Probably the most important issue raised by the reading of 1st Samuel is the nature of the relationship between Jonathan, son of Saul, and David, the future King. Some people speculate that there was something “gay” or “super gay” to their relationship. Sometimes people write songs that allude to this. Sometimes I get those songs stuck in my head for weeks at a time.
Anyway. How gay were David and Jonathan? Totally gay? Or just the normal gay? The vital importance of this question can *not* be overstated. If I can prove King David is gay, then all Christians will instantly stop being homophobic. True fact!
So, to figure out this crucial issue, I will be analysing the entire David slash Jonathan storyline. It has been cut up and placed at various places in 1st Samuel chapters 18-20 and 23, and ends with Jonathan’s unceremonious death in chapter 31.
Episode 1: Boy meets boy.
18:1 . 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.
18:2 And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father’s house.
18:3 Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul.
18:4 And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that [was] upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle.
David and Jonathan’s relationship begins abruptly; it’s love at first sight. And then Jonathan strips.
The verb “strip” (פשט) occurs occasionally in the Hebrew Bible. Other famous strippages:
Gn 37:23 . And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stript (ויפשיטו) Joseph out of his coat, [his] coat of [many] colours that [was] on him
Num 20:26 And strip (והפשט) Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son: and Aaron shall be gathered [unto his people], and shall die there.
I know of only one other episode in the Bible where somebody strips and gives their clothes to someone else: Saul giving his rainment to David to fight Goliath. (But David refuses.) This reads to me as an act of devotion- the important element is the handing over of his possessions. It’s not a strip-tease.
However, their sudden, intense love to one another is pretty inexplicable. (But keep in mind the story has been cut up and interspersed with other Saul/David tales. We might not have the original beginning.)
Their souls were suddenly “knit”. Meaning… what? Well, usually, “tied”, or “bound”. It has metaphorical usage:
Dt 11:18 . Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them (וקשרתם) for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes.
This might relate to the nature of the “covenant” they make between themselves.
Episode 2: Boy’s dad tries to kill other boy.
19:1 . And Saul spake to Jonathan his son, and to all his servants, that they should kill David.
19:2 But Jonathan Saul’s son delighted much in David: and Jonathan told David, saying, Saul my father seeketh to kill thee: now therefore, I pray thee, take heed to thyself until the morning, and abide in a secret [place], and hide thyself:
19:3 And I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where thou [art], and I will commune with my father of thee; and what I see, that I will tell thee.
19:4 And Jonathan spake good of David unto Saul his father, and said unto him, Let not the king sin against his servant, against David; because he hath not sinned against thee, and because his works [have been] to thee-ward very good:
19:5 For he did put his life in his hand, and slew the Philistine, and the LORD wrought a great salvation for all Israel: thou sawest [it], and didst rejoice: wherefore then wilt thou sin against innocent blood, to slay David without a cause?
19:6 And Saul hearkened unto the voice of Jonathan: and Saul sware, [As] the LORD liveth, he shall not be slain.
19:7 And Jonathan called David, and Jonathan shewed him all those things. And Jonathan brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence, as in times past.
(Then Saul tries to kill David with a spear.)
Jonathan “delighted” (חפץ) in David? Does this word have sexual connotations elsewhere in the Bible?
From the “Rape of Dinah” episode in Genesis:
Gn 34:19 And the young man deferred not to do the thing, because he had delight (חפץ) in Jacob’s daughter: and he [was] more honourable than all the house of his father.
In a (hopefully) non-sexual way, YHWH “delights” in his chosen people:
Num 14:8 If the LORD delight (חפץ) in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.
But sometimes he delights in killing them:
Jdg 13:23 But his wife said unto him, If the LORD were pleased (חפץ) to kill us, he would not have received a burnt offering and a meat offering at our hands…
The word also has the connotations of “choose” or “want”.
1Sa 18:25 And Saul said, Thus shall ye say to David, The king desireth (חפץ) not any dowry, but an hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to be avenged of the king’s enemies.
