Of Murder, Adultery, and Kingship
Shemuel II 11 recounts the story of David's sin with Batsheva without any attempt to obscure the king's objectionable behavior. According to a simple reading of the verses, David commits adultery with Batsheva and then has her husband, Uriah, killed in battle so as to marry her and cover up the sin. Given such heinous crimes, how is it that David did not lose his kingship? Moreover, why did he merit dynastic rule through specifically Shelomo, a son born to Batsheva? Finally, why was David even allowed to stay married to Batsheva? Is not a woman with whom one commits adultery prohibited to the adulterer, according to the Halakhah?1
Chapter 12 is devoted to Natan's chastisement of David. He tells a parable of a rich man who, wishing to spare his own sheep, steals a lamb from a poor man to prepare it for a guest. Though it is easy to match the characters in the analogy with David, Batsheva, and Uriah, not all of the events fit perfectly. For example, it is the lamb (representing Batsheva), rather than the poor man (symbolizing Uriah) who is killed. In addition, nowhere is there an equivalent to the act of committing adultery. Are these variations significant or are they simply literary alterations for the purpose of the analogy? Regardless, why does Natan choose to rebuke David in this indirect way rather than straightforwardly accusing him of his crimes?
"כל האומר דוד חטא אינו אלא טועה"
R. Yonatan in Bavli Shabbat declares David's innocence in the famous statement: "כל האומר דוד חטא אינו אלא טועה" (All who say that David sinned must be mistaken). He thus absolves David of guilt regarding both the murder of Uriah and the adultery with Batsheva. Can his statement be reconciled with the simple sense of the verses? Is it motivated simply by a desire to exonerate David, or is there any textual basis for such a position? Finally, if David was really innocent, why does the simple reading of the verses not reflect this?