History Channel’s The Bible: Episode 4, “Kingdom”

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This is my review of the History Channel series, The Bible, episode 4. You can read my reviews of episodes 1 and 2, and episode 3

The last episode, “Homeland”, ended with the Israelites asking Samuel for a king, and Samuel anointing Saul. In this episode, we get a look at Saul’s reign, his fall, and the rise of David, ending with a look at Solomon as a child.

When I started watching the episode, I accidentally opened episode 1 instead, and I noticed something new about the opening. A title card reads: “This program is an adaptation of Bible stories that changed our world.” The narrator then begins by describing the Bible as if it were a single story, “the most powerful story of all time, it continues to shape our world.” It’s painfully clear from this that the makers of the story don’t see the Bible as a collection of stories, but rather as a single narrative culminating in Jesus. We’ve seen this throughout the last three episodes, with Jesus being shoehorned into the narrative.

The narrator betrays the makers’ politics when he continues, “[The story of the Bible is] the foundation of our governments, the blueprint for our laws, a sacred guide for life’s journey.” Not only is the statement false, it is precisely what people say when they want to argue in favour of putting biblical commandment monuments in government buildings.

Saul’s Reign

The episode begins with a theme-setting question: “Is any man good enough to rule God’s kingdom?” Spoiler alert: The answer is No.

We find Saul hiding behind some rocks, spying on an enemy encampment. The show doesn’t explain why the Israelites are fighting, or what is going on. We know from 1 Sam. 13, however, that Saul has been attacking the Philistines, and the Philistines have raised a very large army to retaliate. The size of this army has the Israelites concerned.

Saul asks out loud, “Where is Samuel?” He explains for the audience’s benefit that Samuel should be there, and that he is needed to make a sacrifice before the Israelites attack. With that bit of exposition out of the way, he declares that he can’t wait any longer.

Just as he is slitting a goat’s throat, however, Samuel casually strolls in, then acts terribly shocked that that the party has started without him.

In the last episode, Samuel was portrayed as power-hungry. He is resentful when the people ask for a king, and grows even more so when God agrees to give them one. He is only tentatively pacified by the reassurance that he can, at least, continue to lead in a religious capacity.

Samuel doesn’t come out looking any better in this episode. His lateness goes completely unexplained. When Saul explains that they’ve been waiting for seven days, and that his men are deserting, Samuel ignores that he is the cause of this. Instead, he replies, “Then be a king, leave the job of priest to me. Do you think God values your sacrifice more than mine?”

His reply is absolutely full of problems. Firstly, the people are deserting because their faith is wavering. A king can only do so much, and it’s likely that Samuel’s absence is being interpreted as God’s absence. When he tells Saul to leave the job of priest to him, he ignores the fact that he hasn’t been doing his job. He never showed up! If he’s not going to be the priest, why should he be upset that someone else has stepped in to fill the void? The final part of his statement is a complete non sequitur. Nowhere is it suggested that Saul believed his sacrifice to be better, simply better than nothing.

Samuel comes off looking like a power-hungry, resentful, neglectful, incompetent douche. This is, actually, fairly faithful to the biblical representation of him. I’m actually rather surprised that the series didn’t try to whitewash him, perhaps by adding a very good reason for him to be late.

Before the interaction is over and the Israelites go to battle, Samuel spits out a command that they are to kill absolutely everyone and everything, then scowls at Saul while the narrator tells us that, “a new era is beginning, one of prophets and kings. They must work together to secure the promised land.” It’s hard not to hear the doom in that pronouncement as we see Samuel’s utter contempt for his king.

The Israelites fight while Samuel stands on a hill, watching the battle. Unfortunately, he sees the Israelites take a prisoner, and the next scene begins with him shrieking at Saul: “You had ONE task, ONE simple command, from God!! Destroy everything!”

Saul argues, claiming to have followed God’s commandments. To this, Samuel replies in full sarcasm mode: “Then what is this bleating of goats in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle, wailing of lambs? Can the dead cry out? And who,” he points to the prisoner, “is this pagan king?” Saul claims that the king was being saved only temporarily, that he would be killed later, but Samuel is having none of it. He slits the king’s throat himself.

Samuel doesn't like to share.

Samuel doesn’t like to share.

As in the text, it is at this battle that Saul loses his dynasty. Samuel declares: “Your descendants could have ruled for over a thousand years, but today God has forsaken you.” This is fairly similar to his pronouncement in 1 Sam. 13:14, except that Samuel had made this pronouncement prior to the battle, and I do not recall Saul being guilty of keeping livestock from a battle.

I mentioned when I was reading 1 Sam. 13 that Samuel’s reaction here seemed to be another manifestation of his jealousy. He hadn’t taken well to losing secular authority, but had at least retained religious authority. Seeing Saul step into that territory as well seems to have enraged him.

In the series, Saul seems to agree with this assessment. He isn’t sure whether Samuel is speaking as himself or for God, out of personal jealousy or in his capacity as a prophet.

As Samuel tries to turn away from the interaction, Saul holds on to his scarf, ripping it. At least, I think it’s his scarf. The ripping takes place under the camera’s frame, and – despite the tearing sound – Samuel’s clothes do not move as though they were being held with enough force to rip (which, by the way, would be quite a lot of force – way more than movies ever seem to assume).

In any case, Saul comes away with a piece of Samuel’s clothes in his hands. When Samuel sees this, he says: “God has torn your power from you.” Clever, clever.

Incidentally, this interaction is not found in the text in relation to Saul/Samuel, but I think it may be a reference to something that happens much later, when Solomon is king. In the story, the prophet Ahijah tears his garment into twelve pieces in order to show Jeroboam than the nation would be torn (1 Kgs 11:29-32). Jeroboam would then go on to found the Northern Kingdom after Solomon’s death.

This section of the episode closes with a very disturbed Saul, asking himself if he’s been to hasty. He decides to ask Samuel for forgiveness, but learns that Samuel is already gone. Saul clutches poignantly to the torn piece of robe.

Enter David

The portrayal of David in the episode really isn’t flattering, though I did find it quite close to the text.

The narrator tells us that, as a result of Saul’s disobedience, God sent Samuel out in search of a new king. Both scene and narration make it seem as though God had chosen Saul, but that’s failed so now he will let Samuel choose the next king. It’s a little odd.

He really just can't stop squinting.

He really just can’t stop squinting.

In any case, Samuel is walking about when he comes upon a teenaged shepherd killing a wolf with a sling. Despite the fact that David’s introductory dialogue is terribly awkward and he can’t seem to stop squinting, Samuel decides that he should be Israel’s next king. I can’t help but wonder if the show’s Samuel deliberately chose the least likely candidate as a form of revenge for his loss of status.