Here are two usages in Deuteronomic law, with creepy sexual connotations:
Dt 21:14 And it shall be, if thou have no delight (חפצת) in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, because thou hast humbled her.
Dt 25:7 And if the man like (יחפץ) not to take his brother’s wife, then let his brother’s wife go up to the gate unto the elders, and say, My husband’s brother refuseth to raise up unto his brother a name in Israel, he will not perform the duty of my husband’s brother.
Final conclusion? The verb basically means “choose” or “want”. In cases where a person is “choosing” another person, it’s usually sexual. But it’s also creepy and non-consensual choosing.
In the context, I read Jonathan “choosing” David as an analogy to YHWH “choosing” the Israelites- Jonathan pledges his devotion to David, because he’s goddamn King David. They form a covenant, just as YHWH and the Israelites had a covenant.
I think it’s less likely that Jonathan is “choosing” David as the rapists in the Torah “chose” then wimminfolk.
Episode 3: A whole chapter of stuff.
20:1 . And David fled from Naioth in Ramah, and came and said before Jonathan, What have I done? what [is] mine iniquity? and what [is] my sin before thy father, that he seeketh my life?
20:2 And he said unto him, God forbid; thou shalt not die: behold, my father will do nothing either great or small, but that he will shew it me: and why should my father hide this thing from me? it [is] not [so].
20:3 And David sware moreover, and said, Thy father certainly knoweth that I have found grace in thine eyes; and he saith, Let not Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved: but truly [as] the LORD liveth, and [as] thy soul liveth, [there is] but a step between me and death.
20:4 Then said Jonathan unto David, Whatsoever thy soul desireth, I will even do [it] for thee.
20:5 And David said unto Jonathan, Behold, to morrow [is] the new moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king at meat: but let me go, that I may hide myself in the field unto the third [day] at even.
20:6 If thy father at all miss me, then say, David earnestly asked [leave] of me that he might run to Bethlehem his city: for [there is] a yearly sacrifice there for all the family.
20:7 If he say thus, [It is] well; thy servant shall have peace: but if he be very wroth, [then] be sure that evil is determined by him.
20:8 Therefore thou shalt deal kindly with thy servant; for thou hast brought thy servant into a covenant of the LORD with thee: notwithstanding, if there be in me iniquity, slay me thyself; for why shouldest thou bring me to thy father?
20:9 . And Jonathan said, Far be it from thee: for if I knew certainly that evil were determined by my father to come upon thee, then would not I tell it thee?
20:10 Then said David to Jonathan, Who shall tell me? or what [if] thy father answer thee roughly?
20:11 And Jonathan said unto David, Come, and let us go out into the field. And they went out both of them into the field.
20:12 And Jonathan said unto David, O LORD God of Israel, when I have sounded my father about to morrow any time, [or] the third [day], and, behold, [if there be] good toward David, and I then send not unto thee, and shew it thee;
20:13 The LORD do so and much more to Jonathan: but if it please my father [to do] thee evil, then I will shew it thee, and send thee away, that thou mayest go in peace: and the LORD be with thee, as he hath been with my father.
20:14 And thou shalt not only while yet I live shew me the kindness of the LORD, that I die not:
20:15 But [also] thou shalt not cut off thy kindness from my house for ever: no, not when the LORD hath cut off the enemies of David every one from the face of the earth.
20:16 So Jonathan made [a covenant] with the house of David, [saying], Let the LORD even require [it] at the hand of David’s enemies.
20:17 And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him (אהבת) as he loved his own soul.
“Love” is, to put it lightly, a complicated word.
Gn 22:2 And he said, Take now thy son, thine only [son] Isaac, whom thou lovest (אהבת), and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.
Jacob loved Rachel:
Gn 29:20 And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him [but] a few days, for the love he had to her (באהבתו).
And of course, you gotta love God:
Jsh 23:11 . Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that ye love (לאהבה) the LORD your God.
So “love” in Hebrew seems to have the various connotations it does in English, sexual and not.
Episode 3, part 2:
20:18 Then Jonathan said to David, To morrow [is] the new moon: and thou shalt be missed, because thy seat will be empty.
