Whether Bathsheba was the Original Bridget Jones

Was Bathsheba the Original Bridget Jones? A New Look at Bathsheba on Screen and in
Biblical Scholarship
Author(s): Kristine Henriksen Garroway
Source: Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies & Gender Issues , No. 24, Feminist
Receptions of Biblical Women / Consulting Editor: Lesleigh Cushing
Stahlberg (Spring 2013), pp. 53-73
Published by: Indiana University Press
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/nashim.24.53
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NASHIM: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies and Gender Issues. © 2013 53
Kristine Henriksen Garroway
This article addresses the reception in text and cinema of the story told of
the biblical character Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11; specifically, it addresses
the scholarly interpretations of Bathsheba and the portrayals of her story
in the films David and Bathsheba (1951) and King David (1985), and in
the NBC mini-series Kings (2009). I shall examine the ways in which each medium fills the gaps left by 2 Samuel 11 and investigate how the rise
of feminism and feminist biblical scholarship has changed the reception of Bathsheba’s story. Recognizing that people participate in a reading
that speaks to them on a personal level, the article concludes with a post-
feminist interpretation of 2 Samuel 11, one that represents Bathsheba as
an “ancient” Bridget Jones. Such a reading is missing, as made clear by
the review of scholarship and film. This new interpretation is important,
because it has the potential to resonate with today’s generation of young women.
The biblical character of Bathsheba is what detectives call “a person of interest,”
someone whose actions require close investigation in order to condemn or exonerate
her of a crime. While the biblical account in 2 Samuel 11 does not accuse Bathsheba
of a crime, it also does not absolve her. Simply put, the text leaves much of Bathsheba’s story untold.
We are first introduced to Bathsheba through King David’s eyes in 2 Sam. 11:2,
when he sees her from his rooftop while she is bathing (for what purpose?). The narrator tells us that Bathsheba is very beautiful. David does some reconnaissance and finds out that she is married to one of his top military officers. The next three verses speed
through a complicated set of events that leave even more to the imagination: David
sends for her, Bathsheba comes (willingly?), and he lies with her. Then she purifies
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Kristine Henriksen Garroway
54 • Nashim 24 (2013)
herself (from what?) and returns home (of her own volition?). Bathsheba conceives and announces her pregnancy to David. For the next twenty verses, David tries to cover
his tracks. Ultimately, he sends Bathsheba’s husband to his death on the battlefield.
Bathsheba mourns her husband’s death (v. 26), then marries David and gives birth to
their son (v. 27). In 2 Samuel 12, God punishes David for his actions with the infant’s
death. David comforts Bathsheba, and she conceives again (2 Sam. 12:24).
So concludes the first half of Bathsheba’s narrative, during which we are presented with a seemingly passive young woman. When we see her again in 1 Kings 1 and 2, many years have passed. Now Bathsheba appears as a different woman, one who is
wise, conniving, politically savvy and involved in palace intrigue. She conspires with the prophet Nathan to ensure that her son, Solomon, will be the next in line for the
throne, and later she petitions King Solomon on behalf of his half-brother.
The latter half of Bathsheba’s narrative has not captured the attention of readers in the same way as the first half of her story. In an attempt to fill the narrative gaps in
the account in 2 Samuel 11, writers and artists have used commentaries, paintings and
cinematic representations to flesh out Bathsheba’s story. Most often these accounts
assign guilt to Bathsheba, saying that she was a willing partner in the liaison or even suggesting that she contrived the whole tryst. As such, these interpretations have
served as her “trial by media.” In responding to this presumption of Bathsheba’s guilt,
feminist critics have addressed everything from the role of male power to voyeurism to the issue of consent in the biblical text and its artistic representations.
This article examines the reception of Bathsheba’s story in two types of narratives:
those created on paper and those created on screen. To this end, it utilizes a comparative approach, examining the biblical scholarship on Bathsheba and three cinematic
representations of her story: David and Bathsheba (1951), starring Gregory Peck and
Susan Hayward; King David (1985), starring Richard Gere and Alice Krige; and the
NBC mini-series Kings (2009), with Ian McShane and Sarita Choudhury. The review
of these narratives takes a decidedly feminist approach, seeking out how each kind of
narrative has created the person of Bathsheba by filling the gaps in the original text
of 2 Samuel 11.
Why Screen Adaptations?
The choice to look at screen adaptations, to the exclusion of other forms of artistic representation, is connected first and foremost to the voyeuristic aspects of the biblical narrative, an element of utmost interest to feminist biblical scholars. The narrative in 2 Samuel 11 begins with King David seeing something he should not see (a naked lady), automatically inviting the reader to envision with him what he saw. The laconic nature of the biblical text almost forces the reader to conjure up a series of images as the events leading up to Bathsheba’s summons to the palace unfold. While poetry or paintings may fill in some of the gaps, screen representations present a complete narrative and dictate its content. The viewer is invited to “read” as the images move across the screen.1
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Was Bathsheba the Original Bridget Jones?
The second factor guiding this choice has to do with the influential role of the media. In The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan points out the media reinforcement, after World War II, of woman’s role as wife and mother.2 The movies analyzed below leave little to the viewer’s imagination; not only do they send particular social messages, they also tell us how the character sounds, looks, moves, dresses, reacts and so forth. As Alice Bach has pointed out, every time a biblical figure is portrayed on the screen, it affects the way in which a person reads the biblical text.3 The twentieth and twenty-first centuries have seen three major cinematic works that do just this with the Bathsheba narrative. Each of these screen adaptations fills in the textual gaps with different details, thus creating three different narratives of 2 Samuel 11 and the person of Bathsheba.
This paper will explore how each screen adaptation presented Bathsheba’s story in
a manner that was relevant to its own day and age. It will also explore some ways in
which the biblical text has been read in the scholarly interpretations of 2 Sam. 11:1–5.
Combining Screen Adaptations and Scholarly Narratives
It is well known that media influence people’s conception of a person, event or text.4
In this case, however, I was curious to see how the media, in their screen narrations
of Bathsheba, line up with scholarly interpretations of 2 Samuel 11, and how both corpuses reflect the rise of feminism. The way in which we process an event or story has
to do with the information we have about the event. The information gaps in the biblical text, including the text under review, have been filled by scholarly and cinematic
narratives alike. In the world of television and movies, notes Bach, the people filling
in these crucial gaps are more often than not male; moreover, the end to which they
fill the gaps tends toward a representation of women as objects, portrayed as a male
would like to see a female.5 Has the rise of feminism and feminist biblical scholarship
changed this? And is there a dialogue between the Bathsheba narratives told on paper
(the biblical scholarship) and the Bathsheba narratives told on the screen?
Recognizing that scholarship and media are products of (and function within) a specific time and place, my guiding principle is as follows: Each historical period learns from and builds upon previous modes of thinking. Thus, a traditional interpretation of
2 Samuel 11 is reinterpreted by a feminist reading, which in turn can be reinterpreted
by a post-feminist reading of the narrative. Since a scholarly and cinematic narrative that tells the story of Bathsheba from a post-feminist view is missing, I conclude with
a suggestion for a post-feminist reading and screen adaptation of 2 Samuel 11.
Methodologically, I shall examine the most significant screen adaptations and scholarly narratives in chronological order, starting with the 1951 film David and Bathsheba and the traditional androcentric scholarly interpretations.6 Since it is impossible to discuss every text ever written about Bathsheba’s bath, the examples that follow
are representative of the primary ways in which scholars have approached the biblical narrative in each relevant period, from the perspectives considered mainstream
at the time.
