Friend of the show Cynthia Shafer-Elliott joins Mark and Rex to discuss ways in which we misread the Old Testament. The three specifically look at the story of David and Bathsheba.
Welcome to Jessup think I’m your host Mark Moore and your co host, Rex Kearney. And today, Rex, we’re excited to have again on the show Dr. Cynthia Shaffer-Elliot,
and she still agrees to come even though she hasn’t got her t shirt. Yeah,
that’s true. We’re still working on T shirts. We’re going to be talking today about how we get the Old Testament wrong. Sometimes some stories we read from the Old Testament, and we’re maybe just reading them incorrectly. And so she’s gonna shed some light on that, specifically the story of David and Bathsheba. And I’m really interested in what she has to say.
Well, Cynthia, we are excited to have you back on the show. I mean, official official friend of the show,
for sure, at this point, how many times you have to be on the show to be an official fries to be official, and you get the T shirt winner, but don’t I get a mug or something? Yeah, we’re
working to T shirt. T shirt. I am working on the design, oh, once I get the funding and placement, I can do it. Working on that, but excited to have you on the show because I’ve kind of thrown an idea out to you have ways that we we read the Old Testament wrong, like ways that when we approach the Old Testament, there seems to be certain passages that just come up again and again. And it’s like, I think we might be getting that wrong. And
wrongs your word. But yeah. I will let the hate mail come to you. Okay.
Well, and kind of what I mean is, is sometimes you hear certain, it’s like, wow, I think we’re maybe missing the full story. Right. And, and maybe missing a full, full backstory. And I think one of those stories that actually has even I would say within this last year has has become more prominent. Is that story of David and Bathsheba. Right. And and kind of what is going on. And there’s, it’s interesting when you look at different sermons online, and and depending on maybe the angle the church is coming from, you have sometimes a very sympathetic, you know, point of view in terms of Bathsheba. then other times, you have a very kind of damning view of Bathsheba that she is. The temperature is right, that she wanted to be seen all of these things. And historically,
that’s the interpretation that you get.
Yeah. And it’s and yeah, no, seems like that. Yeah, even within church fathers and all that. And it was a reference, often not always looked at David as maybe the full culprit in this story. So as as we approached David and Bathsheba and the story, like what are maybe some things we need to know about the story to, to begin to maybe read it more correctly?
Yeah. If there’s a wrong reading the right way? Well, I’m a big supporter of, of context. And that’s kind of been a key word you’re hearing a lot of people throw out there nowadays, which I’m really happy to hear because I’ve been beating that drum for a long time, right? And I’m sure people are like, Oh, my gosh, here she goes again. Yeah, but I really do believe that have looking at a contextual approach can really help us have a maybe a bigger view of the text and maybe the different? Maybe, I mean, we can never truly know, I think what original intent, the author’s I mean, if we could travel back in time, that would be fantastic. I would be all over that. That would be great. But in our, with the sources and evidence that we have now, you know, as limited as that might be. So and I would always say that it’s not just context singular, it’s contexts plural, you know, and anyone who does history, or ancient literature or cultural context, knows that it’s not just one context that helps open up the story in the context of the reader. All right, exactly. Right. And so for thinking about the past contexts, you know, you would look at historical context, geographical context, literary context, cultural context, and cultural context really informed primarily through archeology and ethnography and ethno archaeology and and so then you also think about k current contexts, like you just said, Rex, as far as the context of the reader, and what the reader is bringing to the text, right, like reader response. And then of course, you have reception history too, and how that text was received throughout time,
and why the text has been revisited now instead of 20 years ago, right? 30 years ago, I think you’d have to be an Einstein to figure that our context has changed.
