The Pen

The #MeToo Movement Says Bathsheba was “Raped.” Was She Really?


[Peter Lumpkins] Most of us tried to let it go. You know. The recent flair up over whether David committed adultery with Bathsheba as recorded in 2 Samuel 11: 1-5 or forcibly and brutally raped her. But those who insist King David maliciously, violently raped the innocent, sinless Bathsheba continue to fuel the flame.

The fact is, there’s enough ambiguity in the biblical text to sustain a possible rape if we allow the modern constructs I’ve noted. But only a possible rape not a definitive rape. To conclude a definitive rape is to go far beyond the biblical evidence we have. The overwhelming majority of exegetes from the Church Fathers until now interpreted David’s fling with Bathsheba as adultery rather than rape, and I think they were not only more cautious in their interpretation than those today who insist it was a case of rape but also correct in their interpretation.

On October 14, Christianity Today published a piece entitled “Why It’s Easier to Accept David as a Murderer than a Rapist” by Texas pastor, Kyle Worley. While Worley agrees that the few verses in 2 Samuel describing the incident doesn’t meet the criteria for rape according to the Old Testament, he nonetheless argues “the story of David and Bathsheba appears to many modern readers, including me, to meet contemporary definitions of rape.”

My first inclination is to wonder why would we read modern definitions back into the text of Scripture? Would we read modern definitions of lust, pride, forgiveness, reconciliation, truth-telling, redemption or any number of other salvific or moral mentionables back into the text of Scripture? Why would modern constructs of rape be any different? One of the first rules of sound hermeneutics is to allow the text to speak for itself, define its own terms, and resist imposing categories upon the text it would not have recognized.

Worley favorably cited Old Testament professor, David Lamb, ‘describing a basic argument that David was guilty of “power rape rather than adultery” since Bathsheba had no choice.’ In Lamb’s article published October 22, 2015 entitled, “David Was a Rapist, Abraham Was a Sex Trafficker,” he claims we “downgrade Old Testament abuse stories to sexual peccadilloes.” Thus, he dubs Abraham a “Pimping Patriarch” for “sex trafficking” his wife Sarah when Abram sojourned to Egypt because of a famine (Gen 12:10-20). In order to survive in a strange land, Abram instructed his beautiful wife, Sarah, to tell Pharaoh she was his brother not her husband lest he be killed, and Sarah taken anyway. She did. Pharaoh later discovers their scheme and exclaims to Abram, “Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her as my wife? Now, here is your wife. Take her and go!” (v.19).

Lamb concludes, ‘the language that Pharaoh “took her” suggests sexual engagement.’ He later concludes of Abram,

‘He was more concerned about his own safety than his wife’s well being and dignity. […] Sarah must have felt betrayed, and Pharaoh suffered because of Abraham’s deception… The only one “blessed” in this scenario is Abraham. He essentially trafficked his wife and profited richly, and it didn’t take long for sexual exploitation to creep up again in his family.’

Those like myself who would not go as far as to label Abram a “sex trafficker” who callously “pimped out” his wife, Lamb accuses of softening the narrative because they fail to “pay close attention to the details, and as a result miss what the biblical authors intended to communicate.” Personally, I don’t think the biblical authors intended to communicate to their readers that Abram was a “Pimping Patriarch” who engaged in “sex trafficking.” Indeed, I think that’s a highly provocative perception of Abram and Sarah’s sojourn to Egypt and their dealing with Pharaoh interjected onto the text.

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[Editor’s Note: This post was written by Peter Lumpkins and posted first at his blog, here. The title was changed by P&P. It is posted in accordance to fair use in redacted form, and reposting a portion of it probably drives him nuts. We’re okay with that. He drove us nuts for years.]