Bathsheba and Her Menstrual Period

Bathsheba Bathing Watched by David
by Léon Gérôme (1824–1904)

The story of the adulterous affair between David and Bathsheba happened during spring of the year when David decided not to go to war. Instead, David stayed home in Jerusalem and sent Joab, the commander of his army, to fight against the Ammonites.

One evening, after David woke up from an afternoon nap, he got out of bed and began walking on the roof of his palace. As he looked at the houses below, he saw a beautiful woman taking a bath. After asking for the identity of the woman, he discovered that she was Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah, one of the soldiers of his elite army.

Scholars are divided on whether Bathsheba was washing or bathing, that is, whether the act was ritual or non-ritual. This uncertainty is present in some English translations. For instance, the NRSV translates 2 Samuel 11:2 as follows: “he saw from the roof a woman bathing.” The KJV translates as follows: “he saw a woman washing.”

Some English translations believe that Bathsheba was washing herself as an act of purification after her menstrual period. The translations below understand the washing to be ritual. This is seen from the way these English Bibles translate 2 Samuel 11:4:

NRSV: “Now she was purifying herself after her period.”
TNK: “She had just purified herself after her period.”
GWN: “She had just cleansed herself after her monthly period.”
NAB: “She was just purified after her monthly period.”
NET: “She was in the process of purifying herself from her menstrual uncleanness.”
NJB: “She had purified herself from her period.”
NLT: “She had just completed the purification rites after having her menstrual period.”

Every month, when a woman goes through her monthly cycle, her body prepares for pregnancy. Since the biblical writer says that after Bathsheba had sex with David, she conceived, then most commentators associate Bathsheba’s pregnancy with the end of her menstruation.

A Levitical law declares that a woman during her menstrual period becomes unclean for seven days after her period begins: “When a woman has a discharge of blood that is her regular discharge from her body, she shall be in her impurity for seven days” (Leviticus 15:19). In addition, during the seven days of her uncleanness, anything or anyone who comes in contact with her also becomes unclean: “ Everything upon which she lies during her impurity shall be unclean; everything also upon which she sits shall be unclean. Whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening” (Leviticus 15:20-21).

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, “These laws, however, have been extended in many ways and made more onerous, both by rabbinical traditions and interpretations and by customs which have been adopted by Jewish women themselves. According to these more rigid requirements, the woman must reckon seven days after the termination of the period. If, then, this lasts seven days, she cannot become pure until the fifteenth day. Purification, furthermore, can be gained only by a ritual bath.”

Thus, according to Jewish tradition, “A menstruous woman requires immersion, as is shown by II Sam. xi. 2, 4.” However, Auld in his commentary on Samuel said that the Hebrew Bible does not contain one example of washing after menstruation. Washing after menstruation is a Jewish practice that was initiated after the biblical period. Auld (2011: 456) wrote, “The long-standing interpretation of this ‘circumstantial’ phrase is that the time of intercourse (or at least when observed by the king immediately before hand), the woman is still attending to ritual washing following her monthly period.” However, as Auld points out, the Hebrew words used in the text are “not Hebrew terms used in the context of menstruation.”

Tikva Frymer-Kensky (2002: 147) wrote that the bathing in 1 Samuel 11:2 and the purification in 1 Samuel 11:4 are two separate events, and they are not related to Bathsheba’s menstrual period. According to Frymer-Kensky, the view that a woman in ancient Israel bathed after menstruation is anachronistic since it is based on later rabbinic law, a law that was unknown in David’s time.

Frymer-Kensky (2002: 147) gives two reasons why Bathsheba’s bathing has nothing to do with her menstruation:

First is the matter of timing. In rabbinic law women immerse in a ritual pool, a mikvah, before the resumption of marital relations after their menstrual impurity. This immersion takes place one week after the menstrual flow ceases, normally between the twelfth and sixteenth days of their cycle. Sexual relationships after this immersion would quite frequently result in pregnancy. But the biblical period of menstrual impurity is one week long. Sexual relations would resume on the eighth day, a time very unlikely to produce pregnancy. The second flaw in this common understanding is that—in the Bible—women do not seem to wash after menstruation. The phrase “He shall wash his clothes and bathe in water,” used regularly in Leviticus for the end of periods of impurity, is conspicuously absent in the passage on menstruation. Menstrual impurity is regular and time-linked, and time itself, rather than water, brings an end to it. . . . Bathsheba’s bath on the rooftop was simply that: a bath, and probably had nothing to do with postmenstrual purification.

