© Ingeborg and Dr. Wolfgang Henze, Wichtrach/Bern

Absalom rapes his father’s concubine while the cuckolded King David, at right, gazes on. The harsh, jagged lines of this woodcut by the German expressionist artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner convey the violence of the scene, in which, author Ken Stone argues, Absalom symbolically usurps David’s political power by overcoming his control of sexual access to his household. The woodcut appears in Kirchner’s hand-printed book Absalom, which, in pictures, tells of Absalom’s fatal attempt to take the kingship from his father.

With the aid of David’s counsellor Ahithophel, Absalom surprised David by proclaiming himself king in Hebron. After David fled from his home, Ahithophel advised Absalom: “Have sexual intercourse with your father’s concubines, whom he left to mind the palace. When all Israel hears that you have become odious to your father, all who support you will be encouraged” (2 Samuel 16:21). Absalom pitched a tent on David’s roof and slept with his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.