Amnon was the eldest son of David, through his wife Ahinoam. Ahinoam was a Jezreelite. After doing some research I found that Jezreel was a town in the territory of Issachar. He is the older brother of
Amnon Transgresses Against Tamar
Most of what we know about Amnon is told in 2 Samuel 13. It is here that we learn of his incestuous infatuation with his sister, Tamar, and how he plots to take advantage of her and rape her. With the aid a his first cousin and close friend, Amnon lures Tamar to his room under false pretenses then forces himself upon her. Despite claiming to love Tamar, it is evident both before the rape (when Tamar begs him to do things the right way and may her first) and after the rape (when he decides that he hates her and sends her away), he never cared about her.
Amnon actually breaks 4 laws when he commits this transgression:
- Rape (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)
- Incest (Leviticus 18:9)
- Premarital sex (1 Corinthians 7:2)
- Failure to uphold obligations after rape and/or premarital sex (Exodus 22:16-17)
The Death of Amnon
It is unclear how many of his siblings are made aware of his transgression, but we know that at least Absalom is aware. Absalom is determined to avenge Tamar’s honor and plots to kill Amnon. During a celebratory trip with all the brothers present, Absalom instructs his servants to kill Amnon when he becomes drunk with the wine. When their father, David, learns the news he is at peace because he knows justice has been served on behalf of Tamar.
Amnon and Mental Illness
I am not a psychologist, nor have I taken any psychology classes, however, I am convinced that Amnon had a mental illness. There are three main factors that cause me to believe this:
- He is “in love” with his sister, despite the fact that they grew up together with the knowledge that they were sister and brother.
- He desires his sister to the point that he loses weight over not having her.
- After raping his sister, he despises her.
The Taboo and Forbidden Love
Majority of people do not find their siblings to be sexually attractive—this is known as the Westermarck effect. Though still a theory, the Westermarck effect suggests that two people who grow up together in a sibling-like atmosphere before the age of 6 will essentially repel each other in terms of sexual attraction. Despite not being experts on this theory, most people would come to the same conclusion very easily.
On the other end of the spectrum, however, is something call Genetic Sexual Attraction (GSA), This usually occurs when long lost siblings meet—they did not spend their early years together and thus the repulsion that should have developed is not there. Despite the knowledge that the person is a sibling, parent, or child, they are still able to develop sexual and romantic attraction to the person. While, I don’t think this is a named mental illness, it is something that people seek out therapy for.
I believe Amnon and Tamar fall closer to the Westermarck end of the spectrum than the GSA end, which is why I note it as extremely odd. Cases of GSA usually happen to people who are separated at birth and then reunite as adults; Tamar and Amnon were never separated. David and all of his wives lived in Jerusalem together. While I can concede that they might not have grown up the way siblings with the same parents do, I suspect they still grew up in the palace together and knew of each other as siblings before the onset of puberty.
Let’s say there was some distance between Tamar and Amnon growing up and the Westermarck effect never occurred. It’s one thing to be enamored with your sister, but Amnon was so distressed that he was visibly loosing weight. Amnon’s best friend notices Amnon losing weight and inquires what the matter is. This seems very unhealthy as well—especially since as soon as he has is way he decides he doesn’t want her after all.
When Tamar is a virgin and off limits to him, Amnon is thoroughly infatuated with her and obsessed with having her. The moment he has his way with her, he becomes disgusted by her. In some ways it seems like a reverse Madonna-Whore Complex (MWC), and in others it seems exactly like a MWC.
The MWC describes men who rigidly distinguish sex and motherhood. For them, sexuality and nurturing can not coexist in the same woman. As such, they divide women in to two groups: the madonnas and the whores. Women who are considered madonnas, exhibit characteristics that are seen as pure and good for a wife and mother, while sexuality and sexual attraction is only attributed to the whores. In this dichotomy, the men do not view the women they respect sexually and do not respect the women they view sexually.
In Amnon’s case, it seems like a reverse MWC in that he is sexually attracted to the virginal Tamar but disgusted by the violated Tamar. However, if you think about it, Amnon was never attracted to Tamar because of her virtue. From the very beginning, Amnon treats Tamar as a sexual object. If he respected her and saw her as virtuous, he would have asked for her hand in marriage before sleeping with her and he would not have concocted a scheme to get her alone. Essentially, if Amnon had viewed Tamar as “wife material,” he would have pursued her as a wife. Instead, he treats her the way men treat a mistress or prostitute and completely ignores her protests. The reason Amnon hates Tamar after the fact is because he actually hated her all along; this hatred was just clouded by his lust for her.
References & Footnotes
- “Strong’s H3158. יִזְרְעֵאלִי“. Blue Letter Bible; visited October 2022
- Delphine De Smet, Linda Van Speybroeck, Jan Verplaetse. “The Westermarck effect revisited: a psychophysiological study of sibling incest aversion in young female adults”. Evolution and Human Behavior. 35 (1). pp 34-43. January 2014; visited October 2022
- Robert Porter. “What Is Genetic Sexual Attraction And Is It Real?”. Better Help. October 5, 2022; visited October 2022
- Brooke Borwnlee. “The Psychology of the Madonna Whore Complex”. Modern Intimacy. August 11, 2022
- Orly Barekey, Rotem Kahalon, Nurit Shnabel, and Peter Glick. “The Madonna-Whore Dichotomy: Men Who Perceive Women's Nurturance and Sexuality as Mutually Exclusive Endorse Patriarchy and Show Lower Relationship Satisfaction”. Sex Roles. pp 519–532. November 2018; visited October 2022. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-018-0895-7