In any case, Samuel anoints David and tells him that he will be king of Israel “once Saul is dead.”

In the next scene, we return to Saul in the aftermath of Samuel’s departure. Jonathan is disturbed that Saul seems so troubled despite their great victory. In response, Saul says that he’s just tired and needs some sleep.

Despite the fact that he is sleeping in the next scene (having troubled dreams in which he calls out to God for forgiveness), the narrator assures us that some time has passed. That’s good, because it helps to explain why David is in the room playing his harp.

It’s a fairly damning scene, as we see David looking longingly past a sleeping Saul at his crown while the narrator tells us that he has entered Saul’s court and resides there as “a king in waiting.” Whether intended or not, that colours everything that follows.

In another battle against the Philistines, Goliath reveals himself. It’s rather amusing as he isn’t particularly tall (maybe a head taller than the fairly uniform Israelites, but I’m often a head taller than everyone in female crowds, and it’s not unusual for my spouse to be able to spot nits in most crowds), yet his footsteps make this incongruous booming sound.

Goliath steps out in front of the Philistine army and asks for an Israelite champion willing to fight him.

Jonathan offers himself up first – a detail absent from the text – but Saul forbids it. No one else comes forward. In an effort to rouse a volunteer, Saul declares that any man who defeats Goliath will be very rich. Still, the Israelite lines are silent. Goliath taunts them.

Then David, his pubescent voice cracking and positioned in the background so that he appears very small beside Saul and Jonathan, calls out that he will do it. Saul protests, “You’re no soldier. You’re a shepherd!” To which David replies: “As I protect my sheep, God will protect me.” This will become a common taunt from David, a reminder to Saul that God has switched favourites.

Saul tries to give him a shield, but David throws it aside, picking up a rock instead. As he approaches Goliath, he mutters out a “here though I walk in the shadow of death, I fear no evil” speech. This is, of course, from Psalm 23 and doesn’t appear anywhere in the book of Samuel. It’s hard to deduct points, though, since tradition does attribute the psalm to David.

Predictably, the Philistines start laughing when they see David approach. For some unexplained and absurd reason, Goliath then removes his helmet, giving David a clear shot at his head. There’s no reason for him to do this except to give David a clear shot. I suppose its possible that they wanted to use the act to show how little of a threat Goliath considered David to be, but it’s just so incredibly silly. They could have just as easily not given Goliath a helmet at all, as Saul doesn’t wear one in his battle scenes.

We get a Raiders of the Lost Ark set up where David is loading his sling as Goliath swooshes his sword around, then BAM! It’s all over in an instant as David bonks him. Unlike Indy, David then runs up and beheads Goliath, holding up the severed head and unleashing a mighty pubescent roar.

In some rather ham-fisted foreshadowing, Saul calls David his “wolf in shepherd’s clothing,” and says that “you’ve saved my kingdom!”

Next comes the Hakuna Matata-style growing up scene, as David transitions from boy to man while fighting Philistines, as the narrator tells us that he fought on Saul’s behalf “for decades.” In the end, “he becomes a warrior, a leader, a hero.”

The Souring

We immediately see that Saul knows David’s destiny, or at least suspects it. As Saul marches in a parade through his city while the people throw down flower petals and chant his name, David comes into view looking somewhat sour. But then, someone cries out that David has killed tens of thousands, and the crowd shifts to chanting David’s name. In an instant, David goes from looking rather miffed to grinning, raising his arms to accept the praise. The taunt is one that is repeated a few times in relation to Saul and David, such as in 1 Sam. 18:7. We’ll see it repeated a few times in the show, as well.

Jonathan perceives that his father is unhappy with the crowd’s turning, and tries to pacify him, saying that David does deserve their praise. Saul replies: “He’ll want my crown next.” The last shot of the scene is of David smirking, like he’s thinking, “Yeah, yeah I will.”

In the next scene, David is lounging with Jonathan and Michal, and the two men appear to be boasting of their military prowess while Saul hides behind a column, listening. Saul calls David forth, spitting the chant back at him: “So, once again you are our champion. You have killed thousands.” Jonathan, who is apparently completely tactless in this show, calls out a correction: “TENS of thousands!”

Saul sarcastically expresses his gratitude for David’s service, to which David says, “The Lord blessed us all.” The way he says it feels like a jab, as he can’t seem to be able to stop smirking whenever he speaks with Saul. He knows that Saul no longer has God’s blessing.

In his best creepy voice, Saul tells David that he will reward him with Michal. Far from happy or even smug, David looks completely freaked out by this announcement. At least until Saul asks for 100 dead Philistines in exchange (which, frankly, doesn’t seem like much for a men credited with killing tens of thousands).

David's madness-inducing smirk.

David’s madness-inducing smirk.

Jonathan and Michal are concerned, but David is cocky. He assures them that he will return and, with an ominous glare at Saul, he adds, “God willing.” Again, he knows that he is God’s chosen, and Saul knows it, too. David repeatedly throws it in Saul’s face throughout the episode.

With one final smirk, David heads off to battle. As they watch him leave, Saul says to Jonathan, “You love him like a brother, don’t you?” Jonathan gazes wistfully after David as he replies that he does. Saul continues, “As Abel no doubt loved Cain.” Jonathan’s portrayal is an odd one. It seems rather terrible to say that he acts gay, but the subtext certainly seems to be there in the way that he looks at David. I’m surprised, given the incentive to “no homo” the Jonathan/David relationship.

In any case, Saul continues on about David wanting the crown, while Jonathan protests that he is loyal. And yet we, the audience, saw the way that David looked at Saul’s crown in an earlier scene. We know that Saul knows exactly what is going on, and that Jonathan has been deluded (either by himself or by David).

When David returns, he brings “trophies taken from each of [the Philistines’] bodies.” No mention is made of foreskins, and Saul never asks for such trophies (and, in fact, seems rather disgusted to be presented with them.

There is a discrepancy in the text regarding how many foreskins David needed to collect; 2 Sam. 3:14 claims that it’s 100, while 1 Sam. 18:27 puts it at 200. The show fudges this by having Saul ask for 100 dead Philistines, and David bringing back 200 foreskins. With his signature smirk, he tells Saul that “God was with me.” There it is again, that reminder that God’s allegiances have shifted.

Michal is presented to David, but Saul throws a spear at them before they’ve left the room. Jonathan asks: “Father, what demons possess you? Without him, we would all be slaves and you would not be king.” To which Saul replies: “And with him, you never will be.” What Jonathan blames on demons, the text blames on an evil spirit (1 Sam. 16:14-16).

