Faith: The Wonder of Biblical Love

David and Jonathan. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Last month I presented what I believe to be strong evidence that David and Jonathan were far closer than the Church and most scholars have officially admitted. We reviewed, among other elements, the diatribe King Saul launched against his son, Jonathan.

The translation of St. John Chrysostom (circa 349-407), Archbishop of Constantinople, seems to make the point in a painful, albeit familiar, way: “You son of common whores, who are men crazy and run after every man who comes into sight; you weak, effeminate wretch; you nothing of a man, who lives only to shame yourself and the mother who bore you” (1 Samuel 20:30-31).  Saul’s insults provide insight into the Jonathan-side of the relationship. Coupled with David’s lament upon receiving the news of Jonathan’s death (2 Samuel 1:19-27), we may have the strongest homoerotic evidence of their relationship. 

David’s lament has been described as a masterpiece of early Hebrew poetry – a heart-felt expression of pure human emotion without any explicit religious thought. Initially, David laments both the loss of King Saul as well as Jonathan, mentioning both four times by name. Just when one might expect the lament to end, David speaks only of Jonathan – as if emotion carried him beyond the intended conclusion of the eulogy to a stunning, grief-stricken climax expressed in three short lines: “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). 

In ancient Hebrew the word for “brother” could be applied to a wide range of blood and non-blood relationships. Further, it was not uncommon for lovers to be referred to as “brother” and “sister” (see, e.g., Song of Songs 4:9 “You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride”). Context is everything and here David is not speaking of a political ally, but rather comparing Jonathan’s love to that of a woman. “Your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.” Bruce Gerig reports that “one ancient Septuagint manuscript … translated this part as ‘Your love fell upon me like the love of women’” (footnote omitted). It’s little wonder that homophobic interpreters have struggled with the meaning of this passage. 

Nowhere in scripture is David said to love anyone, including the eight women with whom he reportedly had intense relationships. Yet, there is an outpouring of love for Jonathan with a key omission. There is no reference whatsoever to the prince’s repeated efforts to help David, ruling out, in my view, that the lament is merely an expression of political loyalty lost. 

There is an undeniable homoerotic subtext to David and Jonathan’s relationship. The most sensible reading of scripture is consistent, then, with the existence of a same-sex attraction and passion between David and Jonathan. It’s for this reason that, when praying Eucharistic Prayer C, which names the patriarchs, I not only add the names of the spouses of each patriarch but also speak of the God of David and Jonathan.