Yesterday I listened to one of the lectures in Amy-Jill Levine’s lecture series on The Old Testament. The subject was David, a man of many roles recounted in the Bible: shepherd, armor-bearer, enemy of Saul, leader of malcontents, King to whom is granted an eternal covenant, adulterer, father and old man.
Focusing on David’s relationship with Bathsheba, which led David to arrange for the death of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah, Levine raised many questions to which the Bible provides no answers. Why does David want Uriah to return home to Bathsheba? So Uriah will sleep with Bathsheba, thus masking David’s having gotten her pregnant? In the hope the Uriah will kill Bathsheba in a jealous rage? To be able to accuse Uriah of violating the rules of holy war if he sleeps with his wife? With respect to Uriah, why does he refuse to go see his wife? Because he dislikes her so much he can’t stand to see her? Because he loves her so much he knows if he goes sees her he will sleep with her? Because he knows what David did?
We could ask many more questions about this story, and the same is true for many other stories of the Bible. And it was Levine’s comment on that point that is what struck me, more than the particular questions about the David story. The biblical text raises the questions and it is for us to answer them. And how we answer them says more about us than it does about the characters involved in the tale.
That, I think, is a useful observation. We can’t read stories like this for their historical accuracy. There is far too much we don’t and can’t know. But we do learn a tremendous amount about ourselves by sitting with the stories – being with the characters, reflecting on their motivations and on our reactions to them.