A little later, a man goes to Michal, informing her that Saul wishes to see David. She replies that it’s impossible, that David is not well. During the interaction, Saul is skulking behind a curtain, spying on the interaction. When Michal replies, however, Saul flies out in a rage. He pushes past his daughter and finds the apartments empty. Jonathan and Michal are both defending David, and this further enrages Saul.

The whole narrative is played as though Saul is deranged and paranoid, yet David has been anointed as the future king, and the look he gave Saul’s crown was unmistakable. He is continually smirking at Saul and goading him, reminding Saul that it is David who now holds God’s favour. It feels an awful lot like David is gaslighting Saul, making him seem crazy to the point that his own children turn against him.

As Saul chases after David, there is a brief scene where slaughters the priests (the story is taken from 1 Sam. 22).

In the next scene, Saul leaves his guards to go on a little stroll. It’s as ridiculous here as it is in 1 Sam. 24. What guards would let their king wander about in the wilderness alone? With bandits nearby? Saul continues to be portrayed as losing his mind, as he talks to himself in a distorted voice (a standard movie convention to show psychological slippage). And his guards, seeing him in this deranged state, decide to let him just wander off.

Saul enters a cave and starts to pee. As he does so, David does the worst sneaking job ever to get up behind Saul and cut off a piece of his clothes. Despite this making a rather loud fabric-tearing noise, Saul notices nothing. He also notices nothing as goes to leave the cave with David standing out in the open right behind him. It is only when David calls out that Saul notices him. Is he meant to be drunk? It strains credulity.

As in 1 Sam. 24, David shows his piece of robe to Saul as proof that he could have easily killed him, yet didn’t. He plays the innocent as he declares that “only evildoers do evil deeds, so my hand will not touch you.” This is doubly ironic with Uriah standing right beside him (not to mention a terribly naive statement).

Saul shrieks at him, but for once David keeps his smirks and jabs to himself. When Saul asks him if, “when you have my crown, will you not kill my descendants?” David swears that he won’t. Of course, he will. His followers will murder Ishbosheth in 2 Sam. 4, and he’ll hand several of Saul’s descendants over to the Gibeonites in 2 Samuel 21. Yet the show makes David seem sincere here. For the first time in the entire episode, David is playing the part of the wrongfully accused.

Here, the show does some conflating. It has David’s companion ask him why he would spare Saul’s life, as Abishai does in 1 Sam. 26 when he and David sneak into Saul’s camp to murder him, but David changes his mind at the last moment. Only in the episode, Abishai doesn’t exist and the companion is Uriah.

In answer to the question, David says: “Because he’s one of the anointed. It’s up to God to decide his destiny.” The look Uriah gives him is absolutely precious. It perfectly conveys the message: “What if God’s destiny for him was for you to kill him, though?”

Ep4_04

In the next scene, Saul is stabbing his food with a knife when Jonathan runs up to him, screaming “father father father” the whole way. He warns Saul of an approaching Philistine army, but Saul is so paranoid that he can only mutter on about David.

The portrayal is different from the one we get in 1 Sam. 23, where Saul doesn’t seem to hesitate at all before he abandons his chase of David to take care of the impeding Philistines. Here, however, Jonathan must convince him that it is his duty to defend his kingdom before he agrees to go.

This battle is conflated with the one in which Saul dies. David’s stint as a bandit and his joining the Philistines are both completely erased. He is simply an Israelite on the run from a mad king, and that’s that.

The battle itself is somewhat different as well. The Israelites are losing and, as they try to run away, Jonathan is killed by an arrow. The Philistines then immediately hold back to give Saul time for a monologue in which he blames himself for the terrible losses.

Incidentally, this is precisely why you never put your king and his heir in the same battle. It’s a rooky mistake, forgiveable only because Israel is still new to this whole monarchy thing.

In any case, Saul is so repentant that he commits suicide. He is never injured, and his suicide is out of remorse rather than fear of capture, as it was in 1 Sam. 31.

Saul’s crown dramatically rolls away from his body, and is picked up by an Israelite soldier. The soldier then brings it to David, and tells him of Saul and Jonathan’s death. As he presents the crown, he begins to giggle, and it is this that offends David rather than the messenger’s claim that he had personally killed Saul (as in 2 Sam. 1). Rather than order the messenger killed, as he does in the text, David simply commands him out of his sight.

Once they are alone, Uriah falls to his knees and declares David king.

David’s Reign

David’s reign, as the narrator tells us, begins with the need for a capitol. In the next shot, a band of Israelites are crawling through one of Jerusalem’s water supply tunnels, likely about to get terrible rashes from the chaffing of their wet clothes and armour.

The scene is ridiculous. In a rather pathetic attempt to add some drama, the show has David’s group encounter a grate barring their way. David’s companions are at a loss, they have no idea what to do next! Thankfully, David displays his brilliant mind by figuring out that they can just swim under the grate.

Okay, so why was that grate there? If it only goes partway and is no barrier whatsoever to invaders, why was the grate placed there in the first place?

It’s not a dramatic moment when there is such a cheat-y solution. It’s just absurd.

It doesn’t get any better after that, either, as David and his band slosh around Jerusalem, leaving a trail of wet footprints that go completely unnoticed by the world’s worst guards. When David opens the gates, the Israelite army is able to rush straight in. It seems that they had been waiting just outside – a whole army literally at the gate – and the guards hadn’t noticed a thing.

There’s some more conflation as the scene switches straight to the ark being brought into the city and David dancing before it. They did make him bare-chested, but he is far from nude!

While in this state of undress, he encounters Uriah and his wife. He makes eyes with Bathsheba, and tells Uriah that, “your wife is far too pretty for you.” The rape is somewhat foreshadowed when David, taking Bathsheba’s hand to lead her into a dance, asks Uriah if he minds – never giving Uriah a chance to respond. Bathsheba does, however, saying “I mind.” David doesn’t seem to care, and pulls her into the dance anyway.

A creeped out Bathsheba.

A creeped out Bathsheba.

As they dance, David’s eyes linger on Bathsheba, and she instantly stiffens. The camera switches to Uriah, who appears to be getting worried, then back to Bathsheba as she pulls away from David. She looks incredibly uncomfortable as she returns to Uriah, though he just grins on apparently willing to overlook what his king’s presumption.

David, completely unperturbed, dances on into the ark’s tent and declares that “now God is truly with me!” It seems odd that he’s allowed in there.

As the scene was playing out, I was worried that Michal’s fight with David would be fit into it. It would have been easy to play her anger as simple jealousy at seeing David dancing with another woman. While I’m not particularly happy with her being completely written out of the scene, at least they didn’t go in that direction.

