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David and Jonathan.

David and Jonathan: A Secret Biblical Bromance?

The deep, emotional relationship that bonded David and Jonathan is related in the books of Samuel. The two are said to have formed a covenant of friendship, even though their situation essentially made them rivals for the crown. But was theirs a strong platonic relationship, or an example of homosexuality in the Bible?

The Relationship Between David and Jonathan

In the Bible, Jonathan is the eldest son of King Saul of Israel. He is described as strong, swift, and a talented archer. For his part, David is best known for his defeat of the giant Goliath. He is depicted as a skilled warrior, poet, and musician and is part of the tribe of Judah and the son of Jesse of Bethlehem. When God became angry with Saul for an undesired sacrifice, he had the prophet Samuel anoint David to be king instead of the rightful heir, Jonathan. Although this basically made Jonathan and David competitors for the throne, the two men were on friendly terms and it was David who became king, with Jonathan’s support.

Gottfried Bernhard Göz: Jonathan greeting David after David killed Goliath.

Gottfried Bernhard Göz: Jonathan greeting David after David killed Goliath. ( Public Domain )

The friendship between David and Jonathan is one that is held up by many Bible scholars as a good example of male bonding between heterosexual men. Jonathan and David were good friends in spite of the jealousy of King Saul, and Jonathan even went out of his way to protect David from Saul’s jealousy and selflessly acknowledged David as the rightful king of Israel - even though it meant giving up his future throne.

David and Jonathan (1Sam. 20:42)

David and Jonathan (1Sam. 20:42) ( Public Domain )

Dialogues of Friends or Lovers?

This devotion between Jonathan and David has been interpreted by some in recent decades to suggest a homosexual relationship. This discussion has become more heated in recent years because of the major controversy which has arisen both within and outside the Church over whether homosexuality is permissible according to the Bible. The preponderance of the evidence shows that although David and Jonathan were close, their intimacy was not unusual for heterosexual male friends in that culture - leaving insufficient reasons to suggest any sort of romantic relationship between them.

One of the main arguments used in favor of romance between them is the strong language used to describe their relationship. The Biblical text says that their souls were “knit together” and that Jonathan loved David “as his own soul (1 Samuel 18:1-3).” Furthermore, David tells Jonathan on their final departure that his relationship with Jonathan was better than that of a woman (2 Samuel 1:26).

David and Jonathan (1642).

David and Jonathan ( 1642). ( Public Domain )

Although this sounds odd to Westerners, it would not have been out of place in dialogue between heterosexual male friends in the ancient Near East; where stronger language and exaggeration tend to be used in describing intimate non-romantic and non-sexual relationships. A modern example would be pictures of male Middle Eastern leaders kissing each other on the cheek. This is not a sign of romantic involvement between them but rather the equivalent to a warm handshake.

Abraham Rihbany, a Bible scholar who was also a native of the Levant (Syria, Palestine, and Jordan), being Lebanese, in his book, The Syrian Christ , recounts how men in the Middle East act towards their heterosexual male friends. He describes words and behavior that are very similar to those used by David and Jonathan towards each other. Rihbany is a New Testament scholar talking about 1st century Palestine, but in many ways the 11th century BC was not very far removed from the 1st century AD. Even today, Middle Eastern people are still as affectionate and colorful with their words as they were at the time of Christ two thousand year ago. Thus, it is not unreasonable to suggest that they were the same way a thousand years before Christ.

David and Jonathan in St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh.

David and Jonathan in St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh. (Lawrence OP/ CC BY NC ND 2.0 )

Gestures of Affection and Politics

Another specific case that is used to argue that David and Jonathan were romantically involved is where Jonathan takes off his armor and robe and puts them on David (1 Samuel 18:4). Some have suggested that this is a sexual encounter. The main problem with this idea is that Jonathan is the only one taking off his clothes. It is more likely that Jonathan is simply giving David his armor.

Some still argue that this is a sign of romantic affection since Jonathan essentially gives David everything, including his right to the throne, in this gesture. However, the Biblical background of this event is that David had earlier been anointed king of Israel and thus it was David, not King Saul’s son Jonathan, who was the rightful heir to the throne. Hence, all Jonathan is doing by giving David his right to the throne through offering him his robe and armor is acknowledging that Yahweh has made David the rightful king. This might also be a gesture of friendship or affection, but it is mainly a political and religious gesture. No romantic interpretation is necessary.

