Q. Was King David a redhead? Also, do you think he accidentally saw Bathsheba from his rooftop, or was it custom to spend time upon one's roof?
A. We don’t know the exact color of David’s hair. First Samuel (1Sam 16:12 describes the young king-to-be as “reddish” or “ruddy” (compare Gen 25:25), but without making any specific reference to his hair: “He [David] was ruddy-cheeked, bright-eyed, and handsome” (Jewish Publication Society, Tanakh translation). When it comes to hair, David’s son Absalom is given much more attention. Of him it is said, “No one in all Israel was so admired for his beauty as Absalom; from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head he was without blemish. When he cut his hair—he had to have it cut every year, for it grew too heavy for him—the hair of his head weighed two hundred shekels by the royal weight.” (2Sam 14:25-26, JPS). We know from ancient Near Eastern texts and art that long, curly hair was a sign of power, virility, and masculinity.
The story of David’s affair with Bathsheba provides us with a very important detail. At the time when “kings go out to battle” (2Sam 11:1) “David remained in Jerusalem” (JPS). As an ancient Near Eastern king, David was charged with protecting his people, staving off chaos, and subduing the nations (see Ps 2:8-9).
Instead of fighting for his kingdom, however, David was found on the roof, cooling off on a warm Jerusalem day. This little fact is unremarkable. Jerusalem can be a warm place (especially without air conditioning!), and catching a breeze from the top of a building can be quite refreshing. What’s more, as king, his palace would have been taller than many of the surrounding buildings—an architectural fact that facilitated David’s voyeurism. Whether he “accidentally” saw Bathsheba is not clear from the story. What is clear, however, is that, by neglecting the call to war and by staying in Jerusalem, David ironically made himself vulnerable to other dangers.
Michael J. Chan is assistant professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary (St. Paul, Minnesota). He is especially interested in iconography, or the study of images as they relate to the Bible and its broader cultural context. His has published numerous journal articles and authored “A Biblical Lexicon of Happiness,” in The Bible and the Pursuit of Happiness: What the Old and New Testaments Teach Us about the Good Life (Oxford University Press, 2012). Currently, Chan is coediting a volume of essays entitled God, World, and Suffering: Collected Essays of Terence Fretheim (Eerdmans, forthcoming).
Absence of order. In the ancient Near East, chaos was believed to precede and surround the order of the known world.
An acronym for the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), comprising Torah (Law), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings).
12He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”
25The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau.
David Forgives Absalom
25Now in all Israel there was no one to be praised so much for his beauty as Absalom; from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head ... View more
David Commits Adultery with Bathsheba
1In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with hi ... View more
8Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.9You shall break them with a rod of iron,
and dash them in piec ... View more