Bathsheba, also known as Bathshua, is a character that appears in the Hebrew Bible (2 Samuel 11, 12; 1 Kings 1, 2). She is known to be Eliam’s daughter. Bathsheba was initially the wife of Uriah, who was a captain in the army of Israel’s King David. King David once saw Bathsheba bathing on her terrace. He summoned her to his palace, had sex with her, and got her pregnant. Uriah was killed in battle, and David married Bathsheba. Bathsheba and David’s second son, Solomon, later became the king of Israel. It was Bathsheba who secured Solomon’s succession to the throne and became a powerful female figure in the kingdom. There are multiple interpretations of Bathsheba’s story across various scriptures and critical writings of scholars. Bathsheba has also been depicted in numerous movies, books, and songs.
Also Known As: Bethsabee, Bathshua
Spouse/Ex-: David, Uriah the Hittite
children: Nathan, Shammua, Shobab, Solomon
Born Country: Israel
Bathsheba’s story appears in the Hebrew Bible (2 Samuel 11, 12; 1 Kings 1, 2). Her name, which appears as "Bathshua" in the Books of Chronicles, probably means the “daughter of the oath” or “the seventh daughter.”
She is said to be Eliam’s daughter and of noble birth and is introduced as the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Uriah was a military captain in King David’s army. Her story is found primarily in 2 Samuel 11-12 and 1 Kings 1-2. However, King David's initial interaction with Bathsheba is not mentioned in the Books of Chronicles.
Bathsheba was bathing on her roof when King David, who was walking on the roof of his palace, noticed her. He lusted after her and came to know that she was Bathsheba, the wife of his army captain Uriah. He called her to his palace, had sex with her, and made her pregnant.
However, David wished to hide his sins. He thus summoned Uriah, who was serving a military campaign back then. He wished to make Uriah have sex with Bathsheba and think that the baby was his. However, Uriah did not wish to violate the ancient rule of his land that made sleeping with one’s wife forbidden when in active military service. Thus, he did not go home and wished to stay with the palace troops.
After being unable to convince Uriah to sleep with Bathsheba, David ordered his general, Joab, to put Uriah on the frontlines of the war, as that would increase Uriah’s chances to be killed.
After Uriah was killed in battle, King David married Bathsheba. However, David's sins angered the Lord. The prophet Nathan was sent to set David on the right path.
David eventually confessed his sin. The Lord punished David by striking his and Bathsheba's first child with an illness. The child died just a few days after being born.
Later, Bathsheba and David had another son, Solomon. When David was on his deathbed, Bathsheba conspired with Nathan to prevent Adonijah (another son of David, from another wife) from succeeding to the throne. She got her son, Solomon, to secure the succession instead. Bathsheba also became an influential person in the royal court, as the queen mother.
David’s act of snatching Uriah’s wife was punished again by Absalom, one of David’s sons. Absalom later started a civil war to be the new king and also had sex in public with 10 of David’s mistresses.
There are many interpretations of Bathsheba’s story. Matthew 1:6 mentions "the wife of Uriah" as one of Jesus’s ancestors. In fact, she is one of only four women in the Old Testament to be mentioned as Jesus’s ancestor.
In medieval typology, Bathsheba is depicted as the antetype for Ecclesia, the church personified, while David is depicted as the antetype for Jesus. Her persona as the queen and a mother also makes people identify her as the Virgin Mary (who was the Queen of Heaven).
In Judaism and rabbinic literature, Bathsheba is identified as the granddaughter of Ahithophel, also known as David's counselor. Not just scholars, but a few passages in the Talmud, too, have supported this version. To support their claim, they cite that Bathsheba is mentioned as the daughter of Eliam (in 2 Sam. 11:3), and Eliam is mentioned as the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite, who was one of David's "thirty" (2 Sam 23:34). Thus, people assume that the two Eliams are the same individual.
However, there are others who believe Ahithophel would not have been old enough to have a granddaughter. Similarly, in 1 Chronicles, Bathsheba is mentioned as “Bathshua” (daughter of Ammiel, 1 Chronicles 3:5). Additionally, David's “thirty” in 1 Chronicles 11:36 mentions “Ahijah the Pelonite” (and not Ahithophel).
The Midrash believes it was Satan who had orchestrated the sinful relationship between David and Bathsheba. This version states that while Bathsheba was bathing, most likely behind a screen, Satan came disguised as a bird. David, while trying to shoot the bird, struck the screen and broke it. David thus saw Bathsheba naked and, beguiled by her beauty, slept with her.
In Islam, David is held equivalent to a prophet. However, some Islamic traditions believe the biblical story goes against the principle of infallibility (“Ismah”) of the Islamic prophets.
Another version states that back then, women widowed by wars would not get remarried and that David was the first to break this evil tradition by marrying Bathsheba after Uriah was killed in battle. However, society could not accept this marriage and thus made up evil tales about David.
Kenneth E. Bailey stated that David's Jerusalem was congested, and that Bathsheba's house may have been about 20 feet away from David's rooftop. According to him, most people back then were modest about their bodies, and thus, it is possible that Bathsheba deliberately appeared naked and seduced David to get rid of Uriah.
According to Lawrence O. Richards, however, Bathsheba was a victim who was taken advantage of by David. David J. Zucker claims she was a victim of “power rape.”
Michael D. Coogan states that David was at fault, and not Bathsheba, because the text mentions "It was springtime, the time when kings go forth to war,” but David had chosen to remain in Jerusalem instead.
Apart from Eve, Bathsheba was probably the only woman whose nude portraits were common and justified in Christian art. She was one of the most significant figures in medieval nude art.
Some of the most popular portraits that featured Bathsheba’s tale were Bathsheba at Her Bath by Rembrandt (located at the Louvre), Bathsheba at her Bath by Veronese (1575, located at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, France), and Bathsheba at her Bath by Ricci (the 1720s, located at the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest).
Bathsheba has been the subject of many literary works, such as David and Bethsabe, the 1588 play by George Peele. Bathsheba’s tale is mirrored in Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel Far from the Madding Crowd.
In 1893, The Sherlock Holmes tale The Adventure of the Crooked Man used the story of Bathsheba and David in its main plot. The 2020 Elizabeth Cook novel Lux likened David and Bathsheba to Henry and Ann.
Susan Hayward portrayed Bathsheba in the 1951 movie David and Bathsheba. Bathsheba was also portrayed by Jane Seymour (in the 1976 TV film The Story of David), Alice Krige (in the 1985 film King David), and Melia Kreiling (in the 2013 TV miniseries The Bible).
David and Bathsheba (unnamed) are featured in Leonard Cohen’s 1985 song Hallelujah. The 1989 track Dead from the Pixies album Doolittle, too, depicts the tale.
The song The Soul Mad About You from Sting's 1991 album Cages, too, talks about the tale of Bathsheba.
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