Tuesday, August 05, 2014

David and Jonathan

Was Jonathan David's boyfriend? Dumb question, I know, but since homosexual revisionists are trying to prooftext their immorality from Scripture by making that claim, it's one of those things which Christians need to be able to refute.

A couple of general points before we consider the details:

i) Some homosexual apologists claim the canonical version has been redacted. That the original account was more explicit about their homosexuality. That's a backdoor admission that they can't get what the need from the text as it stands.

ii) The very same book records David's notorious affair with Bathsheba. Odd behavior for an alleged homosexual! This isn't like wedding a royal daughter, which he might do for the political benefits. Rather, that's straightforward heterosexual lust. 

At best, then, homosexual apologists will have to contend that David was bisexual rather than homosexual. 

As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul…3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul (1 Sam 18:1,3).
i) As commentators point out, "love" is stock jargon in ANE diplomacy. For instance:
Now Hiram king of Tyre sent his servants to Solomon when he heard that they had anointed him king in place of his father, for Hiram always loved David (1 Kgs 5:1). 
That's standard, suzerain/vassal terminology. And that's reinforced by the explicit covenantal framework in v3, where Jonathan initiates a treaty with David . So this is about Jonathan's political allegiance to David and vice versa. 
ii) That said, we shouldn't deny the fact that David and Jonathan were best friends. Straight men can love each other–platonic love.  
iii) There's probably a degree of professional admiration, soldier-to-soldier, at seeing David defeat Goliath. Jonathan is a combatant, too, so he'd be impressed by David's brave performance. Mind you, a lesser man that Jonathan would resent David's triumph. 
And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt (1 Sam 18:4).
i) Some readers think that's a racy description, but notice the parallel with King Saul:
38 Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, 39 and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” So David put them off (1 Sam 17:38-39).
Just as Saul's action has no sexual connotations, neither does the comparable action by Jonathan.
ii) It's a symbolic gesture. Jonathan is the heir apparent. Yet he's relinquishing his "rightful" claim to the throne in favor of David. An emblematic transfer of power. Cf. "And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son" (Num 20:28); "Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him" (1 Kgs 19:19); "and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your sash on him, and will commit your authority to his hand" (Isa 22:21). 
iii) It foreshadows David's ascension to the throne. How could Jonathan be so prescient? Perhaps he overheard what Samuel told Saul. Or perhaps that was reported to him. It's not as if Saul was necessarily alone when Samuel spoke to him. Likewise, he may have gotten wind of Samuel anointing David, to take Saul's place. Cf. 1 Sam 13 &15. Or maybe he spoke to Samuel directly. 
In any case, he realizes that the Saulide succession is probably doomed. So there's an element of self-interest in his action. If David is God's chosen replacement for Saul, then it's prudent for Jonathan to befriend David and assume a subordinate role. For if David regards Jonathan as a dangerous rival to the throne, then that's a hazardous position for Jonathan to be in. Jonathan fears for the safety of his own family, and takes precautionary measures to care for them.  
41 And as soon as the boy had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap and fell on his face to the ground and bowed three times. And they kissed one another and wept with one another, David weeping the most.
i) As the crown prince, Jonathan is technically David's social superior. 
ii) This isn't something they did on a regular basis. It's a tearful farewell between best friends. 
iii) Males kissing each other on the cheek is customary etiquette in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures. It has no sexual connotations. I remember sitting at an outdoor cafe, some years ago, in Aix-en-Provence, as I saw a couple of school boys returning home. They greeted their older male relatives with a kiss. 
Most of us have seen news footage of Arab leaders kissing each other on the cheeks. This despite the fact that they may hate each other. 
iv)There's nothing abnormal about straight men expressing physical affection. Take this description of West Point cadets:
Cadets are sentimental about any departure; there are hugs, back slaps and complicated handshakes. The corps feels like one huge team exiting the locker room. D. Lipsky, Absolutely American: Four Years at West Point (Vintage 2004), 39. 
A military academy is about as macho as you can get. Same thing with physical affection among football players, UFC fighters, &c. 
 42 Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, because we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.’” And he rose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city (1 Sam 20:41-42).
This reinforces the pragmatic aspect of their mutual defense pact. It isn't just that Jonathan is very fond of David. Jonathan is a married man. He's looking out for the welfare of his owns sons by forming a private alliance with David. Ensuring the survival of his own line. 
14 If I am still alive, show me the steadfast love of the Lord, that I may not die; 15 and do not cut off your steadfast love from my house forever, when the Lord cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth (1 Sam 20:14-15).
Jonathan tactfully reminds David to honor their agreement. "Loving kindness" (Heb=hesed) is covenant nomenclature. Fidelity to the terms of the oath or treaty. Cf. "But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Saul's son Jonathan, because of the oath of the Lord that was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of Saul" (2 Sam 21:7). 
In the ANE, establishing a new dynasty typically involved assassinating the descendants of the old king, to preemptively eliminate the threat of "pretenders" to the throne. 
I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women (2 Sam 1:26).

