Thursday, 9 August 2012

David and Jonathan

The story in the Bible of David and Jonathan has been subject to much speculation over the years. Was it merely a strong friendship, or does the orginal Hebrew text hint at something more? The following article is by Messianic Jewish Rabbi, Dr Les Aron Gosling and I am delighted that we have been granted permission to share it with our worldwide GLBT Messianic Family.

"Do not be afraid of the past. If people tell you it is irrevocable, do not believe them. The past, the present and the future are but one in the sight of God, in whose sight we should try to live. Time and space, succession and extension, are merely accidental conditions of Thought. The Imagination can transcend them, and move in a free sphere of ideal existences. Things, also, are in their essence what we choose to make them. A thing IS, according to the mode in which one looks at it. Where others see but the Dawn, coming over the hill, I see the sons of God shouting for joy...what lies before me is the past, my past. I have got to make myself look on that with different eyes, to make God look on it with different eyes. This I cannot do by ignoring it, or slighting it, or praising it, or denying it. It is only to be done by fully accepting it as an inevitable part of the evolution of my life and character: by bowing my head to everything that I have suffered" - Oscar Wilde, De Profundis.

According to Wikipedia, "De Profundis was written by Oscar Wilde during his imprisonment in Reading Gaol. It takes the form of a 50,000 word open letter written to Lord Alfred Douglas, his erstwhile lover.

"Wilde was not allowed to send the letter while still a prisoner, but was allowed to take it with him at the end of his sentence. On his release, he gave the manuscript to Robbie Ross, who may or may not have carried out Wilde's instructions to send a copy to Douglas (who later denied having received it). Ross published an expurgated version of the letter (about a third of it) in 1905 (four years after Wilde's death), expanding it slightly for an edition of Wilde's collected works in 1908, and then donated it to the British Museum on the understanding that it would not be made public until 1960. In 1949, Wilde's son Vyvyan Holland published it again, including parts formerly omitted, but relying on a faulty typescript bequeathed to him by Ross. Its complete and correct publication first occurred in 1962, in "The Letters of Oscar Wilde."

The textual passages referring to the relationship that existed between King David and Jonathan the son of Saul (and the next in line to accession of the Throne) are located in the biblical books of 1 & 2 Samuel. One cannot read these passages without coming to the distinct conclusion that an extremely intimate bond existed between David and Jonathan. Of course, Samuel the prophet of God decided that Saul had totally disqualified himself as kingly administrator over Israel and he therefore anointed David the shepherd son of Jesse to be the next regent. This event aggravated the already existing mental illness that afflicted the mind of Saul.

Most believers who read these passages in the Bible interpret the friendship of David and Jonathan as entirely platonic. After all, God would not place a homosexual into such a powerful and influential position over His Chosen people of Israel. Would He? This latter assessment is reflected in comments overheard by the Rebbe and Rebbetzin over many years in their attendance at fundamentalist Pentecostal and historic churches. Then there was this specific condemnation: "God judged [killed] Heath Ledger because he acted as a homosexual in the film Brokeback Mountain" -- a comment made by a scrappy bunch of giggling "silly women laden with sins" who were visiting a BRI Yeshiva in recent times, and (as far as I know) are still attending a Pentecostal church run by a disqualified and discredited self-styled "Apostle."

What does the biblical revelation say about David's sexuality? Well, it tells us he had many wives and concubines and a number of unruly children running amok all over the Davidic Empire. It also informs us that he despised weak, effeminate men referring to them disparagingly as those "who hold a spindle" (2 Sam 3.29). David could not stand weak "effeminates." Nor could Rav Shaul (1 Cor 6.9,10). That David carried a deep psychological sense of personal shame is more than hinted in his own writings (Ps 51.5). David is, however, described in his sexual adventures as heterosexual.

Having said this, many authorities have gleaned from the biblical account that he is also decidedly bisexual. There is no way any of us can skirt around the edges of David's life and shy our eyes away from the patently obvious. The writers of the Bible certainly did not overlook this proclivity. This becomes candidly crystal clear when the Hebrew is also consulted.

Consider: When David is introduced to the army of Saul "the soul of Jonathan [Saul's son] was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul...Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul" (1 Sam 18.1-3).