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Kristine Henriksen Garroway
56 • Nashim 24 (2013)
Bathsheba’s Narratives
People have been talking about Bathsheba and the bath she took one fateful spring evening for quite some time. This bath, perhaps the most famous in history, is shrouded in mystery. Did she bathe with the intention of enticing King David? Was she innocently
bathing and thus the unwitting (and maybe even unwilling) object of his desire? Or
perhaps it was a combination of the two: She innocently took a bath and then turned it to her advantage as events unfolded. Whatever the case may be, we do not have her side of the story. All we know is that:
It happened one evening as David rose up from his bed and walked upon the
roof of the palace [that] he saw a woman bathing upon the roof. Now the woman
was very beautiful in appearance. David sent and inquired about the woman. He
said, “Is this not Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam, wife of Uriah the Hittite?” Then
David sent messengers and he took her, and she came unto him, and he lay with
her—she being purified from her unclean state [her menses]—and she returned to
her house. The woman conceived. She sent to tell David [this fact], and she said,
“I am pregnant.” (2 Sam. 11:2–5)
Moshe Garsiel points out that not only are Bathsheba’s inner thoughts missing, but
so are David’s and those of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah.7 In this respect, the narrative promotes gender parity. Garsiel suggests that the characters’ mental worlds are
absent for two reasons. First, a concise and quick-moving story line is characteristic
of the Deuteronomistic historian. Moreover, if their inner thoughts were described, the reader would be tempted to form an emotional attachment to one of the characters.8
This in turn would cause the reader to lose sight of the narrative’s main point—the
didactic moral lesson.9 While this may well have been the authorial intent, there is
value in answering the question Garsiel says we should not worry about: What is
Bathsheba’s story in 2 Samuel 11?
David and Bathsheba—From Ancient Interpretations to the Big Screen
Screen narratives must bridge the gaps not only between time and space, but within
the original narrative as well. They must fill in details that are left out in order to make a convincing and compelling representation of the text.10 As presented in 2 Samuel
11, Bathsheba’s narrative would translate into a short movie, so it is not surprising
that the 1951 film David and Bathsheba introduced a love story into the plot. David sees Bathsheba, and the two lovers meet multiple times. In this version, David, whose relationship with his first wife, Michal, is a rocky one, desires Bathsheba to be his
wife. He summons Bathsheba back to the palace under the pretext that she is to hear
about her husband’s valor on the battlefield. Bathsheba willingly goes, and when she
arrives David explains that her husband does not love her but prefers the soldier’s life.
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Was Bathsheba the Original Bridget Jones?
Distraught but, as we find out, secretly delighted, Bathsheba accepts David’s marriage proposal, though her answer is worded in a way that suggests she has no choice.
David responds that he could never force anything on a subject of his kingdom. At
this, Bathsheba reveals her joy and says that she planned the provocative bath because
she wanted to be his wife and the one to make him happy. And so we have our first
cinematic representation of Bathsheba.
While the feminist movement technically existed in 1951, the movie David and
Bathsheba came out before the “big push” for women’s rights in the 1960s and ’70s.
David and Bathsheba was a smash hit with women. It fell into the genre of the Woman’s Film. According to Susan Morrison, Woman’s Films are driven by the woman’s
quest for happiness and independence. However, the woman finds out that “in the
patriarchal society . . . there is no place for an independent woman.” Only in giving
up the quest for independence can a woman fulfill her ultimate goal—to be a wife and
mother.11 Bathsheba was a strong, independent female protagonist who was seeking
“to have her cake [independence] and eat it too [be tied down as a wife and mother].”
David and Bathsheba possessed many of the elements of a Woman’s Film, but it
also pushed back against the genre.12 Instead of the female lead renouncing her love,
the two lovers get married. King David sees Bathsheba bathing, desires her and summons her to him.13 But David, the king, does not force her to have sex; he gives her the
option of leaving, implying that the woman has autonomy over her body! Bathsheba, however, is eager to stay and admits to having watched and waited for David, timing her bath so that he would see her. Of course, as a seemingly independent woman,
Bathsheba can only admit this after David has given her the option of refusing him.
As David Gunn points out, the film sends mixed messages: “The patriarchal rules are
still in place at the end . . . the speech for women’s liberation has to be spoken by the
man.”14 So, on the one hand, Bathsheba was given a voice and may even have had a role in initiating the relationship. On the other hand, the voice she was given reinforced all
the gender stereotypes of the day—the woman should want to be a wife (and mother).15
Some of the earliest texts to comment on Bathsheba’s story did so by omitting it. The Chronicler in his effort to present a cleaned up version of the David narrative does not
mention Bathsheba at all. So too the Qur’an venerates David, but ignores Bathsheba’s
existence. Other ancient texts, such as the New Testament, take note of Bathsheba by
calling her Uriah’s wife and the mother of Solomon (Matt. 1:6). She is listed in the
lineage of Jesus, among three other women who are associated with a questionable
sexual past. No mention of the tryst with King David is referenced.
Ancient scholars, on the other hand, portrayed the story’s gender roles more along
the lines taken up by the 1951 film. Josephus examined 2 Samuel 11, noting that David fell into a “very grievous sin,” that of adultery. According to Josephus, however, this
was not David’s fault, for Bathsheba was so beautiful that he could not help himself or
restrain his desires.16 The talmudic Sages of the first millennium ce, also commented
on Bathsheba’s narrative in 2 Samuel 11. For the rabbis, the ambiguity in the biblical text was too glaring to leave alone. David is supposed to be the epitome of masculinity, the chosen one of God, but his character is blemished in the Bathsheba affair.17
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Kristine Henriksen Garroway
58 • Nashim 24 (2013)
By engaging in linguistic and logical gymnastics, the rabbis clear David’s name . . .
but they do not clear Bathsheba.18 Instead, like most women in the Talmud, she is portrayed as materialistic, sexual, cunning, seductive and controlling.19 When the rabbis
engage in gap-filling, they concentrate on the gaps that could exonerate David. Thus, the rabbinic commentaries leave Bathsheba’s personal narrative where it started, full
of ambiguity. Each of these ancient sources, by admission or omission, calls attention
to Bathsheba in a negative way: She taints the reign of King David.
Much of the early modern pre-feminist biblical scholarship on 2 Samuel 11 was
done from a literary perspective, concentrating on the final form of the text, character
development, gaps in the text, as well as the unique features of Israelite narrative art.20
Within the literary perspective two approaches were taken. The first approach, like
the Talmud, understands Bathsheba as conniving and manipulative. In his landmark study, Hans Wilhelm Hertzberg commented: “We must, however, ask whether Bathsheba did not count on this possibility [David seeing her and lusting after her].”21 In
other words, Bathsheba was a willing participant who “asked for it.”22 In a seeming
moment of sensitivity to the ambiguity in the text, George Nicol states that we cannot
know if Bathsheba bathed provocatively with intention. However, he then goes on to
state: “Even if it was not deliberate, Bathsheba’s bathing in a place so clearly open to the king’s palace can hardly indicate less than a contributory negligence on her part.”23
Solomon Goldman, suggesting that Bathsheba liked being seen by King David, states: “Bathsheba appears not to have offered any resistance. Vanity, or the fear to refuse, or
both may have influenced her.”24 Hertzberg, indeed, calls the bath an act of “feminine
flirtation.” Acknowledging that the text states nothing about Bathsheba’s feelings, he
turns this into an accusation: “Her consciousness of the danger into which adultery
was leading her (Deut. 22:22) must have been outweighed by her realization of the
honour of having attracted the king.”25 She was proud that her “feminine flirtation”
The second approach suggests that women in the Bible wanted the opportunity
to become wives and mothers, a life-goal through which they could find honor and
respect in a patriarchal society.26 If Uriah could not give her children, this created a
motive for Bathsheba to bathe before the king; she was perhaps asking to become a
(royal) wife and mother. Even if this is true, Bathsheba remains an object within the plot, with David as the subject.27 For example, Matthew Henry’s 1706 commentary on the books of Samuel takes a decidedly David-centric view of the Bathsheba incident. Discussing the theological downfall of David, he details the steps in 2 Samuel 11 that led David to sin. While concentrating on the theological angle, Henry makes a side
comment about Bathsheba’s compliance in the affair: “She [was] too easily consenting, because he was a great man, and famed for his goodness too. Surely (thinks she) that can be no sin which a man as David is the mover of.”28 Henry’s point is that Bathsheba
was a reputable woman who was drawn in and influenced by David’s wickedness.
