The Rape of Tamar

Peace in the Community

A Bible study on 2 Samuel 13:1-22 

Introductory remarks on Contextual Bible Study

As one of the few Biblical passages that deals with rape (sexual violence), an expression of violence that the Churches struggle to deal with and often conspires to silence, we will use Contextual Bible Study (CBS) methodology to deal with it. CBS as a brain child of Liberation Theology is a community-based interactive way of studying the Bible that helps advocacy for issues of concern within a given community. It cannot be taught because it is the voices of the participants that matter. The facilitator asks the discussion questions using the two major principles of Biblical hermeneutics: exegetical: literary or critical consciousness questions that draw on tools from Biblical studies-finding meaning of the Biblical text within its historical and social contexts; and interpretative: community consciousness questions that draw on feelings, experiences and resources from the community (the socially locating the readers (facilitator and the community concerned). CBS allows the biblical text to be in dialogue with the context of the reader (community). The major components of CBS, therefore, can be summarized in the five key Cs. These are:

  • Community – it is important to receive an invitation from a community.  Questions raised in the course of interpretation are answered by participants themselves.
    • Responses from participants have to be recorded for their empowerment--to know that what they said was noted.
    • Not an interpretation by an individual but an engagement of all voices with the text.
    • The process of such an exercise is more important than its product.
  • Context – social location of a reader.
    • Serious consideration of the community realities that have become lenses through which the biblical text is being read and interpreted.
  • Criticality – hermeneutical tools of exegesis and interpretation are used by the facilitator who forms the questions to carter for critical reflection.
    • For a text like 2 Samuel 13 dealing with sexual violence, special interpretive tools must be used that might include gender analysis, Christian social ethical theory etc.
  • Conscientization – raising awareness about an issue at the heart of the community.
    • Christians have often a tendency to read the Bible with hermeneutics of trust, guided by the understanding that the Bible is God’s Word and therefore it is a tool of liberation but and find solutions through it. One of the aims of the CBS is to see the Bible as a tool of liberation but also of oppression. For example, the Bible was used to justify apartheid and racism; it is still used to justify the Zionist ideology that accounts for the Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
  •  Change – awareness-raising leads to transformation (positive change). 

Reading the Text


Have six readers: a narrator that will read all the text that is not direct speech of the five characters; the other five as voices of: Jonadab; Amnon, David, Tamar, and Absolom.

2 Samuel 13:1-22 (NRSV)

Questions and observations

In the context of the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation, the purpose of this text is to provide a focus for the theme of “Peace in Community.” It must be recognized from the start, however, that rape is a highly-charged subject. Asking participants to draw from their own and their communities’ experience requires a pastoral approach and a willingness to be flexible in response to what may be shared in discussion.

How might we address the Rape of Tamar according to the methodology of contextual Bible study? This Biblical text together with Judges 19 and others like them are sometimes referred to as texts of terror: They normally do not appear in the liturgical calendars of most churches. In theological/ethical gender studies, such texts are used to break the conspiracy or chain of silence that often exists around issues of sexual violence in a community. Study of this seldom-used text is employed as a means of raising awareness for transformation. It is a tool that helps open up the process to discuss issues which are important in church and society.

Exegetical questions:

What is this story about?

What are the possible themes?

Who are the main characters of this story?

What do we know about each main character?

How much do we know about David’s family?

What do we know about the people who told the story?”

Where are the women in Tamar’s life?

Some feedback to questions above

  • We will know more about who told the story if we check chapter 20.
  • Amnon was the first born, if something happened to him Absalom would benefit.
  • David is the prototype of humanity and highly appreciated in various theological traditions. He expresses only anger and does not act upon his son’s misbehavior.
  • Tamar was not treated as a person, as a Thou. It is a story of men, women do not count.
  • The text was edited before or after the Babylonian captivity.
  • The story reflects the evil which will destroy the household of David. ‘Do not do these things’!
  • Is it important to know the background to this passage in order to interpret? (This is a big question.)
  • Boldness of the Bible to speak of secret stories.
  • Law on marriage and unity: did Tamar know about this law?
  • Was the law mostly concerned with unity, rights or the institution of marriage in Israel?
  • Did it help the household of David to keep silence over this incident (or other similar incidents)?
  • Does it make sense to maintain “peace” by not revealing our own or our leaders’ faults/transgressions?

Interpretive questions

Have we violated people like Tamar in our own contexts?

By “violation”, do we mean only sexual violence, or any kind of violence against women?

Is the marginalization of women “violence”?

See Judges 19: 1-30 and compare it with 2 Samuel 13:1-22: what are the comparisons between the ‘concubine’ and Tamar?

Where are the women in the life of Tamar?

How do our own theologies address the problem of sexual violence against women?

What would you do to maintain integrity in your community after such an incident? 

How does an abused woman reflect on who/what God is?

What kind of resources do we have to address the problem of sexual or other kinds of violence?

What is “just peace” in terms of our communities?

After doing this Bible Study, what are we going to do to address sexual violence in our communities?

Concluding remarks

According to Silent No More: The untapped potential of the church in addressing sexual violence, a TearFund report launched on March 21, 2011 at Lambeth Palace, sexual violence is endemic to many global communities. Its impact is deepened mainly by the conspiracy of silence that communities including churches are part of; and certain Christian teachings and beliefs that are in some cases sustained through certain ways of reading and interpreting the Bible. Contextual Bible Study is an important tool at breaking silence around difficult issues like rape and challenging certain teachings and beliefs that subject some members of communities to oppression and marginalization of any kind. It helps create an atmosphere to speak out and raise awareness; help change entrenched attitudes; and can even help explore available resources for practical care for survivors of sexual violence. It is a strategic tool in the process of building just communities of women and men in church and society. 


Bible study by Fulata Mbano-Moyo.