Sunday, February 19, 2012

Were David and Jonathan Homosexuals?

Like most Christians, I was completely unaware that the pure and devoted friendship of David and Jonathan as recorded in the book of 1 Samuel is taken by many in the world to be a homosexual relationship. This concept had never crossed my mind until one day when I was perusing the shelves of a used book store in Ann Arbor. I was looking through their history section and noticed a small sub-section on the shelf labeled "Homosexual History." Wondering how homosexual history was different from normal history (and looking to make sure no one was watching me), I pulled a few titles out of this section. The one that caught my eye was titled Homosexual Heroes: David and Jonathan, or something similar. It was an entire booklet, at least fifty pages in length, in which the story of the two friends was told from a homosexual vantage point in which their homosexuality was simply taken for granted, based on a few passages from the Old Testament. As I later found, this assumption that David and Jonathan were gay is very prevalent in the non-Christian world

One of the passages alleged as support for this noxious assumption is 1 Samuel 18:1, which says:

"And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking to Saul, the son of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul."

The "knitting" of the souls is taken to mean that David and Jonathan had a romantic relationship.

A more frequently cited "proof-text" for the homosexuality of David and Jonathan is found in 2 Samuel 1:26, after David hears about the deaths of Saul and Jonathan at the hands of the Philistines on Mount Gilboa. David utters a profound dirge on behalf of the fallen, in which we see David say this about Jonathan:

"I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women" (RSV).

The implication of this passage is that since David's love for Jonathan is "passing the love of women", David must like men more than women, if you know what I mean. Before moving on to address this interpretation, we ought two look at two other translations of the verse. The Septuagint version is pretty similar to the RSV, mentioning David's love for Jonathan being "beyond" what he feels for any woman:

"I am grieved for thee, my brother Jonathan; thou wast very lovely to me; thy love to me was wonderful beyond the love of women" (LXX).

Just for fun, here is the King James Version:

"I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women" (KJV).

The Douay-Rheims is interesting. Of all the translations, only this one significantly adds to David's words regarding his feelings for Jonathan. Note how it attempts to clarify what David means when he says he loves Jonathan more than a woman:

"I grieve for thee, my brother Jonathan: exceeding beautiful, and amiable to me above the love of women. As the mother loveth her only son, so did I love thee." (Douay)

This is noteworthy because of its inaccuracy. The last phrase, "As a mother loveth her only son, so did I love thee," does not appear in the Latin. The full Latin of verse 26 says:

"Doleo super te frater mi Ionathan decore nimis et amabilis super amorem mulierum" (Vulgate).

This literally says, "I am beyond sorry for you, brother Jonathan; exceedingly beautiful and pleasing to me beyond the love of women" (super amorem mulierum). There latter phrase about a mother loving her son does not appear in the Latin. It seems, therefore, that this may have been a gloss or footnote inserted to explain the nature of David and Jonathan's love, as if the translators of the Douay were sensitive to a possible misunderstanding of the text.

So, now that we have looked at what the Scriptures say, what can we respond to this? Does this evidence indicate that David and Jonathan had a homosexual relationship?

First, from a simple theological standpoint, we know David was not a homosexual, because Scripture states that David was "a man after God's own heart" (1 Sam. 13:14, Acts 13:22). Since David was a man after God's own heart, and since Scripture also plainly states that  "neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals" will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9-10), then we can easily infer that David was not a homosexual, especially since he is mentioned in the New Testament as one of the heroes of the faith (Heb. 11:32). How could God be a man after God's own heart if he routinely practiced a sin that is abominable in the eyes of God?

David did commit adultery, of course, so we are not saying that a man after God's own heart cannot sin. But to live in a constant, active homosexual relationship for years, and to express no penitence or sorrow for it, is quite a different matter, just as committing one sin and being sorry is different from abiding in a permanent state of mortal sin. So, while one can be a man after God's own heart and still fall into sin, I think it is not possible to be described by Scripture as "a man after God's own heart" and live in a constant state of sin.

Second, this pro-homosexual interpretation neglects to take into account the Middle Eastern conception of a man's relation to his wife. In the Middle East, a man's primary kinship is with other men, not with his wife. For example, during dinner time, the wife and daughters would set the table, but when it was time to eat, a man, the sons, and if any were invited, the man's friends, would dine together, while the women would depart and dine separately or after the men. This was still common practice into the 20th century. A man did not have intimate conversation with his wife. If a man wanted advice, or wished to have an intellectual discussion, talk about business, or just wanted to make casual, light conversation, he sought out the company of other males. That's not to say there were not tender moments with the wife, nor that there was no conversation between the two; but it is a well-known fact that, in Middle Eastern culture, a man, if he has anything remotely important to discuss, does it with another man, not with his wife. The friendship of other men is valued higher than that of a man with his wife.

