The Rape of Tamar, unknown artist, circa apx 1650-1700
*Trigger warning: Rape.
I’ve been told I’m a daughter of the King, and precious in His sight.
Thank you for the thought. Really, I mean it, thank you.
I just know it isn’t true. And any time someone earnestly says these words to me, it only tears open a wound that won’t heal.
For those who do not understand the reference, it is meant to elevate women, specifically Christian women, to a higher status. To make us feel better about ourselves, so we can tolerate the injustice of being born female. We have to love ourselves when we’re daughters of the King Most High, right? More precious than rubies. Being crushed, dismissed, or abused on earth just makes the glory greater, somehow. It comes out of millennia of oppression in the name of God. Jesus was not guilty of the sin of patriarchy, but most men don’t take notice of that. Frankly, most women don’t.
Do you know who I think of when I hear the words “daughter of a king?” The only one mentioned in the bible who was not anyone’s wife or mother: Tamar. She was forever a princess, albeit a ruined one.
Tamar is a victim to be pitied. Even in a family full of attractive people, she was notably beautiful. Articulate. Intelligent. Obedient. Of royal blood through both parents. She should have been married off to a neighboring king, which was the best thing a woman in her time and culture could ask for. When her half-brother tricks her into his room and rapes her, then throws her out like trash, she does the natural and called-upon thing. She mourns. She tears her beautiful robe, rubs ashes onto her head, and wails, just as if someone had died.
In nearly every translation, verse 20 reads: “So Tamar remained, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom’s house.” Desolate. Because it would have been kinder if Amnon had killed her. Instead, she is left alive but with no future. She’s reduced to a non-person, even worse than that of a childless widow. Desolate. Abandoned, isolated, empty, forsaken. And it never ends. She is given a life sentence as a discarded victim.
Tamar’s full brother, Absalom, who at least gave her safe haven to live out her miserable existence, said this to his cherished sister when he first heard:
1. Are the rumors true?
2. Well, don’t make a big fuss.
3. It’s all in the family, anyway.
4. Get over it.
These were his words of comfort. I have to wonder if he believed the verbal shit coming out of his mouth even as he said it. Instead of saying, “You did not deserve this. I will keep you safe from now on, and you will have a place of honor in my home,” he pats her on the head and tells her not to get hysterical.
It’s possible he didn’t know what to say, so treated her like a stupid child while already plotting to kill Amnon – which he did do, two years later. And besides sheltering Tamar, he named one of his daughters after her. Perhaps as a way for her to live on?
There is no mention of how the other women reacted. Tamar’s mother was a princess by birth, the only one of David’s wives who came from royalty. She possibly expected better treatment for her daughters for this reason. But there is no mention of her, so we don’t know her opinion or even if she was dead or alive at this point. Either way, she was just another member of the harem, as was Amnon’s mother. And Bathsheba was queen.
Which brings us to the king, David. God’s beloved. The greatest king of Israel. Musician, soldier, shepherd. Power-hungry sex addict and terrible father. When word got to him that his first-born son had violated his precious daughter, he flew into a rage.
Then did absolutely nothing.
The one person who should have protected and (if too late for that) avenged Tamar, completely failed her. He did nothing. He said nothing. He was part of the conspiracy of silence meant to convey that this should be ignored. Besides, he still loved his sons – all of them. He couldn’t let this one mistake ruin Amnon’s life. If everyone would just calm down and pretend it didn’t happen, everything would be fine.
When Amnon was assassinated, King David mourned. Even when Absalom turned on him, publically screwed ten of his concubines, and went to war against him – when Absalom was killed, King David mourned. (“My son, my dear son Absalom! Why your death and not my own?”) Where was his grief for Tamar? To live through rape is to survive your own murder. Her life from that point on was nullified. Worse than death. Where was his grief for her? Scripture only says he was angry upon hearing of the crime. Was he angry because Amnon had used him as part of the plan to lure Tamar to his room? She was there on the king’s orders. Did he feel a fool and nothing more?
