Tamar Virgin Daughter of King David

Statue of a young Etruscan girl. I have not found a depiction of Tamar showing her virgin’s striped coat as commented on by both the biblical story and Josephus.

Brand new King David decided to deny Michal daughter of the first king Saul her right to bear an heir to their combined kingdom. It was now his kingdom and he made lots of marriage alliances with nearby nations and had lots of heirs…the priest’s worst nightmare. And, predictably, in the way of kingdoms and harems, the court then revolved around which wife’s son would be the next king. Mothers of sons played politics both at court and in their bedroom during their designated visit from the king. When the wives of the sons of David were incorporated into the harem as “daughters of King David,” they were treated as young goddesses who probably liked to flaunt their own bloodlines and youthful beauty…but…as Michal found out…David played hardball and demanded their worship. He wrote a Psalm about them.

All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces…Kings’ daughters were among thy honourable women: upon thy right hand did stand the queen in gold of Ophir. Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house; So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him. Psalm 45:8-11, KJV

Tamar Virgin Daughter of the King

There was only one actual daughter of David to make it into the kings’ chronicles: Tamar. Her story shows that while grand, there was peril to being a virgin daughter of the king, even in beloved King David’s house…

And it came to pass after this, that Absalom the son of David had a fair (half) sister, whose name was Tamar; and Amnon the son of David loved her. And Amnon was so vexed, that he fell sick for his sister Tamar for she was a virgin; and Amnon thought it hard for him to do any thing to her…

A long distressing story follows of how Amnon plotted to get Tamar alone with him…by having their mutual father David send her to him to prepare cakes for him because he was sick…and then he…

…said unto her, Come lie with me, my sister. And she answered him, Nay, my brother, do not force me…do not this folly…but, being stronger than she, forced her, and lay with her. Then Amnon hated her exceedingly; so that the hatred wherewith he hated her was greater than the love wherewith he had loved her. And Amnon said unto her, Arise, be gone. And she said unto him, There is no cause: this evil in sending me away is greater than the other that thou didst unto me. But he would not hearken unto her. Then he called his servant that ministered unto him, and said, Put now this woman out from me, and bolt the door after her. And she had a garment of divers colors upon her; for with such robes were the king’s daughters that were virgins appareled…And Tamar put ashes on her head and rent her garment of divers colours…and laid her hand on her head and went on crying. (II Samuel 13)

Josephus also tells the same story adding some further insight into what the shaming of a virgin would have meant for her:

And when she said that this was a more injurious treatment than the former, if…he would not let her stay with him till the evening, but bid her go away in the daytime…that she might meet with people that would be witness of her shame…Whereupon she was sorely grieved at the injury and violence that had been offered to her, and rent her loose coat, (for the virgins of old time wore such loose coats…that the inner coats might not be seen,) and sprinkled ashes on her head; and went up the middle of the city, crying out and lamenting for the violence that had been offered her. Now, Absalom her brother happened to meet her, and asked her what sad thing had befallen her…and when she had told him…he comforted her, and desired her to be quiet…and not to esteem her being corrupted by her brother as an injury. So she yielded to his advice, and left off her crying out…and she continued as a widow with her brother Absalom a long time. Antiquities of the Jews VII.VIII

The reason Tamar lived as a widow was in part because of the Law on virgins and their rapists:

If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days. Deuteronomy 22:28-29

If Tamar was indeed an un-betrothed virgin “damsel,” she was probably no more than 12 years old. Announcing how much Ammon loved Tamar was, again, smokescreen. Ammon wanted to be number one heir, as we will see, and I suspect the rape was his way of strengthening his own position. Tamar was the sister of Absalom, David’s firstborn son by Maacah, the daughter of Talmai king of Geshu. She was a strange woman whom David married in an alliance and so had a king backing her place at court while Ammon had a Jezreelite mother from David’s days on the run. (II Samuel 3:1-3) Absalom and his mother will have their revenge for Tamar by killing Ammon…making Tamar technically a widow…but Absalom died also…and the kingdom went to a son of a newer wife, as we will see in the next post.

(Interesting to note that the advice given to a raped virgin in the days of David the King …to be quiet…is the same advice often, though less and less, given to young women “to this very day.”)

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