Jonathan "loved" David, and as a consequence of this "love" a "covenant" was made between the two men. This was an ancient age which saw such intimate relationships blossom between the masculine bisexual warriors of old like Gilgamesh and Enkidu in the Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic, of Achilles and Patroclus in Homer's Iliad, and of Alexander the Great and Hephaestion -- as concerning the latter, Mary Renault's fine volume Fire From Heaven (1969) is probably available to access in your local library.

Upon making this covenant or contract with his friend, Jonathan stripped naked and gave his clothes and his armour to David. Strange happenings indeed! What was Saul's attitude toward Jonathan's relationship with David? The Spirit of God made sure his volley was recorded for all to read.

"You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! [subtext: you didn't get these genes from my side of the family.] Do not I know that you have chosen [Hebrew, bachar] the son of Jesse [David] to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother's nakedness?" (1 Sam 20.30).

The use of "nakedness" in such a context involving "shame" (personal shame and a mother's shame) is a naked and glaring reference to Canaanite debauchery (T. Horner, Sex in the Bible, 1974, 86). Not only so, but Saul's careful use of the word "chosen" (Hebrew, bachar) in the phrase "you have chosen the son of Jesse" is used of "selecting" or "choosing" a wife! This becomes the more remarkable when we realise that Jonathan was already a married man who had fathered a son, Merib-Ba'al (1 Chron 8.34). "Merib-Ba'al" means "Ba'al contends against" or "the god that fights against me."

Jewish authorities are themselves very well aware of the sexual current that existed between David and Jonathan, a fact from which Christian moralists hide. "David, darling of the people, emerges, fighting for his life against Saul and tied by tender bonds of tragic love to Jonathan, Saul's son" (Leo Trepp, A History of the Jewish Experience: Eternal Faith, Eternal People, 1962/1973, 83 Behrman House). "The conversation between Jonathan and David in chapter 20 [of 1 Samuel] highlights not only their personal friendship but the intertwining of Saul's line with David. Some commentators consider Saul's cursing of Jonathan to be an accusation of sexual misdeeds between Jonathan and David [Samuel Terrien, Till the Heart Sings, 1985, 169] but at least equally likely as the source is Saul's bitterness that David is supplanting Jonathan as the heir to the throne" (J. Carmody, D.L. Carmody & R.L. Cohn, Exploring the Hebrew Bible, 1988, 144). If what these authorities say is to be believed, little wonder Michal was given to David by Saul!

Really, there can be no doubt that a sexual relationship was occurring between David and Jonathan which was displeasing to Saul for inheritance reasons in relation to the crown. Saul wanted, as all kings do, progeny to follow him for centuries.

The upshot is that Saul arranges to murder David. Jonathan and David arrange a secret meeting when they bid farewell to one another. "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, until David recovered himself" (1 Sam 20.41). Its a tragic story and they never met with each other again. Jonathan is later killed on the battlefield. David composes a dirge. Its very revealing in itself:

"I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan!  Very pleasant have you been to me; Your love [Hebrew, ahavatkha] to me was wonderful, Passing the love of women [Hebrew, me ahavat nashiym]" (2 Sam 1.26).

Later, David virtually adopts Meribaal the crippled surviving son of Jonathan. Meribaal means "the God who fights against me." Jonathan's son saw life as brutal and despairing. Don't we all feel like this occasionally...sometimes it seems that God refuses to prosper us and that His heavy hand is set in concrete against us in our walk before Him. That this is a mere perception sometimes eludes us. How did Meribaal become a cripple?

It was the usual procedure in ancient times for a new king to assassinate all members of a previous king's family so that there would be no possible contenders to make trouble for the new administration. Consider the first act as Regent of "wise king Solomon" in the brutal assassination of David's previous opposition. The smell of revolution was always in the wind. Jonathan feared for his child's safety. Certainly when David was made king and approached Jerusalem, relatives of Saul fled for fear. Among these people fleeing for their very lives was Meribaal, only a mere five years of age and in the arms of his nanny. In the confusion and rush she dropped him (possibly down stairs and some scholars suggest that maybe he was trampled by horses) but the outcome was that he lost the use of both his feet. He was hidden from David in the desert. Its my take that he was then named Meribaal (for quite apparent reasons) by his nurse (See 1 Chron 8 where his name is recorded).