Exactly. And so for me liking not only the current context, but the ancient contexts and what that could possibly help us, illuminate the story, the narrative better, and maybe we can see a little bit more deeply into it. So if we’re talking about the David and Bathsheba narrative, you know, you’re looking at Second Samuel 11. And so, you know, it really starts out we have this narrative phrase where, and I’m reading from the New Revised Standard Version, that’s my English translation. Okay. Well, most people, I’ve
never, I’ve never been a hater the advice? I know, they I know they exist, but I’ve never been among a company. Yeah,
I would say most of my biblical scholar friends, you know, usually really liked the New Revised Standard. So and I really like it. But you get that you get that merit, you get that editor or narrator statement, the very first verse in chapter 11. And of course, it depends on how you translate it. But it talks about the time of the year, the spring of the year when the Kings go to war. And some translations will say, when a year after they’ve returned for more, but regardless of what the translation is, you know, again, if I’m looking at the New Revised Standard, talking about how when the Kings got to war, so there in the very first sentence we’re getting, what time of year it is, you know, and that this is when the Kings normally go to war. But then the next part of the sentence, we see that we’re the next part of the the line or the verse, we see that, but David remained in Jerusalem. So we’re getting the win we’re getting, you know that it’s time what should be happening. But what’s not happening is that David should be at the battle with against the Ammonites, but he’s actually remained in Jerusalem. And then in verse two, we also get the timing. So whoever’s telling the story, the narrative is of is a very good storyteller. So they say it happened late one afternoon. So we’re again getting the time of the day. And we’re also seeing where David is. So when I do this in class with my students, instead of me telling them what’s going on, I have them get into their groups. And I asked to have them look at some basic questions. The Who, the what, the when, the where, and the why, yeah. Who is David? Who is Bathsheba? Who is Uriah? Where are they? What are they doing? What’s their situation? And so we learn really quickly, when we’re doing that, that we tend to know that we are familiar with the story. And without doing a critical reading and critical meaning a close, careful reading, and you have to make sure you say that to people, because they see hear the word critical, right. And they think judge, they think it’s judgment time. And that’s not what it means. It means within biblical scholarship, it means a close, careful analysis. And so when I have the students do that, and I’m asking them those questions.
They are. They’re not reading it carefully. Because when I asked them the who is David, where was he? Who was Bathsheba? Where was she? They automatically state that Bathsheba is where David is. Right? So the question is, okay, whereas David, David, according to the text is on the roof of his palace. Hmm, no, he rose from his couch was walking about on the roof of the King’s House that he saw from the roof. A woman bathing, the woman was very beautiful, right? We never get like physical descriptions from people unless that physical description in a narrative at least, is important to the story. Right? Right. So we don’t learn about people by what they look like. We learn about them by what they do, at least in biblical narratives. So if they give you a physical description, like in this case, it’s really important. So automatically, my students will say that Sheba was on the roof, right and that she was bathing on the roof, kind of being like, Hey, everybody, look at me, type of thing, right? But if you read the text, that’s not what it says. The text says that David is on the roof, and that she is bathing. We don’t know where she’s bathing we can. Now this is when cultural context is comes in handy, because excavations in Jerusalem have shown, you know, you know, a lot Mazhar is excavations where there is a very large monumental building which is thought to be David’s palace and the city of Jerusalem, at least in the early Iron Age, which would have been the Canaanite city and then when David took it over, was really just at the southern Tip is very small, it’s very small, right. And so they call it you know, the old fell. It’s kind of like this tongue that juts out from the rest of the mountain that Jerusalem is located. And so it’s kind of that southern tip, and it’s really quite sloped going from the north to the south, you’ve got kind of a, it’s very steep terrain. And that the palace, this monumental building, which they think is a palace would have been on the top, you know, the heights, all the wealthy people live in the heights, and that you could see all of the houses that would have been on the slope and on the end towards the base, because Jerusalem is surrounded by valleys. So on the east side, you’ve got the kedron Valley. And then you have the Tyrolean Valley in the middle, and then the hinnom valley that comes from the west and connects with the kedron Valley. So it’s surrounded by valleys, you’ve got all these buildings kind of going down the slope of the mountain and on the base of the mountain, with the big monumental building on the top. So for the text to tell us that David is on the roof of his house, and then archeology to show us that this monumental building at the top that could have been David’s palace cut further indicates that he would have been able to see everything. It wouldn’t have been hard. If he’s on the flat roof of his house, which they were all flat roofed, and still are, you would have been able to see everything. And so she wouldn’t the text isn’t telling us that she was out on her roof. It’s just that she was bathing and houses during this time period would have had a courtyard or for court in front of their house. And there weren’t ritual baths yet. So the mikvah or MC vote, those ritual bath don’t come until later Second Temple Judaism so at this time, there’s none of these ritual baths that are public ritual bows, so she would have been doing this on the privacy of our own home.
