The vicissitudinous life of Solomon’s pulchritudinous wife

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“King Solomon gave the queen of Sheba all she desired and asked for, besides what he had given her out of his royal bounty. Then she left and returned with her retinue to her own country”.

 I Kings 10:13




Here we attempt to retrace the life-journey and career of this most remarkable of women.

Caution: This story involves rape, violence, murder, conspiracies, treason, revolts, and suicide.


  1. Her Beginnings



“When King David was very old, he could not keep warm even when they put covers over him. So his attendants said to him, ‘Let us look for a young virgin to serve the king and take care of him. She can lie beside him so that our lord the king may keep warm’. Then they searched throughout Israel for a beautiful young woman and found Abishag, a Shunammite, and brought her to the king. The woman was very beautiful; she took care of the king and waited on him, but the king had no sexual relations with her”.

I Kings 1:1-4


This “she” is the “Shunammite” of the Song of Songs (6:13):


Come back, come back, O Shunammite;
Come back, come back, that we may gaze at you!
Why should you gaze at the Shunammite,

as upon the dance of Mahanaim?


She is a Shunammite (not a “Shulammite”. e.g., ‘belonging to Solomon’), simply because she, Abishag, came from Shunem (in northern Israel).

It is the town where the prophet Elisha will be hospitably accommodated by a ‘Great Woman’, whose son Elisha would revive after the son had died (2 Kings 4:8-37). A tradition has it that this rich woman of Shunem was a sister of Abishag. But at least a century separates them.

Some commentators estimate that Abishag may then have been only about 12 years old.

Despite her living in Shunem, her name may not be Hebrew. According to John L. Mackenzie (The Dictionary Of The Bible, p. 4): “Abishag … [the] meaning [is] uncertain”.



Now, at this same period of time – in King David’s old age (but we shall find that he was then closer to 60 than to 70) – there was a girl the description of whom was similar to that of Abishag, one who, though, had a Hebrew name, “Tamar” (תָּמָר: meaning “date palm”, or “palm tree”).

We learn about Tamar in 2 Samuel 13 (whereas we had encountered Abishag in I Kings).

Tamar was, just like Abishag, “a virgin”, “beautiful”, and living “at the palace”.

Thus 2 Samuel 13:1-2, 7: “… Tamar … beautiful … a virgin … Tamar at the palace”.


Conclusion 1: Abishag, of uncertain name, is the same girl as Tamar (her given Hebrew name).

Two different names, two different authors!

Therefore, expect the possibility of this girl’s origins being non-Israelite.


2 Samuel 13:1 apprises us of the further detail that young Tamar was prince Absalom’s sister: “… Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David”.

Now prince Absalom was, for his part, descended from kings both paternally and maternally. For, while King David of Israel was his father, he was born of David’s wife, Maakah (Maacah), who was the daughter of a (Canaanite?) king (I Chronicles 3:3): “[David’s] third [son], Absalom the son of Maakah daughter of Talmai [var. Tolmai] king of Geshur …”.


However, when Hebrew uses relational words like “son”, ben (בֶּן), and “daughter”, bat (בַּת) – which we generally take in a literal sense – it may be that, in some cases at least, there is intended a less obvious meaning (e.g., in the first case, it could mean “grandson”, “official”). {Sir Alan Gardiner will lament, in Egypt of the Pharaohs (1960), the difficulty Egyptologists experience in trying to determine whether “son” literally means that, or something broader}. So, while we would immediately think to connect Tamar to Absalom as his blood sister, according to what we read in 2 Samuel 13:1, it may turn out to be not quite as simple as that. Some Jewish legends, in fact, will outright claim that Tamar was not Absalom’s sister – e.g., she may have been a foreign captive girl adopted into the family. Moses Maimonides, for his part (in Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Melakhim), will write: “… Tamar was Absalom’s sister only from his mother [but she was not related to David or his son Amnon] …”.

Or perhaps her mother, Maakah, was a concubine (Song of Songs 6:7-9):


Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate
behind your veil.
There are sixty queens and eighty concubines,
and maidens without number.
My dove, my perfect one, is only one,
the darling of her mother,
flawless to her that bore her. (Song 6:7-9 RSV)


Later, we shall encounter certain biblical indications that would tend to suggest that the girl was, as to her status in Israel, of somewhat lesser standing than the full-blooded princesses.


Now, similarly as the girl was ‘sister’ to prince Absalom, so, too, was she ‘sister’ to Solomon (Song of Songs 4:9): ‘You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride’ (cf. Song  of Songs 4:12). The common denominator in biblical descriptions of the girl, now as Abishag, now as Tamar, now as “the Shunammite”, is her incomparable beauty.

When King David’s attendants “searched throughout Israel for a beautiful young woman and found Abishag”, it should not be expected that they had bothered to check out every single girl in the land of Israel, but probably only the noble ones. Likely the chosen girl was then living with her mother, Maakah, and with Absalom, in their family house (or palace) at Shunem.



Her epithet would become from now on (Song of Songs 1:8): ‘O fairest among women’.


Now, this is similar in meaning to the Egyptian, Hatshepsut (“Foremost of Noble Women”), whose throne name in Egypt would be, in turn, very like the name, Maakah (Maa[t]-ka-[re]), without the inclusion of the pagan theophoric, re (the sun god, Ra): thus Maakah = Maa[t]ka-.

Were these two women, Abishag and her ‘mother’, Maakah, ethnically Egyptians?

And was the name of “uncertain” meaning, “Abishag”, a Hebraïsed attempt at “Ha[tshe]psut? (Gardiner calls her “Ḥashepsowe”)? Or, perhaps it was a combination of the Hebrew words, yapheh-ishshah (“beautiful” – “woman”)? Abishag = Yaph-isha?


  1. “A desolate woman”



King David had determined, following Divine prompting (I Chronicles 28:6), for his son, Solomon, to succeed him afterwards on the throne of Jerusalem. This despite the fact that Solomon was by no means David’s oldest son. Before Solomon there were born at Hebron, for instance, those first six sons of David (each one by a different wife) (3:1-3): Amnon; Daniel; Absalom; Adonijah; Shephatiah and Ithream.

Three of these first four, as well as Solomon himself, will be involved with the Shunammite, one way or the other. And two of these will die because of her.

She will even emerge, as consort of King David, as the key to the kingdom (I Kings 2:22).

The young Solomon was, for his part, madly in love with the Shunammite.

No doubt, King David had promised her to Solomon along with the throne.

The idyllic love between prince Solomon and the Shunammite is reflected in the Song of Songs. But there is also much tension there, the pair having to endure a wait, opposition from hot-headed “brothers” (Song of Songs 1:6): “My mother’s sons [brothers] were angry with me …”.



Then, into this halçyon pastoral scene of sun, vineyards, flocks, goats, shepherds, lillies, valleys and fruit trees – a veritable Garden of Eden – there will emerge a bitter and cunning “adviser”.

Like the serpent of old.

This dark character will bring down Amnon. And he will leave the Shunammite “desolate”.

He will foment Absalom’s rebellion, forcing King David to leave his city of Jerusalem in tears. And he will finally, like Judas, commit suicide.


Here is how the terrible and long-ranging conspiracy began to unfold (2 Samuel 13:1-2):


“In the course of time, Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David. Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her”.


Enter Jonadab (vv. 3-4): “Now Amnon had an adviser named Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother. Jonadab was a very shrewd man. He asked Amnon, ‘Why do you, the king’s son, look so haggard morning after morning? Won’t you tell me?’

Amnon said to him, ‘I’m in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister’.”


There is so much to know about this Jonadab.

Some translations present him as Amnon’s “friend”, but “adviser” (as above) will turn out to be by far the more suitable rendering of the Hebrew rēa‘ (רֵעַ).

For, no “friend” of Amnon’s was Jonadab!

Commenting on this Hebrew word, Andrew E. Hill (assistant prof. of OT at Wheaton College, Illinois) writes (


“Jonadab is an acknowledged “friend” (réa’) of Amnon …. While it is possible that he was a close personal friend of Amnon since he was a cousin, it seems more likely that the word here connotes a special office or association with the royal family (especially in light of his role as a counselor in David’s cabinet; cf. 13:32-35). During Solomon’s reign, Zabud … has the title of priest and “king’s friend” (ré‘eh hammelek, 1 Kgs 4:5). It may well be that with Jonadab (and others?) this cabinet post has its rudimentary beginnings in the Davidic monarchy”.


Another key Hebrew word used to describe Jonadab is ḥākām (חָכָם), variously understood as meaning “wise”, or just “crafty” or “shrewd”.

Before we consider further this important word, we need to know what was the criminal advice that Jonadab had given to the king’s lovesick oldest son, Amnon. It was this (2 Samuel 13:5): “‘Go to bed and pretend to be ill’, Jonadab said. ‘When your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘I would like my sister Tamar to come and give me something to eat. Let her prepare the food in my sight so I may watch her and then eat it from her hand’.’”

