December 14, 2007

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical women: The rape of Tamar

John F. Fink(Twentieth in a series of columns)

When I wrote about Judah and Tamar in the sixth column in this series, I said that there are three Tamars in the Old Testament.

This week, I’ll tell you about the Tamar who was King David’s daughter. It’s not a pretty story, but it demonstrates just how dysfunctional David’s family was.

Tamar was the daughter of Maacah, David’s fourth wife after Michal, Ahinoam and Abigail. She was the full sister of Absalom and, of course, had numerous half brothers and half sisters.

One of them was Amnon, the eldest of David’s children. He fell in love with Tamar, so stricken that he became ill since he didn’t think it possible to consummate his love. One of his friends, a cousin named Jonadab (son of David’s brother, Shimeah), asked what was wrong and Amnon confessed his love for Tamar.

Jonadab advised Amnon to pretend to be sick and, when his father came to visit him, to suggest that it would help if Tamar would prepare some food for him. Amnon did as Jonadab suggested. He pretended to be sick, and when David came to visit him, he asked him to send Tamar to prepare some fried cakes for him. Suspecting nothing, David asked Tamar to prepare some nourishment for Amnon (2 Sm 13:1-7).

When Tamar went to Amnon’s house, she found him in bed. While he watched, she kneaded some dough, twisted it into cakes, and fried them. Amnon ordered all his servants out and then asked Tamar to bring the cakes into his bedroom. When she did so, he seized her and commanded, “Come! Lie with me, my sister!” (2 Sm 13:8-11).

Tamar resisted. “No, my brother!” she said. “Do not shame me! That is an intolerable crime in Israel. Do not commit this insensate deed. Where would I take my shame? And you would be a discredited man in Israel” (2 Sm 13:12-13).

Ignoring her plea, Amnon raped her. Then, once his lust was satiated, he felt a hatred for her that surpassed the love he had had. He commanded her to leave.

Tamar tore the long tunic in which she had been clothed, put ashes on her head, and went away crying loudly. Absalom heard her and quickly realized what had happened.

“Has your brother Amnon been with you?” he asked. “Be still now, my sister; he is your brother. Do not take this affair to heart.”

King David learned what had happened and was angry, but did nothing since Amnon, his first-born, was his favorite. Absalom, though, hated Amnon for what he had done to Tamar (2 Sm 13:14-22).

Nothing more happened for two years.

Then one day, at the time of year when the sheep were sheared, Absalom prepared a banquet for his brothers. He instructed his servants, “When Amnon is merry with wine and I say to you, ‘Kill Amnon,’ put him to death.” The servants did as Absalom ordered and Absalom had revenge for what Amnon had done to Tamar (2 Sm 13:23-38).

Absalom, afraid of what David might do, fled for three years. †

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