While this seemingly lets Bathsheba off the hook—she was no loose woman—the
implication is that David caused Bathsheba to do the act. Here, too, Bathsheba remains a pawn, an object manipulated by David. While the two literary approaches differ in This content downloaded from on Wed, 21 Apr 2021 15:36:22 UTC
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Was Bathsheba the Original Bridget Jones?
their view of Bathsheba, both approaches focus on Bathsheba from an androcentric
and even patriarchal point of view.
In David and Bathsheba, Bathsheba is seen bathing behind a solid screen. In the
ancient and early modern commentaries on 2 Samuel 11, she is simply bathing; we
have no screen to shield our mind’s eye. Either way, according to the narratives presented in the film and early biblical scholarship, she is bathing for an explicit purpose:
to arouse the desire of King David.
Feminist Interpretations of Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11
In 1985, King David presents the narrative differently. In a move to rival the Chronicler and the rabbis, King David is presented as a moral king who sees Bathsheba bathing and desires her, but he successfully overcomes his base urges by not sending for
her. Only after they are married do the two have sex. Of course, David must first put
Uriah out of the picture. In this version, Uriah is an abusive husband, not an upstanding soldier who is sent to his death. While we can tell from the movie that Bathsheba
lets herself be seen bathing, she never admits that she was trying to seduce the king.
The independent and cunning woman presented in King David is a strong female
character. A sexually liberated woman, comfortable in her own skin, Bathsheba knows that David saw her bathing and apparently is not disturbed by this knowledge, since
she does not stop bathing. Given her actions and her well-chosen words about her
husband, it almost appears as if she had planned the whole thing.29 Unlike the biblical
text, in the movie Bathsheba comes to tell David that Uriah beats her. Sexual tension is heightened when David states, “You shall have a child,” and Bathsheba replies, “Not while my husband lives.”30 Bathsheba is staking claim to her reproductive rights. She
decides when and with whom she wants to have a child.
The Bathsheba presented in the film seems to be championing woman’s rights and Bathsheba’s own reproductive rights, a sentiment in line with second-wave feminism.
Our examination of biblical scholarship therefore now moves away from mainstream
biblical scholarship to an examination of feminist biblical scholarship, a place where
we might expect to find similar sentiments.31 Interestingly, many early feminist biblical scholars did not see Bathsheba as the strong female character presented in King David. Rather than viewing her as being in control of the events or bathing with
intention, they viewed her voice as suppressed by the text and in need of liberation.32
Restoring the voice was possible if one worked against the grain, against the power
structures, questioning everything we thought we knew about the text and the gender
representations within it.33 Bathsheba was objectified by a powerful male (David and/
or the biblical author), subjected to voyeurism, and perhaps raped.
Examining the literature from the 1980s until the time of our next screen adaptation in 2009, we see that it is united in shifting the focus of biblical scholarship from David to Bathsheba. Alice Bach’s resistant reading of 2 Samuel 11 asks a question
that sums up many of the different approaches taken by feminist biblical scholarship
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Kristine Henriksen Garroway
60 • Nashim 24 (2013)
during these decades: “What did Bathsheba know and when did she know it?”34 By
asking questions, such as: “what are Bathsheba’s emotions at a given point” and “are
we given hints to inform our ideas?” readers begin to see the narrative in a different light.35 That we do not have Bathsheba’s words, thoughts or emotions can be as
informative as if we did. This way of reading informs several different feminist and
post-feminist approaches to the Bathsheba affair.
Thus, rather than seeing her as an object or literary device, we can assign agency
to Bathsheba by comparing her to other women who have undergone similar sexual
encounters. In this case, Bathsheba’s silence gives us cause to pause. For example,
King David’s daughter Tamar, raped by her half-brother Amnon (2 Samuel 13), does
speak immediately before and after her sexual encounter. Alice Bach points out that
the woman with a voice is erased from the text, post-sex scene, while Bathsheba, the woman without a voice, becomes one of the most important royal matriarchs.36 Reading the text this way allows for the idea that Bathsheba intentionally kept quiet. Perhaps she knowingly kept her mouth shut in order to preserve her life.
Another way in which feminist scholarship gives Bathsheba agency, and thus fights
back against her portrayal as an object, is to acknowledge and reject the text’s voyeurism. Readers can all too easily see Bathsheba as David does: a woman who was
desired, taken and then returned home. The male gaze directs the narrative, suggesting that what the man sees (the woman) is indeed worth looking at.37 In 2 Samuel 11, the object is Bathsheba bathing. Feminists challenged readers to free Bathsheba from
David’s gaze, for within the male gaze the female reader is identified with the body
being observed, which places her in the position of objectifying her own body.38 Thus, in identifying herself with Bathsheba, the female reader at the same time sees herself
objectified by David and participates in that objectification.
In gazing at Bathsheba, David objectifies her, but he is not the only person guilty
of being a peeping Tom. The text suggests that he called attendants to determine the
identity of the bathing beauty. J. Cheryl Exum goes one step further and accuses the
narrative itself of encouraging voyeurism;39 as she points out, the narrator controls
the reader’s gaze, making us see Bathsheba bathing and telling us that she is very
beautiful. Thus we are forced to participate in seeing Bathsheba bathe her naked
Throughout the narrative, there is the question of male power and who is in control of the events that unfold. Was Bathsheba a consenting party in the sexual liaison, or
was it rape? Mieke Bal and Gale Yee both raise the question of rape, but no scholar is comfortable coming out and saying definitively that rape occurred.41 In fact, as Sandie Gravett’s study demonstrates, there is language for rape in the Hebrew Bible, but it is not present in 2 Samuel 11.42 Still, Exum urges the reader to think about the semiotic rape of Bathsheba. As she frames the matter, the androcentric text intentionally left a
gap that encourages the reader to infer what may (or may not) be there, so that even if the words for rape are not written down, we undress Bathsheba in our mind’s eye and imagine what occurs between her and David.43 Our imagination, the way we as readers fill the gap, opens the door to all sorts of interpretations. As Tikva Frymer-Kensky
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Was Bathsheba the Original Bridget Jones?
remarks, “[the] motives and intentions of the story are left to the readers, who have
come up with many versions of this story over the years.”44
Both the scholarly and the film narratives demonstrate awareness of the feminist
movement and fill in the textual gaps accordingly. What is interesting is that biblical
scholarship comes down on the side of victimization, while the screen narrative is
more liberating, promoting a more independent and cunning Bathsheba. This latter
view of Bathsheba is often acknowledged by scholars in commenting on a later point
in her life, her appearance in 1 Kings 1–2,45 where she speaks wise, cunning words
to an elderly David in order to secure the throne for her son Solomon.46 Gone are any traces of a woman abused by male power. In 1 Kings, the reader knows that Bathsheba uses her womanly charms with intention. King David appears to read the confident
Bathsheba of 1 Kings into the Bathsheba of 2 Samuel 11, thus resulting in a woman
one can be proud of.47
Moving Forward: Post(?)-Feminist Interpretations
The 2009 NBC mini-series Kings interprets the narrative in a completely different
light. It gives a modern-day adaptation of the Saul and David narratives, focusing
mostly on the events surrounding David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17 / 2 Sam. 21:18–19),
though many of the events and persons appear chronologically out of place. For example, in Kings the character of Bathsheba appears before King David’s reign, and
her affair is with Saul, not David. The viewer knows nothing of how the affair started,
only that King Silas (Saul) has a mistress, Helen, and a sickly illegitimate son. Presumably this is meant to represent the biblical Bathsheba and the illegitimate son who
died soon after birth.48 The plot line about Helen and the child, plus the confrontation
over it between King Silas and Samuels (the prophet Samuel), is conflated with the
narrative in 2 Samuel 12, where the prophet Nathan confronts King David about his
actions with Bathsheba and her ensuing pregnancy. Both in 2 Samuel 12 and in Kings,
the illegitimate son must die to atone for the actions of his father.49
In taking liberties with the sequence of the biblical text, Kings might be seen as following a traditional ancient Near Eastern artistic pattern—chronological telescoping.