Clear and unequivocal advice from a man described as ḥākām, but also coldly calculated advice with deep undertones and ramifications of which the manipulative Jonadab was fully aware.


Andrew E. Hill, again, offers this explanation of the adjective ḥākām:

“Even more significant, Jonadab is called a “wise” man (hãkãm, 2 Sam 13:3). The majority of translators take this to mean “crafty” or “shrewd” due to the criminal nature of his advice to Amnon.” Yet S. R. Driver noted that “subtil” “is scarcely a fair paraphrase: the text says that Jonadab was wise.” He concludes that had the writer intended to convey a meaning of “shrewd” or “crafty” he would have used ´ãrôm or another such word (cf. Gen 3:1)”.

  1. P. Smith remarked that “Jonadab [Amnon’s] cousin and intimate friend [sic] was a very wise man, though in this case his wisdom was put to base uses”.



“Most recently K. P. McCarter interprets Jonadab to be “very wise,” while acknowledging that our English connotation of “wise” may be a misleading translation. …. I concur with Driver and the others cited on the understanding of Jonadab as a very wise man. In addition, I posit that the ploy suggested by Jonadab to Amnon for the seduction of Tamar was known to him by virtue of his standing in the royal court as a sage”.


Hill will also cite the view of H. P. Müller, that the Hebrew word may pertain to learning:


“… after the beginning of the monarchy, it is commonly understood that the root km refers above all to the academic wisdom of the court and the ideals of the class entrusted with it”. Furthermore, recent study has shown considerable Egyptian influence on a wide range of OT literary types, most notably Hebrew wisdom.’ In recognition of this fact, R. N. Whybray states that

we cannot dismiss the considered opinion of S. Morenz, who claims that the presence at Solomon’s court of bilingual officials with a competent knowledge of Egyptian writing must be regarded, in view of what we now know of that court and its diplomatic relations with Egypt, as absolutely beyond question; and what is true of Solomon’s court may reasonably be supposed to be true of David’s also. ….


…. Given this Egyptian influence in the Israelite united monarchy and the knowledge of and access to Egyptian literature, my contention is that Jonadab was not only skilled in the academic wisdom of the royal court but also had some familiarity with Egyptian literature”.


This “Egyptian” element needed to be included here because soon the suggestion will be made that Jonadab may have had – like Tamar (as already discussed) – an Egyptian-name alter ego.


The Plot Thickens


Andrew E. Hill begins his discussion of adviser Jonadab, in his close association with Amnon, by referring to the puzzlement that Jonadab’s actual rôle in this has caused commentators. Hill gives these “two reasons” why he thinks that commentators may be puzzled about Jonadab:


  1. because of the ill-fated advice he gave to the crown prince Amnon (2 Sam 13:3-5), and
  2. on account of his uncanny foreknowledge of the events surrounding Absalom’s vengeful murder of Amnon (13:32-35).


Such ‘puzzled’ commentators, and indeed Hill himself – who will lament “the almost annoying paucity of material for careful analysis [of Jonadab]” – would greatly benefit here, we believe, from a recognition of Jonadab’s alter ego. Jonadab, it is here suggested, was none other than the legendary counsellor, “Achitophel” (Ahitophel), which may possibly be an Egyptian name: something like Rahotep, or Aahotepra, with the pagan theophoric (Ra) once again dropped. Thus, e.g., [R]ahotep (or Ahhotep) = Ahitoph- plus the Hebrew theophoric –el (“God”).


King David was no fool. He would see right through the trickery of e.g. Joab (and others), who would then be forced to concede (2 Samuel 14:20): ‘Your servant Joab did this to change the present situation. My lord has wisdom like that of an angel of God – he knows everything that happens in the land’. Yet even the ‘angelic’ David is said to have greatly valued the advice of Achitophel (16:23): “Now in those days the advice Achitophel gave was like that of one who inquires of God. That was how both David and Absalom regarded all of Achitophel’s advice”.

He may even have advised the ageing King David to take into his service “a young virgin”.



Achitophel was, we propose, none other than the “wise” (ḥākām) royal counsellor, Jonadab.


Credit, then, to Andrew E. Hill for being able to get behind Jonadab’s conspiracy without his having, to assist him, this crucial Achitophel connection. We can now disclose Hill’s giveaway title, “A Jonadab Connection in the Absalom Conspiracy?” (JETS 30/4, Dec., 1987, 387-390).


Thanks to the research of Dr. I. Velikovsky (Ages in Chaos, I, 1952), the circa 1000 BC era of kings Saul, David and Solomon – separated in the textbooks of ancient history by some 500 years from the Eighteenth Egyptian Dynasty (which includes Hatshepsut), circa 1500 BC – turns out to have been actually contemporaneous with Egypt’s early Eighteenth Dynasty.

Thus Hatshepsut herself can now be identified as the biblical “Queen of the South [of Sheba]”, as according to Dr. Velikovsky. As we have argued in “Solomon and Sheba” (, there was massive cross-cultural transfusion between Israel and Egypt, mostly arising from – against the typical scholarly view – the direction of Israel (and Phoenicia).


Conclusion 2: Abishag, of uncertain name, the same as Tamar (her given Hebrew name), hailing from Shunem, was hence “the Shunammite” of King Solomon’s Song of Songs.

Ethnically, she may have been Egypto-Canaanite, which thought will lead to the consideration (to be discussed later) that she was also Velikovsky’s Hatshepsut = “Queen of Sheba”.




The virgin’s foreign-ness may perhaps be adduced further from what she will say in shocked reaction to Amnon’s attempt to seduce her based on advice from Jonadab. Here is the account of it, with King David now also making an appearance in the drama (2 Samuel 13:6-11):


“So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. When the king came to see him, Amnon said to him, ‘I would like my sister Tamar to come and make some special bread in my sight, so I may eat from her hand’.

David sent word to Tamar at the palace: ‘Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him’. So Tamar went to the house of her brother Amnon, who was lying down. She took some dough, kneaded it, made the bread in his sight and baked it. Then she took the pan and served him the bread, but he refused to eat.

‘Send everyone out of here’, Amnon said. So everyone left him. Then Amnon said to Tamar, ‘Bring the food here into my bedroom so I may eat from your hand’. And Tamar took the bread she had prepared and brought it to her brother Amnon in his bedroom. But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, ‘Come to bed with me, my sister’.”



Equally blunt would be Potiphar’s wife in her attempt to seduce the honourable Joseph (Genesis 39:7): ‘Come to bed with me!’

Biblical Potiphar (Egyptian P.hotep.Har) may perhaps be Egypt’s Old Kingdom high official, Rahotep (a suggested Egyptian name also for Achitophel), his wife being Nofret.



Tamar responds pleadingly to Amnon (2 Samuel 13:12-14): “‘No, my brother!’ she said to him. ‘Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you’. But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her”.

No longer is she (Song of Songs 4:12): “A garden enclosed … a fountain sealed”?


What “should not be done in Israel”, as Tamar had said, might, perhaps, have been more acceptable in another country, in Egypt for instance. But then Tamar will add, somewhat surprisingly (v. 14): ‘Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you’.

Moses Maimonides (C12th AD) would comment as follows on this text (op. cit., 8:8):


“If she conceived during the first intercourse [with her captor] the child is a convert. [However] the child is not regarded as [the soldier’s] son, because his mother was a non-Jew. The court must immerse him [or her in a ritual bath and convert the child] in their capacity as a court [with authority to do so]. Tamar was [conceived] from [David’s] first intercourse with a ‘captive woman,’ but Absalom was conceived after David married [Tamar’s mother]. Thus, Tamar was Absalom’s sister only from his mother [but she was not related to David or his son Amnon], and therefore would have been permitted to [marry] Amnon. This is why Tamar said to Amnon ‘speak to the king; for he will not withhold me from you’.”



We are not surprised to find, moreover, that contemporary (according to our historical revision) Egyptian love poetry was echoing that of Davidic (Solomonic) Israel. Andrew E. Hill again:


“The particular issue in question is Jonadab’s counsel to Amnon to feign illness (probably not too difficult since he was already “haggard”) and then make an innocent request of King David who would no doubt come and inquire about the crown prince’s health (2 Sam 13:4-5). This same motif occurs in the Egyptian love poetry of the New Kingdom …. One song is translated as follows by W. K. Simpson:

Now I’ll lie down inside

and act as if I’m sick.

My neighbors will come in to visit,

and with them my girl.

She’ll put the doctors out,

for she’s the one to know my hurt.


Here the scenario is slightly different and the cast of characters has changed.

The basic story line remains the same, however. The man in love pretends to be stricken with a malady. Naturally, visitors concerned about his well-being will arrive, and out of all this the young man will eventually end up alone with his lover so that she can attend to his “needs”.”


Far more stark and brutal, though, is the biblical version. And it all bodes ill for Amnon.