In the story of Bathsheba, three Hebrew words are used that have been associated with Bathsheba’s menstrual cycle. The first word, rōḥeṣet, appears in 2 Samuel 11:2 and it is translated “bathing” in the NRSV and “washing” in the KJV. In describing how this verb is used in the Hebrew Bible, Chankin-Gould wrote, “The verb rḥṣ (‘to wash’) is found in various conjugations a total of 77 times throughout the Hebrew Bible. Despite its frequent use in the text, rḥṣ is never associated with a woman bathing following her menstrual period.”

The second word, mitqaddešet, appears in 2 Samuel 11:4 and is translated “she was purifying herself” in the RSV. This act of purification occurs immediately after David had sex with Bathsheba: “She came to him and he had sexual relations with her” (2 Samuel 11:4 NET). According to Gesenius (§141e), Bathsheba’s purification must be “contemporaneous with the principal action” of the preceding verb, that is, after David lay with her. As mentioned above, several English translations assume that Bathsheba’s acts of purifying herself happened after her menstrual period. But the text says that this act of purification came after David had sex with her.

The third word, miṭṭumʼātāh, a word translated as “after her period” by NRSV, as “her menstrual uncleanness” by the NET Bible, as “her menstrual period” by the NLT, and as “her uncleanness” by the KJV. Chankin-Gould says that “Despite assumptions to the contrary, the third term under consideration, miṭṭumʼātāh, also does not address menstruation. The issues here concern interpretive assumptions.” The word refers to ceremonial uncleanness in general, “the noun does not always refer to women but can refer to men, Gentiles, food, and objects, which indicates its meaning is not limited to a menstrual period” (Chankin-Gould 2008: 348).

The proper way of understanding Bathsheba’s purification in 2 Samuel 11:4 is in light of the Levitical law about sexual relations. Leviticus 15:18 says, “If a man lies with a woman and has an emission of semen, both of them shall bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening.” Thus, according to Frymer-Kensky (2202: 147), “When Bathsheba purifies herself, she is washing off the impurity that comes with all sexual relations, even licit ones. In our verse, the phrase does not refer back to the bath that she was taking when she was first introduced, but to postcoital purification.”

In conclusion, Bathsheba was forced to enter into a forbidden sexual relationship with David. As for Bathsheba’s act of purification one must ask whether she was purifying herself from her menstrual period or whether she was purifying herself after having sex with David. The Hebrew words used in the text to describe the events before and after the affair indicate that Bathsheba’s purification had nothing to do with her menstrual period.

Bathsheba was an innocent victim of an adulterous sexual affair and she tried to purify herself from the uncleanness of this illicit affair, but as Frymer-Kensky (2002: 147) said, “she can purify herself from the ordinary pollution of sexual intercourse, but the defilement of illicit sexuality is not so easily washed off.”


Auld, A. Graeme. I & II Samuel. Old Testament Library. Louisville. Westminster John Knox Press, 2011

Chankin-Gould, J. D’ror et al., “The Sanctified ‘Adulteress’ and her Circumstantial Clause: Bathsheba’s Bath and Self-Consecration in 2 Samuel 11.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 32.3 (2008): 339-352.

Frymer-Kensky, Tikva, Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of Their Stories. New York: Schocken Books, 2002.

Kautzsch, E., Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar. New York: Oxford University Press, 1910.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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19 Responses to Bathsheba and Her Menstrual Period

  1. Pingback: A Sympathetic Look at Bathsheba | Marg Mowczko

  2. Jamila says:

    Thank you, that was interesting. But if she was forced into it, as you write, isn’t it better to call the relationship sexual abuse or rape, rather than an “adulterous illicit affair”? Kings did that routinely in those days – took whichever women they wanted, their consent didn’t matter. That is what we now call rape. Absalom slept with his father’s concubines, their consent was immaterial. In Amnon’s case, the forced intercourse is spelt out. In David’s, we need to read between the lines.


    • Jamila,

      I agree with you that Bathsheba was raped. The aim of my post was not to study the rape of Bathsheba, but only to study the false claim that her washing was about menstrual purification. I will write a post on Bathsheba’s rape in the near future. Thank you for your comment.

      Claude Mariottini


    • Carolyn says:

      IMO, It is called adultery because that crime was considered to be worse than rape, if you look at the penalties listed in Scripture. The penalty for adultery was death, but the penalty for rape (of an unmarried woman) was a fine. Also, the one who committed adultery was not the ewe lamb Bathsheba, but King David. In fact, the only time the Scripture mentions the rape of a particular married woman is the concubine in Judges, with unnamed assailants.


