of of
House House House
Pages 5

The meaning of nabal when we view David's act of adultery with Bathsheba not only in the light of the exchanges that characterize his other marriages, but in the light of the much larger issue of adultery that pervades the biblical text. Israel is continually whoring after other Gods, as the Bible pointedly puts it; the faithfulness or faithlessness of the people toward their God is always cast in sexual terms: "I am a jealous God, you will have none but me." It is a theology obsessed with the possibility and actuality of betrayal, with "going astray" as the term for both faithlessness and sexual transgression. Idolatry is repeatedly figured as sexual infidelity: "So shameless was her [Israel's] whoring that at last she polluted the country; she committed adultery with lumps of stone and pieces ofwood" (Jer 3:9). It is in this context that the king of Israel goes astray. Even within the Bathsheba story itself, desire for God and human desire are homologized, for David's adultery is set in stark relief-not, as we would expect, to the fidelity of Bathsheba's husband to her, but to Uriah's faithfulness to God. Under the injunctions of holy war, to sleep with his own wife would be to be faithless to God; it is that fidelity, to his deity, that Uriah Inaintains despite the obvious attractiveness of his wife, despite his drunkenness, and it is that fidelity to his deity that he finally dies for. Meanwhile, David, so very careful about idolatry, has "gone astray" from God after all. I want to suggest that here the Bible offers us another key to the persistence of sexual metaphors for national identity. When biblical practices are called upon to describe national politics, they pass through a third term: transcendence. David commits adultery, but if David "goes astray" with other women so Israel goes astray when it worships other, foreign gods. Allegiance to Yhwh alone is meant to be constitutive of the nation. This metaphoric complex reaches a fevered pitch in the prophet Hosea, whom God tells to marry a harlot, because Israel has played the harlot with other gods, and to abandon her, as God will abandon Israel: "The Lord said to Hosea, 'Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry, for the land commits great harlotry by forsaking the Lord'" (Hos 1

In the act of adultery, David has violated a whole series of commandments: "You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." And just before these laws regulating social order-the commandments about not killing, not having adultery, not taking what is your neighbor's-come the commandments about the exclusivity ofdesire for God. "You shall have no gods except me." A relation between the final five commands and the earlier ones that specify loyalty and gratitude and exclusivity of love toward God is thereby established. The logic could be paraphrased: you shall love only me, you shall not love your neighbor's God; translated to the social sphere, that means that you shall love your wife, you shall not covet your neighbor's wife. Hence, in Yhwh's response to David's adultery with Bathsheba, it is not at all clear whom David has betrayed, her husband or God, for


the infidelities are inseparable: "A sword will never be lacking in your house, because you treated me with contempt and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own wife" (my emphasis).