Saturday, January 9, 2016

Book Write-Up: David and Bathsheba, by Roberta Kells Dorr

Roberta Kells Dorr.  David and Bathsheba.  Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2013, 1990.  See here to buy the book.

The story of David and Bathsheba is in the biblical book of II Samuel.  King David of Israel sees a beautiful woman bathing from his roof.  He learns that she is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.  David sleeps with Bathsheba, and she becomes pregnant.  David tries to make it look like her baby is Uriah’s, so David tells Uriah to go home and sleep with Bathsheba.  Instead, Uriah stays at his post.  David then sent a letter to his military leader, Joab, instructing Joab to have the Israelite soldiers abandon Uriah in the heat of battle.  Uriah is killed by the Ammonites, and David takes Bathsheba as his wife.  The prophet Nathan rebukes David for this and informs him of God’s coming punishment.  Ahithophel, David’s wise adviser and possibly Bathsheba’s grandfather (cp. II Samuel 11:3 and 23:34), leaves David and joins David’s son Absalom when Absalom attempts to take over the throne.

Roberta Kells Dorr’s David and Bathsheba goes from the time that David ascended the throne of Judah after the death of King Saul, to the aftermath of Absalom’s rebellion.  There were many things that I liked about this book, but I would like to highlight three details in the book that particularly interested me.

First of all, there is Uriah the Hittite.  Why does a Hittite have in his name the name of the God of Israel (“Jah”)?  Dorr attempts to account for that.  In Dorr’s story, Uriah was originally Uri, a Hittite who helped David take Jerusalem from the Jebusites.  After Uri does this, Ahithophel gives Uri his granddaughter Bathsheba in marriage.  To marry Bathsheba, Uri needs to convert to the worship of the God of Israel, so he changes his name from “Uri” to “Uriah” to honor the Israelite God.

Second, Uriah in Dorr’s story knew that David slept with Bathsheba, and that was why Uriah refused to leave his post.  Uriah was upset with David and did not want to participate in David’s cover-up.  This stood out to me because Meir Sternberg, in The Poetics of Biblical Narrative, entertains the idea that Uriah was aware of David’s adultery with Bathsheba.

Third, Dorr explores the possibility that God intended David to be with Bathsheba all along.  Solomon was the son of David and Bathsheba.  When II Samuel 7 is read alongside I Chronicles 22, the story that emerges is that God foretold before David even met Bathsheba that Solomon would be David’s successor on the throne and would build the Temple.  Moreover, Dorr interprets II Samuel 12:8 to mean that God would have given Bathsheba to David in marriage, had David wanted her.  Dorr does not explain how this would have happened.  In her story, Uriah was frustrated with Bathsheba because she was not bearing him a son, and he sent his previous wives away for the same reason.  Perhaps the conclusion we are supposed to draw is that Uriah would have divorced Bathsheba, then David could have married her.  Instead of relying on God to work things out, however, David sinned.

Dorr’s explores interesting possibilities.  She also seeks to explain details in the biblical story: Why did David conduct a census?  What is the sound over the trees that was significant in the battle in II Samuel 5?  Dorr’s characterization is also intriguing.  Ahithophel’s stance towards religion, Bathsheba’s devout religious practice, and the positives and negatives in Uriah’s character come to mind.  Dorr also portrayed the negative effects of David’s sin with Bathsheba: David indeed gave God’s enemies an occasion to blaspheme (II Samuel 12:14), and David felt God’s absence after his sin (Psalm 51).

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

2 comments:

  1. Does Dorr's say that Bathsheba was bathing on her rooftop? Or that David was on his rooftop? (2 Samuel 11:2)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I really don't remember. I'll change it to "from his roof."

    ReplyDelete

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