Third, we could also point that the classical Greco-Roman view also parallels the Semitic concept of friendship as superior to marital love; indeed, marital love is only one category of friendship, and any truly happy romantic relationship (amor) must be based first on friendship (amicitia). Though many of the ancients, such as Plato, Seneca, et al, wrote on the nature of friendship, the two most important works are probably Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics and Laelius de Amicitia by Cicero. I think the classical view of amicitia is fittingly summed up between these two works.

If we begin with Nichomachean Ethics, we see Aristotle defining friendship as the most superior kind of love - a love that is a kind of "reflection" of self-love, but that teaches us to transcend our selfish tendencies and find good in another, just for the sake that he is:

"The excellent person is related to his friend in the same way as he is related to himself, since a friend is another self; and therefore, just as his own being is choiceworthy him, the friend's being is choice-worthy for him in the same or a similar way" (NE 1170b6-9).

Though Aristotle includes marital love under the concept of friendship, it is primarily a non-romantic friendship between two persons of the same gender (simple friendship) that Aristotle refers to here.


In Cicero's Laelius de Amicitia, Cicero (online here), Cicero takes us through a very long dialogue on the nature of friendship. The dialogue is between Gaius Laelius and his sons and friends as Laelius reflects upon Scipio Africanus, his dear friend who had just departed. The characters talk about the nature of friendship, what makes a good friend, and how friends grieve for one another when one is lost. Because this so closely parallels the story from 2 Samuel (David grieving for Jonathan), it is a valuable reference to our discussion. Note that all of the following citations refer to friendship (amicitia) between two men:

"If I were to assert that I am unmoved by grief at Scipio's death, it would be for "wise" men to judge how far I am right, yet, beyond a doubt, my assertion would be false. For I am indeed moved by the loss of a friend such, I believe, as I shall never have again, and — as I can assert on positive knowledge — a friend such as no other man ever was to me" (De Amicitia, 3).

Here Laelius asserts that Scipio's friendship to him surpassed that of all others, just as David asserted of Jonathan. Cicero goes so far as to have Laelius state that a man-to-man friendship is the greatest gift bestowed upon mankind by the gods:

"For friendship is nothing else than an accord in all things, human and divine, conjoined with mutual goodwill and affection, and I am inclined to think that, with the exception of wisdom, no better thing has been given to man by the immortal gods" (De Amicitia, 6).
Again, simple friendship is placed as the highest gift to man, higher than marital love. In case you think that I am stretching the meaning of Cicero's words here to apply exclusively to non-romantic friendship, consider the next passage, in which Cicero describes how amicitia springs not from necessity, but from human nature. He states that the love of a parent to a child is the primal form of all friendship, for a parent truly loves his child "as another self", in accord with Aristotle's definition. But he will go on from there to discuss the friendship of men, citing two eminent Roman heroes as exemplars. Marital love is not mentioned:

"Wherefore it seems to me that friendship springs rather from nature than from need, and from an inclination of the soul joined with a feeling of love rather than from calculation of how much profit the friendship is likely to afford. What this feeling is may be perceived even in the case of certain animals, which, up to a certain time, so love their offspring and are so loved by them, that their impulses are easily seen. But this is much more evident in man; first, from the affection existing between children and parents, which cannot be destroyed except by some execrable crime, and again from that kindred impulse of love, which arises when once we have met someone whose habits and character are congenial with our own; because in him we seem to behold, as it were, a sort of lamp of uprightness and virtue. For there is nothing more lovable than virtue, nothing that more allures us to affection, since on account of their virtue and uprightness we feel a sort of affection even for those whom we have never seen. Is there anyone who does not dwell with some kindly affection on the memory of Gaius Fabricius and Manius Curius, though he never saw them? (De Amicitia, 8).
It is not the marital love is not important, but it is that the ancients, both the Semitic peoples and the Greco-Romans, viewed the friendship of a man to a man to be superior to the love of a man to his wife. It is true that, in the later, decadent days of Greco-Roman civilization, this exaltation of same-sex love was sometimes perverted into a preference for pedophilic relationships - yet we must not read the moral degeneracy of some Greeks and Romans into the removed philosophical observations of Aristotle and Cicero, who both make these assertions without reference to erotic relationships. Again, Cicero will say that this friendship excels all other relationships and again incorporates Aristotle's definition, stating that friendship alone can sustain man:

"Seeing that friendship includes very many and very great advantages, it undoubtedly excels all other things in this respect, that it projects the bright ray of hope into the future, and does not suffer the spirit to grow faint or to fall. Again, he who looks upon a true friend, looks, as it were, upon a sort of image of himself. (De Amicitia, 7).
He then ends his discourse with a statement about the deceased Scipio very similar to that which David makes about Jonathan, again reaffirming that it is simple friendship (amicitia), not romantic love (amor), that Cicero has in mind here:
"For my part, of all the blessings that fortune or nature has bestowed on me, there is none which I can compare with Scipio's friendship" (De Amicitia, 27).
The purpose of this long digression is to establish the fact that, throughout the ancient world, the friendship between a man and a man was valued higher than the relationship between a man and a wife. We may not like it, but this is simply the way the ancients thought. It is completely natural that David should have found Jonathan's love surpassing that of women, because Jonathan was his best friend, and in the antique world, a man was expected to be closer to his friends than to his spouse.

