web analytics
November 21, 2014 / 28 Heshvan, 5775
At a Glance
Sponsored Post
IDC Herzliya Campus A Day on Campus

To mark IDC Herzliya’s 20th anniversary, we spent a day following Prof. Uriel Reichman, IDC’s founder and president, and Jonathan Davis, VP for External Relations, around its delightful campus.

Home » Sections » Arts »

The Insecure Prophet: Walking A Mile In Nathan’s Shoes

David & Bathsheba: Through Nathan’s Eyes

By Joel Cohen

HiddenSpring, 2007, $16.00




         When the prophet Nathan woke up in the morning and saw his to-do list for the day – rebuke the king of Israel for his sin with Bathsheba – did he hit his snooze alarm and try, like the prophet Jonah, to shirk his duty? Did he dress in the normal way and eat his breakfast, or did he deny himself his regular routine to get a head start on mourning his solemn duty and David’s imminent punishment?


         As Joel Cohen’s new book, David & Bathsheba: Through Nathan’s Eyes, correctly points out, “We will never know if, when Nathan condemned the King of Israel, the forebear of Messiah, the Prophet coarsely pressed his finger to the warrior’s chest, or spoke to the King in discreet privacy, whether tears rolled down the Prophet’s cheek when he spoke, or whether Nathan was so repulsed by the sinful conduct of David that he simply ‘pronounced sentence’ on the King, and turned his back to walk away.”



Book jacket. Photo courtesy of Meryl Zegarek Public Relations.



         The Bible simply does not find it necessary to give its readers these sorts of details. To Cohen, a partner at the New York law firm, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, who has recently published several “creative non-fiction” memoirs from the perspectives of biblical characters, “only the human imagination can be invoked to suppose what actually transpired beyond the sparse words delegated in the text – and no one man’s imagination is better than another’s in furnishing, for him, that which remains unstated.”


         Just because the Bible does not describe every detail in every narrative episode, does not mean that it insists (or even encourages) its readers flatten the characters in their minds. Biblical characters were human and, as such, exhibited personalities. And yet some of their deeds are solidified in the Bible, while others are left to the reader’s imagination.


         Notably, the thoughts and actions of women in the Bible are likewise reserved for readers’ imaginations. The Bible offers no words on what went through Bathsheba’s mind when David approached her. Surely, she must have known that if she refused the king’s wishes she might be put to death. And yet, adultery is a sin that is considered so terrible that one must choose it over death. Some say that Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, would have surely served her a conditional set of divorce papers called a “get l’mafrayah,” which would effectively declare that if Uriah never returned from war, the divorce would retroactively have begun from the moment he left. (This strategy was designed to avoid allowing the wife to become an agunah or a woman who must remain faithful to her husband whose whereabouts are unknown.) But the situation is far more complicated, for if that were the case, Bathsheba could not yet have known that Uriah would not return from war, even if David was already considering his plot to abandon him to enemy fire on the front lines.


         A cursory examination of commentators yields very little discussion of Bathsheba’s role in the story. There seems to be unanimous agreement that she has not sinned and is not punished for any sin, though the death of the baby surely punishes her as much as it does David – if not more so. Cohen’s book tangentially addresses Bathsheba’s thoughts (to date, Cohen’s books have focused exclusively on male biblical characters), focusing instead on another relatively quiet and mysterious biblical character, the prophet Nathan.


         Cohen conceived of the idea for his book on the morning of the unveiling of his father’s gravesite. His father was named Nathan, and “he too was a very disciplined man willing to ‘speak truth to power,’” as the prophet Nathan did to David. “On the morning of the unveiling of his gravesite, I looked for the hallmark of the prophet Nathan’s life to find something to say about my father in the context of his namesake. And there it was: precisely how my father would go about getting someone to admit his wrongdoing,” Cohen said over e-mail.




Joel Cohen. Photo courtesy of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan.



         In Cohen’s book, Nathan considers playing hooky – like Jonah. “And who is he who dared condemn David? Just a wrinkled man who arrogantly pointed his finger to the King’s chest and told the King who might so easily have killed him as he did Goliath, Uriah the Hittite, and so many others, that the King is an adulterer and murderer,” says Cohen’s self-conscious Nathan. “Why must these visions be placed in my eyes? And, again, do I sin to quarrel with G-d’s plan for me?”


         Not only does Nathan wonder why he has received prophecies, but he also wonders why G-d sends him to rebuke David and condemn his family, rather than delivering the prophecy directly to David – himself a prophet. And yet Nathan tells David what he does not know himself, namely that he has sinned to G-d. Cohen’s Nathan recounts the moments after he levels the accusation, “You are the man!” – connecting David with the parable about the rich man who steals the pauper’s only lamb.


         “Decades, it seemed, passed during which the King’s silence deafened me. Perhaps, while I still stood before him, the great psalmist would compose those lofty words for which he was so much heralded. Or perhaps he would continue to say nothing. Perhaps, he would simply dispense with me and ask to be left to his thoughts or other duties of state – all the while maintaining a bold exterior. But, in an instant, the words came quickly without embellishment: ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ There was nothing else to say. Nothing else worth saying! And to reveal, at that moment, my own sadness in having told David his punishment would detract from my duty as G-d’s messenger.”


         But more ambitiously, Cohen allows Nathan to reflect upon the very nature of receiving a prophecy. “But as the nighttime approaches, I wonder about my role in all of this, and the role of prophecy,” Nathan thinks, as David lies on his deathbed. “In describing to him some of the bleak future that lay before David, both in his lifetimes and thereafter, I offered no ability to right his wrongs, and possessed none. All I imparted was the ability to reject my parable, or to acknowledge that he was the loathsome ‘rich man’ I had described.” Cohen’s observation captures the reason why biblical kings so often despised the prophets – seeing them always as harbingers of evil and a dark future, as part of the problem without any advice for a solution.


