10 Tamar


Frymer-Kensky, Tikva   Reading the Women of the Bible: A new Interpretation of their Stories.  (Shocken Books, New York, 2002).


A Problem    2 Samuel 13:1-2

1 After this, the following occurred. David’s son Absalom had a beautiful sister named Tamar, and David’s son Amnon loved her.  2 He was in such anguish over his sister Tamar that he became sick; she was a virgin, and Amnon thought it impossible to do anything to her.


A Plan     2 Samuel 13:3-5


3 Now Amnon had a friend named Jonadab, son of David’s brother Shimeah, who was very clever.  4 He asked him, “Prince, why are you so dejected morning after morning? Why not tell me?” So Amnon said to him, “I am in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.”  5 Then Jonadab replied, “Lie down on your bed and pretend to be sick. When your father comes to visit you, say to him, ‘Please let my sister Tamar come and encourage me to take food. If she prepares something in my presence, for me to see, I will eat it from her hand.’”


The King Agrees    2 Samuel 13:6-7


6 So Amnon lay down and pretended to be sick. When the king came to visit him, Amnon said to the king, “Please let my sister Tamar come and prepare some fried cakes before my eyes, that I may take food from her hand.”  7 David then sent home a message to Tamar, “Please go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him.”


Tamar Trapped    2 Samuel 13:8-10


8 Tamar went to the house of her brother Amnon, who was in bed. Taking dough and kneading it, she twisted it into cakes before his eyes and fried the cakes. 9 Then she took the pan and set out the cakes before him. But Amnon would not eat; he said, “Have everyone leave me.” When they had all left him, 10 Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the bedroom, that I may have it from your hand.” So Tamar picked up the cakes she had prepared and brought them to her brother Amnon in the bedroom.



The Rape of Tamar   2 Samuel 13:11-14


11 But when she brought them close to him so he could eat, he seized her and said to her, “Come! Lie with me, my sister!” 12 But she answered him, “No, my brother! Do not force me! This is not done in Israel. Do not commit this terrible crime.  13 Where would I take my shame? And you would be labeled a fool in Israel.  So please, speak to the king; he will not keep me from you.”  14 But he would not listen to her; he was too strong for her: he forced her down and raped her.



The Worm Turns   2 Samuel 13:15-18


15 Then Amnon felt intense hatred for her; the hatred he felt for her far surpassed the love he had had for her. Amnon said to her, “Get up, leave.” 16 She replied, “No, brother, because sending me away would be far worse than this evil thing you have done to me.” He would not listen to her, 17 but called the youth who was his attendant and said, “Send this girl outside, away from me, and bar the door after her.” 18 Now she had on a long tunic, for that is how virgin princesses dressed in olden days. Then his attendant put her out and barred the door after her.



Betrayal and Tragedy   2 Samuel 13:19-20


19 Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long tunic in which she was clothed. Then, putting her hands to her head, she went away crying loudly. 20 Her brother Absalom said to her: “Has your brother Amnon been with you? Keep still now, my sister; he is your brother. Do not take this so to heart.” So Tamar remained, devastated, in the house of her brother Absalom.



David Does Nothing    2 Samuel 13:21-22


21 King David, when he heard of the whole affair, became very angry. He would not, however, antagonize Amnon, his high-spirited son; he loved him, because he was his firstborn. 22 And Absalom said nothing, good or bad, to Amnon; but Absalom hated Amnon for having humiliated his sister Tamar.




Epilogue   2 Samuel 13:23-39


23 Two years went by. It was sheep-shearing time for Absalom in Baal-hazor near Ephraim, and Absalom invited all the king’s sons. 24 Absalom went to the king and said: “Your servant has hired the shearers. Please, may the king come with all his servants to your servant.” 25 But the king said to Absalom, “No, my son, all of us should not go lest we be a burden to you.” And though Absalom urged him, he would not go but began to bid him good-bye. 26 Absalom then said, “If not you, then please let my brother Amnon come with us.” The king asked him, “Why should he go with you?” 27 But at Absalom’s urging, the king sent Amnon and with him all his other sons. Absalom prepared a banquet fit for a king. 28  But Absalom had instructed his attendants: “Now watch! When Amnon is merry with wine and I say to you, ‘Kill Amnon,’ put him to death. Do not be afraid, for it is I who order you to do it. Be strong and act like warriors.”  