Hill continues: “In the case of Amnon there is no reciprocation on the part of Tamar, and he must coerce her to have sexual relations with him (13:11-15). While Amnon achieved a degree of immediate gratification in this release of pent-up lust for Tamar, the more long-term ramifications of the misdeed are entirely predictable. …”.


Hill is undoubtedly quite correct in his estimation that Jonadab fully knew what he was doing, even if he may be wrong in suggesting that the latter was using Egyptian love poetry for his precedent (more likely, we think, the Egyptians picked it up later from the Tamar incident). According to Hill: “Unlike those who view this counsel of Jonadab to Amnon as bad advice because it concerned itself only with methods and failed to calculate the consequences, I am convinced that Jonadab knew full well the ultimate outcome of his counsel…. The illness ploy, borrowed from Egyptian love poetry [sic], was maliciously designed to exploit Amnon’s domination by sensuality (a trait he shared with his father David)”.


What was the psychologically astute Jonadab (Achitophel) really up to? And why?

Jonadab, according to Hill, was not actually serving Amnon’s interests at all. He was cunningly providing Absalom with the opportunity to bring down his brother, Amnon, the crown prince:


“… I am inclined to see Jonadab as a co-conspirator with Absalom in the whole affair, since both men have much to gain. Absalom’s desires for revenge against Amnon and ultimately his designs for usurping his father’s throne are clearly seen in the narrative (cf. 13:21-23, 32; 15:21-6). Amnon, as crown prince, stands in the way as a rival to the ambitions of Absalom. Absalom and Jonadab collaborate to remove this obstacle to kingship by taking advantage of a basic weakness in Amnon’s character. The calculated plotting of Absalom and Jonadab is evidenced by the pointed questioning of Tamar by Absalom after her rape and his almost callous treatment of a sister brutishly violated and now bereft of a meaningful future (almost as if he expected it, at least according to the tone of the statements in the narrative; cf. 13:20-22). While a most reprehensible allegation, it seems Tamar may have been an unwitting pawn of a devious schemer, an expendable token in the power play for the throne”.



That Hill has masterfully managed to measure the manic Machiavellian manipulating by the famous pair, Absalom and Achitophel, may be borne out in the subsequent progress of events:


“Further testimony to the Absalom-Jonadab conspiracy is found in the time-table exposed in the narrative. Absalom coolly bides his time for two years before ostensibly avenging Tamar’s rape (13:23), and only after a three-year self-imposed exile in Geshur (the homeland of his mother Maacah, 3:3) does he return to Jerusalem to make preparations for his own kingship by undermining popular allegiance to David (13:39; 15:1-6). Certainly this belies a carefully constructed strategy for seizing control of the monarchy and bespeaks a man of considerable foresight, determination and ability”.


Hill’s excellent grasp of the situation becomes even more plausible if Jonadab were Achitophel, Absalom’s adviser during the prince’s revolt against King David.


The “two years” and “three-year self-imposed exile”, then “two years” more upon Absalom’s return – during which King David refused to see him – are chronological markers indicating that Abishag (or Tamar) must have come into David’s service closer to his 60th, than 70th, year.


But why this bloody-minded obsession on the part of Jonadab-Achitophel?

From 2 Samuel 13:3, we might estimate that he was not so very old, “Amnon had an adviser named Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother”. That he was at least younger than David. Achitophel, however, would be estimated as having been old and grey – more appropriate to a wise counsellor – he apparently being the grandfather of Bathsheba (cf. 2 Samuel 11:3; 23:34). “Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother” would now, therefore, need to be re-translated as (based on the meanings of Hebrew ben as previously noted), “Jonadab official of Shimeah …”.


Might not the formerly wise counsellor of King David have become embittered over the latter’s deplorable treatment of Bathsheba and her husband, Uriah the Hittite? Adultery, then murder? King David had, at this point – as Pope Francis rightly observes – fallen into corruption. (


Francis confided: “in reading this passage, I ask myself: where is David, that brave youth who confronted the Philistine with his sling and five stones and told him: ‘The Lord is my strength’?”. This, the Pope remarked, “is another David”. Indeed, “where is that David who, knowing that Saul wanted to kill him and, twice having the opportunity to kill King Saul, said: ‘No, I cannot touch the Lord’s anointed one’?”.

The reality is, Francis explained, that “this man changed, this man softened”. And, he added, “it brings to mind a passage of the prophet Ezekiel (16:15) when God speaks to his people as a groom to his bride, saying: after I gave all of this to you, you besot with your beauty, took advantage with your renown, and played the harlot. You felt secure and you forgot me’”.

This is precisely “what happened with David at that moment”, Francis said. “The great, noble David felt sure of himself, because the kingdom was strong, and thus he sinned: he sinned in lust, he committed adultery, and he also unjustly killed a noble man, in order to cover up his sin”.

“This is a moment in the life of David”, the Pontiff noted, “that we can apply to our own: it is the passing from sin into corruption”. Here “David begins, he takes the first step toward corruption: he obtains power, strength”. For this reason “corruption is an easier sin for all of us who have certain power, be it ecclesiastical, religious, economic or political power”. And, Pope Francis said, “the devil makes us feel secure: ‘I can do it’”.



But “the Lord really loved David, so much” that the Lord “sent the prophet Nathan to reflect his soul”, and David “repented and cried: ‘I have sinned’”.

“I would like to stress only this”, Francis stated: “there is a moment when the tendency to sin or a moment when our situation is really secure and we seem to be blessed; we have a lot of power, money, I don’t know, a lot of ‘things’”. It can happen even “to us priests: sin stops being sin and becomes corruption. The Lord always forgives. But one of the worst things about corruption is that a corrupt person doesn’t need to ask forgiveness, he doesn’t feel the need”.

The Pope then asked for prayer “for the Church, beginning with us, the Pope, bishops, priests, consecrated people, lay faithful: ‘Lord, save us, save us from corruption. Sinners yes, Lord, we all are, but never corrupt! Let us ask the Lord for this grace’”, Francis concluded.


Jonadab-Achitophel, as the grandfather of Bathsheba – and thus likely having shared a close family bond with her husband, Uriah – might well have become embittered against King David for what the latter had done to his family. The counsellor’s once ‘god-like’ advice would now set the Davidic world spinning out of control – as we read above, “wise man, though in this case his wisdom was put to base uses”. Had not David been fore-warned in a dread prophecy (2 Samuel 12:10): ‘… the sword shall never leave your house’?


To begin with, Absalom – urged on by Jonadab-Achitophel – will slay his brother, Amnon. Andrew E. Hill writes on this:


“One last proof adduced for a Jonadab connection in the Absalom conspiracy is Jonadab’s own response to the rumor supposing the assassination of all the king’s sons (13:30). In countering the false report Jonadab betrayed his complete knowledge of the ambush in Baal Hazor (including the participants in the crime, since he confirmed that “they [the servants of Absalom] killed” only Amnon; cf. 13:29, 30-32) before any official or eyewitness news reached Jerusalem. In addition he informed the royal court that Absalom had been plotting his revenge for two years (13:32-33). The only possible explanation for Jonadab’s detailed foreknowledge of the bloodletting at Baal Hazor is his involvement in the scheme from its inception”.


No doubt the “wise” Jonadab-Achitophel had discerned that Absalom would make a far more willing candidate, than would Amnon (then heir to the throne), for overthrowing King David.




For one, Absalom was physically impressive, as King Saul of old had been (I Samuel 9:2).

Had not even the great prophet Samuel fallen for “outward appearance”? – he personally having favoured for the kingship Jesse’s tallest and eldest son, Eliab (I Samuel 16:6-7).

Regarding Absalom’s outstanding physical demeanour, we read of it in 2 Samuel 14:25-26:


“In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him. Whenever he cut the hair of his head—he used to cut his hair once a year because it became too heavy for him—he would weigh it, and its weight was two hundred shekels by the royal standard”.


Some commentators suggest that Absalom may have been, with all that hair, a Nazirite.

But, as with Samson the Nazirite (Judges 13:7), Absalom’s hair would be his undoing.


This particular era was one of obelisk (pillar) building (e.g., the Eighteenth Dynasty pharaohs).

Correspondingly, we read (2 Samuel 18:18): “Prior to this Absalom had set up a pillar and dedicated it to himself in the King’s Valley, reasoning ‘I have no son who will carry on my name’. He named [it] after himself, and to this day it is known as Absalom’s Memorial”.

The contemporary pharaohs, too, had their “King’s Valley” (or “Valley of the Kings”).



But Absalom would, in fact, have sons (v. 27): “Three sons and a daughter were born to Absalom. His daughter’s name was Tamar, and she became a beautiful woman”.

Most interesting that, whilst none of Absalom’s three sons is named, his ‘daughter’ is: “Tamar”.

Surely this girl who “became a beautiful woman” must be the same Tamar who is elsewhere called Absalom’s sister! For Absalom’s daughter is otherwise called, Maakah.

