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Amnon, Tamar and Absalom


Amnon and Tamar

Lucio Massari (1569-1633). The Prague Castle Gallery Ė Prague.




David had a beautiful daughter whose name was Tamar. Davidís son Amnon fell in love with her. He was so obsessed with her that he fell ill. She was a virgin and Amnon thought it was impossible to do anything to her.

Amnon had a friend called Jonadab. This friend was a son of Shimeah, King Davidís brother. Jonadab was very shrewd so he remarked Amnonís distress. Amnon told him he was in love with Tamar but did not know how to come near her. Then Jonadab proposed Amnon to pretend to be ill and when his father would visit him, to ask for his sister to bring him something to eat and prepare that before him. Amnon pretended to be ill and his father visited him. David indeed sent word to Tamar to prepare food for Amnon. Tamar took dough, kneaded it and made and cooked cakes while Amnon watched. She took the pan and offered it to eat to Amnon, but Amnon refused to eat; He ordered everyone to leave his room and bid Tamar to bring the cakes to his inner room. As she showed Amnon the cakes there, he caught hold of her and wanted to go to bed with her. Tamar refused but Amnon overpowered her and raped her.

Amnon then suddenly hated Tamar. Tamar begged not to be sent away, which would be another wrong done to her after the bad thing that was already done to her. But Amnon would not listen. He called his servants and had Tamar thrown out of his rooms.

David heard what had happened and was very angry. But Amnon was Davidís first born and he loved him very much so he did him no harm. But Tamarís brother Absalom also heard of the rape of his sister since she came to his house inconsolable. He told Tamar that Amnon was his brother and that she should not take the matter too much to heart. But Absalom hated Amnon now for having dishonoured his sister and he did not want to speak to Amnon anymore.

Two years later, Absalom prepared a royal banquet and invited Davidís sons. During the feast Absalom ordered Amnon to be slain. Absalomís servants killed Amnon in the middle of the feasting. Davidís sons leapt to their feet, mounted their mules and fled. Absalom feared the wrath of his father so he fled too and went to Talmai, son of Ammihud, king of Gehur. He stayed there for three years.

After three years Joab, King Davidís army commander and friend, observed that Davidís resolution against his son Absalom had softened so he hired a shrewd woman who could speak well to address David. With a story she eased David into accepting the young man Absalomís return to Jerusalem. Joab brought Absalom back himself. David did not want to see his son, so Absalom retired in his own house.

After two years David finally admitted Absalom to him. Absalom fell with his face to the ground before King David and David blessed his son again. Four years went by.

Amnon and Tamar

Lucio Massari showed Tamar at the moment that she brings a dish of food to the supposedly sick Amnon, her brother. Amnon already opened Tamarís shirt so that her full breasts are bare and he draws her nearer to him. Amnon looks with imploring eyes of love and desire at Tamar, but she refuses him and with her free arm tries to fend off the entreaties of her brother. On the right side of the canvas, Jonadab keeps away the courtiers that would like to visit King Davidís preferred son.

Massari painted a nice girl, Tamar, with roman features. She is tall and she has very long legs, which are not covered by her red robe. The robe alluringly opens to allow her legs to be bare and their nudity adds to the nudity of Tamarís breast so that she is all too seductive in her innocence, not to entice Amnon. Tamar looks like a virtuous girl, but one that is unaware of her attraction on males and Massari has well captured this chaste aspect of the girl.

Lucio Massari depicted the scene of the rape of Tamar by Amnon quite austerely; even the figure of Tamar is impressive in her blameless and spotless beauty. Massari painted a scene that is easily grasped by viewers. The two figures are rather statically presented and few added elements distract the viewer from the main figures of the theme. That is entirely in the Classicist Baroque style, as Massari had learned from the Carracci painters in Bologna. The lines of the composition therefore remain strict, axed on the verticals of Tamar, of Amnon, of Amnonís friend and even of the bed. The only detail of decoration that Massari added is the winged female, sphinx-like figure that in bronze, golden colours supports the bed. That sculpture is more a symbol of female sensuality and attraction than a real ornament.

Lucio Massari was a well-skilled professional. So he used bright, pure colours in the two principal figures: red and a little blue on Tamar, brown-yellow on Amnon. All the rest of the painting is in quite dark tones, simplifying the view for the spectator and centring the attention on Amnon and Tamar. Viewers indeed are first attracted by bright, pure hues. So Massari used these exclusively on his two figures whereas the other elements of the picture are painted in dark brown and grey colours. To brighten up the background however, he painted marvellous blue curtains over the bed and this contrasts well with the white linen on the bed. This combination of colours, separated by very dark blue or black is quite happy.

