Bible Stories for Grownups -

David and Jonathan - Part 2

1 Samuel 23:14-29, 31:1-2, David and Jonathan
2 Samuel 1:1-17, 25-27, David and Jonathan

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1 Samuel 23:14-29, 31:1-2, David and Jonathan (7/27/2009)

Warning! Today's Study Tip is rated R for salacious gossip and sexual innuendo. If you don't pay attention to stuff like that, good for you! Skip directly to the scripture reading. I'm not all that interested myself, but as the main perpetrator of our email Bible study, I sort of have to stick around.

Sadly, in this day and age there's probably no way to take a serious, grown-up look at the story of David and Jonathan without considering the idea that they had either a homoerotic or frankly homosexual relationship. As near as I can tell (see above disclaimer about my level of interest), this idea was first put forth in medieval times (e.g., about 1326 in the anonymous Life of Edward II ) and gained some popularity during the Renaissance. Oscar Wilde raised it in his sodomy trial in 1895. In more modern times, even a few Christian writers and one Orthodox rabbi have published writings saying that David and Jonathan had a homosexual relationship. Also as near as I can tell without doing a lot of reading that I'm not going to do, many or all of these writers have a gay-rights agenda that is at least parallel to and that possibly even supplants their Biblical scholarship. Traditional mainstream Christian and Jewish scholars apparently don't just reject the idea, they don't even discuss it much, as near as I can tell. (Probably there are some papers in theological journals, but I couldn't find anything with a brief search.)

Several scripture passages like these appear to be the main source of this idea: The homoerotic/homosexual interpretation is that these verses are thinly veiled references to a sexual relationship. Traditional scholarship has a totally different take on them, needless to say. The traditional view divides roughly into two categories.

The first view is that David and Jonathan had an intense, loving friendship of the type we are enjoined to in the commandment "love your neighbor as yourself." The Hebrew word ahav love used for David and Jonathan's love is the same one used for, say, the love of God for his people and vice versa, love for your neighbor, the love of men and women for each other and for their children, and Isaac's love for savory stew. Hebrew has only this one word for love. Just out of curiosity, I especially looked to see if ahav love occurs either in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah or in any of the laws about forbidden sexual relationships, and it does not.

The second view is that the whole friendship is to some extent a literary device supporting David's succession to the throne; that is, when the history got written, the historians emphasized that Jonathan, the heir, had implicitly made over his claim to David by loving him, protecting him, making a covenant with him, etc., and explicitly made it over in vs. 17, "And said to him, Have no fear, for Saul my father will not get you into his power; and you will be king of Israel, and I will be by your side, and my father Saul is certain of this." This view doesn't hold that they were not close and lifelong friends, only that the closeness of their friendship was emphasized for historical reasons.

By this point in our own relationship, you have probably figured out that I am pretty orthodox in my Biblical interpretations, so you will not be surprised that I reject any homoerotic/homosexual relationship between David and Jonathan. As near as I can tell, however, I reject it on fairly novel grounds. This is my reasoning. The Bible pulls no punches. If Abraham seems to tell a lie, it reports the lie. If Rebecca and Jacob conspire to cheat Isaac and Esau, the Bible reports the conspiracy and cheating. If Moses murders an Egyptian, the murder is on the blotter. If Judah visits (or at least intends to visit) a prostitute, the visit is recorded. If King Ahaz and others sacrifice their children to Molech by burning the children alive, their sins are written up as part of their history. If the Jewish people commit apostasy and are exiled for it, there's no whining that it wasn't their fault. If Peter denies Jesus, there's the denial, right there in black and white. I think that if David and Jonathan had had anything other than an intense friendship, we wouldn't have to speculate about it. It would be clearly stated, and we would know. Therefore, they did not.

2 Samuel 1:1-17, 25-27, David and Jonathan (7/28/2009)

Saul is one of the great tragic figures in history. A "tragedy" comes about when the same quality that makes you great brings about your downfall, and this is what happened to Saul. The Israelites wanted a king to lead them in battle, and Saul was good at it. He was also zealous about being king and wanted Jonathan to be king after him. Consequently, he had his army out chasing David in order to kill him and ensure Jonathan's succession, instead of having David, his mightiest warrior, join him in fighting the Philistines. Eventually the Philistines attacked Saul's army and killed both Saul and his heir, Jonathan.

Far from rejoicing over the death of Saul and Jonathan, David composed a bitter lament (which we read not too long ago, so I have omitted it today). He sent a message of good will and blessing to the men who had buried them. Saul's son Ish-bosheth reigned over most of the kingdom for about seven years, but there was civil war between Ish-bosheth's kingdom and David's tribe, Judah. Abner, Saul's general, supported Ish-bosheth for a time, but then he threw his support to David. He was murdered, but David showed him honor. Eventually Ish-bosheth was assassinated, but when the assassins came triumphantly to David, expecting a reward, he had them executed, and he buried Ish-bosheth's head (which they had brought as proof) with Abner. When the kingdom came to David, one of his actions was to find Jonathan's only surviving son, the lame Mephibosheth, and provide for him throughout his life.

David's politically astute responses to the deaths of Saul, Jonathan, Ish-bosheth, and Abner and his kindness to Mephibosheth went a long way toward consolidating the kingdom by appeasing the supporters of the house of Saul. However, it's also fair to say that David acted out of genuine and abiding love for Jonathan and out of respect for Saul, his king.

More Bible Stories for Grownups

Old Testament Stories

New Testament Stories



The Tower of Babel

Noah's Ark

Jacob and Esau

Stories About Joseph

Moses Parts the Red Sea

Joshua Parts the Jordan

Samuel's Call

David and Jonathan - Part 1

David and Jonathan - Part 2

The Lost Tribes of Israel

Hezekiah's Reprieve

Ruth, Jonah, and Divorce

Feeding of the 5000

Three Parables of Jesus

Six Short Stories About Jesus


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