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Tamar (daughter of David)

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Tamar[a] is a figure described in 2 Samuel in the Hebrew Bible. In the biblical narrative, she is the daughter of King David, and sister of Absalom. In 2 Samuel 13, she is raped by her half-brother Amnon.

Princess of Israel
Thamar par Cabanel.jpg
Borncirca 1000
Judah, Israel
HouseHouse of David
FatherKing David
MotherMaacah bat Talmai

Biblical narrativeEdit

Tamar was the daughter of King David and Maacah, who was the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur. Absalom was her brother and Amnon was her half-brother.

Depiction of the rape, by Eustache Le Sueur (c. 1640)

In the narrative, Amnon became obsessed with Tamar, and she was said to be beautiful like her brother, Absalom. Amnon's friend and cousin Jonadab advised Amnon to pretend to be sick to ask Tamar to prepare him food. He did so, and while she was there, Amnon asked her to have sex with him. She said no repeatedly, but since he was stronger than her, he raped her. After the rape, Amnon treated her disdainfully and sent her home, hating her more than he had loved her. Tamar expressed her grief by tearing her robe and marking her forehead with ashes.[1] She went to Absalom, who attempted to comfort her and took her into his home where she remained desolate. When David heard of her rape, he was angered but did nothing.[2] Absalom had Amnon murdered two years later[3] and then fled to Geshur.[4]

Scholarly discussionEdit

Michael D. Coogan attributes the placement of the rape of Tamar narrative, coming soon after the Bathsheba narrative, as a way for the narrator to compare Amnon to David. As David wronged Bathsheba, so too will Amnon wrong Tamar, "like father like son."[5] Mark Gray, however, disagrees with Coogan on this point, arguing that "the rape of Tamar is an act of such horrific defilement that it is marked off as distinct from David's encounter with Bathsheba."[6]

Mary J. Evans describes Tamar as a "beautiful, good-hearted obedient, righteous daughter who is totally destroyed by her family."[7] After the rape, Amnon attempted to send Tamar away. She responded "No, my brother; for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me" (2 Samuel 13:15-16). This response refers to Deuteronomy 22:28 which states that a man who rapes a virgin must marry her.

In Biblical law, it was unlawful for a man to have intercourse with his sister. Coogan says that, according to the Bible, it was possible for Amnon to marry Tamar (the Bible being incoherent about prohibiting incest).[8] Kyle McCarter suggests that either the laws are not in effect at this time or will be overlooked by David, or they do not apply to the royal family.[9]

Coogan, in his section on women in 2 Samuel, describes Tamar as a "passive figure" whose story is "narrated with considerable pathos." Coogan also points out the poignancy of the image at the end of the narrative story where Tamar is left as a "desolate woman in her brother Absalom's house" (2 Samuel 13:20). This ending verse about Tamar is meant to make the reader feel compassion and pity for her.[5]

Adrien Bledstein says the description of Tamar as wearing a "richly ornamented robe" may have been meant to signify that she was a priestess or interpreter of dreams, like Joseph with his coat of many colors.[10]

Feminist critique of 2 Samuel 13Edit

Feminist scholars have spent time exploring the character of Tamar, her relationships with her male family members and her experience of rape.

In The Cry of Tamar: Violence Against Women and the Church's Response, Episcopal priest Pamela Cooper-White argues that Tamar's story has a direct message for the church in its response to violence against women. The narrative of Tamar's rape at the hands of her brother is told with a focus that emphasizes the male roles of the story: David, Amnon, and Absalom. "Even the poignancy of Tamar's humiliation is drawn out for the primary purpose of justifying Absalom's later murder of Amnon, and not for its own sake" (p. 5).

In focusing on the story of Tamar, rather than on the men, Cooper-White reminds readers that the lesson should come from the true victim: the female who was raped, not the men left to deal with the situation. She emphasizes "power-within" instead of "power-over." With "power-over", one's power is related to how many creatures one has dominion over. Tamar, however, demonstrates the "power-within", or en-theos (God-within), by resisting as much as she could Amnon's attack and subsequent banishment.

Throughout her book, Cooper-White elaborates on the different kinds of violence women often face, and also strongly critiques the church response of forgiveness for the perpetrators at the expense of the victim. She concludes that the lesson learned from Tamar is that women, and women victims, must be empowered within themselves with the full support of the Christian church.[11]

Feminist literary critic Phyllis Trible dedicates a chapter in her book, Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives, to the rape of Tamar, or what she calls "The Royal Rape of Wisdom". Trible gives a comprehensive literary critique of the text, highlighting the patterns that reiterate the power struggle between the characters and the vulnerability of Tamar, the sole female in the narrative.

