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There's a small story of ten concubines spread across Samuel:

And a messenger came to David, saying, “The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom.” Then David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, “Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Go quickly, lest he overtake us quickly and bring down ruin on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword.” And the king's servants said to the king, “Behold, your servants are ready to do whatever my lord the king decides.” So the king went out, and all his household after him. And the king left ten concubines to keep the house. And the king went out, and all the people after him. And they halted at the last house.—2nd Samuel 15:13-17 (ESV)

Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give your counsel. What shall we do?” Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father's concubines, whom he has left to keep the house, and all Israel will hear that you have made yourself a stench to your father, and the hands of all who are with you will be strengthened.” So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof. And Absalom went in to his father's concubines in the sight of all Israel.—2nd Samuel 16:20-22 (ESV)

And David came to his house at Jerusalem. And the king took the ten concubines whom he had left to care for the house and put them in a house under guard and provided for them, but did not go in to them. So they were shut up until the day of their death, living as if in widowhood.—2nd Samuel 20:3 (ESV)

From a modern perspective, this seems like an unjust punishment of rape victims. But I wonder if from the ancient perspective the king's actions were actually seen as merciful. How ought we to read this vignette?

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2 Answers 2

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Because Absalom had intercourse with them, it would be detestable for David to do so:

But if the second husband also turns against her and divorces her, or if he dies, the first husband may not marry her again, for she has been defiled. That would be detestable to the Lord.— Deuteronomy 24:3-4

I would argue that in the context of the rest of the Mosaic marital/sexual laws, David correctly applied this law to the situation. (As I understand it, this was one of the purity laws, which was to mark Israel off as a holy people.)

His actions would have been seen as merciful because he continued to provide for them. Providing for your wife was a big deal (e.g. Isaiah 4:1).

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I'm arguing that as it was a case law, an example situation, it should be applied here, even though it was not a divorce case, particularly since this was a form of incest. –  Kazark Apr 2 '12 at 21:41
@Monica: When reading the resolution of the story, it sounded to me like David was divorcing them. Since they were concubines, not wives, I'm not sure divorce was really possible. Actually, I'm not at all sure what their legal status was either before or after Absalom raped them. (But the whole story is very sad.) –  Jon Ericson Apr 2 '12 at 22:15
What would have been their status if David has released them? As divorced concubines of the king, would they have been able to find other husbands? Would the rape make them less likely to be able to remarry? If either is so, it makes this a merciful outcome. –  Frank Luke Apr 3 '12 at 13:52

If memory serves, in just about every part of the ancient world, a woman who had previously been married to a king (either in full, with the status of wife, or de facto in the lesser status of concubine) could not be remarried to anyone except another king. Remember also that legal rights of a woman were reckoned through her husband, and that divorced women faced a difficult life.

In that context, given that his son had violated these concubines, David could not take them back as his own. However, had he divorced them and released them, they could not have been remarried either; meaning that these women would therefore have lacked many legal rights and protections. Therefore, he took the third option - he maintained them in the Harem, but granted them the premature status of royal widows. This was important not only because of their intrinsic value as people, but because of their positions - concubines of the King would almost certainly be nobles either from within Israel or the countries around about, and to mistreat one of them could have led to internal struggles within the Kingdom, or possibly even an international incident.

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Welcome to BH.SE Johnathan! If you could follow up with an edit verifying this information it would be much appreciated. That way other users can verify your claims. Thanks! –  Dan Jul 30 '13 at 14:30
I bet the girls just want sex rather than all those non sense luxury. But I am not a girl. So I wouldn't know. –  Jim Thio Feb 19 '14 at 6:25

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