At a later time, Solomon’s son and successor, King Rehoboam, we are told, “married Maakah daughter of Absalom” (2 Chronicles 11:20). It would probably be more fitting for Absalom’s daughter to have been named after his mother, Maakah.

Now, out of this important royal family, situated at Shunem (as we think), there might well have arisen later, in the prophet Elisha’s time, the ‘Great Woman of Shunem’.


The reaction of King David and his two sons, Amnon and Absalom, to the rape, is instructive.

“When King David heard all this, he was furious” (2 Samuel 13:21). Still, he does nothing.

“Then Amnon hated [Tamar] with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon said to her, ‘Get up and get out!’” (v. 15).

“Her brother Absalom said to her, ‘Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart’. …. And Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar’.” (vv. 20, 22)



In part, these most unsympathetic reactions towards the female victim might be accounted for according to the ethics of the day, due to her lowly status (e.g., as a foreigner or a commoner).

One has only to consider the off-handed response by Jesus Christ himself, initially – and of his disciples – to the pleas of the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:23, 24, 26, 28):


“Jesus did not answer her a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us’.”

Then: ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel’.

Then: ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs’.

But finally: “‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted’. And her daughter was healed at that moment”.


Tamar fully anticipated what would be the result of Amnon’s assault, both for her and for him: ‘What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel’. And so, when he ordered her to: ‘Get up and get out!’, she answered emphatically: ‘No!’ (2 Samuel 13:16-19):

“‘No!’ she said to him. ‘Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me’. But he refused to listen to her. He called his personal servant and said, ‘Get this woman out of my sight and bolt the door after her’. So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. She was wearing an ornate robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore. Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornate robe she was wearing. She put her hands on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went”.

Cf. Song of Songs 5:7:


‘The watchmen found me as they made their rounds in the city.

They beat me, they bruised me;

they took away my cloak, those watchmen of the walls!’


There was apparently no question of Tamar, now a damaged woman, returning to the palace of King David. He would be “furious” when he heard about the incident, but “furious” at whom? Heir Amnon would continue on for another “two years”. And so would his brother, Absalom. Their éminence grise adviser would insinuate himself into being the power behind the throne. Tamar’s only place to go would be back to Shunem, to her adoring mother, but also to Absalom (2 Samuel 13:20): “And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman”.




  1. From “a desolate woman” to a desert Queen



So far we have identified Tamar (of 2 Samuel 13) with Abishag the Shunammite (of I Kings), and with “the Shunammite” of the Song of Songs.

Presuming that she also becomes “the Queen of Sheba” (of I Kings 10), who is the same as the one to whom Jesus Christ will refer as “the Queen of the South” (Matthew 12:42; Luke 11:31), then the ‘trick’ now must be to get her all the way from Shunem, in northern Israel, to the location of “Sheba” – as “Queen” there. King Talmai of Geshur will be the facilitator for this.


Sheba Identified


So, where exactly was this “Sheba”? Does it refer to Arabia, or to Nubia, or perhaps Ethiopia? Emmet Sweeney, who has accepted that the biblical “Queen” was Hatshepsut who ruled Egypt, will use some linguistic sleight-of-hand: “A normal linguistic (mutation) lisping …”, to turn the “th” of Thebes (from where Hatshepsut ruled in Egypt) into “sh”, to make Thebes, “Sheba” (Empire of Thebes, Or, Ages in Chaos Revisited, p. 32).

Dr. I. Velikovsky, for his part, believed that “Sheba” was a name rather than a location. ‘Sheba’, he had suggested, ‘was probably a nickname for Hatshepsut in the close relationships that existed between the Eighteenth Egyptian Dynasty and the House of David’ (Ages in Chaos). Apart from the superficial similarity between the elements Sheba and Hat-shepsu-t, Velikovsky, a Russian Jew, may have been influenced in this suggestion of his by those Jewish traditions that understood “Sheba” as the proper name of the queen, and not her land of origin.


Khnemet-Amun Hatshepsut


Creationist Patrick Clarke, who has a very good grasp of Egyptian hieroglyphics, has explained (in “Why Pharaoh Hatshepsut is not to be equated to the Queen of Sheba”, p. 65), that:



“The last part of Hatshepsut’s name is represented by the Egyptian šps , (which may be pronounced shepsu or shepsi …). …. It is impossible to squeeze either shwa or shba [sheba] from the Egyptian šps”.


Far more promising for Velikovsky’s (and Sweeney’s) identification of “the Queen of Sheba” with Hatshepsut of Egypt is this testimony of Flavius Josephus (Antiquities, Bk. VIII, Ch. 6): “… There was then a woman queen of Egypt and Ethiopia; she was inquisitive into philosophy, and one that on other accounts also was to be admired. When this queen heard of the virtue and prudence of Solomon, she had a great mind to see him …”.

That, coupled with the Ethiopian tradition (in Kebra Nagast) that King Solomon’s visitor was named Makeda, a name almost identical to Makera, (or Maat-ka-re), which we found to have been the throne name of Hatshepsut.

Did Solomon have the Shunammite’s Egyptian-ness well in mind when he chose this simile (Song of Songs 1:9): ‘I liken you, my darling, to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariot horses’?


Dr. John Bimson had, in a devastating critique of Velikovsky’s popular identification of the biblical “Queen of Sheba” with Hatshepsut (in “Hatshepsut and the Queen of Sheba”, Chronology and Catastrophism REVIEW, Vol. VIII, 1986), demonstrated that Hatshepsut’s famous expedition to the holy land of Punt, which Velikovsky had hoped to connect with the Queen’s visit to King Solomon’s Jerusalem, could not possibly have been the biblical incident.

For one, Hatshepsut did not personally accompany the Punt expedition.



Bimson further argued that the biblical description had an Arabian, not Egyptian, flavor to it, with camels, gold, spices and precious stones.

But, as we wrote in “Solomon and Sheba” (Chronology and Catastrophism REVIEW, 1997:1): “… all the monarchs who came to hear Solomon’s wisdom brought ‘silver and gold … myrrh, spices …’ (cf. I Kings 10:25 and II Chronicles 10:24). Ever since the time of Joseph, an Arabian camel train had operated between Egypt and northern Palestine, carrying similar types of gifts (Genesis 37:25)”.


And, militating against Bimson’s suggestion that the biblical queen was from Yemen in Arabia (Patrick Clarke, too, has her from “somewhere around modern-day Yemen”) is the testimony of G. van Beek, who has described the geographical isolation of Yemen and the severe hazards of a journey from there to Palestine (Solomon and Sheba, ch. 1, “The Land of Sheba”, p. 41). Moreover, none of the numerous inscriptions from this southern part of Arabia refers to the famous queen. Civilisation in southern Arabia may not really have begun to flourish until some two to three centuries after Solomon’s era, as Bimson himself had noted – and no 10th century BC Arabian queen has ever been named or proposed as the Queen of Sheba.


If she hailed from Yemen, who was she?



Whilst scholarly critiques, such as Bimson’s and Clarke’s, are to be encouraged, these two have succeeded in creating a vacuum – no appropriate “Queen”. SIS editor in 1997, Alasdair Beal, commenting on the effect that Bimson’s 1986 critique had had on readers, wrote:


“Probably few articles caused more disappointment in SIS circles than John Bimson’s 1986 ‘Hatshepsut and the Queen of Sheba’, which presented strong evidence and argument against Velikovsky’s proposal that the … queen who visited King Solomon was none other than the famous Egyptian female pharaoh. This removed one of the key identifications in Velikovsky’s Ages in Chaos historical reconstruction and was a key factor in the rejection of his proposed chronology by Bimson and others in favour of the more moderate ‘New Chronology’. It also took away what had seemed a romantic and satisfactory solution to the mystery of the identity and origins of Solomon’s visitor, leaving her once more as an historical enigma. …”.


So, can “Sheba” yet be identified with any part of Egypt and/or Ethiopia, where Josephus said that the biblical woman had ruled as queen?

No – Egypt/Ethiopia will be figuring only at a later stage in our story.

We can actually give a definitive answer to the question of the location of “Sheba”, based on the highest authority: Jesus Christ himself.

In what might initially seem like a very vague statement (Luke 11:31): ‘The Queen of the South … came from the ends of the earth …’, Jesus is here providing the most precise co-ordinates. This text offers us an excellent example of why the Bible needs to be read in its proper context, and not superficially, in a literal Western manner. Creationists are wont to read phrases like “the earth” (Greek tes ges, της γης) in a global sense. Though Patrick Clarke, himself a Creationist, will limit his horizons geographically, in this case, by suggesting that the biblical queen may have been from Yemen. (Logically, should he have located “Sheba” somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere?). However, for the Israelite audience which Jesus was addressing, “the earth” was “the land”, the Land of Israel (Eretz Israel).