Fifteen years later he is found and brought to David's chambers. He is given a new name by David, "Mephibosheth," which means "He who scatters my shame." It is David's intention to change his destiny in honour of his father, David's lost lover (2 Sam 9.7-10).

"Now Saul's daughter Michal was in love with David, and when they told Saul about it, he was pleased. 'I will give her to him,' he thought, 'so that she may be a snare to him [he'd keep his eyes off male candy and keep him so satisfied that he'd lose his military skills and prowess] and so that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.' Now you have a second opportunity to become my son-in-law" (1 Sam 18.20-21 NIV).

I often speak of the NIV (although quite helpful in some instances) as the Non-Inspired Version. Other versions also try hard to dissociate any marital relationship between the two men. The translators of the King James Version, translate verse 21 as: "Thou shalt this day be my son-in-law, in the one of the twain [two]." Most Jewish versions follow suit but generally slightly change the phrase to be "through the one of the twain" rather than "in." Its called "changing the cover text [the English text] so as not to bring it into disrepute in the eyes of the Gentiles."

Saul had already offered his older daughter Merab but the offer had been firmly rejected. Then he offered his younger daughter, Michal. People reading through the text would assume that when Saul refers to "the one of the twain" he was referring to his two daughters -- one rejected and the second accepted. And this seems to be a reasonable interpretation. The facts of the case, however, do not warrant this assumption at all. Indeed, modern scholars realise that the Hebrew text cannot substantiate this view. The phrase "the one of" (especially in the KJV, but also in some other versions) appears in italics -- it is not in the original Hebrew. Its so important that some Bibles make a note about it in the margin or at the bottom of the particular page.

The transliteration into English from the Hebrew is decidedly as follows: "You shall this day be my son-in-law, in the twain." Or, if you will permit in more modern English, "Today, you are my son-in-law with two of my children." This could not be speaking of Merab as she had been married off to someone else.

THIS MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE. This statement would then more properly be defined as a reference to both his son Jonathan and his daughter Michal. The Hebrew original recognises the homosexual relationship that existed between the two men -- David and Jonathan -- as the equivalent to David and Michal's heterosexual marriage. The entire text of the Saul-David relationship obviously makes out that Saul violently disapproved of David's relationship with his son Jonathan, and for good reason (as far as Saul was concerned). Listen! If this were all the sacred text reveals it would be enough to define the intimate association between David and the son of Saul. But its not. Consider the following disclosure inspired by the Spirit of God.

When David and Jonathan were finally forced to split up the story informs us that "After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the rock and crouched before Jonathan three times, with his face to the earth. Then they kissed each other and wept together - until David became large" (1 Sam 20.41 Hebrew).

Translators of various versions of the Bible seemingly could not accept the plain written word of God that David began to respond sexually. So they gave us the following:

"...and they kissed one another and wept with one another until David got control of himself" (AMPLIFIED)

"They kissed each other and wept aloud together" (New American Bible)

"Then the kissed one another and shed tears together, until David's grief was even greater than Jonathan's" (Revised English Bible)

"They kissed each other and wept together until David got control of himself" (Modern Language)

"Then David and Jonathan kissed each other. They cried together, but David cried the most" (New Century Version)

"...and they sadly shook hands, tears running down their cheeks until David could weep no more" (Living Bible)

As to the latter translation NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH. How distorted is this wresting of the sacred text! David and Jonathan "sadly shook hands"?

The KJV was more honest in relation to David's sexual reaction in allowing the penetrating insight that "David exceeded." Well, it’s closer to the truth of the matter than other versions will allow. This may be due to the fact that King James was a homosexual himself, a fact most "KJV only" people ought to have brought to their attention. The fact is that Jonathan "turned David on" until he "grew large" -- he had an erection!

David's testimony ought to stand by itself. He sobs, "I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women" (2 Sam 1.26).

