Jerusalem in shame and in tears (15:23). What David must have feared most of all is that the prophetic word of Nathan might be fulfilled at this moment, i.e., that Avshalom might “strike the city [with] the edge of the sword” (15:14 recalling 12:10). When the hastily organized flight of David made a military attack on Jerusalem unnecessary, Avshalom committed another insulting act against his father designed to humiliate David and dispirit the people of the city. Showing utter contempt for his father, Avshalom seized control over the royal harem (16:21). And this he did “on the roof” (16:22), exactly the location from which David had initiated his affair with Bat-Sheva (see 11:2).

Even in this moment, David could not forget the pain of losing two sons and one daughter to violence, and although he still wanted to be king, he gave the order that Avshalom be spared. In the hearing of numerous witnesses, he charged commanders of his troops to pay more attention to the personal shalom of the rebel who would kill them all if he could (18:5) than to the winning of the war. But this time the army generals would betray the trust of their king, and yet another child of David would lose his life (18:15).

The David who is portrayed in this episode is once more a figure of utter powerlessness, and when the battle against Avshalom was over, he received the messenger from the battlefield not as a powerful king but as a helpless father. Once before, when all he had cared about was manipulating Uriah, he had pretended to care about his soldiers during a war by asking about their shalom. This time, brushing aside the field reports about the battle, he asked not as a king but as a father. “What is the shalom of the little boy Avshalom” (18:32)? The menacing insurrectionist who had come within a hair’s breadth of destroying the kingdom was still only a na‘ar to his Dad! The father who once had stopped fasting and praying to resume a normal life when one son had died (12:20-23), this time could not stop weeping and mourning (19:1-5). And doubtless he spoke the truth when he wished that he had died instead of Avshalom (18:33). Surely every father would have had the same wish![xxiii]



The death of Avshalom leads directly to the narrative about the fight between Adoni-yah and Solomon in their efforts to succeed David (1 Kings 1).[xxiv] Here the narrator has laid down numerous clues once again that tie this final episode not merely to the narrative sequences that precede it, but specifically to the initial sin with Bat-Sheva. These include:

[1] The introduction of Abishag. Even though the narrator describes the young woman as an exceptionally beautiful maiden, he also noted that the aged king could not “know” her (1 Kings 1:4). But along with this admission that the sexual virility of David has been spent, an even more damning shortcoming appears. Despite the flurry of activity that must have accompanied the grab of Adoni-yah for the throne, David no longer “knew” what was happening within his own household (1:11).[xxv] In other words, along with his sexual decline symbolizing the loss of his fitness to be king,[xxvi] the biblical picture of David in his final days of life reveals a man who has suffered a comparable and even more serious decline of his mental faculties. 

[2] Adoni-yah, son of Haggit, and thus not a full brother to Avshalom (whose mother was Maacah) was another physically attractive son of David[xxvii] who made an overt bid for the throne, copying some of the methods previously employed by his older brother. Both men appeared publicly riding in a horse-drawn chariot accompanied by an entourage of fifty runners (cf. 2 Samuel 15:1 and 1 Kings 1:5) and both men attempted to put together a skeletal organization to back their claims to the throne, sending out special invitations to important people (cf. 1 Samuel 15:11 and 1 Kings 1:7-9). But Adoni-yah was doomed to fail as had Avshalom. And that Adoni-yah would lose his kingdom to the machinations of one woman (Bat-Sheva) and ultimately his life over another woman (2 Kings 2:13-25) is surely the height of irony!

[3] The once virile king who had always had his own way with females now not only fails with a beautiful young virgin, he also falls prey to the very woman whose illicit conquest had inaugurated the long downward spiral that had finally brought him to the brink of death. Bat-Sheva, who had said only two words in her first scene, now reappears in the narrative bubbling with words, energy and political intrigue. Now it is David who is powerless and at the mercy of whatever Bat-Sheva wishes to say. Whether David had earlier made a private promise to Bat-Sheva is a matter of debate among scholars. No such promise has been recorded in the preceding narrative, leading to the presumption that what we have in the struggle to succeed David is a healthy younger wife manipulating a senile older husband into doing what she wants done for her own son. Such an assumption has the advantage of acting as a perfect balance to the first Bat-Sheva scene in which she had been the one manipulated.[xxviii] This time it was David whose true wishes were not even considered, whose words were at a minimum throughout the narrative.

[4] Finally David resorted to the strategy of co-regency in a desperate act to protect himself from usurpation. This was first shown by the Dutch scholar J. P. Fokkelman,[xxix] who noted the slight change in the third version of the plan to have David choose Solomon instead of Adoni-yah. Whereas both Nathan (v. 13) and Bat-Sheva (v. 17) reminded David that he had spoken of Solomon coming to kingship “after me,” David’s own recollection in verse 30 notes that not only had he promised that Solomon would reign “after me,” but also that he wished to have Solomon become king “in my stead,” i.e., replacing me while I am still living. All that remained of David’s once glorious life was for him to admonish his son the king and go quietly into the next world (1 Kings 2:1-12).



The story of Tamar and Amnon begins with love that is actually lust, turns quickly to hatred that is surely more like self-loathing and shame, and careens at the end to hatred that spawns revenge, murder, and alienation. The king whose own immorality destroyed a marriage and cost the lives of multiple innocent soldiers lost an infant child to the plaguing hand of YHWH (12.15). He watched helplessly as a beautiful daughter was savagely violated with his unwitting help, and was forced to observe her languishing in the house of her brother Avshalom, desolate, shamed, and grieving (13:20). He lost a second son, his first-born[xxx] and apparently the crown prince, to the murderous hand of a third, favorite son. And he stood by powerless once again as that favorite son was snatched away from him by a confluence of the boy’s own greedy ambition and the ruthlessness of an army commander who acted against orders to achieve what he, not the king, thought best.[xxxi] With the loss of his physical virility matching his earlier loss of moral virility, the once powerful king ultimately became a mere pawn in the hands of a scheming wife/mother, a toothless tiger who had lost all vigor, and seemed but a shell of the confident slayer of lions, bears, hapless Philistines and giants.