The story of ĎAmnon and Tamarí is a story of incest. Yet the story was written down in a rather detached, calm and objective way, without much emphasis on the sin of incest. A man subjugates a young girl, but it seemed not so horrible, when this Bible part was written, that the man was the brother of the girl. Amnonís brother, Absalom, was very angry at the rape and he killed Amnon for it. But the deed is only told as the revenge of a brother on the rape of his sister. Th very reasons of Absalomís anger are not really declared in the Bible and Absalom could as well be angry because his sister was raped, as because he loved the girl himself or, more probably, because Amnon was the preferred son of his father. Jealousy and not revenge over an incestuous deed may have been Absalomís main motive for the murder of Amnon. Incest between brother and sister may have been more tolerated in biblical times than now. But also, the writers of the texts of the Old Testament may have preferred here to tell the story without moral evaluation because it was linked to their most splendid hero, King David and his family.

Absalomís Rebellion

Absalom was very much praised for his beauty. He had marvellous thick hair. The people liked Absalom. Absalom fomented rebellion. He travelled to Hebron. From there he sent couriers throughout Israel to say that when they heard the trumpet sound they were to say, ĎAbsalom is king at Hebron.í Soon the conspiracy grew in strength. Messengers told David that the men of Israel had shifted their allegiance to Absalom. David fled from Jerusalem. But the king ordered Zadok the priest to take the Ark back into the city. David said that if he had Yahwehís favour then God would bring him back to the Ark. Davidís confidence in Yahweh had not wavered. David sent his friend Hushai back to Jerusalem too, to stay in the palace and in the vicinity of Absalom, to hear everything and report it to the priests Zadok and Abiathar so that David would hear what happened there.

Absalom arrived in Jerusalem and asked Ahithopel the Gibonite, Davidís former counsellor who had gone over to Absalom, what he should do next. Ahithopel advised Absalom to go to his fatherís concubines. Ahithopel said that this should be arranged for all Israel to see how Absalom antagonised his father. David had left his concubines to look after Jerusalem for him; the women were still in Jerusalem. So a tent was pitched for Absalom and Absalom went to his fatherís concubines so that Yahwehís prediction became true.

Hushai, Davidís spy in the palace, thwarted some of Ahithopelís plans to fall on David and kill him while he was tired and dispirited. David received word form Hushai and fled across the Jordan. When Ahithopel saw that his advice to Absalom had not been taken, he want home and to his own house and hanged himself.

Absalom marched on King David. David then split his army in three groups, which he put under the command of Joab, of Abishai and of Ittai the Gittite. These able commanders engaged Absalomís troops. Davidís retainers defeated the army of Israel. The battle was a great victory for David.

Absalom fled away. He ran into some of Davidís guards so he had to run fast. Absalom rode his mule and the mule passed under the thick branches of a great oak. Absalomís head got caught in the oak and he was left hanging in the tree while his mule went on. Someone saw this and reported it to Joab. Joab went to the oak and to Absalom. He took three darts and planted these in Absalomís heart while Absalom was still alive, hanging in the oak tree. Then Joabís armour-bearer arrived, struck Absalom and killed him. They took Absalom, flung his corpse in a deep pit in the forest and raised a huge cairn over it.

Two messengers brought David the tiding that a victory had bene won and that Absalom was killed. David wept for his son and victory was turned into mourning. David covered his face and cried out, ĎMy son Absalom, Absalom my son, my son.í David then returned home to Jerusalem. He was greeted by Meribbaal who pleaded again allegiance to David and who told that Ziba had not told all the truth.

With the death of Absalom did not return and end to the internal upheavals in Israel however. Soon a man called Sheba, son of Bickri, from the highlands of Ephraim, revolted against Israel. Davidí army commanders pursued Sheba. They besieged Abel Beth-Maacab. The townsmen, wanting to save their lives, cut off Shebaís head and threw it to Joab. Joab left the siege and returned to Jerusalem with the army.

David rules as King of Israel. He made a census in Israel. Israel had eight hundred thousand fighting men and Judah five hundred thousand. More than Israel, Judah supported David.

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