Bathsheba’s name appears in the Bible a sparse twelve times. When she first appears in 2 Samuel 11:2 David sees her and translators immediately start covering for him. The plainest way to translate this verse is “David sent and searched for the woman, and he said, ‘Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?’” Translators stumble all over themselves to invent a “one” or a “someone” to ask the question in order to avoid the implication that David knew who she was from the beginning. Perhaps the most egregious move is in the New Living Translation, which takes the most common active verbal construction in the entire Bible, “and he said,” and renders it passive. The cover-up is not as complete in 11:4. Half or more of English translations say something like, “And David sent messengers and he took her….” Again, the NLT may be the worst offender, along with the New International Version, both of which change the subject of the second verb by creating an infinitive form – “David sent messengers to get her….” Notice that they have softened the verb as well.
The next time Bathsheba appears by name is when her child has died in 12:24. The previous story has explained the death of the infant as part of David’s punishment. Bathsheba is called only “Uriah’s wife” in that text and there is no consideration of why this punishment should fall on her as well, but God is always punishing others for David’s sins (see 2 Samuel 24). Bathsheba receives at least one more insult concerning these events from the “canonical David.” Psalm 51 begins with a superscription that frames it as David’s response to the rebuke by Nathan after he had “gone unto Bethsheba.” In the poem the Davidic voice makes the ridiculous claim to God, “Against you, yourself alone, I have sinned.”
Bathsheba’s final scene presents her role in making sure that her second son, Solomon, succeeds David on the throne. In 1 Kings 1 she visits David when he is with another woman who has been brought to him, Abishag the Shunnamite. Abishag is a beautiful young woman who is brought to the king as a test of his virility. His inability to have intercourse with her (1 Kings 1:4) signals a failure of the test and is the sign that Israel needs a new king. If the fertility of the land and its people are entangled with the fertility of its king, then an impotent one cannot remain on the throne. In between Bathsheba and Abishag another woman appears, one whose story may reveal some of what is unsaid about the others. A daughter of David named Tamar is raped by her half-brother, Amonon, an act which 2 Samuel 13 does not obscure. In this case Amnon tricks Tamar into entering his room. David’s failure to respond in any way to his son’s behavior, which mirrors his own, triggers murder and rebellion in his own family. A couple of centuries after the books of Samuel and Kings were written, scribes wrote another version of this story, the one we call Chronicles, and the stories of all three of these women were erased from the portrait of David.
Powerful men assaulting women is not a new phenomenon, and their handlers and publicists have always helped them do it and covered up for them afterwards. Bathsheba, Tamar, and Abishag are all victims of sexual assault in the biblical story. The glorification of the primary perpetrator has surely played a role in the continuation of this behavior through the millennia, and part of the solution must be helping these women say, “Me too.”