Bathing (2 Samuel 11)

Bilderesultat for ancient stone bathtub

The description of Bathsheba’s bathing in 2 Samuel 11:2 employs the verb rahas – “to wash” – which, when used alone, implies “to bathe the entire body”. When limited to a portion of the body, the intended bodypart is stipulated. Thus, we know from the grammar (as well as the context) that Bathsheba was bathing. The text informs us that she was purifying herself from her uncleanness, indicating that she had just completed her menstrual cycle. While no such ordinance exists in the relevant texts of Leviticus 15:19-24, it appears that Bathsheba was bathing for ritual or hygienic purposes.

Ritual purity was achieved partly by bathing, as seen in the directive given to Aaron and his sons (Leviticus 8:6). Such practices  among the priesthood are also attested in Egypt, where the priests were instructed to bathe three times daily to remove physical pollution and to attain a spiritual life. Purification from defilement among laity and priests alike often involved the washing of the body (e.g. Leviticus 15:18, 21). Washing the feet, attested many times in both the Old Testament (e.g. Genesis 18:4, 19:2, 24:32, 43:24, Judges 19:21) and the New Testament (most notably John 13:1-17), must have been a common occurrence in Israel. While Rabbinical texts that speak of the necessity of washing the hands before eating (e.g. Matthew 15:2) probably have roots in an earlier era, it is uncertain how far back these traditions extend.

How widespread and frequent non-ceremonial bathing was in Israel is impossible to determine. The Old Testamnt accounts of such bathing undertaken by David (2 Samuel 12:20), Ruth (Ruth 3:3), Samarian harlots (1 Kings 22:38), Naaman (2 Kings 5:10) and the allegorical Oholah and Oholibah (Ezekiel 23:40) indicate that the practice was fairly common and not  exclusive to members of the upper class. Further indication comes from the Phoenician town Achzib. An eighth – seventh century B.C. terracotta figurine depicting a woman bathing while sitting in an oval bathtub was unearthed there. This, too, suggests that bathing was widely practiced.


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