         This surely affected prophets when they were charged with a vision. When he is told to deliver water to the Jews in the desert, Moses epitomizes this when he tells G-d he fears them. “In just a little bit, they shall kill me.” He must have known he was untouchable and still indispensable in the divine plan of redemption, but part of the human condition (as opposed to, say, the angelic one), is the doubts and tricks of the mind that surface. This is regardless of the presence of convincing arguments indicating that all is well. In that light, one can now better understand Jonah’s fear in telling an entire city that it was doomed. The Book of Jonah makes very clear that G-d was dissatisfied with Jonah and punished him through the solicitation of a whale. But it is vital to remember that prophets, despite their extraordinary gift of vision, remain men and are not divine. Any other perspective would be idolatrous.


        Menachem Wecker is a painter, writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. He welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.

About the Author: Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.

If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “The Insecure Prophet: Walking A Mile In Nathan’s Shoes”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Colleagues of the hanged Arab bus driver whose death continues to be referred to as murder despite autopsy finding of suicide. These are Arab drivers of Egged buses, claiming they suffer discrimination by Israelis.
Arab Pathologist Singing New Tune: Murder (By Jews) Not Suicide
Latest Sections Stories
L to R: Sheldon Adelson, Shawn Evenhaim, Haim Saban

As Rabbi Shemtov stood on the stage and looked out at the attendees, he told them that “Rather than take photos with your cellphones, take a mental photo and keep this Shabbat in your mind and take it with you throughout your life.”


Yeshiva v’Kollel Bais Moshe Chaim will be holding a grand celebration on the occasion of the institution’s 40th anniversary on Sunday evening, December 7. Alumni, students, friends and faculty of the yeshiva, also known as Talmudic University of Florida, will celebrate the achievement and vision of its founders and the spiritual guidance of its educational […]


The yeshiva night accommodates all levels of Jewish education.


Recently, Fort Lauderdale has been the focus of international news, and it has not been about the wonderful weather.

Rabbi Sacks held the position of chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth for 22 years until September 2013.

The event included a dvar Torah by student Pesach Bixon, an overview of courses, information about student life and a student panel that answered frequently asked questions from a student perspective.

It is difficult to write about such a holy person, for I fear I will not accurately portray his greatness…

“Grandpa,” I wondered, as the swing began to slow down, “why are there numbers on your arm?”

So the real question is, “How can we, as hosts, make sure our guest beds are comfortable?” Because your guests will never say anything.

It was a land of opportunity, a place where someone who wasn’t afraid of a little hard work, or the challenges of adapting to a different climate and culture, could prosper.

Rule #1: A wife should never accompany her husband to hang out with his buddies at a fantasy football draft. Unless beer and cigars are her thing, that is.

There are many people today with very little training who put out shingles and proclaim themselves to be marital coaches, shalom bayis helpers, advisers etc.

The two World Series combatants, the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants, were Wild Card teams (meaning they didn’t win their respective divisions) that got hot at the right time.

It seems ironic to use the words “Ronald McDonald” and “kosher” in the same sentence, but venture out to New Hyde Park and the two go hand in hand.

More Articles from Menachem Wecker
Menachem Wecker

The exhibit, according to a statement from guest curator Michele Waalkes which is posted on the museum website, “examines how faith can inform and inspire artists in their work, whether their work is symbolic, pictorial, or textual in nature. It further explores how present-day artwork can lead audiences to ponder God, religious themes, venerated traditions, or spiritual insights.”


It all started at an art and education conference at the Yeshiva University Museum. When one of the speakers misidentified a Goya painting at the Frick Collection, both the gentleman sitting next to me and I turned to each other and corrected the error simultaneously.

One of my favorite places when I was growing up in Boston was the used bookstore on Beacon and St. Mary’s streets. Boston Book Annex could play a used bookshop on television; it was dimly lit and cavernous, crawling with cats, and packed with a dizzying array of books, many of which sold three for a dollar. But used bookstores of this sort, however picturesque and inviting, are a relatively modern phenomena. In the Middle Ages, for example, I would never have been able to afford even a single used book unless I had been born into an aristocratic family. (Full disclosure, I was not.)

Jewish medals, several with Hebrew inscriptions and provocative imagery, were among the gems at The European Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, Netherlands, as I wrote in these pages two weeks ago. Another mini-trend at the fair, which will interest Jewish art aficionados, was an abundance of works by Marc Chagall.

It’s virtually impossible to ignore the financial aspects of TEFAF Maastricht, the annual arts and antiques fair in the historic city about two hours south of Amsterdam. More than 250 dealers from nearly 20 countries sell their wares—which span from Greek and Roman antiquities to contemporary sculptures—in the halls of the Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Centre, whose corridors are adorned by nearly 65,000 tulips.

Max Ferguson’s 1993 painting Katz’s may be the second most iconic representation of the kosher-style delicatessen after the 1989 Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan film, When Harry Met Sally. Ferguson’s photorealistic painting depicts the deli from an interesting perspective, which is simultaneously inviting and hostile—in short, the dichotomy of deli culture.

The whole idea of an artful pushka (tzeddakah or charity box) is almost a tease, if not an outright mockery. Isn’t there something pretty backward about investing time and money in an ornate container to hold alms for the poor?

Located about nine miles north of Madrid, the Palacio Real de El Pardo (Pardo Palace) dates back to the early 15th century. Devastated by a March 13, 1604 fire that claimed many works from its priceless art collection, the Pardo Palace and its vast gardens were used as a hunting ground by the Spanish monarchs.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/the-insecure-prophet-walking-a-mile-in-nathans-shoes/2007/08/29/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: