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Why I don’t believe Nitzevet was King David’s mother


A tapestry of David playing a harp by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) Credit: Wikipedia/Creative Commons

A tapestry of David playing a harp by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) Credit: Wikipedia/Creative Commons

My article, King David’s big dark secret, is easily the most controversial article that I have written on opentheword.org. Including my responses, there have been well over 70 comments (English and Spanish) with many disagreeing with the article.

It all revolves around a statement, David made in the Psalms:

“Behold I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5 NASV)

The main point of the article is that I suggest when King David said that he was conceived in sin we are to interpret the verse literally. This means David was conceived in an act of sin by  his mother who is unnamed.

No where in the Old Testament is David’s mother named. This is curious considering that the mothers of many of the great Biblical characters are named such as Joseph (Genesis 35:24) and Moses (Exodus 6:20).

Now many Christians have interpreted this verse as simply suggesting that David was saying we are all born in sin. And though this is true, I believe the verse needs to be interpreted literally. David was simply telling everyone that he was conceived in an act of sin.

This explains why when Samuel asked to see the sons of Jesse, the elders of Bethlehem brought all of them except David, because he was considered illegitimate and not a true son.

And in fact this is exactly how the ancient Jewish rabbis understood Psalm 51:5. They believed that David was conceived in an act of sin.

But several commenters on the article have suggested that David’s mother was a woman named Nitzevet. This story says that Nitzevet was actually Jesse’s wife, but they divorced. But after the divorce they had one last sexual encounter that led to David’s conception.

According to the law if a man divorced his wife, he was not allowed to remarry her (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). With Jesse having divorced his wife, this sexual relationship with Nitzevet was the act of sin that David was referring to.

However, in my article I offer a second theory. I suspect Jesse had an encounter with a prostitute leading to the birth of David and I cite a Biblical story of a man who had sexual relations with a prostitute that resulted in a son that the man raised as his own (Judges 11:1-2).

If David’s mother was a prostitute, it would explain why she is unnamed.

Now many of the commenters on the English and Spanish version of this article have vehemently disagreed with me insisting that the Nitzevet account is accurate.

So if the Bible does not mention Nitzevet, where does this story come from?

It comes from the Mishnah which is an oral interpretation of the Old Testament scripture that has come down through the centuries. It is basically a commentary on the Old Testament.

Many believe that the Mishnah or this oral tradition started when Moses brought down the Ten Commandments. However, most acknowledge this was not the case, the Mishnah or oral interpretations developed much later.

This oral tradition was finally written down in the second century AD, after Christ’s death on the cross. This written version is called the Talmud.

Not only does it include the Mishnah, but the Talmud also has a section called the Gemara which are selected commentaries written between the second and fifth century after the Talmud was first compiled .

In fact, there are two versions of the Talmud, the Babylon version and Jerusalem version and they don’t always agree with each other.

Now some Jews give the Talmud the same authority as the Old Testament scripture, believing God gave this interpretation to the Rabbis and teachers down through the centuries.

You can see the importance that the Jews give the Talmud in one simple little practice. Many orthodox Jewish men wear a skullcap (also called Kippah or Yarmulke) to demonstrate their faith. There is no requirement in the Old Testament that a Jewish man wear a skullcap, it comes from the Talmud.

However, the Talmud is NOT the Law or the Word of God, it is simply an interpretation of the Old Testament by Rabbis through the centuries. It not only provides a commentary but tries to explain how people could live out the law in everyday life. It even adds new laws and also provides exemptions to get around some of the Old Testament laws.

The Talmud hadn’t yet been written in Jesus’s day, but the Mishnah was very popular and we see several references to it in the Gospels.

Several times Jesus confronted the hypocrisy of the pharisees because of their use of the Mishnah and we see a hint of this conflict in the Gospel of Matthew:

Then some Pharisees and scribes *came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” And He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? (Matthew 15:1-3 NASV)

The “tradition of the elders” is a reference to the Mishnah.

The washing of hands referred to in this verse when eating bread was not part of the law. The Pharisees considered gentiles unclean and because there was a chance bread bought in the market place had come in contact with a gentile, oral tradition required that Jews wash their hands.

But notice verse 3, when Jesus said that the Pharisees were making traditions, the Mishnah, that allowed them to transgress the commandments of God. They were making rules so people could get around obeying the law.

And Jesus cites an example:

Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’” (Matthew 15:3-9 NASV)

The law required children to honor their parents and this included providing for them in their old age. However, if a child did not want to financially help their parents, according to the Mishna they could pronounce their money as Korban or “devoted to God.” Since it was dedicated to God, it could no longer be used to support the parents.

The Mishnah provided a way to nullify the law’s intent and get around the need to honor their parents, an action that Jesus condemned.

And then Jesus cites the prophet Isaiah who also condemned the Mishnah that he described as “human rules” (Isaiah 29:13).

This leads us back to the story of Nitzevet. We have no idea who David’s mother was. Her name is not mentioned in the Bible.

So why was this story about Nitzevet included in the Mishnah?

I believe it was added because the Jewish leaders had a huge theological problem with David.

The Jews believed only by obeying the law could a person be blessed. They also believed that the sins of the parents fell upon the children. We see this at work when the disciples met a blind man:

His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2 NIV)

The Jews believed a person would be punished for their parent’s sin. If David was illegitimate he was equally a sinner as his mother.

If this is the case, how could God bless David if he was conceived in sin?

So they came up with the story about Nitzevet to try to downplay David’s illegitimacy because Nitzevet had been Jesse’s wife at one point.

However, I don’t believe this was the case. God purposefully chose the illegitimate David as the King of Israel to show that the Lord’s mercy and grace was supreme. God was not a respecter of persons. If a man or woman had a heart after God, no matter who their parents were or where they came from or what kind of life they lived or what laws they broke, God would bless them. -EZ

More in this series:

 

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