"Wonderful" is in the feminine constructed form in Hebrew, "she-was-wonderful." Further, David's confession in his poem of "your love" is "love-of-you" (Hebrew, ahavatkha) the feminine form of love which is used to describe Jonathan's love for David. "Passing the love of women" is me ahavat nashiym -- the sexually-charged emotional love a woman lavishes on her man.

We need to stop at this point and admit freely enough that we often think of the people who lived in the Orient in the ancient past as really being very much like us socially and culturally. But this is a fabrication. It is not true. Its a distortion to read about the ancient world and to view it through our own modern eyes and to clothe the past in 21st century dress. In the days of Yeshua, and certainly prior to this, men considered women as sexual objects -- from start to finish. Our modern concepts of that which constitute "dating" and "love" and "platonic" relationships between the sexes must be at once jettisoned when considering ancient Oriental history. Women existed to bare children. That was their duty; that alone was their purpose. Women existed to be used by men sexually. It was their prime function and reason for being alive. Students of history know this to be true.

THEREFORE, when David speaks of the "love" that he had for Saul's son, and that it "exceeded that of women" he is referring to that which was sexual by nature. Additionally, we must emphasise that the "covenant" or contract Jonathan made with David which appears in 1 Sam 18.3 the narrator of the story uses the common word that relates to a marriage contract (J. Boswell, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, 1994,137).

The truth about David and Jonathan stares us in the face.

Isn't it high time we cast off our prejudices once and for all, and grant to homosexual lovers who believe in the Lord Yeshua as their Personal Saviour, and who are committed to a lasting covenant in relationship, the recognition and acceptance they rightly deserve?

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  1. Dear Mr. Kuhn.

    Well, I am a big fan of Oscar Wilde and I've got all his works and De Profundis is an amazing lovelorn letter (that's the word I can describe it) and of course he made me be awaken about Y'honatan and David in Sh'mu'el Alef (book). When Oscar Wilde was locked and introduced in a trial, he said,

    “The great difference of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. It is that deep, spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect… It is in this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as “the Love that dare not speak its name,” and on account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing about it, and it repeatedly exists between an elder and a younger man, when the elder has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamor of life before him. That it should be so, the world does not understand. The world mocks at it and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it.”

    Well as Oscar Wilde said about the love between Y'honatan and David, I asked to myself if there's same-sex love in the Tanakh or the B'rit Hadashah. So I wrote an article about same-sex love and relationship in the Scriptures ( Please, read it. You can check it out, I am sure this is the first subject that I think we met each other... You wrote an interesting thing about the oppression of women and they were seen as to bare children… I remember an article about Monotheism that I read where the author says, “In the Bible, God is part of genocide, repressing women and most thinkable atrocities.” Most of time I remember Lot passages when he offers his daughters to the ungrateful people of S’dom in one of the book of Torah - B’reshet.

    Well, I also wrote another article about Ham, was he gay? Well, if you wanna read it, it's available on (

    I am really sure that Y’honatan and David were a couple, of course in that age people didn’t have a monogamous relationship as there aren’t many monogamous relationships today, where the love is waxed cold. You wrote about the “covenant” that Y’honatan and David did… but I wonder if they really had a covenant. Nowadays many mistranslations is shouting to the world and people who don’t have the courage to develop their knowledge will never understand this real meaning…

    Well, you wrote a good article and this is very interesting, and in my Article – Same-Sex Love and Relationships in the Bible ( I also wrote about Rut and Na’omi, Y’honatan and David, Dani’el in the book B’rit Hadashah, Philip blessing an eunuch in the water as a Mikhveh. In the book of Mattityahu, the centurion’s son. And in my article Homosexuals shall Inherit the Kingdom of God. ( there’s a love of Yochanan to Yeshua ha maschia.

    So, that’s all.


  2. Shalom Andinho and thank you for your interesting and thoughtful reply. We often forget that the Bible is a Semitic book and its sometimes difficult for us to comprehend the values and culture of a people living over 3,500 years ago. The concept of 'marriage' as we know it today is a fairly recent one. Having said that, by the time of Yeshua, monogamous relationships were the norm. But even polygamous relationships in those days were subject to a strict moral code.

    I'm glad that you found the article to be of value; thank you also for the links to your articles.

    Shalom Aleichem and Kol Tuv.