The adultery angle is an interesting one. In the show, it’s not clear that David is cheating on his wives, since it isn’t really clear that he has any. Only Michal has been introduced (Abigail is entirely absent), but she was merely promised by Saul, and that only moments before he flings a spear at them both. The only suggestion that their relationship might be more than platonic comes when Michal is guarding the door to David’s apartments, which might suggest that they are her apartments as well. Yet there is no wedding scene, no point at which she is referred to as David’s wife, and she is completely gone by the time Bathsheba enters the scene. Since David is never shown with any other woman, it would be easy to conclude that he was simply a bachelor when he met Bathsheba.

In any case, the next scene finds David on his rooftop, playing with a maquette of Jerusalem. He has a little clay temple, and is trying to find an ideal site for it when he sees Bathsheba bathing. The camera lingers on her, representing David’s gaze. I was very relieved that the show’s creators didn’t make Bathsheba into a temptress. She never looks back at David, and never even seems aware that he is there. The scene makes it clear that he is being a creepster, while she’s just trying to enjoy a bath.

David’s voyeurism is interrupted by Nathan. David tries to deflect the fact that he’s been caught by pointing out his plans for a temple. “For the Lord,” he insists. It’s well done the way he wears the mantle of godliness, insisting that he is on his roof to do God’s work, to protect himself from the fact that he’s just been caught spying on a bathing woman. I think the show’s creators wanted to highlight that David wanted to build the temple for selfish reasons, rather than as a proper tribute to God, but they inadvertently made a fairly powerful comment about “godly men” as well.

Nathan, of course, is having none of it. He tells David that he’s had a dream from God, who says that David’s house will rule Israel forever (the term isn’t fudged, despite everyone watching knowing that this is false – I found that interesting), but that it will be David’s son who will build the temple.

My temple?” asks David, incredulous. “God’s temple,” corrects Nathan. David quickly accepts his chastisement and thanks Nathan. As soon as Nathan leaves, David goes back to perving on Bathsheba.

That night, David is lounging on his roof when a servant announces that Bathsheba has been brought, “as requested.” She is very formal, addressing David as “your majesty.” He insists that she call him David, trying to make it personal. She pulls back again, mentioning her husband, asking if there’s been news of him. David says that there hasn’t been, and reminds her that he’s very far away. He leers at her, invades her personal space. She’s stiff and clearly uncomfortable. He starts touching her cheek, and she firmly tells him that she is “loyal to my husband.” Captain Grabbyhands asks, “what about your king?” The meaning is clear – as king, he can command her to submit.

David is absolutely disgusting. In a final effort, Bathsheba tries to pull away. “This is wrong!” she says. “No one need know,” answers David, and the scene fades to black. The narrator announces: “Bathsheba becomes pregnant.”

I’m glad that they did the scene the way they did. Too much pop culture portrays Bathsheba as a temptress, or at least as a willing participant, and I’m glad that they made it so clear that what happened was a rape.

In the next scene, David has sent for Uriah and asks him how the war is going, how’s Joab, how are the other soldiers? All fine, says Uriah. As in the text, David tries to send him home to sleep with Bathsheba, hoping to cover up the timing of her pregnancy, but Uriah refuses. “This is a holy war, how can I go to my home and spend the night with my wife?” David tries the same trick he tried with Bathsheba: “Man to man, who’se to know?” But Uriah is firm, “I will know.” He seems very confused, but as with the ark parade, he is willing to ignore everything and his grin quickly returns.

The narrator cuts in to inform us that David can’t, actually, force Uriah to sleep with Bathsheba. Instead, “he finds another way to conceal his adultery.” The use of the term “adultery” is rather iffy here, given that he didn’t just cheat on Uriah. I mean, yes, technically, it’s adultery, but it’s also rape. He’s raped Uriah’s wife, and that term always takes precedence over the victim’s marital status.

As in the text, David sends Uriah back to the battlefront with a letter for Joab in which he instructs Joab to send Uriah to the most dangerous battlefront and abandon him there. As in the text, Joab shows absolutely no remorse or hesitation. He simply reads the letter, then tosses it in the fire before walking away.

In the next scene, David and Bathsheba are presented as a happy couple, standing close together in a beautiful garden, holding their baby. Nathan interrupts the scene, asking David, “You think you can just sweep everything you’ve done under the carpet? […] You think God doesn’t see everything?” David and Bathsheba both immediately look at their baby, and they know. They know.

David is seated before the ark, pleading for his son’s life, when Bathsheba walks in crying. “First my husband, now my son. We are cursed,” she says. David turns on Nathan, crying out: “But I was anointed! God blessed me!” This detail is an invention of the show, and a silly one at that. How could David believe that his anointing granted him immunity after seeing what happened to Saul? I could understand remorse, I could understand a lament that he had allowed himself to believe himself “too big to fail,” but this statement to Nathan is just silly. Likely, it was only inserted so that we could get Nathan’s reply: “A king is never above his god.”

But never mind, all is well because Nathan promises them another son.

Sure enough, in the next scene David and Bathsheba are hanging out in the sun again, this time with a young boy, Solomon. The child is playing with David’s temple maquette, hammering in for the audience that he’s going to be the one to build the temple.

But, cycling back to the episode’s thematic question, the narrator tells us that “Solomon will build God’s temple. But, like his father, he will find it impossible to obey God’s commandments.”

1 Kings 2: Cleaning the slate

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In this chapter, we see a very different David. With death approaching, he decides to impart some kingly advice to Solomon, starting with a reminder to obey the “law of Moses” (1 Kgs 2:3), a clear Deuteronomist concern.

And that’s all well and good, but the rest of his “advice” is far more personal – or at least is spun as such. He blames Joab’s murders of Abner (in 2 Sam. 3:27) and Amasa (in 2 Sam. 20:8-10) for “putting innocent blood upon the girdle about my loins” (1 Kgs 2:5). As if Uriah’s murder didn’t do that quite sufficiently on its own. The crime in these murders, according to David, was that Joab was “avenging in time of peace blood which had been shed in war” (1 Kgs 2:5), suggesting that he would have been quite happy to see both Abner and Amasa dead so long as it had happened on a battlefield (contradicting Solomon’s later words that the crime was that Joab had killed men who were better than him – 1 Kgs 2:32).