Consider the portrayal of the 701 bce siege of Lachish found in Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh, in which the siege’s the “greatest hits”—archers preparing for battle, the
city torched, people impaled and captives being led away, counted and executed before the king—are all telescoped onto a single relief. Similarly, Kings, with only twelve
episodes in which to present the materials of the entire book of Samuel, had a lot to
cover in very little time. That Bathsheba (a.k.a. Helen) even made it into the narrative
at all should say something: Her story is too important to be left out.50
Since the mini-series begins midway into Bathsheba’s affair with the king, it eliminates any speculation as to her part in initiating the relationship, thus reintroducing
the “gap,” a move at which some feminist scholars would cringe. However, this jump
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62 • Nashim 24 (2013)
and the king’s lustful reaction, Kings does away with the viewer as voyeur. Second, we
can insert our own ideas about the affair’s birth, deciding in our minds how Bathsheba might have acted. Third, while Bathsheba’s part in 2 Samuel ends after she tells David
that she is pregnant, the Bathsheba in Kings is a little more developed; we get to hear
the voice silenced by the biblical text.
Bathsheba’s bath and her intent in bathing remained an event of interest in biblical
scholarship around the time Kings was released. Consider the following two examples, one from John Goldingay and the other from Lillian Klein. Goldingay sees the narrative as a power play on David’s part. Means and opportunity were at his fingertips, and David took advantage of the bathing beauty. Bathsheba’s bath took place on a rooftop,
perhaps the only place where she could find privacy for purifying herself. Topography
and military advantage placed David’s palace above Bathsheba’s house, so that eyes
were still watching her even in the most private space she could find.51 For Goldingay, Bathsheba remains a victim.
Klein, on the other hand, asserts that Bathsheba bathed with the intention of catching the king’s eye—not because she was a temptress, but because she sought the greatest honor that a woman at that time could achieve: motherhood. Uriah was impotent; a
romp with another man was out of the question; but if the king were to call, well then,
who could say no?52 Thus, Bathsheba’s actions were for a higher purpose, and she
should be exonerated of the charge of seducing David.
To make her point, Klein notes that most commentators read the “cleansing” (mitkadeshet)
mentioned in 2 Sam. 11:4 back into the “bathing” (roḥetzet) mentioned
in verse 2. In fact, these verses could refer to two separate baths. Klein translates
verse 4 as: “And David sent messengers and took her and she came to him and he
lay with her and she purified herself from her uncleanness and she returned to her
house.”53 In Klein’s interpretation, Bathsheba’s first bath was to purify herself from
her menses, while the second was to purify her from sex outside of marriage.54 Klein’s view is picked up by Frymer-Kensky, who notes that the present participle indicates
a sequence and the passing of time: “having purified herself, she went home.” For
Frymer-Kensky, the second purification is the normal one performed after any sexual
encounter (see Lev. 15:18). The irony is that Bathsheba could purify herself of ordinary sexual pollution, but not of the stain of illicit sex.55
Klein presents a Bathsheba who bathes with intent. She chooses to let the king
see her, but for a specific purpose: to become a mother. Leaning in a post-feminist
direction, this Bathsheba is a woman whose biological clock is ticking. Holding fast
to family values, she is in a bind. Who can save her from her dilemma and from the
social stigma of having no children? Only one man: King David. Bathsheba is acutely
aware of the consequences of not attracting the right man, and she takes action to
secure his affections: “there is only [her]self to blame if the right partner is not found
[and secured].”56 Kings, too, leans in a post-feminist direction: It reacts to the feminist
criticisms of the Bathsheba narrative by not following that narrative. Both of these
readings, then, push us closer to a post-feminist reading and allow us to ask what such
a reading might look like.
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Was Bathsheba the Original Bridget Jones?
Nothing is read or viewed in a vacuum. Movies and scholars make their work
relevant and interesting by relying upon cultural references and cues. Such “insider
information” allows the audience to make sense of a scene without the narrative without having to spell out what is going on. For example, the popular television drama
Law and Order offers the caveat: “This story is fictional. No actual person or event is
depicted.” Nevertheless, it usually does not take much work to figure out what current
event the episode is spinning. This type of “common language” or intertextuality57
allows both the screen productions and biblical scholarship to suggest plausible narratives based on 2 Samuel 11.58 Whether or not the events are historical is irrelevant.
What is relevant is the way in which the narrative has been shaped by the influences
of the time and place in which it was created, and how the reader/audience interacts
with it.
Each of the narratives discussed above was created to speak to a particular audience, that of its day. Its success depended upon the socio-political trends current at the time it was published/released and the degree of the audience’s participation in its reading.59 If
the narrative of 2 Samuel 11 is to remain relevant to us as twenty-first century readers,
our readings must address the latest theoretical movement: post-feminism. Unfortunately, no cinematic narrative yet exists that properly describes Bathsheba from a
post-feminist perspective. Neither has biblical scholarship provided Bathsheba with
a new narrative. To remedy this situation, the remainder of this article offers a new
way forward in thinking about Bathsheba and her narrative in a post-feminist world.
An Introduction to Post-Feminism
The past two decades have seen a swing in the pendulum back toward neo-conservative values—the resurgence of patriarchy in disguise.60 This shift can be attributed
to a “double entanglement” wherein neo-conservative values co-exist with a liberal
domestic and sexual agenda.61 As feminism made way for women in the workplace,
some felt that the pendulum had swung too far to the left, favoring women and minorities to the exclusion of the Anglo-Saxon male. White males pushed back, recreating
and reinforcing the stereotypes for women: They should be mothers with household
concerns and with a vested interest in consumerism. Magazine ads, billboards, art,
television and movies showed independently wealthy women or stay-at-home mothers
to be better consumers than working women, and definitely better consumers than
working mothers, who deconstructed the unity of the mythologized American family.62
Magazines like Good Housekeeping and The New York Times Magazine began running ads showing the importance of family and touting the label “New Traditionalists.” Even television shows like Desperate Housewives and the Real Housewives
series highlight the stay at home wife/mother in a positive manner. Drama in these
shows often occurs around women balancing work and home life. Everywhere one
turns these days one can find examples of traditional gender boundaries firmed up and neo-conservative values endorsed.
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64 • Nashim 24 (2013)
The generation of women educated by feminists, those who define themselves as “post-feminist,” represents the other side of the double entanglement: the liberal domestic and sexual agenda. At first glance, it would seem that young women who are given autonomy over their careers, partners, sexual orientation and so on would be strong supporters of the feminist movement. This is a generation of second modernity that prizes “female individualization” and champions the woman who makes her way in life by designing her own gender path.63 However, as Angela McRobbie argues, the feminist agenda taught to women of the younger generation is seen as belonging to their mothers’ and grandmothers’ generations. Feminism is taken for granted; it is passé. Young women of the twenty-first century belong to a post-feminist generation that actively distances itself from feminism.64 They no
longer need to strive for equality and freedom—it is a given. Young women are “so over” feminism that they are open once again to subjecting the female body to the male gaze.65
For example, television and billboard ads are rife with women displaying many of
the qualities prized by the superficial male gaze, wearing everything from lingerie
and swimsuits to body-hugging clothing, all for the sake of selling a product. Sexuality seeps forth, enticing the male to look and the female to buy. In the heyday of
feminism, this would have been sharply criticized. But today, in the liberated world,
young women see such images not as an affront to the female body but as a choice.