So this this assumption, and it’s a company misunderstanding. It’s been around for a while, I was actually looking at some Renaissance late Renaissance art. And Beth she was on the roof.
Yeah, right. Right. Right. And it says that she was bathing he saw from the roof. A woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful. Okay, so there’s there’s that date, we’ve got the setting David’s on the roof. It’s a hot day, he can’t take a nap. And on the roofs, you know, you get this nice westerly breezes in the afternoon in Jerusalem. It’s very pleasant. So he sees this beautiful woman bathing. And he inquires about her. Now, this is really interesting, too, because he inquires about her, and it comes back to him who she is. So we learn her name. You know, she’s Bathsheba. She is the daughter of lm. Now, normally, when you’re married, you’re not known for you’re not told because you don’t have last names here said okay. I’m Cynthia, the wife of Robert. Yeah. Or before I was married, I would have been Cynthia, the daughter of David. Yeah. But once you get married, you’re no longer really affiliated with who your father is. Because you’re part of your husband’s household now. Yeah. And so the fact that it names her father first, is a real interesting
clue. And a clue that I have actually never thought about until this moment. All right.
Well, that’s what I’m here for. Right? That’s right. So aliem is thought to have been the son of one of David’s advisors. I’ll probably butcher his name, I hate TfL. So if he’s the son of one of David’s advisors, and she’s married to him she belongs to a she is her father and her grandfather are well known in David’s circles. Yeah, she comes from a distinguished family, but then also says who she’s married to. So not only who her father is, but who she’s married to. She’s married to a man named Uriah, not just any guy named Uriah but Uriah the Hittite. Right. So he’s not Israelite. But the other interesting thing about who her husband is, is that he is one of David’s in our circle of soldiers. Some people might call it the mighty men, often referred to as the best, like 30 soldiers have David and you read about that in chapter 23, verse nine. He’s listed in chapter 23, just after this as one of David’s mighty
inner circle of soldiers. And so with this new realization, there are some questions that are already forming in my mind about what might happen next and why right. Different than what I have thought previously.
Yeah, right. So he knows her family. She knows her husband, he’s intimately connected with both of them, right? Which makes what he’s about to do. Even Worse,
right? Yeah, it’s not still terrible if it’s a perfect stranger it is. But there is this added element
added element who you’re calling to. Sure. So he’s he finds out who she is. And he still summons her. Now, the fact that we go back to that opening verse where he is supposed to be at war, right? But he’s not. Yeah, he’s not. So that kind of brings up some questions. Why isn’t here at war? Is it? Is it because they don’t need him? Is it because maybe he’s in this is an clue that I kind of take after as maybe he’s become too powerful and too important to go with them on this battle? Or are we simply trying to find some excuses? For right, David already? Right, exactly. And so why is he there? You know, well, he should have been there, but he’s not.
Yeah. And there’s even how the storyteller starts. This seems to be making the point right there and be exactly putting that that wouldn’t have been included.