29 When the attendants did to Amnon as Absalom had commanded, all the king’s other sons rose up, mounted their mules, and fled. 30 While they were still on the road, a report reached David: “Absalom has killed all the king’s sons and not one of them is left.” 31 The king stood up, tore his garments, and lay on the ground. All his servants standing by him also tore their garments.  32 But Jonadab, son of David’s brother Shimeah, spoke up: “Let not my lord think that all the young men, the king’s sons, have been killed! Amnon alone is dead, for Absalom was set on this ever since Amnon humiliated his sister Tamar. 33 Now let my lord the king not take so to heart that report, ‘All the king’s sons are dead.’ Amnon alone is dead.”


34 Meanwhile, Absalom had taken flight. Then the servant on watch looked out and saw a large group coming down the slope from the direction of Bahurim.  He came in and reported this to the king: “I saw some men coming down the mountainside from the direction of Bahurim.” 35 So Jonadab said to the king: “There! The king’s sons have come. It is as your servant said.” 36 No sooner had he finished speaking than the king’s sons came in, weeping aloud. The king, too, and all his servants wept very bitterly. 37 But Absalom, who had taken flight, went to Talmai, son of Ammihud, king of Geshur,  38 and stayed in Geshur for three years. 39 All that time the king continued to mourn his son; but his intention of going out against Absalom abated as he was consoled over the death of Amnon.






A Problem    2 Samuel 13:1-2

F-K p. 157: “Absalom is introduced first, even though Amnon is David’s eldest son.  The narrator wants us to know that the tale we are about to hear is part of the larger story of Absalom.  As for Tamar, the center of the story, she is presented as an object: Absalom has a sister.”

She is of marriageable age at this stage.  Destined to married off to a local king or kings son?  Could have been given to one of her half-brothers like Amnon but less likely.  Would have been well guarded and even restricted in movement – hence his need to plan to get access.

A Plan     2 Samuel 13:3-5

The plan seems a bit odd at first – princesses don’t cook!

F-K p. 158: “The birya is not simply a food, and making it is not simply an act of cooking; it is the preparation of a medicinal concoction.  Perhaps, we could speculate, the princesses of the realm were instructed in the creation of healing foods.  …   If Tamar was instructed in medicinal herbs and rituals, then Amnon’s request for her would seem legitimate, and David might be expected to comply without becoming suspicious or alarmed.”

The King Agrees    2 Samuel 13:6-7

Our translation is “fried cakes”.   F-K’s translation says “heart cakes”.  If “heart cakes” is correct it could refer to heart shaped cakes but more likely “good for the heart” cakes is intended.

Tamar Trapped    2 Samuel 13:8-10

F-K p. 159: “And the narrative emphasizes her innocence as she goes about her business in Amnon’s house, drawing out the tension of the reader, who knows it is all a trap.  And so, like many girls who assume that they are safe in the house of a close relative, Tamar does not suspect anything as Amnon kicks everyone out and then invites her into his bedroom.  The trap is ready to be sprung.”

The Rape of Tamar   2 Samuel 13:11-14

Amnon is used to commanding / demanding – and getting what he wants.

F-K p. 160: “The love poetry of Sumer often has Dumuzi refer to his beloved Inanna as “my sister” and she to him as “my brother.”  These words are frequently the terminology of love, and we almost hear the love poetry in Amnon’s caressing “my sister.”  But Tamar really is Amnon’s half sister, and we realize that he is taking advantage of the intimacy of family relationships to demand a sexual encounter that Israel’s Levitical laws consider incestuous.”




