The Gemara (Talmud Bavli Shabbos 55b-56b) relates that several Biblical figures who, from the text itself, seemed to have sinned, in reality did not. These statements take the form of "כל האומר פלוני חטא אינו אלא טועה" - "Anyone who says that So-and-so sinned is merely mistaken". The Talmud applies this to the following persons:
- Reuven, when he seemingly cohabitated with his father's concubine, Bilhah. (Bereshis 35:22)
- Chofni and Pinchas, the sons of Eli, when they seemingly cheated those bringing offerings at Mishkan Shilo and cohabitated with the women who congregated at the Mishkan. (I Shmuel 12-17,22)
- The sons of Shmuel, when they seemingly took bribes and corrupted justice. (I Shmuel 8:3)
- David, when he seemingly violated אשת איש and perhaps killed Uriah indirectly. (II Shmuel 11:4, 15; 12:9)
- Shlomo, when he seemingly became involved with idol worship. (I Melachim 11:4-6)
My question is, are these to be taken literally as historical accounts, or are they to be interpreted metaphorically like many other midrashim we find in the Talmud as they contradict the straightforward meaning of the text?