In a warrior culture, comrades were often closer to each other than they were to their wives. Fighting side-by-side is a "bonding" experience. Having someone watch your back. Risking your own life to protect your comrade, and vice versa. The friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu furnishes another ANE example. 

Conversely, marriage could be a fairly pragmatic affair. A way to produce legitimate heirs. 


  1. Thank you Steve, there are many good points here.

    "This reinforces the pragmatic aspect of their mutual defense pact. It isn't just that Jonathan is very fond of David."

    Not to mention, Jonathan referring to himself as "your servant" in 1 Samuel 20:8 shows the political nature of their conversation.

    Some people also make a big deal about Jonathan "delighting in" David in 1 Samuel 19:1, but although ḩāpēş sometimes has sexual overtones (Genesis 34:19; Deuteronomy 21:14; Esther 2:14; Canticles 2:7; 3:5; 8:4); (each time with reference to a man’s wife or betrothed), usually it doesn't (Numbers 14:8; 2 Samuel 20:11; 22:20; 1 Kings 10:9; 2 Chronicles 9:8; Esther 6:6-11; Psalms 18:19; 41:11; Isaiah 62:4; Malachi 2:17; 3:1). Also, a similar statement by Saul in 1 Sam 18:22 should make this clear.

  2. i) nice straw man to begin with. I brought this up in an earlier never approved comment because I believe firmly in Solca Sciprtura, what's canonical abut them is all I needed.

    ii) No one is accusing David of being Monosexually Gay. The point is, the Ancient World did not have our modern Notion of Sexual orientation. Attraction to Men did not preclude attraction to women. Same with King James. At any-rate Daniel and is not known to have been involved with any Women, and he has similar implications with the Chief Eunuch in Daniel 1.

    Conservative Christians do not fail to see the Homoerotic nature of the same kinds of details in Pagan myths about a mythical Hero and his very close friend. Like Achilles and Patorcolus, Herakles with either Iaolus or Hylas, or Orestes and Pylades. Or Gilgamesh and Enkidu. With those it further proves to them that Homosexuality or Bisexuality is something Pagan and therefore Evil. But I for one believe Greek mythology in particular was largely steeling ideas the Hebrews did first. All those Greek Bromances were just trying to emulate David and Johnathon.

    I'm well of all those meanings explanation for each details. But if the same scenes played out with a Woman no one would be questioning that we're supposed to suspect something Romantic or Sexual going on.

    1. Jared,

      >>The point is, the Ancient World did not have our modern Notion of Sexual orientation. Attraction to Men did not preclude attraction to women.<<

      Attraction to men doesn't preclude attraction to women in today's society either. And they clearly knew of people who were only attracted to same-sex people (cf. Plato's Symposium). So I'm not sure what's supposed to be new in our view of sexual orientation.

      >>Conservative Christians do not fail to see the Homoerotic nature of the same kinds of details in Pagan myths about a mythical Hero and his very close friend.<<

      Actually, I've never heard a Christian suggest Gilgamesh and Enkidu were homosexual. I haven't read anything on Achilles or the others. Can you provide me some quotes from conservative Christians that claim these are persons are homosexual? I'm just curious.

      But anyway in a culture where homosexuality is openly practiced, one is more likely to interpret close male friendships as being homosexual. But in a culture where homosexuality is condemned or taboo, one is less likely to interpret close male friendships as being homosexual. That's simple common sense. Over the past decade male-male friendships in our own culture have become more self-conscious about not appearing gay. Heterosexual males have been forced to carve out some distance where they wouldn't otherwise simply because of the cultural context and it's openness on homosexuality.

      >>But I for one believe Greek mythology in particular was largely steeling ideas the Hebrews did first. All those Greek Bromances were just trying to emulate David and Johnathon.<<

      The standard dating of the Epic of Gilgamesh precedes David and Jonathan. Do you have any evidence for this reliance or is this just conjecture?

      >>I'm well of all those meanings explanation for each details. But if the same scenes played out with a Woman no one would be questioning that we're supposed to suspect something Romantic or Sexual going on.<<

      If I looked at your behavior towards your mother and had those same behaviors played out with an attractive woman unrelated to you, no one would be questioning that something romantic is going on. So, it's a bit sick that you have sexual feelings toward your mom, Jared. Hope you get help with that.

