Who Put Bathsheba on the Roof? Leonard Cohen and Failure to Study in Context, That’s Who

Apparently, the idea has entered popular consciousness that in 2 Samuel 11, Bathsheba herself was on the roof. I’ve actually been confused as to why people seem to think this, since the text doesn’t actually say so; It’s David who was on his flat palace roof, trying to cool off. So, where is this idea coming from that Bathsheba was “bathing” on the roof?

I suggest one popular source, Jeff Buckley’s popularization of Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah,” which references David and Bathsheba.  It includes the lyrics, “you saw her bathing on the roof.” Now, I suppose it could be understood as “you saw her bathing [while you were] on the roof” but that seems to flout Grice’s linguistic maxims.

I suspect most people hear this song and imagine Bathsheba, having a bath on her own roof. Such a ridiculous thing, at least in our cultural understanding of bathing and roofs, could have no other purpose than self-display and seduction. It’s been painted this way by, e.g. Jean-Leon Gérome in 1899.

 

This is just another example of how tradition and culture influence us without our even being aware. This is what happens when we read scripture completely unaware of ancient context, so insert here a strong plug for reading a modern study bible (like the Jewish Study Bible) and studying the bible in context.

While Cohen/Buckley and some tradition disambiguate the Bible in favor of Bathsheba’s “seduction” like the flagrant painting above, it is just as unjustifiable to disambiguate the Bible in the other direction and make Bathsheba completely innocent. Both of these disambiguate, because the text itself is ambiguous… and we don’t like ambiguity that. The text is heavily focused on David’s abuse of power, but are there hints? I think so, but in both directions. That’s for another post.

As always, you can help me pay my tuition here,. You can also get updates by email whenever a post goes up (subscription box on the right). You can also follow Benjamin the Scribe on Facebook.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s