Right? If there was an important Yeah, cuz our biblical narratives are not overflowing with my newsha. Right. The details that are in these narratives are usually guys aren’t being paid by the lender. So David finds out who she is, he still summons her. Now, if we go back to that powerful thing. People ask, okay, well, then why did she come to him? The question is, did she have a choice right? Now, a lot of times when you see these little titles in your Bible, or you hear people when they actually preach from the Old Testament, which is rarely you have no axe to grind, I know not at all. They will talk about the adultery of David. And a lot of scholars, including some feminists got a lot of feminist scholars and not so feminist scholars will point out that this doesn’t sound like adultery. Right? This sounds like forced interaction with assault, assault, right? Or a bigger word, which, for the sake of your audience, I think we’re tracking it. Okay, good. So he, he sends for her shake, she comes up there. They they have sex, and then we learn in a parent theoretical statement, that what she was doing while she was bathing, that she was purifying herself. Okay, so that’s a really important clue that the narrator is giving us one indicates that a she’s, you know, at the right time to conceive. And to it gives us a clue as to why she was bathing herself. She wasn’t bathing herself to be enticing to David. She wasn’t on the roof. She wasn’t like, hey, look at me. It was it was devotion. She was a devout religious woman who was going through the Torah purity rules, after she was finished with her menstrual cycle, because after unclean the week of the week after you’re also unclean, and then after that last week, you’re supposed to do is supposed to bathe, go through the rituals, and then you’re considered clean again. So the fact that she was going through the bathing ritual, however, that might have looked like, indicates her character, that she was not looking for this. She was not trying to entice them. him. She was not she was a devout religious woman. Right. At least that’s the way I look at it. Yeah.
Yeah. And it seems like that. It’s really interesting when you put all those pieces together, it seems to me as well kind of stand out in the text. But it’s interesting that that hasn’t been the narrative that’s been picked up. Right. And that even in recent sermons, I mean, within I would say, the last five years, even when you look at some of the texts of those sermons from from some well known preachers, it’s this idea that Bathsheba is, is at fault, because she is some way enticing day or is acting as the tempter. Right.
Because he’s named after he’s called, he’s described as a man after God’s own heart. Right. So he couldn’t have done Yes, you know, there has to be some other explanation right, which I can understand why people might feel that way.
So I guess some of our listeners, our listener might be interested in in I guess the the why is this you know, story in here, right then question if we have to understand it differently. Because, you know, we all seem to gravitate there, we need to have the whys. Right? Things are in the biblical witness. Yeah. Especially if we have to re think them and we imagined them.
Well, this is if you think of Second Samuel is kind of having that classic narrative arch where, you know, it has the lead up, it has the apex, and then it has the decline or the resolution. And so this is the apex. So this passage plus the following passage in chapter 12. Actually chapter 13, that’s a parallel passage. So this is considered like David’s sin, that is really the reasoning for the decline of the house of David. And so, you know, but to make matters worse, in this passage, you know, when when Bathsheba sends word to him that she’s pregnant, and that, you know, it has to be his because of the situation right. And so David comes up with this very calculating plan to send for her husband who is on Uriah the Hittite, one of his mighty men who is on the front lines of the battle that David’s supposed to be at right sends him to come back, which is unheard of, because they have to take vows before they go into battle that they will abstain from, from intercourse that they will abstain from all sorts of other things, because war is considered like this kind of sacred duty. And so he calculates this plan to bring him back to have him go home to sleep with Bathsheba so then the child would be considered his but Uriah shows more loyalty than David does and refuses to go home to that he does that twice. And then David’s like okay, I need a plan C. And so he has written out a plan for your lab to put Uriah on the front line, and then to pull back so that Uriah will die now and he has your Riot take those plans, yeah to yo AB and your I just handsome his death wish his death more and so the plan doesn’t go according to plan, but your is still die. So when yo AB sends word to David with the bad news that the battle did not go well. He also says to him, so he doesn’t get mad. But your servant Uriah is also dead. And so following though in chapter 13, or chapter 12, and 13 when we get to some time has passed, and David’s children are now the center of the story where what David does in private. Nathan tells him the prophet Nathan tells them what you have done in private, it’s going to be done publicly. And you have that parallel passage with David’s children, the Crown Prince of non and then his half brother Absalom and Absalom full Sister tomorr. Where Amnon does assault tomorr. And David does nothing.