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  4. JaredMithrandir,

    You need something far more explicit than what you have in the canonical account of the relationship between David and Jonathan. You’re forced to throw in with those who argue the account has been redacted. Thus your appeal to Sola Scriptura is dashed to pieces.

    I have never understood those who think this is a good argument: David and Jonathan engaged in homosexual sex so its ok for you too as well. Do we praise everything David did? Do we encourage our people to behave, in every way, as David did? I think not. If we, just for fun, grant that this is a romantic relationship I would think what ultimately happens to Jonathan would give pro-homosexual activists pause in putting the mark of approval on it.

    Using Enkidu and Gilgamesh as an example of ancient homoeroticism begs the question. Those texts give us no reason to believe this. Indeed, the pro-homosexuals themselves are responsible for taking modern perversions and mapping them back onto history.

    Just as recently as the early half of the 20th century, when my grandpas were my age, men could be said to have deeply profound, personal, loving relationships that were in no way sexual. Any man who has ever been in a fight with a true friend at his back knows what David means when he says his love for Jonathan surpasses his love for women. It’s a different kind of love.

    But modern liberals and secular humanists cannot abide this. Because of the underlying humanistic assumptions in their worldviews, they can’t see any value in human relationships that do not lead to orgasms. Since that’s the best we get in this life, so their reasoning goes, why waste time on anything else?

    We don’t use pagan mythology as a guide for interpreting Scripture. We use Scripture. The same Scripture that grounds male-female sexual relationships in God’s very act of creation. The same Scripture that repeatedly repudiates homosexual acts.

    When all is said and done, the liberal position leads ineluctably to confusion like what you yourself have come to regard as reasonable. That in David we have a positive example of a grown, married man who can have a homosexual quickie once in a while.

    “But if the same scenes played out with a Woman no one would be questioning that we're supposed to suspect something Romantic or Sexual going on.”

    Simplistic to the point of irritation. Everything has a context. If this were not so a pedophile could point to Jesus taking the little children into his arms as positive support for his perverse lusts.

  5. ~ I want to add a comment.

    In India, it is common for men (not just women) to walk holding hands with each other or even in each others arms. It just means that they are really good friends. At times it will be a row or men walking down a road with arms around each other. Even more so, it is not uncommon for men to affectionately emote with each other in ways you simply do not see in US culture... I remember some years ago a friend of mine came to the US. We took him to the mall to take a look around. He was about to want to hold hands and walk, and I was like uh... not in this country. Now India is changing so this stuff is less and less common, but its our history. My point is that in other cultures it is common for men to have a love like David's and Jonathan and it not be regarded as anything more than just a really blessed friendship. Nothing more.

    An indian would read the passages about David and Jonathan and regard it is a totally normal friendship - one that we should all aspire to. There would be nothing homoerotic seen in that. To see it as such would seem to me to be some form of Chronological Orientalism.

    ~ Raj

    1. Thanks for that cross-cultural perspective.

  6. Jut to add to Sivraj Jarvis' helpful comment:

    I know of heterosexual East Asian women and men holding hands with friends of the same sex while walking around in public. Nothing homosexual implied.

    Likewise, President Bush once held hands with then Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. No gay or lesbian connotations whatsoever. Otherwise, I doubt Saudi Arabia would have left Abdullah unpunished.

    I've heard heterosexual Russian men sometimes kiss one another on the lips.

    1. I have a Christian friend from Iran...he still goes there once in a while and he told his friends about the Bush-Abdullah thing and how in America it was considered 'gay.' They thought this was completely insane.

  7. If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; -Deut. 13:6

    Sounds similar to:

    And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. - 1Sam. 18:1

    Loving one's brother or son or daughter or wife "as [one's] own soul" in Deut. 13:6 doesn't imply a sexual context, so neither would 1 Sam. 18:1-3.

    A wikipedia article states (rightly or wrongly):
    Furthermore, the phrase “David has found grace in Jonathan's eyes,” mentioned above, is not normally a reference to romantic or physical attraction, since in 45 of the 46 other occurrences it refers to finding grace either in the eyes of God,[49] of a ruler or wealthy landowner,[50] of a close relative,[51] of the father of a potential bride,[52] or of a nation.[53] The only occurrence where the phrase is used of lovers is a wife no longer finding grace in the eyes of her husband, not because he no longer finds her physically attractive but because he has “found some indecency in her” (Deuteronomy 24:1).[54]

    There's also the fact that God blessed David and Jonathan's friendship rather than cursing it or sending a prophet to rebuke David and Jonathan as God sent Nathan to rebuke David for his affair with Bathsheba. And this in light of the fact that the Old Testament everywhere condemns homosexuality.