According to Victor Matthews, David’s concern over the cleanliness of his girdle is important because:

The girdle, which was used to tie the kethoneth and simlah, also functioned as a weapons belt and a sign of rank. In 2 Sam 20:8, Joab wears a “soldier’s garment” tied with a girdle (hagor) through which he has sheathed his sword. David uses the same term in describing Joab’s crimes to Solomon in 1 Kgs 2:5. In this case, however, the hagor, and thus the authority, has been symbolically soiled with the blood of Joab’s murder victims. (Manners & Customs of the Bible, p.111)

David asks Solomon to execute Joab. Same for Shimei, who had cursed David in 2 Sam. 16. David’s request, here, changes the tone of Shimei’s curses, and his subsequent forgivingness (2 Sam. 19). While David was fleeing Jerusalem, he argued against rebuking Shimei, considering that he may be speaking God’s own condemnations. When he returns to Jerusalem, he prevents Abishai from killing Shimei, arguing that the man’s curses had clearly meant nothing since David was now returning. At the time, he had promised not to kill Shimei (2 Sam. 19:23). Not only do we now see that David has been harbouring his resentment all this time, but also he is willing to use Solomon as a loophole to get the revenge he had promised not to seek.

My study Bible proposes that, when Joab and Shimei had angered David, his political position was was too precarious to dare act against two men with a fair bit of status and power (when Shimei appears before David in 2 Sam. 19, he is accompanied by a thousand soldiers – the implication clearly being that anything short of official pardon would have resulted in bloodshed).

That’s all assuming, of course, that this scene played out as recorded. Having played a great deal of Crusader Kings II, I know how unstable a nation is with a new king. There’s considerable upheaval inherent in a change of leadership, and factions will frequently use the opportunity to press their interests in the hopes that the new king’s lack of experience might make him weak enough to be cowed (such has been the downfall of many of my dynasties). It wouldn’t have been unlikely for a new king – especially one as young as Solomon seems to have been, placed on the throne by the manoeuvrings of his mother while his brothers acted on their own behalf – to pre-emptively squash any possible dissent.

Joab, having supported Adonijah over Solomon, would have been an obvious candidate for the axeman’s block. Shimei, who clearly had a lot of support in Benjamin (over which the united monarchy clearly had an unstable hold) and had demonstrated how quickly he could turn against a Judahite king, would be another.

It’s plausible, then, that Solomon might have used “my pa’s last wish” as a covering rhetoric for what he had decided to do for himself.

But David’s last words to Solomon aren’t all terrible. He also asks that Solomon deal loyally with the sons of Barzillai, since they had been good to David.

The requests made, David died and was buried, and we’re told that he ruled over Israel for a total of 40 years, 7 of them in Hebron and 37 in Jerusalem. This sounds like a mathematical error, but remember that he was only king over Judah for 4 of his Hebron years. If we don’t count all the years he spent on the run from his sons or under Solomon’s regency, 40 would be the correct number.

Adonijah’s fate

With much trepidation and fear for his safety, Adonijah approaches Bathsheba, asking her to ask Solomon for Abishag (David’s breast-powered radiator) for a wife. He guilts her into accepting his request, saying: “You know that the kingdom was mine, and that all Israel fully expected me to reign; however the kingdom has turned about and become my brother’s, for it was his from the Lord” (1 Kgs 2:15). His words make it clear that there was an expectation of primogeniture.

He is certain that Solomon will listen if Bathsheba is the one making the request.

Joab dying at the altar

Joab dying at the altar

As she promised, she brings his request to Solomon. Solomon, however, is disinclined to accept. As we’ve seen, taking the old king’s wives was a way of declaring one’s self the legitimate successor. Absalom did it in 2 Sam. 16:22, and it seems likely that David himself did this with Saul’s wives (2 Sam. 12:8). Given that Adonijah is the elder, and that he has considerable support in the court, allowing him to marry one of David’s concubines would be greatly increasing the legitimacy of his claim to the crown.

It seems that this is where the detail about David not having sex with Abishag (1 Kgs 1:4) comes into play. Her status as a concubine may have been subject to interpretation. It’s possible, then, that Adonijah was counting on Solomon not considering Abishag to have been one of David’s official female retinue, so that he might unthinkingly accept the proposal. Abishag in the bag, Adonijah would then be free to argue her case and, in so doing, argue his own. It seems to me that this is meant to be a story about Solomon sussing out Adonijah’s scheme – particularly since it seems unthinkable that Bathsheba would have relayed the request in such a straightforward manner if she had known what Adonijah was up to.

Speaking of Bathsheba, it’s interesting to me how diminished her role is. In the last chapter, the scheme to get Solomon on the throne is made out to be all Nathan’s doing, even thought Bathsheba is the principle actor. Here, she seems to fall for Adonijah’s trick. Yet despite all this, it seems that she had a reputation as an advisor to Solomon (given Adonijah’s assumption that the request would be accepted if it came from her). On top of that, when she enters Solomon’s presence, he bows to her and she takes a seat at his right hand. It could be that she was a woman who adroitly navigated the intrigue of the court, and that her role in the events of Solomon’s succession were minimized due to sexism (not exactly an uncommon thing through history). Or it could just all be an attempt to show that Solomon is young (and therefore assumed to still be under the influence of his mother) and that he is respectful of his parents.

Complicating the issue further is how the text is presented in translations. According to Joel M. Hoffman over at God Didn’t Say That, there’s some discussion over whether Solomon should sit on a chair or a throne. In the Hebrew, the word is the same for both Solomon and Bathsheba’s seats. However, several translators have chosen to give Solomon a throne, but Bathsheba merely receives a seat. As Hoffman puts it: “The original Hebrew of I Kings 2:19 emphasizes the equality of Solomon and his mother. The KJV emphasizes the inequality of the two. The NRSV preserves the equality, but does so by giving Bathsheba a throne.”

It’s possible that Solomon had hoped that his brother, once beaten, would accept Solomon’s reign. Once it becomes clear that this isn’t the case, Solomon quickly has Adonijah. In his defence, keeping an aggressive competitor with stronger claims to the crown around would have almost certainly been a terrible idea. After all, in the Game of Thrones, you win or you die.

Another possibility is that Solomon may have hesitated to kill his brother, displaying the same reticence as David in similar situations. So Bathsheba, knowing that the son she put on the throne wouldn’t keep it long with Adonijah poking about, made up the request to prod Solomon into action. Given that no one is said to have witnessed Adonijah’s request save for Bathsheba, it’s as good an explanation as any, and it has oodles of narrative potential.

The supporters

Next, David turns his eye toward the men who supported Adonijah’s bid for power: Joab and Abiathar. Because Abiathar was a priest and had carried the ark of the covenant, he was too sacred to simply execute. Instead, Solomon gets rid of him by exiling him from court. This, we are told, completes the prophecy that had been made about the house of Eli (by “a man of God” in 1 Sam. 2:31-24, and by Samuel in 1 Sam. 3:13-14).