And the choice of these female actors and the response of female viewers is clear; as
McRobbie puts it, “objection is pre-empted with irony.”66 Women are free to choose
what to do with their bodies and how to display them to the world. Choice, however,
is a paradox. While choice allows freedom, it also acts as a constraint. Make the right
choice, and you will succeed; make the wrong choice, and you are the only person
to blame for your failure.67 In a post-feminist world, the “right” or “wrong” choice is determined by society. What may seem to a young woman to be the right decision
may in fact turn out to be a poor choice in the eyes of society, and this knowledge can
cause angst even to the most level-headed young woman.
Post-Feminism, the Screen and Bathsheba
The entertainment industry pumps out narratives that speak specifically to the new
generation of young women who are taking advantage of the advances made by feminism and designing their own gender paths. Consider Sex and the City, whose premise, framed as an ad in the personals, might read: “four thirty-something career women seeking male companionship. Commitment not required (but subconsciously
it is, the biological clock is ticking!).” This television series, told from the perspective
of the main character, Carrie Bradshaw, and set in the years 1998–2004, follows the
lives of four single women living in New York City. They struggle to find love and
commitment while maintaining a sense of independence. At the end of the series, all
four wind up in serious relationships.
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Was Bathsheba the Original Bridget Jones?
Along the same trajectory is Bridget Jones’s Diary, a 2001 British romantic comedy film based on a novel of the same title by Helen Fielding. Bridget is also a young,
single, career- and relationship-oriented girl. In her diary, she records her goals in
life (get to work on time, lose weight, drink less, be a better person, find a man) and
how she does at meeting them. Bridget is the quintessential self-monitoring woman,
obsessed with self-improvement and constantly weighing her options. What should
she eat? Whom should she date? What events should she attend? She must juggle the pressures of her job, family, physique, friends and biological clock, all while trying to
find the perfect man.68 Endearing herself to readers through the ups and downs of her life, she ultimately realizes that she is perfect just the way she is.69
These screen narratives address the “double entanglement” phenomenon, and their main characters exemplify the post-feminist woman.70 As mentioned above, audience “buy-in” is critical when presenting a narrative. For example, David and Bathsheba
targeted the female audience of the 1950s.71 Reading the Bathsheba narrative through the lens of a self-monitoring Bridget-Jones-meets-Carrie-Bradshaw woman brings
the narrative into the twenty-first century and makes it appealing to the post-feminist generation of women.
Can the Bathsheba of 2 Samuel 11 be read as a self-monitoring woman? I believe
she can. The array of choices available to women in the biblical world may not have
been the same as that available to women today, but we can think about what kinds of
choices Bathsheba might have had open to her. In fact, some scholarly and cinematic
narratives have already touched upon ways in which Bathsheba engaged in self-monitoring behaviors. Perhaps the best examples are those that view her actions over and
against those of her husband. Klein and Jan P. Fokkelman, assuming that Bathsheba
was childless at the time of her liaison with King David, both state that Bathsheba’s
choice was to elevate her status by becoming a mother.72
One of the key differences between the modern self-monitoring woman and Bathsheba is that Bathsheba is already married. Usually a fixation on finding the perfect
man is a key element of the self-monitoring female persona. However, in some respects Bathsheba is not that different from a single woman. We know from 2 Samuel 11 that
her husband is a warrior and has gone to battle the Ammonites. In other places, we get
the impression that Uriah is one of David’s best warriors, which would mean that he
was often absent in battle.73 Bathsheba is thus confined neither to the duties of a wife nor to the restraints of motherhood. Such a woman had no recognizable social niche
and was a potential threat to the fabric of the patriarchal society.
Bathsheba was unbound from cultural norms. And, like the post-feminist woman, she had a choice: Do nothing and live an unhappy life, or do something and change
her life. In this reading, Bathsheba weighs her options and makes a daring decision
for the sake of fulfilling her deepest desires. Her decision to seduce King David via a
carefully timed bath thwarts both the law and the patriarchal system. Bathsheba places herself squarely in sight of the male gaze, with cunning and intention.
Building on these ideas, a post-feminist cinematic narrative of Bathsheba might
offer the following plot lines: Bathsheba is a married woman who obsesses about
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66 • Nashim 24 (2013)
having a child. Uriah, a mighty warrior, is absent for long stretches during the battle
season, and when he comes home, well, he is not so mighty in the sack. Bathsheba
does everything in her power to conceive. She watches the moon, counts her fertile
days, prays and even goes as far as to buy mandrakes (after all, it worked for the
matriarch Rachel).74 She chats with the other military wives, all of whom have broods of children, to see what they did to conceive. Soon she begins to realize that the fault may lie not with her but with her husband. She talks with her friends about what she
should do: Not providing children for your husband meant not fulfilling the very first
commandment given to humankind.75 It also meant bringing another woman into the marriage.76 Bathsheba and her friends agree that she needs to test who is at fault: Is
Bathsheba barren or Uriah impotent? To this end, she must sleep with another man.
But a wife’s adultery is also grounds for divorce and even death.77 Jokingly, one
of Bathsheba’s friends remarks that the only one above the law is the king. We see
a strange look pass over Bathsheba’s face as the seed is planted. If the king were to
request her presence, she would be obligated by law to go. The preparations begin.
We see a montage of Bathsheba exercising, dieting, rubbing oil on her skin and hair
and taking pains to stay out of the sun, and we are privy to conversations between her
and her friends as well as to the obligatory song Bathsheba sings to herself about how
things are going to change. At the same time, we see King David walking each night on his roof, looking restlessly out over the city. Then, at the pivotal moment, when
the correct days after the new moon are counted, Bathsheba bathes for a very specific
purpose in the glow of the evening sun. The rest, as they say, is history.
A New Narrative: How a Post-Feminist Screen Adaptation
Might Influence a Reading of 2 Samuel 11
This post-feminist reading of 2 Sam. 11:1–6 solves many of the issues commentators have struggled with. First, it productively addresses the ambiguity in the text.
Instead of simply stating that the text is ambiguous with respect to the character of
Bathsheba, it gives a reason for that ambiguity: Bathsheba is a childless wife who does not fit neatly into a cultural stereotype. The gap exists because there simply were no
words to describe this woman. Second, it explains her actions and the mystery of her bath by filling in the textual gap with intention. Feminists may balk, because removing Bathsheba from the male gaze is not the main focus of this reading. Traditional
scholars may declare that this is what they have been saying all along: Bathsheba
knew full well what she was doing when she bathed naked before the king. However, a post-feminist narrative nuances this argument by saying that Bathsheba, as a self-
monitoring woman, made a choice to bathe where she could be seen, for a very specific reason. She did not bathe naively, thus unwittingly placing herself in the male gaze; nor did she bathe frivolously, for the sake of “getting some action” while her husband was
away.78 She bathed to further her place in society and ensure her success as a woman, through becoming a mother. Of course, Bathsheba was not guaranteed to conceive
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Was Bathsheba the Original Bridget Jones?
during this tryst, but she determined that it was her best chance at getting pregnant,
if her husband actually was impotent.
