Tamar (daughter of David)

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For other uses, see Tamar (disambiguation).
Thamar by Alexandre Cabanel.

Tamar (Hebrew: תָּמָר, Modern tamar, Tiberian tāmār) is a person in 2 Samuel in the Hebrew Bible. She was the daughter of King David, and sister of Absalom. Her mother was Maacah, daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur. In 2 Samuel 13, she is raped by her half-brother Amnon.


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."[1] Mark Gray, however, disagrees with this position, and argues 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."[2]

According to 2 Samuel 13:18, Tamar had a "richly ornamented robe" (NIV). Adrien Bledstein connects this to Joseph's coat of many colors, and concludes that Tamar was a priestess, healer and "mistress of dreams".[3]


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

Amnon rapes Tamar (2 Samuel 13:1-14)

According to the Bible, Amnon over time developed such strong feelings for his half-sister that he became ill over his lust for her. Amnon had a friend and counselor named Jonadab who, being said to be not only a "crafty man" but also Amnon's cousin,[4] advised that Amnon pretend to be sick. Amnon did what was suggested, pretended to be sick and asked Tamar to prepare him food. He then asked her to have intercourse with him. When Tamar desperately tried to dissuade him, requesting him as a last argument to ask their father for her hand in marriage, Amnon raped her.

Immediate aftermath (2 Samuel 13:15-22)

After the rape, Amnon was overwhelmed by hatred for Tamar and he sent her home. Tamar expressed her grief by tearing her robe and marking her forehead with ashes. She went to her full brother Absalom, who attempted to comfort her and took her into his home where she remained a "desolate woman." When King David, Tamar's father, heard of her rape, he was angered but did nothing. 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."[5]

Absalom murders Amnon (2 Samuel 13:23-29)

Absalom, who hated his half-brother Amnon for his rape of Tamar, waited for two years and then had Amnon murdered.


Mary J. Evans describes Tamar as a "beautiful, good-hearted obedient, righteous daughter who is totally destroyed by her family."[6] 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; Kyle McCarter suggests that either the laws are not in effect at this time or they will be overlooked by David, or they do not apply to the royal family.[7] Michael D. 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.[1]

Feminist critique of 2 Samuel 13[edit]

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 narrator 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 with Tamar, not the men, as the focal point, Cooper-White hopes to remind the readers that the lesson should come from the true victim; the female who was raped and not the men left to deal with the situation. She emphasizes "power-within" over "power-over." With "power-over," one's power is related to how many creatures one has dominion over. Tamar 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, she elaborates on the different kinds of violence women often face and also critiques the church response of forgiveness for the perpetrators at the expense of the victim. "All too often, survivors of violence are re-traumatized by pastors and other well meaning helpers who press forgiveness upon them as if it were something which, if they tried hard enough, they could simply will into happening. If the survivor tries to forgive, she can only fail, and her failure will reinforce all the self-blame and shame of her original abuse" (p. 253). 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.[8]

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, calling out the patterns that reiterate the power struggle between the characters and the vulnerability of Tamar, the sole female in this narrative. For example, when Tamar is finally given a voice (she is speechless for the first 11 verses of the narrative) Trible argues that the "narrator hints at her powerlessness by avoiding her name." (p. 46). The speech of Jonadab, Amnon, Absalom and David is consistently introduced by the proper name of each. However, the first time Tamar speaks the narrator prefaces it passively using the pronoun 'she'. Trible argues that "this subtle difference suggests the plight of the female" (p. 46).

Trible does not simply concentrate 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).[9]

Literary references[edit]

  • 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
  • In Stefan Heym's 1973 "The King David Report",[10] 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.


  1. ^ a b Coogan, Michael D. A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament.. (Oxford University Press: 2009), 212.
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ 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).
  4. ^ Hill, Andrew E. (1987). "A Jonadab Connection in the Absalom Conspiracy?" (PDF). JETS. Retrieved 12 November 2014. 
  5. ^ http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Samuel+13&version=NLT#fen-NLT-8315d
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Cooper-White, Pamela. The Cry of Tamar: Violence Against Women and the Church's Response (Fortress Press: 1995). ISBN 978-0-8006-2730-0
  9. ^ Trible, Phyllis. Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives (Fortress Press: 1984). (pp. 37-64) ISBN 978-0-8006-1537-6
  10. ^ Danny Yee (1994). "Danny Yee's Book Reviews". Retrieved September 20, 2010. review 

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