Photo by Scala/Art Resource, New York, N.Y.

ON THE COVER: Ensnared by his thick, flowing hair, Absalom swings from the branches of an oak tree while his cousin Joab plunges three spears into his chest. The delicate, lacy quality of this intricate marble inlay from the pavement of the Siena Cathedral belies the brutality of the scene from 2 Samuel 18, which relates the tragic climax of Absalom’s attempt to usurp his father’s kingship. Absalom threatened David both militarily, by attacking his lands, and socially, by sleeping with his concubines. The inscription explicitly links these two incidents: “I saw Absalom hanging by his hair after he had defiled his father’s bed, and he was all transfixed by arrows.” In “Sexual Power and Political Prestige,” Ken Stone examines the relation between Absalom’s sexual and military attacks on David—and similar attempts to usurp the throne of Saul—to understand the role of sex in male political struggles in the ancient world.