Finally, this interpretation aligns the character of Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 with her character in 1 Kings 1. The Bathsheba who plots with Nathan to guarantee Solomon’s
succession to the throne is a cunning, powerful and clever woman.79 Nathan offers
bullet points for a speech aimed at getting Solomon onto the throne, but Bathsheba
elaborates on Nathan’s words; indeed, as Michael Fishbane comments, “her remarks
exceed the prophet’s laconic words,” and she sways the king.80 Returning to the issue of “double entanglement,” we see Bathsheba developed as a domestically and sexually liberated woman. On the flip side, such a woman is considered dangerous within a
patriarchal society, and so she must be contained. The narrative, from the perspective
of this post-feminist hermeneutic, successfully keeps her unorthodox actions in check
by having them center on traditional values.81
This essay began by pointing out that Bathsheba’s narrative in 2 Samuel 11 is full
of gaps, which have been interpreted in many different ways and resulted in many
different narratives. Following Bach’s observation that the on-screen presentation of
biblical characters affects one’s reading of the biblical text, the present investigation of Bathsheba’s narratives has examined how screen narratives of this story have aligned
with scholarly narratives, and how these have interacted with the rise of feminism.
I have suggested that the screen adaptations of Bathsheba correspond both to the
waves of scholarship current at the time of each production’s release and to the historical milieus in which they were written. In the 1950s, David and Bathsheba pushed the views of traditional scholarship. King David portrayed Bathsheba in a feminist
light, while the mini-series Kings completely rewrote Bathsheba’s story. Missing from these narratives is the presentation of Bathsheba in a post-feminist light. Recognizing that people participate in a reading that speaks to them on an emotional level,
I have sought to fill this void by offering a reading of 2 Samuel 11 that represents
Bathsheba as an ancient Bridget Jones, thus suiting the current generation of young
women. Simultaneously, this reading solves questions unanswered by the traditional
and feminist narratives.
1. This paper does not fall under the category of film criticism, but it utilizes an approach
sympathetic to that of humanist film criticism. In the words of Anton Karl Kozlovic, in
“The Construction of Samson’s Three Lovers in Cecil B. DeMille’s Technicolor Testament, Samson and Delilah (1949),” Women in Judaism: A Multidisciplinary Journal,
7/1 (2010), it examines “the textual world inside the frame, but not the world outside the
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Kristine Henriksen Garroway
68 • Nashim 24 (2013)
frame” (p. 4). See also T. Bywater and T. Sobchack, An Introduction to Film Criticism:
Major Critical Approaches to Narrative Film (New York: Longman, 1989).
2. Betty Friedan, The Feminist Mystique (New York: W.W. Norton, 1963), Chapter 2: “The
Happy Housewife Heroine.” Friedan points specifically to women’s magazines, but television and movies in the post-World War II period were sending the same messages. Shows
such as Leave it to Beaver (1957–1963) and I Love Lucy (1950–1957)/The Lucy Show
(1962–1968) popularized the model housewife. Even the beloved Sound of Music (1965),
which gave us the independent Maria, exemplified that “a problem like Maria” could only
be solved by marrying her off.
3. Alice Bach, “ ‘Throw Them to the Lions, Sire’: Transforming Biblical Narratives Into
Hollywood Spectaculars,” Semeia, 74 (1996), p. 1.
4. Media influences everything from race relations to family planning to behaviors; see, e.g.,
D. Olaleye and A. Bankole, “The Impact of Mass Media Family Planning Promotion on
Contraceptive Behavior of Women in Ghana,” Population Research and Policy Review,
13/2 (1994), pp. 161–177; H. Meischke, “Implicit Sexual Portrayals in the Movies: Interpretations of Young Women,” Journal of Sex Research, 32/2 (1995), pp. 29–36; R.H. Secker-
Walker et al., “A Mass Media Programme to Prevent Smoking among Adolescents: Costs
and Cost Effectiveness,” Tobacco Control, 6/3 (1997), pp. 207–212; and J. Tickle et al.,
“Favourite Movie Stars, Their Tobacco Use in Contemporary Movies, and Its Association
with Adolescent Smoking,” Tobacco Control, 10/1 (2001), pp. 16–22.
5. Bach, “Throw Them” (above, note 3), p. 7.
6. The various scholarly works to be examined herein may not ostensibly be feminist (the earlier works decidedly are not), but the decision to examine a female biblical character is in
essence feminist, whether or not this is its intention. Such an examination gives her a voice and agency, fills in the textual gaps and emphasizes the woman and her missing story.
7. Moshe Garsiel, “The Story of David and Bathsheba: A Different Approach,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly [CBQ] (1993), pp. 244–262. See also Menahem Perry and Meir Sternberg,
“The King through Ironic Eyes: The Narrator’s Devices in the Biblical Story of David and Bathsheba, and Two Excursuses on the Theory of the Narrative Text,” Hasifrut, 1 (1968),
pp. 263–292 (Hebrew) and ii–v (English summary). Jan P. Fokkelman also addresses
the narrative gaps, from the perspective of Gestalt psychology; see idem, King David:
Narrative Art and Poetry in the Books of Samuel (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1981).
8. As Esther Fuchs puts it, “Endowing the wife with an independent point of view, a will and
a moral sense of her own would unnecessarily complicate the narrative.” Eadem, Sexual
Politics in the Biblical Narrative: Reading the Hebrew Bible as a Woman (JSOTSup, 310; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), p. 136.
9. Garsiel, “Story” (above, note 7), p. 262. Jacob Chinitz notes the similarities between the
moral lessons in 2 Samuel 11 and the story of Ahab and Naboth’s vineyard, in idem, “Two
Sinners,” Jewish Bible Quarterly, 25/2 (1997), pp. 108–113.
10. Bach, “ ‘Throw Them” (above, note 3), p. 3.
11. Susan Morrison, “Pearl, Hilda, Thelma and Louise,” Cineaction, 30 (Winter 1993), p. 49.
The identification of David and Bathsheba as a Woman’s Film belongs to D. Gunn, in
“Bathsheba Goes Bathing in Hollywood: Words, Images, and Social Locations,” Semeia,
74 (1996), p. 92. Gunn points to Morrison’s definition of the Woman’s Film, a subgenre of
which was the “love story,” to which David and Bathsheba also belonged.
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12. In “Bathsheba Goes Bathing” (above, note 11), Gunn notes three elements of the “love
story” genre: the female’s inner struggle to find happiness, the theme of waiting, and the male lead portrayed as an artist (pp. 93–94).
13. Note that in this version of the story, emphasis on the purification element is removed.
14. Gunn, “Bathsheba Goes Bathing” (above, note 11), p. 97.
15. See J. Cheryl Exum, “Bathsheba Plotted, Shot, and Painted,” Semeia, 74 (1996), p. 51.
16. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVII, Chapter 7. Josephus also mentions Bathsheba in Ant. Book XIII, Chapter 1, in his treatment of I Kings 1–2. Flavius Josephus,
The Works of Flavius Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews; A History of the Jewish Wars;
and the Life of Flavius Josephus (English transl. by William Whiston; Philadelphia: Jas.
B. Smith & Co., 1860), pp. 222–225; 245–246.
17. Interestingly, the rabbis’ concern is with adultery, while the biblical text focuses on the
murder David committed. See Nathan’s rebuke to David in 2 Sam 12. Shulamit Valler
suggests that murder was the sin par excellence in the biblical text; “bedding” a woman
may have been par for the course for a royal figure. See eadem, “King David and ‘His’
Women,” in Athalya Brenner (ed.), A Feminist Companion to Samuel and Kings (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), pp. 140–141. See also the stories in Genesis 12,
20 and 26, in which Sarah and Rebekah are summoned by foreign rulers; and see Alexander I. Abasili, “Was it Rape? The David and Bathsheba Pericope Re-examined,” Vetus Testamentum, 61 (2011), p. 10.
18. Among other things, BT Sanhedrin 107a suggests that Satan caused David to sin and
that Bathsheba was predestined for David. BT Shabbat 56a reads the text quite literally: David desired to do it (sleep with Bathsheba), but he did not actually engage in the action.