Now, the “ends” (or borders) of the land of Israel were Dan (North) and Beersheba (South). For example I Samuel 3:20: “And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the LORD”. The “end” to which Jesus is referring, “the South”, is obviously, then, Beersheba. “The south” is a common biblical term for the Negev (desert).

So, we are here being unerringly directed by Jesus to the chief town, Beersheba, that stands at the southern border of Israel, in the Negev – and known as “the Capital of the Negev”.

The Old Testament fully supports this geography, giving the name of the Queen’s realm as “Sheba”, which is just another name for Beersheba (Joshua 19:2): “… Beersheba (or Sheba) …”. And, given the ancient city’s strategic location of intersecting trade routes, we ought not be surprised to read that the Queen of (Beer)sheba travelled to Jerusalem with so richly-laden a camel train as she did (I Kings 10:2, 10), and that: “Never again were so many spices brought in as those the Queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon”.


This famous journey to Jerusalem, though, is also yet some time in the future.

For now, we must return to the scene at Shunem in northern Israel.

“Two years later”, during which time Tamar was presumably still languishing at home, Absalom will organise for his men to kill Amnon, at a sheep-shearing occasion in Baal Hazor, with all of King David’s sons present (2 Samuel 13:23-33).

During that period of time, the girl had been consigned to working outside in the fields.

Some think that her description of herself as “dark”, or ‘black”, would suggest that she was, say, a Negroid (Nubian or Ethiopian) woman, although she herself will specifically attribute her dark skin to her being “darkened by the sun” (Song of Songs 1:5-6):



‘Dark am I, yet lovely,
daughters of Jerusalem,
dark like the tents of Kedar,
like the tent curtains of Solomon.
Do not stare at me because I am dark,
because I am darkened by the sun’.


As Professor Claude F. Mariottini has well explained:


“The text does not say that her dark complexion was due to her racial background, that is, that she was an African woman. Her dark skin pigmentation was not a reference to a racial feature. What the Shulammite [sic] was trying to say to the women of Jerusalem was that the exposure to the sun on her body made her to be darker than the women who lived in Jerusalem. She was dark because she did not protect her body from the intense heat of the sun.

The Shulammite’s words reflect the fact that peasant women who worked in the fields had dark skin because of the constant exposure to the sun, while the women who lived in luxurious houses of Jerusalem and those who lived in the palace were less dark and more white.

The woman explained her blackness by comparing it with the tents of Kedar and the curtains of Solomon. The tents of Kedar were bedouin tents made of black goat hair. Although the text does not clarify what was intended by “the curtains of Solomon,” they were probably curtains or wall hangings found in Solomon’s palace known by its beauty and artistic designs”.


The skin contrast (dark and white) is perfectly exemplified in the picture above of Rahotep and his wife, Nofret (meaning “beautiful”). “Rahotep’s skin”, we read there, “is darker than his wife’s to show all of the time men spend outside – and women inside”.


This all has mystical connotations as well, as wonderfully explored by St. John of the Cross (Dark Night of the Soul and The Living Flame of Love), the black darkness of the Active and Passive nights. Dr. D. W. Ekstrand makes the following comment on the Divine flame’s effect:


“… ‘The Living Flame of Love.’ The stanzas sing of an elevated union within the intimate depths of the spirit. The image of “flame,” working on the wood, dispelling the moisture, turning it black, then giving it the qualities of “fire,” appeared first in the Dark Night. It also turned up again in the Spiritual Canticle in the serene night toward the end of the poem, a flame that is painless, comforting, and conformed to God. John tells us there that this flame is the love of the Holy Spirit. Now, having grown hotter and sometimes flaring up, it impels John to write more verses about the sublime communion taking place in his deepest center. At this depth he lives in both stable serenity and exalted activity. St. John composed these stanzas burning in love’s flame, with the intimate and delicate sweetness of love”.


‘… his banner over me is love’. (Song of Songs 2:4)


Why were her ‘brothers … angry with’ her? (Song of Songs 1:6) Because, as she continues: ‘my own vineyard I had to neglect’. Professor Mariottini concurs with others that this is a reference to her virginity, though he wrongly adds “that she gave herself sexually” to her lover (op. cit.): “The reason for the punishment her brothers inflicted on her was because she did not keep her own vineyard … probably a reference to her virginity, that is, that she gave herself sexually to her shepherd lover and as a result her brothers punished her for her indiscretion”.



We know, though, that she was entirely guiltless in this – she having firstly obeyed the order of King David to attend the ailing Amnon, and then having been taken against her will by Amnon.

But, as we find in some cultures even today, the female victim in such cases can sometimes be burdened with all of the blame.


Solomon had, as we are told, a vineyard at nearby Baal Hamon (Song of Songs 8:11):


Solomon had a vineyard in Baal Hamon;
he let out his vineyard to tenants.
Each was to bring for its fruit
a thousand shekels of silver.


“Oettli, following Rosenmüller, thinks this [Baal Hamon] … is identical with Belamon, or Balamon, in Judith viii. 3, which, he says, was not far from Shunem …”

(The Song of Solomon with Introductions and Notes, p. 61. Emphasis added).

Solomon and the Shunammite would have had occasion to meet “outside” in the fields (8:1-2):


‘If only you were to me like a brother,
who was nursed at my mother’s breasts!
Then, if I found you outside,
I would kiss you,
and no one would despise me.
I would lead you
and bring you to my mother’s house—
she who has taught me’.


And what had her mother taught her?

Perhaps her beauty was not the only quality for which King David’s officials had chosen the Shunammite above all the others. She may also have acquired medicinal knowledge from her mother. One explanation is that she was like an Akkadian baritu priestess, with healing powers:


“What are the nature and purpose of Tamar’s activity? What follows is a necessarily brief summary of my research so far.

The first possibility is raised by the term biryâ. In 2 Sam 13, the root brh … is used to designate  preparation of the food (tabrenî) and the ceremony involved in making the food (habbiryâ) which Amnon expects to eat (‘ebreh). Words arising from brh in the Bible have to do with eating, but are specific for breaking a fast in a time of grieving or illness. Forms of brh appear only in 2 Sam 3:35; 12:17; 13:5, 6, 10; and in Lam 4:10. Another form, barût is found in Ps 69:22 as food for a mourner. ….  David for example refuses to break his fast, lehabrôt, during mourning  for Abner (3:35) and he will not eat, brh, bread during his seven day fast and prayer vigil for the ailing infant of Bathsheba (12:17). In Lam 4:10, children become the food (perhaps divination-offering), lebarôt, prepared by their desperate mothers during the siege of Jerusalem. These uses suggest that the word chosen to express eating in 2 Sam 13 includes a connotation beyond an ordinary meal.

The root has sacred connotations in Hebrew. Beriyt means covenant, perhaps arising from “binding” in Assyrian barû. In the Bible beriyt commonly refers to being bound by the covenant with YHWH, but also by a covenant between humans (Gen 14:13; I Sam 18:3) and with death (Isa 28: IS, 18; 57:8). …. In later Jewish parlance there is a meal of comfort, called seûdat habra’â … given to a mourner after the funeral. Biryâ may be related to beriyt, covenant”.



“Conceivably this later custom was a restoration of some familial/tribal bond with the dead, a covenant meal prepared ritually by a woman. ….

Though the divinatory meaning of brh is not common in Hebrew, it is among ancient Israel’s neighbors. In Akkadian, barû priests are diviners who inspect livers, and the related term biru, “divination” … is conducted also by women who interpret dreams. …. We may not assume that other people’s customs are identical to Israel’s; however, by exploring ancient approaches to  healing we may apply to 2 Sam 13 a range of activities reflecting a frame of  reference common to peoples of the ancient Near East. …. In Mesopotamia, besides priestly diviners, there are references to two types of women diviners who in particular are “approached in cases of sickness,” …. as is the case with Amnon. One passage reads, “We shall ask here the šã’litu-priestesses, the baritu-priestesses and the spirits of the dead …”.


It reads a bit like Joseph of Egypt (Imhotep), who “commanded the physicians” – {he becoming an Egyptian god of medicine}. Joseph could divine (Genesis 44:15) and could interpret dreams.


Solomon, too, in fact, “lovesick” as Amnon had been, will plead for the Shunammite’s attention (Song of Songs 2:5): ‘Sustain me with raisin cakes, refresh me with apples, because I am lovesick’.

When the Shunammite was at home, a veritable prisoner of Absalom and her other brothers, young Solomon was constrained to creep around the place surreptitiously, “behind the wall”, “gazing”, “peering through the lattice” (Song of Songs 2:8-9):


‘Listen! My beloved!
Look! Here he comes,
leaping across the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Look! There he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattice’.



Then everything changes. Amnon is killed, this sending a shudder through the royal palace. David is told (2 Samuel 13:30): ‘Absalom has struck down all the king’s sons; not one of them is left’. But, while David is in the process of doing one of the things that he does best, grieving (v. 31): “The king stood up, tore his clothes and lay down on the ground; and all his attendants … with their clothes torn”, Jonadab-Achitophel will (with his insider’s knowledge) reassure the king (v. 32): ‘My lord should not think that they killed all the princes; only Amnon is dead. This has been Absalom’s express intention ever since the day Amnon raped his sister Tamar’.



