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were david and jonathan lovers

were david and jonathan lovers

were david and jonathan lovers

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David and Jonathan

David and Jonathan ,were according to the Hebrew Bible’s Books of Samuel, heroic figures of the Kingdom of Israel, who formed a covenant, taking a mutual oath.

Jonathan was the son of Saul, king of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, and David was the son of Jesse of Bethlehem, of the tribe of Judah, and Jonathan’s presumed rival for the crown. David became king. The covenant the two men had formed eventually led to David, after Jonathan’s death, graciously seating Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth at his own royal table instead of eradicating the former king Saul’s line.

Platonic love

The biblical text does not explicitly depict the nature of the relationship between David and Jonathan. The traditional and mainstream religious interpretation of the relationship has been one of platonic love and an example of homosociality. Some later Medieval and Renaissance literature drew upon the story to underline strong personal friendships between men.

In modern times, some scholars, writers, and activists have emphasized what they see as elements of homoeroticism in the story.

were david and jonathan lovers
were david and jonathan lovers

In the Bible

The relationship between David and Jonathan is mainly covered in the Hebrew Bible Book of Samuel. The episodes belong to the story of David’s ascent to power, which is commonly regarded as one of the sources of the Deuteronomistic history, and to its later additions.

David, the youngest son of Jesse, kills Goliath at the Valley of Elah where the Philistine army is in a standoff with the army of King Saul (Jonathan’s father). David’s victory begins a rout of the Philistines who are driven back to Gath and the gates of Ekron. Abner brings David to Saul while David is still holding Goliath’s severed head. Jonathan, the eldest son of Saul, has also been fighting the Philistines.

Jonathan takes an immediate liking to David and the two form a covenant:

Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself. Saul took him that day and did not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt. So David went out wherever Saul sent him, and prospered; and Saul set him over the men of war. (NASB).

Death of Jonathan

David proved a successful commander, and as his popularity increased, so did Saul’s jealousy. In the hope that David might be killed by the Philistines, Saul gives David his daughter Michol in marriage provided David should slay one hundred Philistines. After the wedding, the disappointed Saul sends assassins to the newlyweds quarters, but David escapes with the help of Michol. Despite a couple of short-term reconciliations, David remains an exile and an outlaw.

As Saul continues to pursue David, he and Jonathan renew their covenant, after which they do not meet again. Jonathan, however, is slain on Mt. Gilboa along with his two brothers Abinadab and Malchi-shua, and there Saul commits suicide.

David learns of Saul and Jonathan’s death and chants a lament, which in part says:

Saul and Jonathan, beloved and pleasant in their life, And in their death they were not parted; They were swifter than eagles, They were stronger than lions … How have the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan is slain on your high places. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; You have been very pleasant to me. Your love to me was more wonderful than the love of women. How have the mighty fallen, And the weapons of war perished!

Were David and Jonathan homosexual lovers?

That‘s a fair question, though it’s a question that would have been strange to anyone in the biblical world and really would have been strange to almost anyone until a generation or two ago.

The fact of the matter is that homosexual behavior was almost unheard of within Israel and even revisionist scholars have argued that in ancient Judaism and in early Christianity it would have been completely forbidden and not at all even a matter of controversy that homosexual activity was forbidden by Scripture.

So clearly in Leviticus 18 and Leviticus 20 there is already there in the Torah a proscription against a man lying with a man as with a woman. Homosexuality is listed as one of the types of sexual sin there in the holiness code. So it’s really unthinkable that David and Jonathan would have had a homosexual relationship and that there wouldn’t have been the most extreme form of outrage and judgment either upon them or upon the biblical authors for suggesting at such.

were david and jonathan lovers
were david and jonathan lovers

Homosexual

It makes more much sense to say the only reason that David and Jonathan can be presented with this intense male friendship is because it was so assumed and so understood that a same-sex intimacy between two men would have been severely frowned upon, to say the least.

I think of one anecdote I heard one time that at some point in Abraham Lincoln’s life as a lawyer and traveling around the circuit, he would sleep in the same bed with one of his assistants or one of his male secretaries or companions, which was not at all strange. It’s only because of our position in our culture and the things that we are wrestling with that some of these expressions of male friendship or camaraderie seem unusual.

