Tamar (daughter of David)

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Princess of Israel
Thamar par Cabanel.jpg
Born circa 1000
Judah, Israel
House House of David
Father King David
Mother Maacah bat Talmai

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.

Biblical narrative[edit]

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 developed strong feelings of lust for her. Amnon's friend and cousin Jonadab advised Amnon to be 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, and he then raped her. After the rape, Amnon treated her disdainfully and sent her home. 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 discussion[edit]

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 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."[6]

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.[7]

Mary J. Evans describes Tamar as a "beautiful, good-hearted obedient, righteous daughter who is totally destroyed by her family."[8] 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.[9] 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.[5]

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
  • Yonadab, play by Peter Shaffer (1985, revised 1988; ISBN 978-0-14048-218-8)
  • 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. ^ 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. ^ 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).
  8. ^ 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.
  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. ^ Danny Yee (1994). "Danny Yee's Book Reviews". Retrieved September 20, 2010. review

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