“Write the Bible”
Read the story of the rape of Tamar 2 Samuel 13:1-33.
Privately, reflect on the story. What does the story tell/show, and what does it hide or leave untold? Whose voices and interests are given expression, and whose voices or interests are not given expression? What do you wish happened that doesn’t?
In a blog post (or oral presentation, or video presentation linked at your blog), write 350-750 additional words to the story. These words may be a prequel, or a sequel, or interlaced into the story. You may “break up” your words, adding some here, and some there.
You may choose simply to write your words, and indicate by some means where they belong in relation to the biblical story. Or, you may copy and paste the biblical text into your blog and write into it and around it. If you choose the latter, find some way to format your text so that the reader knows at a glance what is biblical and what is nonbiblical.
Here is another disturbing biblical narrative. The story is about a brother raping his half sister. I was thinking that one reason it is so disturbing is that the voice of the author is a man writing about a woman who has been raped. The story is not written from Tamar’s own perspective. In modern culture the voices of many who are abused, violated, or mistreated remain unheard. Yet there is a trend toward letting one’s voice be heard and a hope that people are beginning to listen. I have chosen to add to this story in order to insert possible perspectives (particularly that of a woman) in the narrative. I also tried to insert some commentary that helps bring light to some of the contextual confusion that might come across to the modern reader engaging a text written in a very different historical context. The original biblical text is augmented by my statements (in bold type).
13 Some time later, David’s son Amnon fell in love with Tamar the beautiful sister of Absalom, who was also David’s son. 2 Amnon was so upset over his inability to figure out how to have sex with half sister that he made himself sick. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible in Amnon’s view to do anything to her. He wanted to figure out how to rape her but he was not smart enough to figure out a plan on his own. 3 But Amnon had a friend named Jonadab, Shimeah’s son, David’s brother, who was a very clever man. At least that’s how the other men in Israelite society saw him. As the women in this society would tell you, clever could be translated here as deceitful or dangerous.
4 “Prince,” Jonadab said to him, “why are you so down, morning after morning? Tell me about it.”
So Amnon told him, “I’m in love with Tamar, the sister of my brother Absalom. By ‘in love with’ I guess I actually mean that I want to figure out how to have sex with her.”
5 So Jonadab came up with a disgusting plan…“Lie down on your bed and pretend to be sick,” Jonadab said to him. “When your father comes to see you, tell him, ‘Please let my sister Tamar come and give me some food to eat. Let her prepare the food in my sight so I can watch and eat from her own hand.’” Women at this time were second-class citizens. They were expected to serve men, even though they themselves were part of the same lineage. Women needed men to survive in this culture, so they rarely questioned their roles in this regard.
6 So Amnon, in a state of wickedness and uncontrolled lust, lay down and pretended to be sick. (Let’s be honest, he was pretty sick, in the sense of his willingness to trick his sister in this way.) The king came to see him, and Amnon told the king, “Please let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of heart-shaped cakes in front of me so I can eat from her hand.”
7 David, the one supposedly entrusted by God to protect the weak, sent word to Tamar at the palace: “Please go to your brother Amnon’s house and prepare some food for him.” Did he know what evil Amnon was about to do?? What kind of father would allow this to happen?
8 So Tamar went to her brother Amnon’s house where he was lying down. He did not seem sick, but she did not wish to cause an uproar by questioning him. Women’s roles were rather set in stone, and Tamar was young enough to still be navigating how she would live out her roles in society. So she took dough, kneaded it, made heart-shaped cakes in front of him, and then cooked them. 9 She took the pan and served Amnon, but he refused to eat. His odd behavior was starting to make Tamar feel uneasy.
“Everyone leave me,” Amnon said. So everyone left him. 10 Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the bedroom so I can eat from your hand.” So Tamar took the heart-shaped cakes she had made and brought them to her brother Amnon in the bedroom. At this point her intuition was telling her that something bad was about to happen. She tried to think of ways to escape, but she didn’t know what the protocol was in this situation. 11 Her intuition was spot on. When she served him the food, he grabbed her and said, “Come have sex with me, my sister. And if you don’t agree to it I will rape you.”
12 But she said to him, “No, my brother! Don’t rape me. Such a thing shouldn’t be done in Israel. Don’t do this horrible thing. 13 Think about me—where could I hide my shame? And you—you would become like some fool in Israel! Please, just talk to the king! He won’t keep me from marrying you.” Even in this terrible situation, her ability to use such strong language with Amnon was impressive.
14 But Amnon refused to listen to her. He always got his own way, and he was not going to let his silly sister refuse his advances. He was physically stronger and older than she was, and so he raped her.