      • Carolyn,

        The incident with David and Bathsheba was both adultery and rape. David had many wives, but it was adultery because he had sex with the wife of another man. It was rape because Bathsheba was taken to David’s house, probably by force to have sex with him. Even today, rape is not a crime that demands the death penalty.

        Claude Mariottini


    • Juanita W Bacon says:

      maybe i am not understanding you explanation but if she was doing the purfication bath then David would have known the law and would have known that she was at a prime time to become pregranant, right? so did he intend for her to become pregranant? was he that dumb?


      • Juanita,

        Bathsheba was not doing a ritual bath after menstruation, but after sex. If you read the post again, you will notice what Frymer-Kensky says about Bathsheba’s ritual bath.

        Frymer-Kensky is right in her understanding of what Bathsheba was doing. Thank you for visiting my blog.

        Claude Mariottini


  3. Gioantonnello says:

    Thanks for the study, very interesting


  4. Zeno says:

    Fascinating explanation! I had never read this narrative from that perspective.
    I am interested to see how you can prove “rape” from the biblical text. Remember, the onus probandi, or burden of proof, rests upon those who assert their particular position. And unless your interpretation of the text can be proven in such a way that there is no other possible explanation, it will remain only a possible interpretation, not a definitive one. But consider the case of Joseph & Potiphar’s wife. Not exactly analogous, but Joseph clearly takes action that implies that he was not complicit in the sin. Not only so, he pays a heavy penalty for it.


    • Zeno,

      Thank you for your comment. Scholars are divided on whether Bathsheba was raped, even though the majority agree that she was. I am planning to write a post on Bathsheba’s rape but it will not be anytime soon. I am involved in several projects now that demand my attention right now.

      Claude Mariottini


  5. Dorothy Holmes says:

    Late reading this post however, I was mesmerized by your perspective of Bathsheba and David. Thanks for sharing! Enjoyable reading!


  6. As an incident to reveal the character of God, Bathsheba is not a player but a prop. The revelatory incident is between King David and the Lord. Some may find the questions about Bathsheba’s role interesting, but her role is irrelevant for demonstrating the character of God. King David, as the Lord’s anointed and through whose linage the messiah was to arrive, was not exempt from divine retribution. Beginning with 2 Samuel 11 the remaining narrative of King David mirrors the narrative of unfaithful Israel – tragedy upon tragedy. To be the Lord’s chosen and anointed is neither protection against the consequences of sin nor can sin derail the divine plan of redemption. God has been revealing this since Cain murdered Abel – over and over – again and again.


    • Boyd,

      Thank you for your comment. Bathsheba was not a prop. She was a woman used and abused by David. The focus of the story is not to reveal the character of God. The character of God, however, appears in the story as a judge who severely punished David for his crime.

      Claude Mariottini


      • In the scene as described in 2 Samuel,nothing but Bathsheba’s alluring appearance is noted. In the movies she could have been an extra. Bathsheba doesn’t become an actor until King David is on his death bed and she intercedes for Solomon in 1 kings 1. Is your emphasis that the “Me Too Movement” is what 2 Samuel 11-12 is about? How does the “Me Too Movement” and the alternatives for Bathsheba’s involvement further the divine narrative concerning redemption? An honest question. Zeno’s comment about rape as only a possible interpretation is generous. It is speculation, imported into the text, rather than commentary. Speculation can be insightful and should be labeled as such, but it is not interpretation.


      • Boyd,

        You are not understanding what I wrote. I am not talking about the “Me Too Movement,” whatever that is. I am writing about a man who had more than ten wives and many concubines taking another man’s wife and killing her husband. This has nothing to do with the God’s plan for redemption. God still used David and his family to accomplish his purpose for the world. If what David did was not rape, then we need a new definition of rape.

        Claude Mariottini


  7. Carolyn says:

    It is worthy of note that the Scripture never says Bathsheba was on a rooftop, although Frymer-Kensky says in the quote that she was on a rooftop.


    • Carolyn,

      Think for a moment. If Bathsheba was bathing inside the house, David would never see her bathing. If you read a book describing how houses were built in the Iron Age I (the time when Bathsheba lived), you will find that the rooftop was used for many things. But you have a point there. Maybe she was washing herself in the courtyard since the courtyard was used for cooking, bathing, and other activities.

      Thank you for visiting my blog.

      Claude Mariottini


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