Furthermore, asserts this text, each soldier issued his wife a bill of divorce before leaving
for war (so that the wives would not remain “chained” to husbands who had gone missing
in battle), so that even if David had slept with Bathsheba, it would not have been considered adultery. See Alice Bach, Women, Seduction and Betrayal in Biblical Narrative
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 140.
19. Valler, “King David” (above, note 17), p. 130.
20. Perry and Sternberg, “The King through Ironic Eyes” (above, note 7), spurred responses by Boaz Arpali and Uriel Simon in Hasifrut, 2 (1970), addressing and redressing the literary
issue. Garsiel, in “The Character and the Aim of the Story of David and Bathsheba,” Beth
Miqra, 49 (1972), pp. 162–182 (Hebrew), and Fokkelman, in King David (above, note 7),
pp. 41–96, also addressed the story from a literary perspective.
21. H.W. Hertzberg, I & II Samuel: A Commentary (English transl. by J.S. Bowden; London:
SCM Press, 1964), p. 309.
22. “One cannot but blame her for bathing in a place where she could be seen,” wrote Alfons
Schulz in his commentary, Die Bücher Samuel (Munster: Aschendorff, 1919), p. 14; quoted in Hertzberg, I & II Samuel (above, note 21), p. 309.
23. George Nicol, “Bathsheba, a Clever Woman?” Expository Times, 99 (1988), p. 360.
24. S. Goldman, Samuel (London: Soncino, 1951), p. 244.
25. Hertzberg, I & II Samuel (above, note 21), p. 310.
26. Deryn Guest, “Looking Lesbian at the Bathing Bathsheba,” Biblical Interpretation, 16
(2008), p. 245.
27. Fokkelman, King David (above, note 7), p. 53.
28. M. Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible [1706], II, at http://books.google.com/books?
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Kristine Henriksen Garroway
70 • Nashim 24 (2013)
henry%20commentary%20vol%202&f=false (accessed April 12, 2012).
29. In the Bible, wise women influence a male (who is in power) through carefully timed and
chosen words; see Claudia V. Camp, “The Wise Women of 2 Samuel: A Role Model for
Women in Early Israel?” CBQ, 43/1 (1981), pp. 14–29. The genre of ancient Near Eastern
wisdom literature picks up on this motif; see, e.g., Prov. 25:15 and 51:1.
30. This line could be interpreted to mean either “Kill my husband” or “My husband is
impotent.” For Uriah as impotent, see Lillian R. Klein, “Bathsheba Revealed,” in Brenner
(ed.) A Feminist Companion to Samuel and Kings: Second Series (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), p. 52.
31. Mainstream biblical scholarship during the 1980s and 1990s continued to examine 2
Samuel 11 from a primarily David-centric point of reference. See, e.g., P. Kyle McCarter,
II Samuel (Anchor Bible Commentary, 9; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), pp.
32. Adele Berlin, “Characterization in the Biblical Narrative: David’s Wives,” Journal for the
Study of the Old Testament [JSOT ], 23 (1982), pp. 69–85. See also eadem, Poetics and
Interpretation of Biblical Narrative (Sheffield: Almond Press, 1983), p. 27. Esther Fuchs
promoted this view in Sexual Politics (above, note 8), p. 135.
33. In surveying feminist scholarship from previous decades, Esther Fuchs sums up the epistemology used by feminist scholars: “Feminist epistemology is not only a critique of ideology, that is, a questioning of the cultural inscriptions of gender hierarchies—it is as well a
critique of conventional norms and procedures in any given discipline and field of study.”
Eadem, “Biblical Feminisms: Knowledge, Theory, and Politics in the Study of Women
in the Hebrew Bible,” Biblical Interpretation, 16/3 (2008), p. 208. This epistemology and
the push to give women a voice carried through the 1990s.
34. Bach, Women, Seduction (above, note 18), p. 135.
35. Guest notes that while the feminist movement began to champion the woman, against
the patriarchal notion that women were voiceless objects, no one challenged the pairing
of males and females in the biblical text; see eadem, “Lesbian” (above, note 26), p. 246.
36. Bach, Women, Seduction (above, note 18), p. 158.
37. On the issue of voyeurism see, among others: Nehama Aschkenasy, Woman at the Window (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998), pp. 106–117; Bach, Women, Seduction
(above, note 18), pp. 128–165; J. Cheryl Exum, Fragmented Women: Feminist (Sub)version of Biblical Narratives (JSOTSup 163; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), pp.
170–201; Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Reading the Women of the Bible (New York: Schocken,
2002), pp. 144–147; Guest, “Lesbian” (above, note 26), pp. 227–262; and Daryl Ogden,
“Bathsheba’s Visual Estate: Female Spectatorship in Far From the Madding Crowd,”
Journal of Narrative Technique, 23/1 (1993), pp. 1–15.
38. Bach, Women, Seduction (above, note 18), Chapter 2; Exum, “Bathsheba” (above, note
15), p. 48.
39. Exum, Fragmented (above, note 37), pp. 170–201, esp. pp. 174–175, 195.
40. Exum points out that the narrator controls the reader’s gaze, making us see Bathsheba
bathing and telling us that she is very beautiful. Thus, we are forced to participate in seeing Bathsheba bathe her naked body. Exum continues: “And if Bathsheba is purifying herself
after her menstrual period, we can guess where she is touching. Readers of this text are
watching a man watching a woman touch herself . . .” Exum, Fragmented (above, note
37), p. 175. By drawing our attention to the female genitalia and using the word “touch”
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Was Bathsheba the Original Bridget Jones?
instead of “wash,” Exum makes Bathsheba’s actions sexy. Ironically, in discussing the
charge of voyeurism, she does the very thing she is criticizing. See also Bach, Women, Seduction (above, note 18), pp. 134–136.
41. Mieke Bal, Lethal Love: Feminist Literary Readings of Biblical Love Stories (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1987), p. 11; Gale Yee, “Fraught with Background: Literary
Ambiguity in II Samuel 11,” Interpretation, 42 (1988), p. 243.
42. Sandie Gravett, “Reading ‘Rape’ in the Hebrew Bible: A Consideration of Language,”
JSOT, 28/3 (2004), pp. 270–299. Alexander Abasili, in “Was it Rape?” (above, note 17),
argues that reading the modern meaning of rape back into the text is anachronistic. Based
on the biblical text, he, like Gravett, comes to the conclusion that rape did not occur.
43. Exum, Fragmented (above, note 37), p. 171.
44. Frymer-Kensksy, Reading (above, note 37), p. 146.
45. Bach, Women, Seduction (above, note 18), p. 144. For Bathsheba’s role as gebirah, Queen Mother, and a discussion of that term, see Marcin Sosik, “ ‘Gebira’ at the Judean Court,”
Scripta Judaica Cracoviensia, 7 (2009), pp. 7–13; Nancy R. Bowen, “The Quest for the
Historical ‘gebîrâ,’ ” CBQ, 63/4 (2001), pp. 597–618; and Zafrira Ben-Barak, “The Status and Right of the gebirah,” in Brenner, Feminist Companion (above, note 17), pp. 170–185.
46. Aschkenasy, in Woman at the Window (above, note 37), asks how the Bible can offer two
such disparate views of Bathsheba as those in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings, and offers a reading that examines Bathsheba’s story by means of “backshadowing” (pp. 106–117). Her
reading suggests that either Bathsheba was the strong woman of 1 Kings throughout the entire narrative, or she was a passive young woman who grew up to become a shrewd
manipulator (ibid, pp. 115–116). See also Ernst A. Knauf, “The Queens’ Story: Bathsheba, Maacah, Athaliah and the ‘Historia of Early Kings,” Lectio difficilior (2002), http://www.
lectio.unibe.ch/02_2/axel.htm (accessed March 15, 2012).