We could note that David makes a similar lament for his son, Absalom, in 2 Samuel 18:

"The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!" (2 Sam. 18:23).

Of course, we find nothing amiss in this impassioned lament, because we understand it to be completely natural that a parent would weep thus for their child. If this is the case, then why should we find it surprising that a man should similarly weep for his friend, seeing that friendship was valued as the highest of all human relations in the ancient world?

So desperate are the promoters of the homosexual agenda to find support in the Bible for their perverted worldview that they twist the pure and admirable friendship of David and Jonathan into the most vile thing imaginable. As with most other attempts of non-Catholic secularists to find support for their base actions in the Scriptures, this one is based on poor theology, ignorance of culture and a desire to conform the word of God to perversion rather than to reform perversion based on God's word.

7 comments:

Call Me Ishmael said...

I reasoned as you, but there was one specific verse I could never defeat, which clearly implied sodomy. I put it out of my mind until I'd be more knowledgeable and able to handle it. One year ago it easily scandalized me and my weak, stumbling faith, and lead to doubt. I have since grown and as I read this post I was reminded of it and, emboldened, went back for it:

[1 Samuel 20:30] Then Saul being angry against Jonathan said to him: Thou son of a woman that is the ravisher of a man, do I not know that thou lovest the son of Isai to thy own confusion and to the confusion of thy shameless mother?

Now, however, it is obvious that it is nothing but the disgusting detraction of a wicked man who does not understand the beautiful bond between David and Jonathan. A verse which the Holy Ghost had written down to demonstrate the character of Saul and no one else. The fact that the (modern) world wants to reduce this almost sacred bond of great love between two men down to unnatural vice, reminds me of why I always hated it and soon went in search for better things.

I am thankful to God because this was a lesson for me in the importance of not making rash judgments in regards to Holy Scripture and the deposit of faith in general, but instead to, whatever it seems like at first glance, remember my own ignorance and that Holy Mother Church knows and is best. There's not a single question or doubt of mine that it has not been able to completely annihilate, and not a flaw that was not due to my own error. Which is exactly why I hope to be a member of her soon.

/ Call Me Ishmael

BONIFACE said...

I almost brought that passage up int he article, but upon examining how it was rendered in about seven different translations, I found it did not have the same import in all of them. I can accept that, because of Saul's jealousy, he may have accused David and Jonathan of homosexuality, as you suggest. But if so, I would not say this is because of the phrase that Jonathan "loves" the son of Jesse, but rather because in some translations that part about the mother is translated as 'expose your mother's nakedness", which is a phrase that means to have sex with. So, I can see that Saul might have accused them of this sin.

Jeffrey Pinyan said...

"First, from a simple theological standpoint, we know David was no a homosexual, because Scripture states that David was "a man after God's own heart" (1 Sam. 13:14, Acts 13:22). Since David was a man after God's own heart, and since Scripture also plainly states that "neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals" will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9-10), then we can easily infer that David was not a homosexual, especially since he is mentioned in the New Testament as one of the heroes of the faith (Heb. 11:32). How could God be a man after God's own heart if he routinely practiced a sin that is abominable in the eyes of God?"

But David was an adulterer at one point in his life. He repented of it (and as far as we know, never committed that sin again), but even he, a man after God's own heart, committed adultery.

I'm not saying David was a homosexual, just that you may need to fine-tune your argument.

BONIFACE said...

Jeff-

I added this clarification. Does this help?


David did commit adultery, of course, so we are not saying that a man after God's own heart cannot sin. But to live in a constant, active homosexual relationship for years, and to express no penitence or sorrow for it, is quite a different matter, just as committing one sin and being sorry is different from abiding in a permanent state of mortal sin. So, while one can be a man after God's own heart and still fall into sin, I think it is not possible to be described by Scripture as "a man after God's own heart" and live in a constant state of sin.

Jeffrey Pinyan said...

Yes, that helps.

The Anti-Modernist said...

Thank you for a very interesting and insightful blog entry. I had not been aware of David and Jonathan's relationship being used to support the homosexual position in scripture. I am much wiser for having read this. Thank you for your hard work.

Weigo178 said...

Thanks. This I very helpful