Having heard what happened to Adonijah and Abiathar, Joab figured that he was next. He tries the same trick as Abiathar in 1 Kgs 1, running to the tent of God and grabbing hold of the altar thorns, and Solomon sends Benaiah after him. When Benaiah tries to get Joab to come out of the tent and face his fate, Joab refuses, saying: “No, I will die here” (1 Kgs 2:30). Benaiah returns to Solomon, who tells him to grant Joab’s “request.” In so doing, Solomon says that Benaiah will “take away from me and from my father’s house the guilt for the blood which Joab shed without cause.”

So Benaiah goes back to the tent of God and slays Joab at the alter – which, it would seem to me, would be a major ritual no-no and likely to bring a great deal more guilt down on Solomon than Joab’s actions ever did (especially since at no time prior to this chapter are Joab’s murders said to curse David’s house, whereas David’s own actions toward Uriah and Bathsheba are said by Nathan to mark the start of their troubles).

With that Solomon gets rid of everyone in court who opposed his succession. To fill the vacuum he’s created, he appoints Benaiah as commander of the army, and has Zadok take Abiathar’s place as high priest.

Shimmy-Shimei

The last person on Solomon’s First Days’ Hit List is Shimei, who had cursed David during his escape from Jerusalem in 2 Sam. 16. In one tradition, at least, cursing a ruler warranted the death penalty (Exodus 22:28), though it’s unclear whether it would have applied in this case since, by David’s own admission, Absalom was the king at that time. This could be why Solomon decides not to execute Shimei.

Or it could be a nod to David’s promise not to harm Shimei, plus the fact that Shimei had never moved against Solomon himself – making a capital retaliation rather difficult to defend. Whatever the reason, he opts instead to make Shimei build a house in Jerusalem (where he can be close enough to keep an eye on) and places him under house arrest.

After three years, however, Shimei leaves his house to reclaim two escaped slaves. Perhaps he thought it was no big deal, since he returns as soon as he’s done. Solomon, however, is quite happy to use the excuse to have Benaiah execute him.

In his rebuke to Shimei, Solomon says: “King Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the Lord for ever” (1 Kgs 2:45), which seems to be a direct reference to Shimei’s curse in 2 Sam. 16:7-8.

1 Kings 1: Unruly Sons

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1 Kings opens with a greatly aged King David, who is no longer able to keep his own body warm. As a solution, his court decides to find a beautiful maiden (because of course she has to be beautiful) upon whose bosom David might be warmed. They choose a woman named Abishag the Shunammite, and we are assured that she passed muster as far as beauty is concerned (no comment on her breast temperature, though, which I would have thought the more salient information). Perhaps in an attempt to make this sound a little less skeevy, the text assures us that, while Abishag tended to David, “the king knew her not” (1 Kgs 1:4), in the biblical sense, as it were. I’m not sure whether the comment is meant to provide additional evidence of David’s frailty (as Brant Clements of Both Saint And Cynic puts it, the verse could be implying that “the king’s sexual prowess has abated”), or to clarify that Abishag was brought in solely as a fleshy radiator and did not have any official status as royal wife/concubine.

Adonijah’s Succession

With David so weakened, it’s time for another one of his sons to make a play for the crown. This time, it’s Adonijah. If you will remember from way back in 2 Samuel 3, David’s sons are, in order of birth:

  1. Amnon, son of Ahinoam of Jezreel: Murdered by his brother, Absalom, for having raped their sister, Tamar.
  2. Chileab, son of Abigail: Never mentioned again after 2 Sam. 3:3. Presumably dead in infancy.
  3. Absalom, son of Maacah and grandson of Talmai, king of Geshur: Took the crown by force, then killed in the ensuing battle.
  4. Adonijah, son of Haggith.
  5. Shephatiah, son of Abital.
  6. Ithream, son of Eglah.
  7. Solomon, son of Bathsheba.

Based on the actions of Absalom and Adonijah, there seems to have been an assumption of primogeniture (and I’ve already mentioned my suspicion that Absalom’s murder of Amnon had more to do with his later power play than with Tamar). Given that the people wanted a warrior king who would defend the Hebrew nation against Philistines and other external threats, its perfectly conceivable that Adonijah honestly did believe that it was time for his father to retire and leave the ruling of the country to his eldest son.

And Adonijah wouldn’t have been alone in thinking that, as the text tells us that he had the support of Joab and Abiathar, the priest. He may even have had implicit approval from David, since we’re told that he gathered together chariots, horsemen, and fifty infantrymen as part of his retinue, and David never said a word in rebuke.

Either way, the whole succession narrative sounds positively Welsh in its messiness.

Adonijah’s ascent didn’t go uncontested, however. He was unable to get the support of Zadok, Benaiah, Nathan, Shimei, Rei (the only novel name in the list, my New Bible Commentary suggests that it may be “‘Shimei the friend’ following Josephus, since each of the other persons in the verse has a descriptive title,” p.325), and David’s “might men,” leaving most of David’s inner court against him.

We’re told that Adonijah made a sacrifice at the Serpent’s Stone, inviting all his brothers (except Solomon) and all the royal officials of Judah (except Nathan, Benaiah, or the “mighty men” – most of the people who refuse to support him). Interestingly, though not explicitly excluded, no mention is made of Israelite royal officials, suggesting that perhaps the confederation that had united the two halves of the Hebrew nation was, at least at this time, dissolved. The fact that he explicitly did not invite Solomon suggests that perhaps he had already identified him as a threat (or perhaps Solomon was invited, but he eventually became king and uninvited himself to place the brotherly rift firmly on Adonijah’s side).

Adonijah’s sacrifice appears to be a coronation ceremony, or else he was ordering it with the authority of a king, because his kingship seems to have been viewed as a fait accompli at this point.

Behind the scenes

Nathan turns to Bathsheba, convincing her that Adonijah’s succession puts her and her son, Solomon, in danger. Given Adonijah’s lack of support and the general violence with which succession has so far been taking place in this infant nation, his expression of concern seems quite legitimate. While primogeniture seems to be assumed, Israel/Judah is now on its fifth king and the other two eldest sons who were crowns were rather violently – and fatally – deposed. Getting rid of any other serious contenders would certainly be appealing to someone in Adonijah’s position.

Coronation of Pharamond, from Grandes Chroniques de France

Coronation of Pharamond, from Grandes Chroniques de France

What’s really interesting about the scene, if we accept Nathan’s sentiment as genuine, is that Nathan is the one who originally condemned David for his relationship with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 12. Yet here he is, on Bathsheba’s side. However much guilt and punishment is heaped onto David for his lechery, none of the blame seems to be placed on Bathsheba (except the loss of her first child, though that is framed as a punishment for David – not for her, however much grief is splash damaged onto her by it). To me, this suggests that the author(s) did not understand Bathsheba’s participation in the affair to be consensual.