His beautiful young daughter’s life was over. Where was the song of lament for her? David, who composed countless psalms, did not write a single line for Tamar in her despair.
That is what I think of, when I hear “Daughter of the King.” Precious rubies, my ass.
I have lived in my own exile for over forty years. Like Tamar was deposed and hidden away – a princess but not really, a sister but not really, a daughter but not really – on certain levels, specifically my ten-year-old self, I was banished for something my brother did.
My brother but not really because he was my adopted brother, raped me but not really because he didn’t use his penis, and murdered my psyche but not really because I appeared to go on living.
“At least he isn’t really your brother.” Yeah, that’s been offered as consolation. To which I want to scream:
AS. IF. BORN. TO.
You can’t have it both ways. Either adoption is real or it isn’t. Either blood matters or it doesn’t. It can’t only be “real” whenever it suits you. He and I were adopted by the same parents and grew up together from infancy in the same house. Just because we don’t share blood (which I thank God for) does not mean he was not my brother in every other way.
Why am I even dredging all this up? Because unlike Tamar, no one ultimately avenged me, and my brother the rapist is still around. And I still have to deal with him. And pretend, in front of our father, that everything is fine.
Like King David had his blind spot, my otherwise noble father has his, and this is it. When my mother died I lost my Voice. There was no one left to advocate for me. She was the one who told Dad what happened, but I could barely describe it; I did not have the words. So they did not understand the extent of the damage. But they had no (good) excuse for not taking me to a doctor or some sort of professional in the aftermath. They didn’t, because that would have meant admitting it happened. And it could no longer be kept quiet within the family. It would have exposed me as well as the miscreant piece of filth, and I’m sure it would have been hell.
But I would have known that my father gave a damn. And that would have meant the world to me. That I was the precious daughter of the king.
Instead, I was expected to act as if nothing had happened. I had to continue living with this monster – seeing him, talking to him, sitting at the dinner table with him. Because pretending to be “normal” was the Prime Directive. He was sent away a few times, to group homes or “kid jail” (for other crimes, not this one) but he always came back. And every time he did, I felt raped again.
I was nothing. Like Tamar. It was of no consequence that my childhood ended on the living room floor when I was ten, or that I was rendered sexually crippled before I even reached puberty. Like Tamar, they could look at me and think, “She’s alive, I don’t see any injuries. And that was all in the past. She must be over it. Besides, she’s still a princess. What does she have to complain about?” To which I answer: “And so she remained, desolate…”
This makes people uncomfortable. They even want to blame me for dwelling on it, as if I’m making it worse by doing so. But ignoring it for nearly thirty years is what really did the damage. I was not allowed to mourn or even acknowledge the outrage. I had to keep quiet about the black stain I found on my underwear, about the pain during pelvic exams. To do anything else wasn’t normal.
Yes, I ultimately healed, physically. And I play the role of Princess Royal. But the one who inflicted the wounds is still here. He’s still alive. And he is trying to once again weasel his way back into the palace, into our father’s good graces.
If I’m daughter of the King, he is a son. That’s the crux of it. If we are all children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ, then my brother/rapist is just another one. So pardon me while I don’t feel special about it.
And now I go alone, to face the enemy. To play my part as princess, but this time, as warrior.
Idylls of the King, by Alfred Lord Tennyson
I found Him in the shining of the stars,
I marked Him in the flowering of His fields,
But in His ways with men I find Him not.
I waged His wars, and now I pass and die.
O me! for why is all around us here
As if some lesser god had made the world,
But had not force to shape it as he would,
Till the High God behold it from beyond,
And enter it, and make it beautiful?
Or else as if the world were wholly fair,
But that these eyes of men are dense and dim,
And have not power to see it as it is:
Perchance, because we see not to the close;—
For I, being simple, thought to work His will,
And have but stricken with the sword in vain;
And all whereon I leaned in wife and friend
Is traitor to my peace, and all my realm
Reels back into the beast, and is no more.
My God, thou hast forgotten me in my death;
Nay—God my Christ—I pass but shall not die.