F-K p. 161: “Once, when Egypt degraded Israel, they were severely punished.  The legal tradition warns that if Israel degrades the poor or the stranger, God will avenge them by punishing Israel.  And when Shechem degraded Dinah, he set off a chain of events that culminated in the destruction of his city.  “Do not degrade me” is the strongest language that Tamar can use.”    (Our translation has “Do not force me”.)

F-K p. 162: “She is, after all, only a half sister, from a different mother, and possibly the Levitical rules were not yet in force and such a union would not yet have been considered incestuous.”

Her father is “the King”.  He could, at least in theory, over-ride any laws or customs.

Amnon refuses to listen – just as the men of Sodom and the men in Gibeah refused to listen.  It is violence, not love or even lust.

The Worm Turns   2 Samuel 13:15-18

F-K p. 163: “A few generations earlier, the concubine’s master / husband showed the same lack of consideration: “Get up and let’s go” he said to the girl supine on the doorstep (Judges 19:28).  Insensitive to her plight, he wanted life to return automatically and simply to the way it had been before the rape.  In the concubine’s story, we can say that at least her master / husband didn’t reject her, that he had intended to resume his normal life with her.  But Amnon doesn’t intend even that much.  Even more insensitive to what has happened to Tamar, he only wants her gone.”

He exercises more power now – “send this girl away” is our translation.  The Hebrew is “send that away”.  Woman or girl is not in the Hebrew.

F-K p. 164: “Tamar, the good girl who stayed at home until her father sent for her, is now “outside” in the most devastating of circumstances.”

Betrayal and Tragedy   2 Samuel 13:19-20

Tamar tears her robe, puts ashes on head, puts hands on head, and cries out.

F-K p. 165: “Tamar is not a married woman who might be suspect of adultery.  But she is a betulah, a young marriageable girl who owes her father her chastity.  She knows that she might not be able to hide the fact that she is no longer a virgin.  Amnon might act to protect himself by claiming that Tamar seduced him, or, at the very least, that she was his willing partner.  Or her future bridegroom might find that she is not a virgin.  Or she might become pregnant.  The rape could do her even more damage in the future, and Tamar needs to let the world know she is a victim.  The Bible does not condemn the victims of rape.

The words for “cry out” resonate in the tradition.  Abel’s blood “cries out” and God hears.  Israel in Egypt “cries out” and God hears.


F-K p. 166: “The one who did this to Tamar is not an outsider, and so her outcry implicates a member of her own family.  By accusing him, Absalom implies, she will bring public disgrace upon the family.”

F-K p. 167: “With Absalom’s words, he betrays her.  Like so many victims of domestic sexual abuse, Tamar is trapped by family.  Raped by a close family member, she is denied her right of reaction.  She is the victim of both brothers: first by Amnon’s rape, then by Absalom’s silencing.”

F-K p. 168: “But there is no such redemption for Tamar, who is desolate in both senses of the word: ruined and miserable.  She cannot marry, not because non-virgins cannot marry, for they could, but because her non-virginal state would have to be explained by exposing Amnon.  And this is exactly what Absalom has told her not to do.”

David Does Nothing    2 Samuel 13:21-22

F-K p. 168: “It is also David’s pattern to do nothing when his sons do wrong.  When Adonijah starts pretending to the crown, David does not stop or trouble him (1 Kings 1:6).  Like Jacob before him, who didn’t act in the face of his sons’ envy of Joseph, David does not control the actions of his sons.  He will not avenge his daughter at the expense of his sons.”

Israel has a king – but are things better for the poor and the powerless?  Not so much.

Epilogue   2 Samuel 13:23-39

The “burden” of entertaining all the princes and their retinues was real.

David is instantly wary – why should he send Amnon to the party?  But he misjudges the situation, perhaps willing himself to believe that the problems between Amnon and Absalom have been resolved somehow.

What is behind the initial false report that all the sons of David had been killed?   An honest mistake in the heat of the moment?  A way of preparing David to accept that only one had died?  A means of giving Absalom time to get away?







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