Spiritual

Bathsheba and the Bath: A Deep Dive

According to 2 Samuel 11:2, one evening, David happens to look at Bathsheba, who was bathing or washing herself. Notice that the verse says “one evening,” which gives an impression that it was unusual and not a routine for Bathsheba to bathe in the evening. If it was, the Bible could have mentioned David saw her bathing every evening, or every time he went on the roof in the evening, he saw her bathing. But we don’t read this in the Bible.

Secondly, women in those days generally lived a highly disciplined life and had a principled approach to doing almost everything in their everyday life. They probably used to get up earlier than their husbands or other members of their family to draw water, perform their daily chores, etc. Therefore, it is hard to read Bathsheba bathing in the evening, and more so since she was the wife of an “elite soldier” (Uriah) from David’s camp.

Bathsheba’s confusing bathing location

Let’s just consider Bathsheba was busy working hard all day and needed to bathe in the evening. Or, she simply wanted to take a bath because it was a warm day. But then, why would she bathe at a place that was open or visible enough to the people around? Don’t you usually bathe in a private or enclosed setting?

Furthermore, it seems Uriah and Bathsheba’s house was far away from David’s palace, probably down south. In 2 Samuel 11:8, David says to Uriah to go down to his house. The phrase “go down to his house” is repeated in:

2 Samuel 11:10 – So when they told David, saying, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “Did you not come from a journey? Why did you not go down to your house?”

The Cambridge Dictionary defines the phrase go down as “to reach or go as far as,” the Macmillan Dictionary defines it as “to travel towards the south,” and the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online defines it as “to go from one place to another, especially to a place that is further south.”

If Uriah and Bathsheba’s house was far away or down south from David’s palace, it seems Bathsheba was not bathing at her house. Even if she had to travel away from her house to bathe, why would she choose a bathing location that was close to David’s palace or right in his range of sight?

If this is true, it’s hard to believe that she found no other place to bathe in the entire Jerusalem, but exactly the one that was close to David’s palace or right in his range of sight. There is a verse which gives an idea about Bathsheba’s bathing location:

2 Samuel 11:2 – Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold.

You can’t really behold a person or describe how they look if they are very far away from you or not visible to you, even if you have a good eyesight. This tells us that Bathsheba may be bathing somewhere close to David’s palace or at a location that was clearly visible to him.

Moreover, it’s hard to believe that David was physically attracted to Bathsheba without being able to clearly see her. However, 2 Samuel 11:2 says he (David) saw a woman (Bathsheba) bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold.

The choice of words like “one evening” and “a woman” used in 2 Samuel 11:2 also suggests that it was not a common practice for women during David’s time to bathe in the open/a visible area or in the evening. If it was, when David looked from his roof, he could have found at least more than one woman bathing in the open or evening in the area close to his palace.

Was Bathsheba taking a postmenstrual purification bath?

Some people have the viewpoint that Bathsheba was bathing to perform a postmenstrual purification ritual. Contrastingly, the purification instructions recorded in Leviticus 15 don’t require a menstruating woman to bathe in water. However, if someone touches her bed or anything she sat on during her menstrual period, only “that person” was required to bathe in water besides fulfilling other requirements.

Moreover, the Jewish ritual of bathing or immersion after menstruation came into existence after the biblical period and was unknown during the time of David and Bathsheba’s affair. In addition, it is highly unlikely for a woman to get pregnant right after the menstrual flow ceases. However, 2 Samuel 11:5 does mention Bathsheba had conceived, and this was a result of David and Bathsheba’s sexual relationship right after the bathing mentioned in 2 Samuel 11:2.

All of these reasons point out that Bathsheba’s bathing or washing activity recorded in 2 Samuel 11:2 was not part of her postmenstrual purification. Even “the Hebrew words used in the text [2 Samuel 11:2,4] to describe the events before and after the affair indicate that Bathsheba’s purification had nothing to do with her menstrual period,” writes Claude F. Mariottini, Emeritus Professor of Old Testament, Northern Baptist Seminary in his blog post Bathsheba and Her Menstrual Period.

Bathsheba was already purified before coming to David

Now that it has been established Bathsheba was not bathing to complete her postmenstrual purification, the question is what type of purification does the Bible talk about in 2 Samuel 11:4? Or, was there really a purification act performed by Bathsheba after the sexual intercourse with David?

2 Samuel 11:4 – And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house.

I’ve already explained the first two parts of this verse separated by semicolons in my previous blog post. Here, we’re going to focus on the third part where it says “for she was purified.” In this phrase, two verbs have been used in their simple past tense: was (to be) and purified (purify). Before we dig in further, let’s see what a simple past tense is.

According to Grammarly, “The simple past is a verb tense that is used to talk about things that happened or existed before now.” Furthermore, “the simple past tense shows that you are talking about something that has already happened”and“the simple past tenseemphasizes that the action is finished.”

According to Wall Street English, “The past simple tense is used to refer to actions that were completed in a time period before the present time. In the simple past, the process of performing the action is not important. What matters is that the action was completed in the past. The action may have been in the recent past or a long time ago.”

By using two simple past tenses in the same sentence, the writer of 2 Samuel 11 wants to emphasize that Bathsheba had already purified herself before she came to David. Her purification activity had already taken place and completed in the past (2 Samuel 11:2) before involving in a sexual activity with David. The ESV version of 2 Samuel 11:4 uses a past perfect continuous tense, which proves this point even better: “she had been purifying herself.”

The past perfect continuous tense talks about the past in the past. It refers to longer/continuous actions in the past that were performed and ended before another action in the past. It expresses something that began in the past, lasted for some time, and then ended. It’s entirely in the past.

According to Wall Street English, “We use the past perfect continuous to refer to an ongoing action that ended before another action/event in the past.” According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “We can use the past perfect continuous to talk about events which started before a time in the past and which finished, but where the effects or results were still important at a point in the past.”

What was the purification really for?

If Bathsheba was neither performing her postmenstrual purification nor purifying herself because of the sexual intercourse with David, what was she purifying herself from? In my opinion, the only purification law, among the ones mentioned in Leviticus 15, that may logically fit this situation is explained in verse 18.

Leviticus 15:18 – The woman also with whom man shall lie with seed of copulation (semen), they shall both bathe themselves in water, and be unclean until the even.

Going back to 2 Samuel 11:2, we find Bathsheba bathing, and the time of her bathing was evening. As established earlier, she had already purified herself before coming to David, and her purification was not postmenstrual. Therefore, and also considering the purification law mentioned in Leviticus 15:18, it could be possible that Bathsheba was bathing to purify herself after having sexual relations with another man.

Now, Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, was not home when the entire incident between David and Bathsheba took place. Right at the beginning of 2 Samuel 11, we see David sending Joab, his servants, and the whole Israelite army to destroy the Ammonites and besiege Rabbah. Uriah was part of Israel’s army and maybe specifically belonged to Joab’s group, since he addressed Joab as his “lord” (2 Samuel 11:11), which could also mean the commanding officer.

Uriah was actually on the battlefield and asked by David to journey back and come visit him. Here are a couple of verses to refer to:

2 Samuel 11:6 – So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David.

2 Samuel 11:10 – When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “Have you not come from a journey? Why did you not go down to your house?”

Therefore, if Bathsheba may had been involved in a sexual activity with another man before coming to David, that man couldn’t be Uriah. If she may had been purifying herself because of having sexual relations with another man, that man could also not be Uriah. Moreover, in my opinion, sex between a husband and a wife who are married doesn’t make them impure.

We’ll learn more about the whole David and Bathsheba incident in a future blog post.