Fact or Fiction?
Shemuel II 13 describes the tragic story of Amnon's rape of Tamar. When Amnon says, "Come lie with me, my sister", Tamar attempts to convince Amnon that he not commit the despicable act:
(יב) וַתֹּאמֶר לוֹ אַל אָחִי אַל תְּעַנֵּנִי כִּי לֹא יֵעָשֶׂה כֵן בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל אַל תַּעֲשֵׂה אֶת הַנְּבָלָה הַזֹּאת. (יג) וַאֲנִי אָנָה אוֹלִיךְ אֶת חֶרְפָּתִי וְאַתָּה תִּהְיֶה כְּאַחַד הַנְּבָלִים בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל וְעַתָּה דַּבֶּר נָא אֶל הַמֶּלֶךְ כִּי לֹא יִמְנָעֵנִי מִמֶּךָּ.
(12) And she answered him: 'Nay, my brother, do not force me; for no such thing ought to be done in Israel; do not thou this wanton deed. (13) And I, whither shall I carry my shame? and as for thee, thou wilt be as one of the base men in Israel. Now therefore, I pray thee, speak unto the king; for he will not withhold me from thee.'
After pointing out that Amnon's intended action is an abomination which will bring her shame and him a bad name, Tamar concludes with a practical suggestion: that Amnon simply ask the king for permission to wed her, as David would surely agree. However, this last argument is perplexing. If Amnon and Tamar were siblings, then relations between the two were prohibited1 and David would never have allowed them to marry. Why, then, would Tamar even suggest this as a possibility? Was she saying what she perceived to be the truth, or was this an attempt at deception in order to save herself?
Throughout the chapter, Tamar is referred to as both the sister of Avshalom and the sister of Amnon. How was she related to each? On one hand, Tamar is introduced to the reader specifically in relationship to Avshalom rather than to Amnon. Similarly, when speaking to Yonadav, Amnon himself refers to Tamar as Avshalom's sister rather than saying, "my sister". This would seem to imply that Tamar was related only to Avshalom (through his mother) and not to Amnon. However, in the rest of the chapter, Tamar is continuously spoken of as Amnon's sister, suggesting that they, too, must have been at least half-siblings. Whose sister was she?
The chapter raises several other questions which might relate to the above as well:
- "כִּי בְתוּלָה הִיא" – The narrator shares that Amnon was "sick for his sister because she was a virgin and it seemed hard to Amnon to do anything to her". Does this phrase "כִּי בְתוּלָה הִיא" relate to the phrase which precedes or follows it? In other words, does it provide the reason for Amnon's desire, or does it explain why Amnon could not figure out how to approach Tamar?
- Yonadav's advice – If Yonadav was an "אִישׁ חָכָם מְאֹד", and an advisor or friend of Amnon,2 how could he possibly give him advice which would facilitate such an abominable act?
- David's role – Should David have been suspicious of Amnon's request?
- Avshalom's role – Why is Avshalom, rather than any other member of the royal household, the one who cares for Tamar and shelters her in his home?