Princess Tamar

Who is Princess Tamar?

David’s son Absalom had a beautiful sister named Tamar

2 Samuel 12:1
  • Born: circa 1000.
  • Place of birth: Judah, Israel.
  • Father: King David.
  • Mother: Maacah bat Talmai (daughter of Talmai, King of Geshur (1 Chronicles 3:3)).
  • Brother (same father and same mother): Absalom

What’s her story?

David’s son Amnon loved her. He was in such anguish over his sister Tamar that he became sick; she was a virgin, and Amnon thought it impossible to do anything to her. Now Amnon had a friend named Jonadab, son of David’s brother Shimeah, who was very clever. He asked him, “Prince, why are you so dejected morning after morning? Why not tell me?” So Amnon said to him, “I am in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.” Then Jonadab replied, “Lie down on your bed and pretend to be sick. When your father comes to visit you, say to him, ‘Please let my sister Tamar come and encourage me to take food. If she prepares something in my presence, for me to see, I will eat it from her hand.’” So Amnon lay down and pretended to be sick. When the king came to visit him, Amnon said to the king, “Please let my sister Tamar come and prepare some fried cakes before my eyes, that I may take food from her hand.” David then sent home a message to Tamar, “Please go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him.” Tamar went to the house of her brother Amnon, who was in bed. Taking dough and kneading it, she twisted it into cakes before his eyes and fried the cakes. Then she took the pan and set out the cakes before him. But Amnon would not eat; he said, “Have everyone leave me.” When they had all left him, Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the bedroom, that I may have it from your hand.” So Tamar picked up the cakes she had prepared and brought them to her brother Amnon in the bedroom. But when she brought them close to him so he could eat, he seized her and said to her, “Come! Lie with me, my sister!” But she answered him, “No, my brother! Do not force me! This is not done in Israel. Do not commit this terrible crime. Where would I take my shame? And you would be labeled a fool in Israel.* So please, speak to the king; he will not keep me from you.” But he would not listen to her; he was too strong for her: he forced her down and raped her. Then Amnon felt intense hatred for her; the hatred he felt for her far surpassed the love he had had for her. Amnon said to her, “Get up, leave.” She replied, “No, brother, because sending me away would be far worse than this evil thing you have done to me.” He would not listen to her, but called the youth who was his attendant and said, “Send this girl outside, away from me, and bar the door after her.” Now she had on a long tunic, for that is how virgin princesses dressed in olden days. When his attendant put her out and barred the door after her, Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long tunic in which she was clothed. Then, putting her hands to her head, she went away crying loudly. Her brother Absalom said to her: “Has your brother Amnon been with you? Keep still now, my sister; he is your brother. Do not take this so to heart.” So Tamar remained, devastated, in the house of her brother Absalom. King David, when he heard of the whole affair, became very angry. He would not, however, antagonize Amnon, his high-spirited son; he loved him, because he was his firstborn. And Absalom said nothing, good or bad, to Amnon; but Absalom hated Amnon for having humiliated his sister Tamar. (Source: 2 Samuel 12: 1-22)

What can we learn from Princess Tamar’s story?

A case of Intra-familiar sexual abuse. She was abused by her own brother or half-brother. The whole family is involved in the sexual abuse: the half-brother, the cousin, the brother, the father, King David, the absent mother.

What are biblical scholars saying about the story of Princess Tamar?

As David wronged Bathsheba, so too will Amnon wrong Tamar, “like father like son.”

Michael D. Coogan

the rape of Tamar is an act of such horrific defilement that it is marked off as distinct from David’s encounter with Bathsheba.

Mark Gray

a beautiful, good-hearted obedient, righteous daughter who is totally destroyed by her family.

Mary J. Evans

Tamar’s story has a direct message for the church in its response to violence against women. The narrative of Tamar’s rape at the hands of her brother is told with a focus that emphasizes the male roles of the story.

Pamela Cooper-White

The lesson should come from the true victim: the female who was raped, not the men left to deal with the situation.

Pamela Cooper-White

Tamar demonstrates the “power-within”, or en-theos (God-within), by resisting as much as she could Amnon’s attack and subsequent banishment.

Pamela Cooper-White

the lesson learned from Tamar is that women, and women victims, must be empowered within themselves with the full support of the Christian church.

Pamela Cooper-White

“The Royal Rape of Wisdom”.

Phyllis Trible

the power struggle between the characters and the vulnerability of Tamar, the sole female in the narrative.

Phyllis Trible

“the plight of the female” (Phyllis Trible).

Phyllis Trible

Tamar has an apparent wisdom and eye for justice.

Phyllis Trible

Even after Amnon violently rapes her, she continues to plead for justice and proper order, not letting anger cloud her judgment.

Phyllis Trible

Biblical study of the story of Tamar

Gray, Mark (1998). “Amnon: A Chip off the Old Block? Rhetorical Strategy in 2 Samuel 13:7-15: The Rape of Tamar and the Humiliation of the Poor”. JSOT. 77: 40.

Mary J. Evans, “Women,” in Bill T. Arnold and H. G. M. Williamson (eds.), Dictionary of the Old Testament Historical Books (Downers Grove: IVP, 2005), 994.

Coogan, Michael (2010). God and Sex. What the Bible Really Says (1st ed.). New York, Boston: Twelve. Hachette Book Group. pp. 112–113.

P. Kyle McCarter Jr, “Second Samuel Commentary,” Harold W. Attridge (eds.), Harper Collins Study Bible; Including Apocryphal Deuterocanonical Books Student Edition NRSV (New York: Harper One, 2006), 454.

Bledstein, Adrien Janis, “Tamar and the Coat of Many Colors”. In Brenner, Athalya (ed.), A Feminist Companion to Samuel & Kings [Second Series] (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000).

Cooper-White, Pamela. The Cry of Tamar: Violence Against Women and the Church’s Response (Fortress Press: 1995).

Trible, Phyllis. Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives (Fortress Press: 1984). (pp. 37-64)


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