David has married one of Saul’s daughters

But in the context of 1 Samuel, what we see is the fall of Saul’s kingdom and the ascendency of David. And so when it says that Jonathan’s love was greater to him than that of women, it’s making a particular biblical, redemptive point that the house of Saul (and David has married one of Saul’s daughters) is falling and that she was less of a help to David than was Jonathan.

So it’s showing in God’s providential care that Jonathan is actually going to be the means of David’s ascendency to the throne through his friendship, which was even more of a loyal friendship than he received from his wife. But that’s not at all to suggest, as no ancient Jew would have even thought to begin to think, that this was somehow marriage covenant or any kind of sexual relationship.

Who were David and Jonathan?

King David of Israel needs little introduction.  He is the larger than life figure who killed the giant Goliath, bedded Bathsheba, and is said to have written many of the Psalms.  Even though he was born the youngest son of a commoner, he was divinely chosen to became the second king of Israel after God rejected the first king, Saul’s, claim to a dynasty.

David’s relationship with Saul’s family as a whole was complicated.  At various times he served Saul as a musician and a celebrated military commander, but at other times had to flee for his life from the king due to Saul’s jealousy and (well-founded) fear that David may gain the throne.  David married the princess Michal, Saul’s younger daughter, and he closely bound himself to Saul’s eldest son Jonathan by a formal covenant (1 Samuel 18:3).

Saul

If Saul had been allowed to pass his throne on to his son, Jonathan would have been the next king of Israel. Jonathan is presented as a talented warrior, beloved by his father and the people as a whole.  Yet instead of fighting David’s claim to the throne, he formed a close alliance and personal relationship with him.  David and Jonathan’s interactions are full of drama, mixing personal and political intrigue, and at times even turning Jonathan’s loyalties against his powerful father.

Why is there speculation that they may have been lovers?

All of the Biblical passages in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel that portray David and Jonathan’s relationship are emotionally charged and intimate.

We first read of the two men meeting in 1 Samuel 18:1-4 right after David kills the Philistine giant Goliath.  David, the unknown shepherd boy, is brought before Saul and Jonathan, still carrying the giant’s bloody head.  Unsurprisingly, he makes quite an impression on both the king and his son.  In fact, from this first meeting, “the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.”  Fortunately for Jonathan, his father Saul immediately makes David a new member of the royal entourage and the two young men’s futures become intertwined.

Took great delight in David

However, David’s good standing with King Saul is short-lived.  Merely one chapter later in 1 Samuel 19, we learn that Saul wishes to kill David because he is becoming too popular with the people.  Jonathan, who “took great delight in David,” intervenes by warning him.  David keeps a low profile for a few days while Jonathan manages to talk his father out of the murder.  All is well… until 1 Samuel 20 when Saul becomes again intent on killing David.  This time David gets word of the plot before Jonathan and goes to him for protection.  What follows is a dramatic and touching scene where Jonathan once again saves David’s life.

Having sounded out Saul and realized that his intentions of murder are real, Jonathan returns to where David is hiding to warn him.  He and David use a pre-arranged code involving Jonathan’s instructions to his servant boy during archery practice.  David, from his hiding place, overhears the code that means danger and knows he has to flee for his life.  He waits until Jonathan sends the servant boy back to town.

were david and jonathan lovers
were david and jonathan lovers

Go in peace

“As soon as the boy had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap” where he was hiding and bowed to Jonathan in thanks. Then, “they kissed each other, and wept with each other; David wept the more. Then Jonathan said to David ‘Go in peace.’…He got up and left; and Jonathan went into the city” (1 Samuel 20:41-42).

At this point David begins a life on the run, often hunted by Saul.  He continues to live as an outlaw until Saul dies in battle and he is free to come out of hiding.  Tragically Jonathan is killed in the same battle as his father and David hears of both deaths on the same day.  David goes into mourning, lamenting, “Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!

In life and in death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions” (2 Samuel 1:23).  For Jonathan though, he has especially tender words: “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women” (2 Samuel 1:26).

Thank you for staying with this post “were david and jonathan lovers” until the end.

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