Nathan tells Bathsheba that Adonijah has become the king without David’s knowing, strongly suggesting that he as all but retired and is no longer paying any attention to the affairs of state. This inattentiveness could be why the names of inner circle are repeated so frequently – they were known because they were the ones doing all the work.

Nathan’s plan is to have Bathsheba approach David and remind him that he had promised her that Solomon would succeed him (which, if true, would explain the gaps in the courtier support for Adonijah, as well as any urgency Adonijah might feel in disposing of his little half-brother). Why then, she is to ask, is Adonijah the king? Then, while she is still speaking with David, Nathan will burst in and confirm the news.

When Bathsheba enters David’s chamber, we’re told that Abishag was in the middle of “ministering” to him (1 Kgs 1:15), which could not have been a particularly comfortable situation for Bathsheba. The scene reminds me of Lord Robert Arryn breastfeeding on his throne in Game of Thrones. Still, no mention is made of her reaction and she follows the plan. She seems to imply that the whole situation is caused by David’s failure to tell his subjects who will rule after him – a very legitimate accusation.

Finishing up, she tells David that she and Solomon will be “counted offenders” (1 Kgs. 1:22) when David is dead. It’s unclear whether she means that Adonijah will want to have them put well away from anywhere where they might cause harm, or because she intends to press for Solomon’s succession, which would make him a rebel if primogeniture is assumed without the old’s king direction. It is not explained why, if David hasn’t publicly declared Solomon his successor, Nathan knew of his apparent promise to Bathsheba.

When she is done, Nathan asks for an audience and tells David of Adonijah’s sacrificial ceremony and the support he has already gathered. He plays innocent, asking this is all part of a plan David has failed to mention to his servants (an accusation, since if this were truly what had happened, it would mean that David had put his followers in the position of having to choose between supporting a claimant against David, or failing to support David’s chosen heir).

As in Genesis 27, when Rebekah similarly secured a younger son’s inheritance, the plan works and David is moved into action.

Getting the right man for the job

David sends for Zadok, Nathan, and Benaiah, instructing them to bring Solomon to Gihon (on David’s own mule, no less!), so that Zadok and Nathan might anoint him as king. Certainly, crowning Solomon now, while David is still alive, would eliminate any confusion as to whom David supports. It would also force Adonijah to actually rebel against an anointed king if he intends to press the issue, rather than simply positioning himself as the heir apparent (as he seems to be doing, whatever Nathan and Bathsheba say). He intends to formally retire and have Solomon “be king in my stead” (1 Kgs. 1:35 – noting that he would rule over both Israel and Judah, while Adonijah only seems to have Judahite support).

My study Bible notes that Gihon would have been chosen because, while not visible from Enrogel – where Adonijah is having his festivities – is “well within earshot” (p.415). That means that when Solomon is anointed and they do the whole shtick of blowing the trumpet and proclaiming him king, it will be heard by Adonijah and all of his supporters.

They follow David’s instructions, accompanied by the Cherethites and Pelethites (who appear to be the royal guard – together with David’s mule, they are clear symbols of Solomon’s legitimacy).

As planned, Joab hears the uproar of Solomon’s coronation and asks about the noise. While he is still speaking, Jonathan, the son of Abiathar, approaches, and Adonijah assumes that he must be bringing good news. Jonathan disappoints, however, and informs Adonijah that his little brother beat him to the punch.

Adonijah’s guests, clearly realizing their mistake and the danger in which picking the losing side has placed him, tremble and scatter. Of course, whatever danger the guests are in would have been greatly multiplied for Adonijah, and he knows it. So he grasps at straws – or, rather, at the horns of the altar (my study Bible describes them as “projections resembling horns at the four corners of an altar” (p.415-426) in what appears to be a form of claiming sanctuary (a tradition that had clearly fallen out of favour by the time Exodus 21:14 was written). He refuses to release the altar until Solomon swears that he will not kill Adonijah with a sword – which seems absurdly specific, and gives Solomon a really obvious means to get away with killing Adonijah on a technicality.

Solomon agrees, but only if Adonijah is a “worthy man” (1 Kgs. 1:52). The meaning is unclear, but my New Bible Commentary says that “the term suggests a man of wealth, not one living on the king” (p.325). Whatever it means, Adonijah apparently passes the test, and he is sent home (suggesting, perhaps, that his remaining there would be compulsory).

A Sympathetic Look at Bathsheba

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Bathsheba has been one of the most interesting characters of the last book. I had been given the Sunday School line about the harlot who seduced the good king, with little to no mention of the fact that she had been married at the time.

David begehrt Batseba, 17th century

David begehrt Batseba, 17th century

Yet what I saw in reading the story for myself was something entirely different. I mentioned in my reading that she seemed far more like a victim – both of rape and of the later dismantling of her life through the murder of her husband, the marriage to her rapist and her husband’s murderer, and the death of her baby.

In fact, reading the story, I found it hard to see how any interpretation might even be possible, let alone so prevalent. Not without a hefty patriarchal nudge, anyway.

Given our place in the narrative, it was quite timely for Marg Mowczko’s post about Bathsheba to be included in the December Biblical Studies Carnival. Reading through the various mentions of Bathsheba, she comes to the same conclusion I did – that Bathsheba was not, and was not originally understood to be, a temptress.

2 Samuel 11: The Golden Boy falls

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I never learned about David and Bathsheba in Sunday School (inappropriate for young ears and all that, better to focus on family-friendly material such as the crucifixion of Christ), but it’s hard to grow to adulthood as a “cultural Christian” without having at least heard the names. What I didn’t know until I started studying the Bible, though, was the context of the story and its aftermath.

It’s clear from the outset that David will not look good in this story: “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go forth to battle” (2 Sam. 11:1), David stays behind in Jerusalem. Instead, he sends Joab out to fight the Ammonites and besiege Rabbah (the Ammonite capital) in his place. No reason is given for the neglect of his duties, but the image of him arising from his couch late one afternoon (2 Sam. 11:2) makes it seem like he’s just lounging around. How far the mighty have fallen!

Bathsheba, by Artemisia Gentileschi

Bathsheba, by Artemisia Gentileschi

So he finally gets up off his couch and takes a walk on his roof. While there, he sees a beautiful woman bathing. We are only told that she is bathing, but there is a note later on that she “was purifying herself from her uncleanness” (2 Sam. 11:4). While the detail is provided later on, it seems that the consensus assumes that it explains her reason for bathing – she would be following laws like the one outlined in Lev. 15:19-24, washing herself after menstruation.

Whatever her reasons for bathing, the reading that she was doing it to seduce men while her husband was away at war requires an awful lot of reading into the story. A woman bathing is bathing, not trying to seduce men. A woman wearing a tanktop in summer is trying to keep cool, not trying to seduce men. This is an idea that my culture seems to have quite a bit of trouble with.

