"I think she's among the most compelling and beguiling [women] in the Bible," argues Kirsch. "That's why so many people have been fascinated by her."
Debate over Bathsheba's character begins the moment she first appears on the roof. Was she simply an innocent bather, unaware of the stir she caused at the palace? Or was she something else entirely—a coy exhibitionist with a desire for a more powerful husband? Scholars also disagree over the nature of her bath. Danna Nolan Fewell, professor of Hebrew Bible at Drew University in New Jersey, says some scholars claim that modern notions of bathing—total nudity in a tub of water—do not translate to the historical reign of David. Others say that, because the Bible indicates that Bathsheba was cleansing herself after her menstruation, her bath was of a rather explicit nature. "When you look at the history of art, it's interesting to see that you have both the completely nude Bathsheba composed for the male gaze, and others show her just washing her feet," Fewell says. "You can't nail down whether Bathsheba was a victim or whether she was an agent."
In either case, Bathsheba has no choice but to comply when summoned by the king. And whether the consequence of that meeting—a pregnancy—is welcome to her or not is equally unclear. Bathsheba says only, "I am with child." Yet for so few words, they carry an import she must have understood. "Is that a cry of help, or is that manipulative?" Fewell asks. By confiding in David, Bathsheba actively puts him in a position of responsibility—a smart move, considering that, at the time, the penalty for adultery was stoning.
David acts quickly to conceal the affair. At first, he pins his hopes on Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, inviting him back from the battlefield and twice trying to get Uriah to sleep with his wife, in order to plausibly pass off the child as his. But with his troops still at war, Uriah refuses to enjoy the comforts of home. When all else fails, David orders that Uriah be placed in the front lines of the battle, where he will surely be killed. Once David receives word that Uriah has died fighting, he responds coolly, "The sword devours one way or another."
Once more, the Bible tells us little of Bathsheba's reaction. "The wife of Uriah" mourns for an appropriate period of time, then becomes David's wife. She may even have felt relieved. Certainly, the text does not indicate that Uriah was a particularly loving husband.