“Meanwhile, Absalom had fled” (v. 34).

Now, did Absalom on this occasion take with him his ‘sister’ Tamar, as well as “his men” who had slain the unsuspecting Amnon (vv. 28-29)? “Absalom fled and went to Talmai son of Ammihud, the king of Geshur. But King David mourned many days for his son. After Absalom fled and went to Geshur, he stayed there three years” (vv. 37-38).


All we know for sure is that, more than five years later – after the collapse of Absalom’s revolt – the girl was back in the service of King David. For, during the play for the throne by yet another son of King David’s, Adonijah, we read (I Kings 1:15): “Now the king was very old, and Abishag the Shunammite was serving the king”.


Absalom may, or may not, have ‘dragged’ his ‘sister’ along with him to his place of refuge with King Talmai in Geshur. If he had, then her departure from Israel may have prompted Solomon’s anguished cry: ‘Come back, come back, O Shunammite; come back, come back, that we may gaze on you!’ (Song of Songs 6:13)

Whatever the case, the kingdom of Geshur, and its King Talmai, are the elements (we think) that will enable us to make the necessary connections, first with “Sheba”, and then, with Egypt.


Though “Geshur” is usually thought to have been situated in Aram (Syria), we would, however, accept Diana Edelman’s view that this “Geshur” was a southern kingdom (“Tel Masos, Geshur, and David”, JNES, Vol. 47, No. 4, Oct., 1988, p. 256):


“David, while in residence in his new capital of Judah at Hebron fathered Absalom with Maacah, daughter of Talmai, King of Geshur. His first two sons were mothered by his wives Ahinoam and Abigail, whom he had married while living in the wilderness, prior to his service to Achish of Gath. His marriage to Maacah must therefore have taken place in the opening years of his kingship at Hebron. The political nature of his marriage to Maacah has been recognized in the past …. It has always been assumed, however, that Talmai was king of the northern kingdom of Geshur in the Golan.

It seems more reasonable to conclude, however, that Talmai was king of the southern Geshur. Whether or not he remained a Philistine vassal after setting up his own state at Hebron, it would have been a politically expedient move for David to ally himself with one or more of the groups he had formerly been raiding as a Philistine mercenary. Peaceful relations with groups living just to the south of his new state would have allowed the king to concentrate his limited resources on other endeavors. His ability to enter a treaty with southern Geshur, had he remained a Philistine vassal himself, would have been conditioned on the lack of formal declaration of war between the Philistines and Geshur. No vassal was allowed to enter a treaty with a declared enemy of its overlord. The postulated alliance with Talmai, king of Geshur, would have provided David with military aid when he needed it. At the same time, it could have provided him with a market for his goods and … additional economic opportunities”.


“David … a Philistine vassal himself”, we have just read!

Utterly amazing to think that David, the Lord’s “anointed” one, the hero of Israel – thanks to his defeating the Philistine giant, Goliath, and earning himself a reputation amongst the Israelites greater than King Saul’s (I Samuel 18:6-7): “… the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with timbrels and lyres. As they danced, they sang:


‘Saul has slain his thousands,

and David his tens of thousands’” –



would be forced to flee to the enemy Philistines, the only place where he knew Saul would not go in pursuit of him. The trigger-happy King Saul was wont to attempt to impale on his spear, David, and even Saul’s own son and heir, Jonathan.



Perhaps no one better fits Paul’s description of the much-tried people of faith than does David (Hebrews 11:32-33, 34, 37-38):


“And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions … escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. …. They went about … destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground”.


David, during his life, walked “vias duras” (“hard roads”). St. John of the Cross (Dark Night):


“This whiteness of Faith the soul wears when she sallies forth into this dark night, and

she journeys (as we have said above) in darkness and interior conflict, deprived of all

comfort of intellectual light, as well as celestial, since the sky seems shut to her, and

God is hiding; nor yet does she find it from below, since those who instructed her

satisfied her not, yet still she bore it all with constancy and persevered, and passing

through these trials without losing heart or allowing her confidence to be shaken in her Beloved; He, who in trials and tribulations proves the Faith of His Spouse, after such

sort that she may afterwards acclaim, in all truth, in the words of David: Propter verba

labiorum tuorum ego custodivi vias duras? By reason of the words of thy lips, I was

held to hard roads”.


This is a quote from Psalm 16:4 (Vulgate), otherwise Psalm 17:4 (Hebrew) where “vias duras” is given (in David’s actual words?) as arechot parits (אָרְחוֹת פָּרִיץ).


David is a noble figure of some complexity – he invariably doing the quite unexpected.

If David had failed as a shepherd, a Giant-slayer, a musician, or a mourner, he could easily have taken up acting (I Samuel 21:13): “… [David] pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard”.



We meet so many great characters in the life-story of David, one of these being the Philistine king, Achish of Gath, who was a witness to David’s ‘mad’ behaviour (I Samuel 21:14-15): “Achish said to his servants, ‘Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?’.”

David will later have far more success with King Achish.

For the time being, David will be forced to live as an outcast, somewhat like Robin Hood with his band of merry men, David’s band being a mixture of “mighty men” and “the worthless”. The ancient word for renegades, those living as enemies of the crown (King Saul’s in this case), was habiru – mistakenly thought by some to indicate “Hebrew”.


Next time that David approached King Achish he had a sturdy force of men (2 Samuel 27:2): “So David took his 600 men and went over and joined Achish son of Maoch, the king of Gath”.

And it was during this second period amongst the Philistines that David would make contact with the kingdom of Geshur (v. 8): “And David and his men went up, and invaded the Geshurites, and the Gezrites … for those nations were of old the inhabitants of the land extending to Shur and Egypt”.

This is a key geographical passage for us.

The kingdoms of Geshur and Gezer are said here to front Egypt.


Diana Edelman (op. cit.) considers the important archaeological site of Tel Masos as being a candidate for the capital of the kingdom of Geshur.

Considering the site’s close proximity to Beersheba (see map), this is certainly interesting.



Edelman writes:


“… Tel Masos becomes an attractive candidate for the political center of southern Geshur. If one can put any weight in Talmai’s characterization as “king,” Tel Masos is the only site south of the Judahite hills that is large enough to associate with a possible kingdom. In spite of Finkelstein’s suggestion that Masos probably only reached the political level of a chiefdom, its 200-odd-year existence … and its postulated role as a major trans-shipping center and headquarters for the northwestern branch of the incense trade route, would seem to have required a developed administration … and … stabilized leadership. … [which] suggests its attainment of statehood and monarchy”.



It may have been during one of David’s raids against “the Geshurites” that he captured Maakah.


Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 13:39): “… King David longed to go to Absalom, for he was consoled concerning Amnon’s death”.

Did the king also pine for the absent ‘sister’ of Absalom? ‘Come back … O Shunammite …’. Or was she already back in the service of the king?

Another matter to be considered with regard to the Shunammite is whether she had conceived a baby from the rape incident. For, who was the mysterious “little sister” (Song of Songs 8:8)?: “We have a little sister, and she has no breasts. What shall we do for our sister on the day when she is spoken for?”


Tradition has Joseph of Egypt’s wife, Asenath, as the daughter of Joseph’s sister Dinah, conceived in her rape by Shechem the Hivite (Genesis 34:2).


We cannot say for sure where the Shunammite was situated during Absalom’s subsequent revolt against his father, King David – though, a few years later, she was back serving David, as previously noted.

Meanwhile, Jonadab-Achitophel was steering Absalom in a similarly lustful direction as he had in the case of Amnon (2 Samuel 16:20-22):


“Absalom said to Achitophel, ‘Give us your advice. What should we do?’ Achitophel answered, ‘Sleep with your father’s concubines whom he left to take care of the palace. Then all Israel will hear that you have made yourself obnoxious to your father, and the hands of everyone with you will be more resolute’. So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and he slept with his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel”.


Was the Shunammite amongst these “concubines … [David] … left to take care of the palace”?


King David now, in deepest sorrow, was forced to leave the city of Jerusalem. He took the same route as would Jesus, carrying his Cross – not the modern Via Dolorosa within Jerusalem. Doug Jacoby, following the research of Dr. Ernest L. Martin, has drawn a parallel case between mountains “Ararat” and “Moriah”, in his discussion of Moriah as, in part, Mount Olivet:




Sacrifice is found in nearly every book of the Bible, and this theme binds together all the other themes and plots in Scripture. The place of sacrifice par excellence is Moriah. Often we hear mention of “Mount Moriah.” In a sense, there is more than one “Mount Moriah.” Just as the Ark came to rest on “one of the mountains of Ararat,” rather than on the Mount Ararat (Genesis 8:4), so Abraham was bidden by God to sacrifice his son on one of the mountains in the land of Moriah (Genesis 22:2): “Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about’.”

