2 Samuel 11 contains a story that pretty much any Sunday School kid learned. King David commits adultery with a young woman named Bathsheba and they conceive a child. He then has her husband killed to cover up the sin. Of course, in chapter 12, Nathan the prophet confronts David and he repents.
Being a nerd, the part of the story that interested me was never Bathsheba and David. After all, that was just what happened back then. I was intrigued by her husband’s name – Uriah the Hittite.
What was a Hittite doing in David’s court? How did he manage to integrate himself into the Hebrew court enough that he was marrying a girl who lived in the palace complex? Just how stupid are Hittites that they can’t figure out the king is sleeping with their wives?
A little historical research reveals a lot. The Hittite kingdom fell apart in 1180 BCE as part of the Bronze Age Collapse. The encroachment of the Assyrians to their east eventually brought about a fragmentation of the Hittite sphere into a number of smaller kingdoms or city-states, largely under Assyrian domination or influence. The majority of the Hittite military seems to have headed elsewhere, serving as mercenaries in various other power bases.
Of course, the David narrative occurs two centuries after the collapse of the Hittite kingdom, so it is very likely that Uriah’s family had continued their military tradition and Hittite identity in the intervening years. His name means YHWH is light, so it is highly unlikely that Uriah was some kind of foreign mercenary. The worship of YHWH was restricted to the Judean highlands.
Do a quick search and you will discover that the Hittites are intertwined with the history of the Judean highlands.
- Abraham purchased his family gravesite from Ephron the Hittite (Genesis 49).
- The Hittites are said to dwell in the mountains with the Amorites and Jebusites (Numbers 13:29, Joshua 11:3).
- Judges notes that the Hittites remained in the land when the Hebrews moved in (Judges 3:5).
- David has at least one other Hittite in his retinue (1 Samuel 26:6).
The presence of the Hittites in the Judean highlands and the fact that David seemed to associate with them lends to the very real possibility that these Hittites were in fact integrated into the Judean culture. They apparently spoke the same language, worshiped the same god and were considered part of society. Both Uriah and Ahimelech (1 Samuel 26:6) had the king’s confidence.
It is fairly clear that one group of Hittites wound up in the Judean highlands rather than in one of the neo-Hittite kingdoms that popped up after 1180 BCE. At least some of them became a part of the Judean society, although they maintained the title “Hittite” – probably in reference to their military prowess.
It would have actually have been a little odd if David did not have Hittites among his men. They were trained fighters who knew iron, which was something David was introducing during his reign. Men like Ahimelech and Uriah were vital to David’s rise in power.
Think about it. If you’re fighting a bunch of disorganized Canaanites or even opposing Ammonite cities, wouldn’t you want some Hittites helping you?
It is likely that Uriah’s marriage with Bathsheba was part of his compensation for service – a compensation to be claimed later and not presently. The indication of 2 Samuel 11 is actually that she was very young and had just gone through her first ritual purification, which means she was probably no more than fourteen or fifteen years old. Uriah had not had an opportunity to consummate his marriage with her, which is why David was in such a hurry to get him to do so. Otherwise, the Hittite contingent of his army would probably turn on him.
Everyone assumes David wanted to cover his sin because he did not want to get caught. I think it more likely that David knew his impropriety would prompt the Hittites to join his enemies and he would lose the advantage they gave him. David was no idiot.