20:19 And [when] thou hast stayed three days, [then] thou shalt go down quickly, and come to the place where thou didst hide thyself when the business was [in hand], and shalt remain by the stone Ezel.
20:20 And I will shoot three arrows on the side [thereof], as though I shot at a mark.
20:21 And, behold, I will send a lad, [saying], Go, find out the arrows. If I expressly say unto the lad, Behold, the arrows [are] on this side of thee, take them; then come thou: for [there is] peace to thee, and no hurt; [as] the LORD liveth.
20:22 But if I say thus unto the young man, Behold, the arrows [are] beyond thee; go thy way: for the LORD hath sent thee away.
20:23 And [as touching] the matter which thou and I have spoken of, behold, the LORD [be] between thee and me for ever.
20:24 . So David hid himself in the field: and when the new moon was come, the king sat him down to eat meat.
20:25 And the king sat upon his seat, as at other times, [even] upon a seat by the wall: and Jonathan arose, and Abner sat by Saul’s side, and David’s place was empty.
20:26 Nevertheless Saul spake not any thing that day: for he thought, Something hath befallen him, he [is] not clean; surely he [is] not clean.
20:27 And it came to pass on the morrow, [which was] the second [day] of the month, that David’s place was empty: and Saul said unto Jonathan his son, Wherefore cometh not the son of Jesse to meat, neither yesterday, nor to day?
20:28 And Jonathan answered Saul, David earnestly asked [leave] of me [to go] to Bethlehem:
20:29 And he said, Let me go, I pray thee; for our family hath a sacrifice in the city; and my brother, he hath commanded me [to be there]: and now, if I have found favour in thine eyes, let me get away, I pray thee, and see my brethren. Therefore he cometh not unto the king’s table.
20:30 Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said unto him, Thou son of the perverse rebellious [woman], do not I know that thou hast chosen (בחר) the son of Jesse to thine own confusion (בשת), and unto the confusion of thy mother’s nakedness?
In the KJV, this sounds pretty strange. But the word “confusion” is more commonly translated “shame”, and “nakedness” is a metaphor for embarrassment. (This is the same “nakedness” than Noah’s sons covered.)
Random Fun Fact: Another of Saul’s kids is named איש~בשת Ishboseth. (Bosheth=בשת=”shame”.) But in Chronicles, Saul has a son named אשבעל, Eshbaal. Theophoric names with “Baal” in them were embarrassing to the later editors (who liked to pretend the Israelites weren’t Canaanite polytheists) so they just went and changed it.
Saul claims his kid “chose” (בחר) David. Does this word have the same connotations as חפץ? Well, it has the same “YHWH chose us” meaning:
Dt 7:6 For thou [art] an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen (בחר) thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that [are] upon the face of the earth.
Aaaand it also has the creepy rapey usage:
Gn 6:2 That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they [were] fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose (בחרו).
Episode 3, part 3:
20:31 For as long as the son of Jesse liveth upon the ground, thou shalt not be established, nor thy kingdom. Wherefore now send and fetch him unto me, for he shall surely die.
20:32 And Jonathan answered Saul his father, and said unto him, Wherefore shall he be slain? what hath he done?
20:33 And Saul cast a javelin at him to smite him: whereby Jonathan knew that it was determined of his father to slay David.
20:34 So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and did eat no meat the second day of the month: for he was grieved for David, because his father had done him shame.
20:35 . And it came to pass in the morning, that Jonathan went out into the field at the time appointed with David, and a little lad with him.
20:36 And he said unto his lad, Run, find out now the arrows which I shoot. [And] as the lad ran, he shot an arrow beyond him.
20:37 And when the lad was come to the place of the arrow which Jonathan had shot, Jonathan cried after the lad, and said, [Is] not the arrow beyond thee?
20:38 And Jonathan cried after the lad, Make speed, haste, stay not. And Jonathan’s lad gathered up the arrows, and came to his master.
20:39 But the lad knew not any thing: only Jonathan and David knew the matter.