There are conceivably a number of “Moriahs.” Jesus too was sacrificed in the land of Moriah. Is there any need to remind the reader that there are at least ten amazing parallels, by way of foreshadowing, between the sacrifice of Isaac and the sacrifice of Jesus? It would come as no surprise if they were “sacrificed” and “received back” on the same mountain. The sacrifice of Christ takes on new meaning when we understand the Old Testament foreshadowing – in this case, with startling coincidence of detail. 5



“The site of Jesus’ execution, like that of Isaac’s “sacrifice,” is never identified with the Temple Mount, unlike the threshing floor of Araunah: “Then Solomon began to build the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David. It was on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, the place provided by David” (2 Chronicles 3:1). There are, in effect, two theologically significant places of sacrifice in the land of Moriah. The Mount of Olives is located on Moriah, and it is probable that here both Isaac and Jesus were offered. The threshing floor at which David stemmed the plague, indeed the very site at which Solomon erected his magnificent Temple, were not on the Mount of Olives, but on Moriah. The Mount of Olives we could call “Upper” Mt. Moriah, the Temple Mount, “Lower” Mt. Moriah.


The Four Sacrifices


1 2
Upper Moriah Sacrifice of Isaac Sacrifice of Jesus
Sacrifices with “resurrection” One of the mountains in land of Moriah Also on a mountain in Moriah6
Lower Moriah Sacrifice to stem plague Sacrifice of “bulls and goats”
Sacrifices without “resurrection” Threshing floor of Araunah Solomon’s Temple


You may be caught off guard by the thought that the Mount of Olives was a place of worship or sacrifice in the Bible. After all, wasn’t this a serene place of prayer? Was blood actually shed on this mountain?

According to 2 Samuel 15:32, there was already a significant place of worship on the Mount of Olives – some thousand years before Jesus was crucified: “But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up. Now David had been told, “Achitophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” So David prayed, “O Lord, turn Achitophel’s counsel into foolishness.” When David arrived at the summit [place of the head], where people used to worship God, Hushai the Arkite was there to meet him, his robe torn and dust on his head” (2 Samuel 15:30-32).

Yes, the elevated location was already a place of worship and sacrifice. At any rate, the threshing floor of Araunah (2 Samuel 24, 1 Chronicles 21), located on the other side of the Kidron on what would soon become the site of the First Temple, 7 was not the only place where reconciliation between man and God took place. The place of the Head, on the Mount of Olives, near the road into the city, was also a “holy place”, as 2 Samuel 15 reveals to us. …”.


Like Jesus, later, walking this ‘hard road’, David would be roundly cursed (2 Samuel 16:5-7): “As King David approached Bahurim, a man from the same clan as Saul’s family came out from there. His name was Shimei … and he cursed as he came out. He pelted David and all the king’s officials with stones, though all the troops and the special guard were on David’s right and left. As he cursed, Shimei said, ‘Get out, get out, you murderer, you scoundrel!’”



  1. From “Sheba” to Thebes

in Egypt



How did “the Shunammite” (who was Tamar = Abishag) manage to find her way to becoming “Queen” of Beersheba, in the Negev desert?


Whether or not she had gone (or been taken) with Absalom when he fled the presence of David after having organised the death of the king’s oldest son, Amnon, staying away from Israel for “three years” – during which time she could have become well acquainted with the southern kingdom of Geshur – she would at least have been free to go there after the death of King David whom she had been nursing.

King Talmai of Geshur may (as Diana Edelman has suggested), or may not, have been an ally of King David’s. (Would Talmai have received the rebellious Absalom had he been an ally?)


Before taking this further, though, we need to wrap up the successive revolts of Absalom (advised by Achitophel), and Adonijah, who did not have Jonathan’s (in the case of David) Baptist-like humility to give way to the one Divinely chosen and “anointed” to be king.

The two revolts began in virtually identical fashion:

2 Samuel 15:1: “In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him”.

I Kings 1:5: “Now Adonijah … got chariots and horses ready, with fifty men to run ahead of him”.

Moreover: “[Adonijah] was also very handsome and was born next after Absalom” (v. 6).

King David, true to form, “had never rebuked him by asking, ‘Why do you behave as you do?’”


Absalom’s prized hair would bring him undone: “He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going” (2 Samuel 18:9). This made him easy pickings for David’s “too hard” man, Joab, who “took three javelins in his hand and plunged them into Absalom’s heart while Absalom was still alive in the oak tree” (v. 14) – against the wish of King David: ‘Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake’ (v. 5).



Prior to this Absalom had, for once, put aside the advice of Achitophel in favour of another counsellor, Hushai (17:14). And this snub would lead to Achitophel’s suicide – something of a rarity in the Bible (v. 23): “When Achitophel saw that his advice had not been followed, he saddled his donkey and set out for his house in his hometown. He put his house in order and then hanged himself. So he died and was buried in his father’s tomb”.

In this, his final act, Achitophel draws comparisons with Judas Iscariot.

Whilst, ultimately, we are all responsible for our own actions, it is terrible to think that the tragedy that was Achitophel may have been set in train by King David’s callous murder of Uriah, the husband of Achitophel’s grand-daughter with whom David had committed adultery. Pope Francis recently made this comment about the tragedy that was Judas:


“It hurts when I read that small passage from the Gospel of Matthew, when Judas, who has repented, goes to the priests and says: ‘I have sinned’ and wants to give … and gives them the coins. ‘Who cares! – they say to him: it’s none of our business!’ They closed their hearts before this poor, repentant man, who did not know what to do. And he went and hanged himself. And what did they do when Judas hanged himself? They spoke amongst themselves and said: ‘Is he a poor man? No! These coins are the price of blood, they must not enter the Temple…’, and they referred to this rule and to that… The doctors of the letter.

The life of a person did not matter to them, the Pope observed, they did not care about Judas’ repentance.

The Gospel, he continued, says that Judas came back repentant. But all that mattered to them “were the laws, so many words and things they had built”. This – he said – shows the hardness of their hearts. It’s the foolishness of their hearts that could not withstand the wisdom of Stephen’s truth so they go to look for false witnesses to judge him”.


One of the aged King David’s last acts was to proclaim Solomon as king, even as Adonijah (now the oldest son) was being proclaimed king by his followers, including Joab and the priest Abiathar. This had the effect of causing Adonijah, now “in fear of Solomon”, to seize the horns of the altar (I Kings 1:50). For the time being, though, King Solomon sent him home (v. 53). So far, the door was still ajar, for Adonijah!

Meanwhile, King David passed away (2:10).

Adonijah then made a fatal mistake. He asked Solomon, through his mother, Bathsheba, to give him Abishag. Now, when Bathsheba approached Solomon with Adonijah’s request (v. 21): ‘Let Abishag the Shunammite be given in marriage to your brother Adonijah’, a veritable volcano erupted inside Solomon for the king had for so long desired her for himself. His chilling response to Queen Bathsheba indicates just how important the Shunammite had become (v. 22): “King Solomon answered his mother, ‘Why do you request Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? You might as well request the kingdom for him—after all, he is my older brother—yes, for him and for Abiathar the priest and Joab son of Zeruiah!’”

The domino effect would be immediate.

“… King Solomon gave orders to Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and he struck down Adonijah and he died” (v. 25).

The priest Abiathar, though spared for “now”, was replaced and sent home (v. 26).

Then next came the turn of the “hard” man, Joab (v. 29): “… Solomon ordered Benaiah son of Jehoiada, ‘Go, strike him down!’”


The Shunammite had by now unwittingly been the cause of the deaths of two of David’s sons, Amnon and Adonijah.



How, then, after all of this did the Shunammite find her way to Egypt?

The following scenario is speculative.


Just prior to the death of King David (according to this revised model), Thutmose I succeeded Amenhotep I as the pharaoh of Egypt.

Thutmose I – considered to have been a mature and experienced military leader when he came to the throne – is thought not to have been of royal Egyptian blood. “… he may have strengthened his claim to the throne by marrying Ahmose, perhaps a relative of his predecessor, probably some time before his accession”.


Chronologically, Thutmose I would have assumed the throne of Egypt right on the eve of Solomon’s own kingship, thereby being our candidate for the biblical “Pharaoh king of Egypt” with whom King Solomon made an alliance (I Kings 3:1).


Thutmose I


We think that Thutmose I (or Thotmes I) may be the biblical Talmai, or Tolmai (= Thotmes), formerly King of Geshur – which, we learned, was “the land extending to Shur and Egypt”.


{St. Jerome actually identifies St. Bartholomew (or “son of Tolmai”) as a descendant of this King Tolmai of Geshur}.


Though not of royal Egyptian blood, Thutmose I had married pharaoh Amenhotep I’s sister, according to some views.