47. While feminists may be most proud of a Bathsheba who initiated a divorce from Uriah
and understood her reproductive rights to mean “my body, my choice,” we must keep in
mind that this film is an adaptation of a biblical text. Such a woman simply could not
exist! Backreading the Bathsheba of 1 Kings into the Bathsheba of 2 Samuel 11 has been
suggested by Nehama Aschkenasy, in Woman at the Window (above, note 37), p. 115, and
by Alice Bach, in Women, Seduction (above, note 18), Chapter 5: “Signs of her Flesh.”
48. Earlier in the first episode, Fawkes, the minister of energy, publicly contradicts King Silas
in front of his court. King Silas tells his general, Abner, to execute Fawkes for this crime.
When Abner asks if he should kill Fawkes’s wife as well, Silas says no. With knowledge
of the biblical text, it is easy for the viewer to draw the conclusion that Silas’s mistress
may be Fawkes’s wife and that Fawkes is meant to represent Uriah, who in the biblical text disobeys David’s order that he go home and sleep with his wife, Bathsheba.
49. Scholars have suggested that the unnamed child who dies in 2 Samuel 12 was a literary
fiction inserted into the text to create sympathy for the character of King David; see Knauf, “The Queen’s Story” (above, note 46), note 39.
50. Of course, linking the affair to King Saul also serves to exonerate David!
51. John Goldingay, Men Behaving Badly (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster Press, 2000), pp. 237–239.
52. Klein, “Bathsheba Revealed,” (above, note 30), pp. 52–53.
53. Ibid., p. 47.
54. Ibid., p. 50. Klein does not address the possibility that if there were two baths, the first
could have been just a bath. Indeed, if both were ritual purifications, why does the text use
different language for each? According to Klein the reader has to know that Bathsheba was
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Kristine Henriksen Garroway
72 • Nashim 24 (2013)
not previously pregnant; therefore, the first bath, too, has to be a purification bath: washing (v. 2) for the purpose of purification (v. 4). Without the information in v. 4, we would not know how to interpret v. 2 correctly. For more on types of baths in ancient Israel, see
Goldingay, Men (above, note 51), p. 238.
55. Frymer-Kensky, Reading (above, note 37), p. 147.
56. A post-feminist subject is also a reflexive, self-monitoring subject. She takes note of all
aspects of life and how to improve herself; in the words of Angela McRobbie, she “plots”
and “plans.” Eadem, “Post-Feminism and Popular Culture,” Feminist Media Studies, 4/3 (2004), p. 261.
57. See Julia Kristeva, Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980).
58. For studies developing a theoretical approach to address the claimed historical accuracy
of biblically based movies, see Adele Reinhartz, “History and Pseudo-History in the
Jesus Film Genre,” Biblical Interpretation, 14/1–2 (2006), pp. 1–17; and Caroline Vander
Stichele and Todd Penner, “Passion for (The) Real? The Passion of the Christ and its
Critics,” Biblical Interpretation, 14/1–2 (2006), pp. 18–36.
59. People participate in a reading that speaks to them emotionally. See Bach, Women, Seduction (above, note 18), p. 137, note 9.
60. Amelia Jones, “Post-Feminism, Feminist Pleasures, and Embodied Theories of Art,” in
Joanna Frueh, Cassandra L. Langer and Arlene Raven (eds.), New Feminist Criticism, Art, Identity, and Action (New York: Harper Collins, 1994), p. 18.
61. McRobbie, “Post-Feminism” (above, note 56), p. 255.
62. See Jones, “Post-Feminism” (above, note 60), pp. 18–20.
63. See Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991); Ulrich Beck et al., Individualization: Institutionalized Individualism and Its Social and Political Consequences (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2002); Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity
(Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000); idem, The Individualised Society (Cambridge: Polity
Press, 2001); and McRobbie, “Post-Feminism” (above, note 56), p. 260.
64. McRobbie, “Post-Feminism” (above, note 56), p. 257.
65. On the male gaze see Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Screen,
16/3 (1975), pp. 6–18.
66. McRobbie, “Post-Feminism,” (above, note 56), p. 259.
67. McRobbie points out that the element of choice is key in the post-feminist generation;
ibid., pp. 258–259, 261.
68. “Bridget portrays the whole spectrum of attributes associated with the self-monitoring
subject; she confides in her friends, she keeps a diary; she endlessly reflects on her fluctuating weight, noting her calorie intake, she plans, plots and has projects. She is also
deeply uncertain as to what the future holds for her. Despite the choices she has, there
are also any number of risks of which she is regularly reminded; the risk that she might let the right man slip from under her nose (hence she must always be on the lookout), the
risk that not catching a man at the right time might mean she misses the chance of having
children (her biological clock is counting). There is also the risk that partnerless she will be isolated, marginalized from the world of happy couples. Now there is only the self to
blame if the right partner is not found.” McRobbie, “Post-Feminism” (above, note 56), pp.
261–262. See also Kelly A. Marsh, “Contextualizing Bridge Jones,” College Literature,
31/1 (2004), pp. 52–72.
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Was Bathsheba the Original Bridget Jones?
69. In this sense, the plot of Bridget Jones and her character are rather similar to those of
Jane Austin’s Emma Woodhouse; see Marsh, “Contextualizing” (above, note 68), p. 63.
70. See McRobbie, “Post-Feminism” (above, note 56); Marsh, “Contextualizing” (above, note
68); and Joke Hermes, “Television and Its Viewers in Post-Feminist Dialogue: Internet-
Mediated Response to ‘Ally McBeal’ and ‘Sex in the City,’ ” Etnofoor, 15/1–2 (2002), pp.
71. Male critics found the movie “slow and tedious”—they were bored. See Gunn, “Bathsheba Goes Bathing” (above, note 11), p. 91.
72. Fokkelman, in King David (above, note 7), suggests that Bathsheba wanted specifically to
up her status to that of a royal mother (p. 53). The King David film also portrays Bathsheba as engaging in self-monitoring behavior in fleeing an abusive, not impotent, husband.
73. Uriah is included in a list of David’s mighty men; see 2 Sam. 23:24–39, 1 Chron. 11:41.
74. See Gen. 30:14–24.
75. Gen. 1:28. Note that in later times the rabbis considered this commandment so important
they ruled that a man was obligated to divorce his wife if she had borne no children within ten years of their marriage; see BT Yevamot 64a.
76. Gen. 16:1–2; 30:1–4.
77. Lev. 20:1; Deut. 22:22.
78. Of course, in a post-feminist reading there is no shame in taking a bath for this reason—
she had autonomy regarding her sexual actions.
79. For such an interpretation of Bathsheba, see Bach, Women, Seduction (above, note 18),
p. 144. There are those, such as Garsiel, who suggest that the Bathsheba of 1 Kings 1 is
rather dense. She does not understand the import of Adonijah’s actions until confronted
with reality by Nathan. See Garsiel, “Story” (above, note 7), p. 254.
80. Michael Fishbane, The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarot (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2002), p. 30. Klein concurs that Bathsheba’s character remains consistent
in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings: Bathsheba’s words “are not the words of a submissive, docile
woman. . . . [she] is as much in control of her fate as she could be in a patriarchal society.”
Klein, “Bathsheba Revealed” (above, note 30), p. 61. Klein stresses that the repetition of
Bathsheba’s purification absolves her of ethical and moral guilt. In a post-feminist interpretation, Bathsheba does not need to purify herself, because, in her mind, she has done
nothing wrong. David’s actions and speech are exactly what Bathsheba expected: He sent
for her and lay with her. Whether or not we have Bathsheba’s voice is a moot point. In this
post-feminist interpretation, Bathsheba’s actions speak for her.
81. Since the text develops in such a way that Bathsheba cannot be blamed for adultery,
the subsequent death of her child is another way in which the narrative reasserts the
supremacy of tradition and biblical law.
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