Trible argues, for example, that when Tamar is finally given a voice (she is speechless for the first 11 verses of the narrative), "the narrator hints at her powerlessness by avoiding her name." (p. 46). The words of Jonadab, Amnon, Absalom and David are consistently introduced by the proper name of each. However, the first time Tamar speaks the narrator prefaces it passively, using the pronoun 'she'. Trible says that "this subtle difference suggests the plight of the female" (p. 46).

Trible does not focus only on the plight of Tamar, but also on her apparent wisdom and eye for justice. She points to Tamar's request that Amnon simply "speak to the king, for he will not keep (Tamar) from (Amnon)" (13:13). Trible argues that "her words are honest and poignant; they acknowledge female servitude" (p. 45). That is, Tamar is wise to her place in the world and willing to work within it. Even after Amnon violently rapes her, she continues to plead for justice and proper order, not letting anger cloud her judgment (p. 46).[12]

Literary referencesEdit

  • Georg Christian Lehms, Des israelitischen Printzens Absolons und seiner Prinzcessin Schwester Thamar Staats- Lebens- und Helden-Geschichte (The Heroic Life and History of the Israelite Prince Absolom and his Princess Sister Tamar), novel in German published in Nuremberg, 1710
  • The Spanish poet Federico García Lorca wrote a poem about Amnon's rape of his sister Tamar, included in Lorca's 1928 poetry collection Romancero Gitano (translated as Gypsy Ballads). Lorca's version is considerably different from the Biblical original - Amnon is depicted as being overcome by a sudden uncontrollable passion, with none of the cynical planning and premeditation of the original story. He assaults and rapes Tamar and then flees into the night on his horse, with archers shooting at him from the walls - whereupon King David cuts the strings of his harp.
  • The Rape of Tamar, novel by Dan Jacobson (ISBN 1-84232-139-0)
  • The Death of Amnon poem by Elizabeth Hands
  • Yonadab, play by Peter Shaffer (1985, revised 1988; ISBN 978-0-14048-218-8)
  • In Stefan Heym's 1973 "The King David Report",[13] the East German writer's wry depiction of a court historian writing an "authorized" history of King David's reign, a chapter is devoted to the protagonist's interview with Tamar - who is described as having gone insane as a result of her traumatic experience.
  • La venganza de Tamar (Tamar's Revenge), theater play by Spanish author Tirso de Molina.


  1. ^ Hebrew: תָּמָר, Modern: tamar, Tiberian: tāmār


  1. ^ 2 Samuel 13:15-22
  2. ^ According to the Dead Sea Scrolls and Greek version of 2 Samuel 13:21, "... he did not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn." "2 Samuel 13 NLT". Bible Gateway.
  3. ^ 2 Samuel 13:23-29
  4. ^ 2 Samuel 13:38
  5. ^ a b Coogan, Michael D. A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament.. (Oxford University Press: 2009), 212.
  6. ^ Gray, Mark (1998). "Amnon: A Chip off the Old Block? Rhetorical Strategy in 2 Samuel 13:7-15: The Rape of Tamar and the Humiliation of the Poor". JSOT. 77: 40.
  7. ^ Mary J. Evans, "Women," in Bill T. Arnold and H. G. M. Williamson (eds.), Dictionary of the Old Testament Historical Books (Downers Grove: IVP, 2005), 994.
  8. ^ Coogan, Michael (2010). God and Sex. What the Bible Really Says (1st ed.). New York, Boston: Twelve. Hachette Book Group. pp. 112–113. ISBN 978-0-446-54525-9. OCLC 505927356. Retrieved 5 May 2011.
  9. ^ P. Kyle McCarter Jr, "Second Samuel Commentary," Harold W. Attridge (eds.), Harper Collins Study Bible; Including Apocryphal Deuterocanonical Books Student Edition NRSV (New York: Harper One, 2006), 454.
  10. ^ Bledstein, Adrien Janis, "Tamar and the Coat of Many Colors". In Brenner, Athalya (ed.), A Feminist Companion to Samuel & Kings [Second Series] (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000).
  11. ^ Cooper-White, Pamela. The Cry of Tamar: Violence Against Women and the Church's Response (Fortress Press: 1995). ISBN 978-0-8006-2730-0
  12. ^ Trible, Phyllis. Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives (Fortress Press: 1984). (pp. 37-64) ISBN 978-0-8006-1537-6
  13. ^ Danny Yee (1994). "Danny Yee's Book Reviews". Retrieved September 20, 2010. review

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