{Would we be going too far to suggest that Talmai’s father, “Ammihud” (2 Samuel 13:37), was the same as Thutmose’s father-in-law, Amenhotep (Ammihud = Amenhot-ep)?}

Thutmose I is generally considered to have become the father of Hatshepsut. “Yet”, according to Gay Robins” (“The Enigma of Hatshepsut”), “none of Thutmose I’s monuments even mentions his daughter”:

Hatshepsut was, however, extremely devoted to Thutmose I.


Talmai (Tolmai), the former king of Geshur, fronting Egypt, having married into the pharaonic family, became “Pharaoh king of Egypt” (I Kings 1:3) just prior to the death of King David, and he then, shortly afterwards, made an alliance with King Solomon.

The Pharaoh’s ‘daughter’, Hatshepsut (formerly of Shunem), was promised to King Solomon as his bride (I Kings 9:16): “Pharaoh king of Egypt had attacked and captured Gezer. He had set it on fire. He killed its Canaanite inhabitants and then gave it as a wedding gift to his daughter, Solomon’s wife”.



Using an ‘Occam’s Razor’ method, to limit complexity, it is very tempting in our revised context to identify this “Gezer” with Beersheba (whether or not it might be the archaeological site of Tel Masos). Gezer could have been the capital of the “Gezrites” next to the “Geshurites”.

The Pharaoh conquers this city and gives it to his daughter as a wedding present, and she consequently becomes the “Queen of Sheba [Beersheba]”, biding her time there in the Negev until King Solomon, in Jerusalem, has completed much of the heavy building work there.

Only then does the “Queen” make the camel trip to Jerusalem to see it all (I Kings 10:1-7):


“When the Queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord, she came to test Solomon with hard questions. Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan—with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones—she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind. Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her. When the queen of Sheba saw all the wisdom of Solomon and the palace he had built, the food on his table, the seating of his officials, the attending servants in their robes, his cupbearers, and the burnt offerings he made at the Temple of the Lord, she was overwhelmed. She said to the king, ‘The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard’.”


It is apparent from I Kings 3:1, though, that Pharaoh’s daughter actually arrived there even while work on the Temple was going on: “[Solomon] brought her to the City of David until he finished building his palace and the Temple of the Lord, and the wall around Jerusalem”.

They would have dwelt together in Jerusalem for several years, until pharaoh Thutmose I died.

The Queen, who had been solemnly crowned by Thutmose I in a tri-partite ceremony that was patterned on that of King Solomon’s coronation (see our “Solomon and Sheba”), then (10:13):

“… left and returned with her retinue to her own country”.



Some consider this ‘return’ to have been a ‘divorce’, politically motivated.

She, as Hatshepsut, thereupon went to Egypt to marry the new pharaoh, Thutmose II.

Then, after he died, about mid-way through the reign of King Solomon, she invited the latter to Egypt where he became who some consider to have been ‘the true power behind the throne’, the famous Senenmut (or Senmut).

Hatshepsut, first a Queen of Egypt, later became Pharaoh.

All is explained and elaborated upon in our article, “Solomon and Sheba”.

There is enormous archaeologico-historical evidence for Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, despite leading Israeli archaeologist Israel Finkelstein’s mock-apologetic: “Now Solomon. I think I destroyed Solomon, so to speak. Sorry for that!”

(“David and Solomon – Kings of Controversy”, National Geographic, December 2010), p. 85).


Part Two: “Tamar” in the Song of Solomon


 In the course of time, Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar,

the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David”.

2 Samuel 13:1


In Part One, we concluded that Abishag the Shunammite of I Kings 1:3, “the Shunammite” of the Song of Solomon, was Tamar of 2 Samuel 13:


“Now, at this same period of time – in King David’s old age (but we shall find that he was then closer to 60 than to 70) – there was a girl the description of whom was similar to that of Abishag, one who, though, had a Hebrew name, “Tamar” (תָּמָר: meaning “date palm”, or “palm tree”).

We learn about Tamar in 2 Samuel 13 (whereas we had encountered Abishag in I Kings).


Tamar was, just like Abishag, “a virgin”, “beautiful”, and living “at the palace”.

Thus 2 Samuel 13:1-2, 7: “… Tamar … beautiful … a virgin … Tamar at the palace”.


Conclusion 1: Abishag, of uncertain name, is the same girl as Tamar (her given Hebrew name).

Two different names, two different authors!

Therefore, expect the possibility of this girl’s origins being non-Israelite”.

[End of quote]


Does the beautiful Tamar actually get named in the Song of Solomon?

Knowing King Solomon’s delight with word play, and name play, we might perhaps expect the appearance of Abishag’s Hebrew name, Tamar, in the Song of Solomon.

For, as I wrote in my article identifying King Solomon as Senenmut (or Senmut) in Egypt:


Solomon and Sheba



Senenmut’s Call


Senenmut is a complete enigma to historians. His ancestry was not unequivocally Egyptian. According to one of his statues ‘I was in this land under [her] command since the occurrence of the death of [her] predecessor …’ [21]. His ‘ancestors were not found in writing’, or – variously translated ‘[whose name] is not to be found amongst the annals of the ancestors’ [22]. Both indicate that Senenmut did not hail from Egypt.


Further possible hints that Senenmut was a foreigner were his fascination with the Egyptian language, his ‘idiosyncra­cies in regard to the Egyptian language – the uncommon substitution of certain hieroglyphs’ and his penchant for creating cryptograms, e.g. in relation to Hatshepsut’s throne name, Make-ra [23]. ….


The Hebrew name, Tamar (“palm-tree”), does appear in of the Song of Solomon.

We find it there twice, in vv. 8 and 9 of Chapter 7:

ז  מַה-יָּפִית, וּמַה-נָּעַמְתְּ–אַהֲבָה, בַּתַּעֲנוּגִים. 7 How fair and how pleasant art thou, O love, for delights!
ח  זֹאת קוֹמָתֵךְ דָּמְתָה לְתָמָר, וְשָׁדַיִךְ לְאַשְׁכֹּלוֹת. 8 This thy stature is like to a palm-tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes.
ט  אָמַרְתִּי אֶעֱלֶה בְתָמָר 9 I said: ‘I will climb up into the palm-tree ….


This draws comments such as ( “[7:89] Date-palm: a figure of stateliness. The lover is eager to enjoy the possession of his beloved”.


There are some enlightening parallels between the story of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13 and that of another Tamar, and Judah, in Genesis 38. (See also my “Joseph and Tamar Comparisons”:

In both cases a sheep-shearing is involved, as is a veiled woman called Tamar, as is a seal.

Craig Glickman has written on this (Solomon’s Song of Love: Let a Song of Songs Inspire Your Own Love Story):


“…. The reference to “a veiled woman” whose activity could be misunderstood is the first of several allusions to Tamar (Genesis 38). Her husband had died. Her husband’s brothers had the responsibility to impregnate her so the family line would not cease. One of the brothers shirked his duty, and her father-in-law refused to permit the second brother to come to her.

The only other man who could continue the family name was the father-in-law himselfJudah. After Judah’s wife died, and as he traveled to a celebratory shearing of his sheep, Tamar put a veil around her, pretending to be a prostitute, and enticed him.

When he promised Tamar a young goat in payment for her service, she requested and received his seal and staff as collateral. Judah later attempted to deliver the goat but could not find the veiled woman he had encountered.

When Tamar’s pregnancy began to show, it was brought to the attention of Judah, who decreed punishment for her immorality, bursting out that she should be burned. But when she showed him his seal and staff, he realized it was he who had been wrong in not instructing his son to provide a child for her; Tamar had been right to continue the family name through the closest relative to her husband”.


Now for Glickman’s comparison with the Shunammite whom he, though, like so many others will refer to wrongly (I believe) as the Shulammite (or “Shulamith’):


“Shulamith’s activity outside as a “veiled woman” could be misinterpreted, but the allusion to Tamar tells us Shulamith has noble character. The praise of Shulamith includes imagery from a celebratory sheep shearing (4.2), and her praise of Solomon as the henna blossoms in the vineyards of “En Gedi” (“Spring of a Young Goat”) may be subtle associations with the story of Tamar also.

Shulamith’s request to be a “seal” (8.6-7), which structurally parallels the association of Solomon with the “Spring of a Young Goat,” (see Appendix C, “The Elegant Design of the Song”) offers further allusions to the story. Solomon, unlike Judah, would not part with his “seal,” which is Shulamith. He is better than the “young goat” offered to her, since he is like henna blossoms in the “Spring of a Young Goat”. Instead of the sheep-shearing being the occasion for a desperate subterfuge by Tamar, it is its primary association with joy and happiness that describes Shulamith’s smile. And unlike Judah, who exclaims that Tamar should be burned for her apparent immorality, Solomon has a flame of love from God for Shulamith.

No wonder Solomon delights to liken Shulamith to a palm tree in 7.7. The word for “palm tree” is “Tamar”.”


One thought on “The vicissitudinous life of Solomon’s pulchritudinous wife

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