Yeah, I’m gonna actually kind of backtrack just a little bit. I think Cynthia, when you use that word calculate me meaning that is sort of a calculated act. And David himself is calculating. Somehow the story was always handed down to me, in the picture I always had was, you know, David makes a mistake in the heat of passion or whatever. And then he suddenly is sort of desperate to cover up his mistake. But it’s like calculation on calculation on calculation calculation, which is a very, very different picture. Right. Very different.
Yeah. Which would have taken time. I mean, these narratives are written in a way that makes it seems like it’s one thing happens right after another after another. Yeah, right. And the following day. Right. Hey, right. You come home from war? Yeah. So what is when I think about this passage, I think we Bathsheba is often blamed for David’s fault, when it’s really David’s own fault, not hers, and that we do need to redeem some of these female characters who have been historically, you know, shown, whether it’s through other texts or through media even today, right, as something other than what I think the text actually portrays them, you know, that if we do a close, careful reading, you know, don’t take my word for it. read it for yourself.
Yeah. And and I think that’s the important part. I think that’s why maybe this story has been kind of even in the news over this last year. And I know I’ve just read an article that the Southern Baptist Convention just, you know, five, six months ago Did a conference on sex abuse and sex abuse in the church? And they, they talked about this story and whether to consider it assault or not. And how that and context of course, is everything there as someone who actually grew up Southern Baptist.
And when we were shocked to find out that, that I’ll use the Wi Fi, because it’s something I’m not ashamed of that or anything, but we always thought that, you know, the Catholics or maybe the Episcopalians always had a, you know, a sexual abuse and sexual predation problem in their churches only to find out that actually, you know, that’s not true, right. And it’s all over us, too. And so what do we do about it, then suddenly, these, our context has changed, too.
Yeah. And the story seems to follow a similar model, right? Someone, usually a man in a place of power, right? And Jews that place of power, right to right to assault, right? And then often the victim is blamed. And that’s happened to Bathsheba. It does and has today. And so I think this, this re reading of the story helps us expose
the excess reading isn’t, isn’t, of course, you know, accepted by everyone, because there are a lot of apologists for traditional readings of these things, too. Which, of course, you know, just feeds into the problem.
Right, right. And, you know, when she and Bathsheba herself doesn’t have much of a voice in the text. Right? Right, the when she, she has a very limited voice here. And so I think when we’re looking at these passages, and we’re reading them and interpreting them through our own lenses, you can’t help but to do that, because that’s just the nature of the rotation. But what if we can try to keep when we when we, if we can do a little bit of research, I promise you, if you do a little bit of research in two contexts, it’s gonna be really helpful. A good study Bible is always good. There’s also the the kind of newer cultural context and IV one that’s very good. But whenever people have lots of questions about these things, I guarantee if you do just a little bit of digging into context,
but that sounds like so much work, Cynthia, I just, I just want to go here, you know, sermon series on how to have a happier life. I don’t need these complications. Listen to this podcast.
But don’t you think, though, that women or women and men who have experienced things like this service might make serve feels certainly like a little less of an you know, maybe they don’t feel as I don’t belong here. Sure. So I think there’s lots lots here, and hopefully, it provides some insight.