15 But then Amnon felt intense hatred for her. After he released his sexual frustration all that was left was his own shame. Rather than feeling sorry, though, he turned it into rage. Rage was his only true emotion, it seemed. In fact, his hatred for her was greater than the love he had felt for her. (The ‘love’ he felt was really just rage in the form of perverted sexual frustration. So let’s not call it love.) So Amnon told her, “Get out of here!” He was never one to take ownership of his actions.
16 “No, my brother!”[a] she said. “Sending me away would be worse than the wrong you’ve already done.” Tamar was right. Amnon was certainly aware of the legal tradition and the punishments he would receive for his crime: “If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her [send her away] as long as he lives” (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).
But Amnon wasn’t thinking. Or he was too filled with anger to think. He wouldn’t listen to her. 17 He summoned his young servant and said, “Get this woman out of my presence and lock the door after her.” (18 She was wearing a long-sleeved robe because that was what the virgin princesses wore as garments. But why did it matter now? After being violated by her brother she would never feel like a princess again.)[b] So Amnon’s servant put her out and locked the door after her. The door was locked. Amnon was out of sight. But Tamar would never feel safe again. She was now used property, worthless in the sight of society. And, worse yet, her body and heart had been broken.
19 Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long-sleeved robe she was wearing. She put her hand on her head and walked away, crying as she went. She didn’t want to cry, but the tears wouldn’t stop. How could Amnon have done this? He was in the lineage of David – one who God promised would someday be her king, her protector. So much for that.
20 Her brother Absalom saw her crying and said to her, “Has your brother Amnon been with you? Keep quiet about it for now, sister; he’s your brother. Don’t let it bother you.” “Don’t let it bother me?” thought Tamar. “How could all these people be so cruel?” So, without hope and without a chance for a life in her society, Tamar, a broken woman, lived in her brother Absalom’s house.
21 When King David heard about all this he got very angry, but he refused to punish his son Amnon because he loved him as his oldest child. This is no excuse for ignoring such a tragedy, and Tamar felt completely abandoned by her whole family. Her brother, the rapist, her other brother and keeping quiet about it, and her own father refusing to bring justice. God’s covenant to the royal house of David seemed completely ridiculous to Tamar. She didn’t understand how God could continue to bless those who committed such wicked actions. But in her society no one would listen. c22 Absalom never spoke to Amnon, good word or bad, because he hated him for raping his sister Tamar. His silence was not helpful, but he also felt like he had no choice in this matter. He tried to come up with a plan for revenge.
Absalom kills Amnon
23 Two years later, Absalom was shearing sheep at Baal-hazor near Ephraim, and he invited all the king’s sons. 24 Absalom approached the king and said, “Your servant is shearing sheep. Would the king and his advisors please join me?”
25 But the king said to Absalom, “No, my son. We shouldn’t all go, or we would be a burden on you.” Although Absalom urged him, the king wasn’t willing to go, although he gave Absalom a blessing.
26 Then Absalom said, “If you won’t come, then let my brother Amnon go with us.”
“Why should he go with you?” they asked him. 27 But Absalom urged him until he sent Amnon and all the other princes. Then Absalom made a banquet fit for a king.[d]
28 Absalom commanded his servants, “Be on the lookout! When Amnon is happy with wine and I tell you to strike Amnon down, then kill him! Don’t be afraid, because I myself am giving you the order. Be brave and strong men.” 29 So Absalom’s servants did to Amnon just what he had commanded. Then all the princes got up, jumped onto their mules, and fled.
Absalom finally would have revenge. But was it for Tamar only? Or did he also want a chance to be king someday? It was hard to say…
30 While they were on the way, the report came to David: “Absalom has killed all of the princes! Not one remains.” 31 The king got up, tore his garments, and lay on the ground. All his servants stood near him, their garments torn as well. 32 But Jonadab, the son of David’s brother Shimeah, said, “My master shouldn’t think that all the young princes have been killed—only Amnon is dead. This has been Absalom’s plan ever since the day Amnon raped his sister Tamar. I had nothing to do with it (he continued to be a deceitful jerk in this regard) 33 So don’t let this bother you, my master; don’t think that all the princes are dead, because only Amnon is dead.
One of the Enduring Understandings for this unit is “The past might not change, but histories change.” I think this was an interesting exercise in light of this text. I found that “changing” the history of this story was enlightening and helped to “give voice” to someone that biblical history chose to leave out. It seems that historians always write from their own lens, or own sense of truth, so considering the story through Tamar’s point of view was helpful for my own feminist lens, in particular. I was also able to see the story more clearly in its original context once I gave voice to the missing viewpoints. To that end, the Essential Question for this unit, “Is every history a narrative fiction?”, was helpful to consider in this exercise. Every history is, perhaps, a narrative fiction. Given the embedded theology, culture, and beliefs of the historian, the classification of fiction seems appropriate. Yet, in the fiction lie truths, not only for the events that took place in time, but for the writer of the historical account.