Saturday, 29 September 2012


Her beauty has informed artists over the decades. From the roof of his palace, King David sees her at her bath, and after that one glimpse, he wants her. I bet she was stunning; drop dead gorgeous. Her name is Bathsheba and she is a married woman. Her husband Uriah, is a soldier, fighting on the front line in the war against the Ammonites. This is no nameless husband, someone whom David has never heard of. The biblical text tells us of “Uriah the Hittite.” He is named as one of David's mighty men, known for his bravery and courage as a soldier. But Uriah’s wife is fit for a king. And this king intends to have her.

Rembrandt paints Bathsheba in 1654 in a spirit of intimacy. Her face reflects the difficulty of the situation - forced to submit to the king's will, she feels the guilt of betraying her husband Uriah.
William Drost painted Bathsheba also in 1654, illustrating her moral dilemma. She receives the letter from King David.

Leonard Cohen sings about her.

“You saw her bathing on the roof,Her beauty and the moonlight and overthrew you.”

And another painting, by Cornelius Van Harleem. 1594

So the king is watching her, spying on her at her bath. Is Bathsheba an exhibitionist? Does she sense that she is being watched?

FRANCESCO SOLIMENA The bible is not exactly steeped in erotica. With the exception of “The Song of Solomon”, it is difficult to find anything connected with erotic love, or erotic desire. And what of Bathsheba herself? What does she represent? What point were the writers of the bible trying to make?

Bathsheba at the well, a boy brings King David's letter, Peter Paul Rubens.

Other women in the bible, are well defined. Holy virgin, Mary, mother of Jesus, meek and obedient; the reformed whore, Mary Magdalene, whirling in incense and sulphur; there is Jezebel steeped in depravity; and there is Ruth, with her wonderful quality of loyalty. Even Lot’s daughters and their horrible seduction of their father, (which makes me cringe whenever I read it) you can argue that their crime is justified.

HANS Von Aachen So is beautiful Bathsheba there, just to demonstrate the lust and weakness of a powerful king? It would seem so.

Bathsheba and David Jan Massys David, up until this episode, has always been presented as a loyal servant of the Lord. His name, David means “beloved”. David slew the mighty Philistine, Goliath. He was a hero and Samuel, the prophet declared him “chosen by the Lord”. David has had the love and protection of the Lord throughout his life.

Bathsheba at her Bath. Jacob Von Loo Yet in introducing David as a letch, the bible writers show us that David is as capable of falling and failing, as anyone of us. Looking, seeing the forbidden, has an irresistible allure and David cannot drag his eyes away. He is a voyeur and the artists featured here place the viewer in the same position.

As for Bathsheba, I am still having difficult in framing her -- I’d appreciate any ideas that any of you may have. Is she just a cipher -- an example of how even great men can be tempted? Or is she something more?

For a Feminist approach to Bathsheba click here


  1. I'm no biblical scholar and don't know the story well, but off the top of my head most stories are capable of different interpretations and while some would leave her as a cypher in a comment on male desire, others would not. Is there a feminist interpretation? What was her motivation, anyway? The relevant verse is silent on this: 'And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness; and she returned unto her house.' Maybe it's not even about her, but about concepts of clean and unclean, and how being clean in some respects can mean being unclean in others?

  2. I guess that the passage about her being "unclean" is referring to her menstruation. As for a feminist interpretation, I searched and searched the web, but couldn't find anything. Bathsheba's story continues -- She and David married, the child that she had conceived died, but later she gave birth to Solomon. David already had a son, who was in line for the throne, but Bathsheba manipulated things so that he was overlooked and Solomon became king of Israel.

  3. Correction -- I just found this on the web!

  4. Just read it, It takes her story as a whole, over both occasions when she appears in the Bible, and concludes that while she was in one sense a victim she was ultimately able to get her own way (in relation to her son inheriting the throne).

    Reading the link you found, what struck me was simply this: she lived in a society that was very different from ours, and contemporary attempts to moralise, characterise or stereotype take no account of what life was like back then.