Yeah, I think it really does. And I think it just helps helps us in the current conversation of what’s going on with with sex abuse in the church, and I mean, sex abuse in our culture. Yeah, me too. Movement, definitely. And understanding these kind of power structures and how they, how even within the church, we have to be mindful of how we’re reading passages how we’re presenting women, yes. And often the retelling of this, in in looking at Beth Shiva as the temptress. And you can see that through other stories that we draw out from the biblical text. And I was at a conference recently, and they had a section on Bible and film and I went to one that talked about early silent films from just really from from the time movies were being made just up into the 20s. And it showed how all of the female characters were, were portrayed as the temptress. Yeah. And this source of lust, and it was always this temptress who was really tripping up the, the godly man. Right. Right. And many of them were biblical stories. And it was kind of funny that the presenter noted that that was a way for kind of movie makers originally to kind of weave in sex because hey, we can have a story. It’s really the story of hope it’s in the right. But he was talking about that movie specifically. And the subtitle was something to the effect. It was like Joseph’s Jessamine Potter, his wife a story of temptation or something. He’s like, you know, he was he joked, he’s like, No, I’m no biblical scholar. He’s like, but I don’t think I had some of Joseph’s story by saying like, temptation over. Seems like there’s other things going on. But it was just interesting. And that carries on in not only within the church, but even within current film. And pop culture, it’s still this view that that the victim and oftentimes victim being a woman, that they somehow were part of the problem. Right. Right. And and then that causes them not want to speak up right and not to have a voice. And so I think this is important that at the very least, we need to start being able to talk about these biblical passages and say, Whoa, hey, have have we been wildly Miss reading them? Right. And that’s kind of also then fed into our general culture view of women being the temptress. Right. And, and, and not giving enough weight to Yeah, the when you when you start to add this up, I mean, this is very calculated from David from the moment he kind of has this. Maybe he sees her. Right. And, and the time that’s involved there, that and then definitely the consent that she was not able to give that we need to be able to highlight who is really the perpetrator here. Right. And, and, and I think that’s really helpful to, to kind of the current conversation, because I, I mean, I bet you if you went here on Jessup, if we just went out and started surveying the students, we just did like, yes or no, or just a question, Where was Bathsheba, just the students, the faculty, they would all say she was on the room we saw
happens. That happens every semester when I have them get into this small group. And I also had my women in Scripture class, you know, we have we, of course, did this passage. And, and but in the intro class to where they go, you know, it’s it’s an exercise in in, you know, biblical scholarship, as far as close critical reading of a text, but also as a way to kind of highlight, you know, help redeem Bathsheba in a way because, and then in the women in Scripture class, you know, we, we, we look at passages from the Old Testament, the deuterocanonical writings in the New Testament, you know, and as I say, in the class, it’s the good, the bad, and the ugly, you know, we’re not going to hide from it, we’re going to, we’re going to look at them, we’re going to talk about them. And, and I think that’s always like, the first step. You know, as far as, we don’t need to check our brains at the door, we can still read these, we can still talk about them with grace and compassion and, and study them too. I mean, because maybe there’s someone else has some insights that maybe I hadn’t thought of, you know, and that’s gonna be helpful, too. Well, this is really helpful. And I learned a lot today.
Actually, I’m just totally actually taking all this in right now. A million places because I’m one of the I’m exhibit a, of a person who has always had a traditional interpretation of this, right.
And it’s not something that someone’s gonna really preach about. Right. That’s true, actually could be a great sermon, kind of connected with the whole modern.
All I know is I’m going to totally change the sermon. I was going to preach this Sunday on the temptress now, it’s always a woman’s fault.
Well, thank you, Cynthia, always a very wonderful friend. And we’ll be back again, and we’re going to explore some more areas over this kind of next season of Jessup think of where specifically in the Old Testament, hey, where were some passage where we could be reading this wrong and it’s negatively affecting how we’re maybe even approaching current issues? Sure. And there’s lots of them. Lots of podcasts. Thank you for listening to Jessup. Think Be sure to follow us on Twitter at Jessup think we would love to hear your thoughts on the episode and engage with any questions you have. Our aim is to provide a framework for further reflection and deeper exploration of these important topics. You can also help the show by leaving a review on iTunes these reviews help the podcast reach new listeners. Until next time, I’m Mark Moore and this is Jessica.
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