When he sees her, David falls in lust and asks for her identity. Finally, she is revealed to be Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam and wife of Uriah the Hittite. Despite behind a Hittite, Uriah is currently off with Joab fighting the Ammonites on David’s behalf.

David sends messengers to Bathsheba and “took her,” but also “she came to him” (2 Sam. 11:4). I’m not sure what to make of the fact that David’s taking of Bathsheba (clearly a euphemism) occurs first, before Bathsheba comes to him. But even if she did come to him, he is the king and he has made a demand of her. Given what happens later on in the story, it’s easy to see how Bathsheba (again, assuming that she responded to David’s invitation) might have felt like she had little choice.

It is here that we get the note about her purifying herself from her uncleanness, which gives us the possibility that her uncleanness was adultery, which raises the question of why David is not required to perform any similar purification.

After the encounter, Bathsheba learns that she has become pregnant so she sends word to David.

The problem of Uriah

Bathsheba’s pregnancy poses quite the problem for David. With Uriah away, it will be obvious that he did not father his wife’s child, and suspicion might be cast toward Israel’s loafing king whether Bathsheba speaks or not.

David’s first plan to hide his doings is to create another plausible scenario by which Bethsheba may have become pregnant – so he calls Uriah back from battle. His cover story is that he wants Uriah to give a battle report (though it seems a little strange why he thought that asking for Uriah specifically would go unnoticed).

David then instructs Uriah to head home and wash his feet, which I took to mean that David was encouraging Uriah to relax after a long journey (which could include having sex with his wife), but my pervy New Bible Companion goes straight for the most explicit interpretation, calling it an “idiom of the time” (p.307).

There’s also a mention of a present, which I assume was meant to mean that David had sent a gift to Uriah’s home to reward him for the news he brought, but could be a tongue-in-cheek reference to Bathsheba.

Uriah obeys his king and leaves, but doesn’t go farther than David’s front doorstep. Rather, he spends that night at David’s door.

The next morning, David asks Uriah why he hadn’t gone home. Uriah asks David how he can go to his own home and eat, drink, and sleep with his wife while his brothers-in-arms camp in the open field (interestingly using the phrase “Israel and Judah” – 2 Sam. 11:11). The criticism seems rather pointed since, of course, David got himself into trouble doing precisely that.

Uriah also references the ark and people in booths, which may suggest that enough time has passed for it to be the Feast of Tabernacles, and perhaps this provides another reason for Uriah’s abstinence.

A third possibility comes from Exodus 19:15, where soldiers are asked to abstain from sex before battle. It’s possible that Uriah is mindful of this, since he intends to return to the battlefield once David excuses him.

David tries to salvage his plan by making Uriah stay one more day in Jerusalem, channelling Lot’s daughters (Gen. 19:30-38) and trying to get Uriah as drunk as possible. But Uriah is steadfast in his refusal of conjugal visits.

Plan B

Realizing that his first plan isn’t going to work, David goes a little more extreme in his efforts to cover up his infidelity/rape. When he sends Uriah back to the field, he sends him with a letter to Joab. The letter Uriah carries, unbeknownst to him, instructs Joab to send Uriah to the front lines and abandon him there.

Joab proved his willingness to kill for David in 2 Sam. 3, and David’s willingness to use him for the same purpose here casts a suspicious light on the spin in 2 Sam. 3. As Tim Bulkley puts it: “Up to now, David the Death Machine has been a death machine in the service of God. This is his first killing for his own benefit, and it marks a turning point in his story.”

But Joab apparently realizes how obvious David’s plan would be, and he improves on it. Instead of abandoning Uriah at the front lines, he instead assigns Uriah to a group that he knows to be especially “valiant” (2 Sam. 11:16) – read “foolhardy.” As he had planned, the “valiant” men face sallying Ammonites, pushing the enemy back to the city walls but dying to archer fire in the process.

Joab sends a messenger back to report on the battle to David, but anticipates that David may be angry that he had allowed the Israelite army to get so near the city walls. He anticipates that David will cite historical precedent – when Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth got too close to a wall and was killed by a woman dropping a millstone onto his head, from Judges 9:53. If David raises this objection, the messenger is to drop the ultimate bomb – sure, we lost some guys, but Uriah was among them.

As a side note, it is interesting that Jerubbaal’s (Jg.7:1) name is here given as Jerubbesheth. It seems that the author(s) of 1-2 Samuel are fairly consistently erasing Baal from people’s names, replacing it with “bosheth,” which means “shame.” Given that it suggests that these characters (or, at least, their parents) were not the YHWHist monotheists the narrative would like, the motivation seems rather obvious.

Joab’s concerns are misplaced, however. David seems quite happy with Joab’s aggressive attack on the city, and asks the messenger to encourage him on.

My New Bible Companion raises (but does not agree with) the possibility that Joab’s anticipation of David’s reaction may have actually been David’s reaction, misplaced. This, apparently, has “some LXX support” (p.307).

The widowed

There’s no murder of a married man without leaving a widow. When Bathsheba hears of Uriah’s death, she goes into mourning – as was proper. As soon as the required mourning period was over, however, David swoops in and “brought her to his house” (2 Sam. 11:27). He marries her and she bears a son, but this is no happy ending. The chapter closes by telling us that David’s actions have angered God.

Throughout most of this chapter, Bathsheba is passive. David sends for her, David marries her, David takes her. Nowhere do we hear Bathsheba’s perspective on the relationship. Did she want to sleep with David in the first place? Did she want to marry her husband’s murderer? We never know, because the record doesn’t seem to care. David’s crime is not rape, but rather having sex with another man’s wife and then murdering him.

Certainly, it’s obvious that their relationship is no love affair. When Bathsheba realises that she is pregnant, she sends a messenger to let David know. They are not pursuing a relationship, she needed messengers to communicate with her “lover.” Or, as Tim Bulkley puts it:

This is no great love affair. This is not a case of two lovers who can’t keep their hands off each other. In ancient epics or modern films, somehow or other that kind of love affair would excuse infidelity, somehow, but not here. There’s no love lost here.

Reading between the lines, the impression I get is that David saw Bathsheba, raped her, then hoped to go on as though nothing had happened. Unfortunately, the pregnancy became evidence of his actions, so he went about trying to cover it up. This even explains why he only waited the minimum time required before marrying Bathsheba – her pregnancy imposed a time limit.

If David’s willingness to use Joab to murder his enemies cast suspicion on the spin of 2 Sam. 3, then his behaviour regarding Bathsheba casts suspicion on the circumstances of his marriage to Abigail in 1 Sam. 25.