20:40 And Jonathan gave his artillery unto his lad, and said unto him, Go, carry [them] to the city.
20:41 [And] as soon as the lad was gone, David arose out of [a place] toward the south, and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed himself three times: and they kissed (וישקו) one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded.
20:42 And Jonathan said to David, Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of the LORD, saying, The LORD be between me and thee, and between my seed and thy seed for ever. And he arose and departed: and Jonathan went into the city.
The will-they-or-won’t-they tension is finally released as Jonathan and David finally make out. (The KJV is rough here, but it means that David wept more exceedingly than Jonathan.)
So the question is: what does “kissing” mean? A friendly greeting? Tonsil hockey? Well, kissing was a very common familial greeting. Here are just a few examples:
Gn 27:26 And his father Isaac said unto him, Come near now, and kiss (ושקה) me, my son.
Gn 31:55 And early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed (וינשק) his sons and his daughters, and blessed them: and Laban departed, and returned unto his place.
Ex 18:7 . And Moses went out to meet his father in law, and did obeisance, and kissed (וישק) him; and they asked each other of [their] welfare; and they came into the tent.
And just to put a nail in the coffin, here is a nearly identical scene between two brothers:
Gn 33:4 And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him (וישקהו): and they wept.
In fact, the only kiss I can find in the Hebrew Bible that has any possible sexual connotations is between Jacob and Rachel; but it is upon their first meeting, before Jacob has fallen in love:
Gn 29:11 And Jacob kissed (וישק) Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept.
Wait, I found *one* sexual use of “kiss”. Guess where? Song of Solomon!
Ss 1:2 . Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love [is] better than wine.
So, conclusion? I don’t think Jonathan and David were frenching. It was a show of strong emotion, but in no way sexual.
Episode 4: Climax. Or denouement. Or whatever.
23:14 . And David abode in the wilderness in strong holds, and remained in a mountain in the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God delivered him not into his hand.
23:15 And David saw that Saul was come out to seek his life: and David [was] in the wilderness of Ziph in a wood.
23:16 And Jonathan Saul’s son arose, and went to David into the wood, and strengthened his hand in God.
23:17 And he said unto him, Fear not: for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee; and thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee; and that also Saul my father knoweth.
23:18 And they two made a covenant before the LORD: and David abode in the wood, and Jonathan went to his house.
The end of the story takes place a little later, while David is being all rogue in the wilderness. Jonathan somehow knows that David will one day be King David. This confirms my suspicion that this storyline is metaphorically about Jonathan’s devotion to the Davidic monarchy.
Jonathan dies, very unceremoniously, several chapters later:
31:1 . Now the Philistines fought against Israel: and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa.
31:2 And the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and upon his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Malchishua, Saul’s sons.
2nd Samuel has a minor storyline involving David grieving for Jonathan and Saul. If the focus were on Jonathan, I could interpret it as David grieving for his dead lover. But Jonathan and Saul are always mentioned together:
2Sa 1:23 Saul and Jonathan [were] lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided: they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.
It seems to be of a slightly different tradition, where Saul was remembered kindly. The main Jonathan/David story was uniformly hostile to Saul.
Jonathan and David: lovers? I reluctantly have to say that I don’t think that was the case. I think it is a story about one Israelite’s devotion and belief in King David and the idea of the Davidic monarchy. (Notice it always mentions Jonathan’s devotion to David, not vice versa.) Saul’s irrational hatred of David is probably meant to denigrate Saul: he could not see the obvious greatness of King David. His son, meanwhile, was on the proper side of history. (According to those that wrote the history.)
Now, if I may get postmodern on you: Jonathan and David can be gay if you want them to be. It’s not a necessary interpretation, but I think it’s a possible interpretation. Did the original authors intend to depict a sexual relationship between two men? I doubt it. Nothing about their relationship is necessarily romantic. But they do have a deep, instant love and devotion, and if you want to explain that in human terms, as two people falling in love at first sight, I think you can.
I suspect it was more metaphorical, but they picked a pretty gay metaphor.