Bible Review 10:4, August 1994

Sexual Power and Political Prestige

The case of the disputed concubines

By Ken Stone

Sex has always been of greater interest to anthropologists than to students of the Bible. For that very reason, however, anthropology may offer an added dimension for understanding biblical texts.

I would like to test that proposition by considering two biblical episodes involving sex with concubines. But don’t expect detailed descriptions of sexual activity. We will be talking more about the meaning of sex—or more precisely the meaning of sex and gender—than about anything erotic.

This exercise will also illustrate the possible use of anthropology (and the social sciences generally) as a tool in biblical interpretation. For anthropological and sociological insights are widely thought to provide some of the most exciting new understandings of biblical texts.

The texts on which I will focus come from 2 Samuel. Both recount incidents that occur when Israel’s kingship is in dispute. In the first, David is struggling to become Saul’s successor. In the second, David’s kingship is challenged by his son, Absalom.

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