Love in the palace? No, in this palace there was nothing worthy of the word. And the
next palace proved to be little different. The advancing narrative searches for true love
in the favorite son of Bat-Sheva, but the verdict on Solomon is clearly mixed. On the
one hand, we are told, “Solomon loved YHWH, walking in the statutes of his father
David” (1 Kings 3:3). On the other hand, “King Solomon loved many foreign women
along with the daughter of the Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and
Hittite women” (1 Kings 11:1). Thus the famous son proved to be as ineffective at
controlling his libido as both his famous father and his infamous brother had been.
Ultimately, the love not only of an ambitious mother but even that of YHWH Himself
(12:24) could not shield the kingdom from the coming lustful excesses of Solomon. Nor
could it keep the small fissure between the house of Saul and the house of David (see 2
Samuel 3:1) from cracking wide open into a complete division.

[i]Nahum Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis (New York: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 397.

[ii]Gary Rendsburg, The Redaction of Genesis (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1986) and Joel Rosenberg, King and Kin (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986) have argued that many of the stories in Genesis, and in particular those featuring Jacob, show a retrojection of tenth-century Davidic concerns back into the patriarchal era. Richard L. Friedman, The Hidden Book in the Bible (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1998) makes a strong case that a lot of the material from Genesis through Samuel derives from the same authorial hand.

[iii]Of course the era of David predates the composition of the document [“E” or “JE”] of which Exodus 22:1 was originally a part. However, the final editing of the Deuteronomic History in which the David sagas are imbedded was later than the passage from Exodus and surely took into account what would have been perceived as a traditional level of punishment for the crime of theft.

[iv]Everett Fox, Give Us a King! Samuel, Saul, and David (New York: Schocken Books, 1999), 213.

[v]On the death penalty for adultery, see Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22; for murder, see Genesis 9:6; Exodus 21:12; Numbers 35:20-21; Deuteronomy 19:11.

[vi]Tellingly, the Chronicler omits the entire Bat-Sheva episode, including the murder of Uriah and his entire platoon.

[vii]I have discussed this entire episode in The Function of Exodus Motifs in Biblical Narratives: Theological Didactic Drama (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2002), 125-145.

[viii]E.g., Deuteronomy 4:37; 7:13; and especially Jeremiah 31:3 and Malachi 1:2.

[ix]E.g., Deuteronomy 6:4 inter alia passim.

[x]E.g., Isaac for Rivkah in Gen 24.67 or even Shechem for Dinah in Genesis 34:3.

[xi]Robert Alter, The David Story (New York: W. W. Norton, 1999), 265.

[xii]P. Kyle McCarter, Jr. The Anchor Bible: II Samuel (New York: Doubleday, 1984), 321. McCarter adds somewhat facetiously, “A somewhat exaggerated effect is achieved by repeated alliteration of ’alep followed by –o and –a sounds with a few gutturals thrown in for good measure.”  

[xiii]Alter, The David Story, 269. And note his citation of Shimon bar Efrat, 1 and 2 Samuel: With Introduction and Commentary [in Hebrew] (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1996). 

[xiv]We cannot even compare them to the post-coital sentiments of Shechem for Dinah in Genesis 34:3.

[xv]Alter, The David Story, 269-270.

[xvi]Alter, The David Story, 272.

[xvii]John Mauchline, 1 and 2 Samuel (London: Oliphants, 1971), 263.

[xviii]As Amnon would later pretend to be sick (13:2-6) and as Avshalom would pretend to go to Hebron only to fulfill a solemn vow to the Lord (15:7-8).

[xix]This was one provision allowed by Deuteronomy 22:28-29.

[xx]Again it must be recalled that Esav fully intended to murder Jacob (Genesis 27:41).

[xxi]The story of his return from exile and eventual reconciliation with David occupies all of 2 Samuel 14.

[xxii]Both here and in 13:23, the idiom I am translating “two full years” is šenatayim yamim.

[xxiii]The preceding four paragraphs are reworded from my Theological Didactic Drama, 140-143.

[xxiv]2 Samuel 21-2 are universally regarded by scholars as a series of appendices to the David saga, “manifestly written by different writers in styles that exhibit notable differences from that of the main narrative, and also certain differences in ideological assumptions and even in what are presumed to be the narrative data of David’s history” (Alter, The David Story, 329).

[xxv]The phrase lo’ yada‘ is telling in conjunction with ha-melekh lo’  yeda‘ah in verse 4!

[xxvi]This view has been defended and explained by John Gray, I & II Kings, A Commentary: OTL (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984), 77. Others have argued that Abishag was brought to David as a nurse or caretaker with the assignment of providing warmth to an old body. For a brief summary of the various positions taken, see Linda S. Shearing, “Abishag,” ABD I:24.

[xxvii]Note gam hu’ in v. 6, and compare 2 Samuel 14:25.

[xxviii]While it must be admitted that the participation of the righteous prophet Nathan complicates such a position, his offer to follow Bat-Sheva into David’s presence and confirm her story is suspicious on its face.

[xxix]J. P. Fokkelman, Narrative Art and Poetry in the Books of Samuel. 3 volumes (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1981-1990).

[xxx]According to 2 Samuel 3:2, Amnon was the bekhor, or designated heir of David.

[xxxi]Contrary to popular belief, it may not have been Joab who actually killed Avshalom, but ten young armor bearers who acted on his orders (see 2 Samuel 18:9-15).