Jonathan gives David his robe, armor, and weapons.

Jonathan gives David his robe, armor, and weapons. ( CC BY NC )

Were David and Jonathon Married?

Another line of evidence that has been brought up by proponents of this hypothesis of a romantic relationship between David and Jonathan, such as the scholar Jeremy Townsley, is that there is a passage (1 Samuel 18:21) which says that when Saul gave his daughter’s hand in marriage to David, he said for a second time that David would be his son in law.

Townsley interprets this as saying that David was already in a same-sex marriage with Jonathan, since David only had a relationship with two of Saul’s children, his daughter Michal and Jonathan. A closer analysis of the original language in the text, however, shows that Saul is saying that David will become his son in law because of his second daughter not that he will become his son in law a second time, which makes a second marriage explanation unnecessary.

Another issue with this argument is that had David and Jonathan been married, either Jonathan would become a member of David’s house or David would have become a member of Jonathan’s house. Neither would have been what king Saul would have wanted. He wanted a king who was a member of his lineage to be on the throne of Israel. Something which would not be possible in the case of Jonathan becoming king if he was already in the house of David. Also, he would not have wanted David to be a member of his house since he considered David his mortal enemy. A marriage between David and Jonathan would have been very problematic politically and it was therefore unlikely.

Saul tries to kill David.

Saul tries to kill David. ( Public Domain )

Is it All Just a Modern Misunderstanding?

As homosexuality becomes more mainstream in Western culture, there have been increasingly more attempts to neutralize divides between Christianity and the modern West on this issue by saying that the Bible does not actually condemn same-sex romantic relationships, only certain instances - such as those involved in pagan rituals or pederasty.

Unfortunately for those who want to say that the Bible does not forbid homosexuality, the arguments for positively portrayed same-sex romantic relationships in the Bible tend to be based on a misunderstanding of the cultural context or otherwise anachronistic. It is possible that the Biblical position on homosexuality is more complex than previously thought, but those who want to argue this case must do it with rigorous quality research and a good understanding of the cultural, social, and linguistic background of Biblical text.

Biblical Prince Jonathan and David embrace. Manuscript illustration of La Somme le roy, ca. 1300 AD.

Biblical Prince Jonathan and David embrace. Manuscript illustration of La Somme le roy, ca. 1300 AD. ( Public Domain )

Top Image: David and Jonathan. Source: Public Domain

By Caleb Strom

References

“Was King David Gay?” by James Patrick Holding (N.D.). Tekton Apologetics Ministries. Available at: http://www.tektonics.org/gk/gaydavid.php

Rihbany, Abraham Mitrie.  The Syrian Christ . Houghton Mifflin, 1916.

“David love Jonathan more than women.” Would Jesus Discriminate. Available at:  http://wouldjesusdiscriminate.org/biblical_evidence/david_jonathan.html

Comments

It happens all over the middle east and Arab world. When I was in Egypt once was waiting for a friend at Tahir Square in Cairo, I was waiting for him and was approached by several men who wanted to take me home and be friends. Gay-dar worked exceptionally well there inspire of obvious language barriers. Because of their wealth and position,David and Johnathan were close, intimate. In short: they were lovers in every sense of the word.

One should question exactly why Saul was so angry with David. We have been taught that Saul was jealous of David and his popularity, but what brought that about?

David did not seem to particularly sad when Michal was brought back to him. To say David and Jonathan were married might be a stretch, considering that David still respected the law of Moses even if he broke it a few times. Now, we might also consider exactly why Uriah chose to sleep outside David's bedroom door even though when Uriah was home from fighting he didn't go to his wife. David saw Bathsheba and lusted after her.

But we do have to question why David and Jonathan made a covenant vow at Mizpah, David agreeing to care for Jonathan's children and grandchildren, Mephiboseth was a grandson of Jonathan. And why did Uriah sleep outside David's bedroom, as though Uriah was infatuated with him?

It would make sense that Saul's anger toward David was a result of an illicit relationship with Jonathan, rather than some kind of jealousy on the part of Saul. Clearly David had issues in his marriage with Michal. Why would David prefer the brother over the women?

I don't think it has anything to do with any "Middle Eastern" tradition as it is not recorded elsewhere in the Bible as men being friends that intimately. Why would David honor the vow made to Jonathan when he didn't mention taking that good of care of his own children?

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