The story of David and Jonathan is perhaps the closest, most controversial relationship between men in the history of the Old Testament, if not beyond. How is it that this one story has posed so many arguments and interpretations over the centuries? People have based their entire views of homosexuality from the way they interpret this story; whether good or bad. So what’s the big fuss about? What difference does it make whether or not their relationship is homosexual or homosocial?
Today’s social standard between men is not accepting of close social relationships, and for many ‘manly men’ out there it’s impossible to read the story of David and Jonathan and not read homosexuals. On the other side of the spectrum the gay community has adopted this story as proof that same sex relationships are biblical.
What this means for the in between views on this story is that they are pressured into choosing to believe that David and Jonathan are either gay or not, which could cause some serious theological changes to the individuals beliefs as well as arise thousands of more debates about Jesus who was a descendant of David’s lineage.
So for many people who are in the in between it has become this battle to analyze the scripture so intently to really figure out if these two were gay. One article I have found on Ebsco host, which I will be using in my research paper, is by a man named Markus Ehnder, who is a Scottish assyriologist, that wrote for the Westminster Theological Journal. in his article Observations on the Relationship between David and Jonathan and the Debate on Homosexuality he discusses these debates pretty intently focusing on the original Hebrew language and insinuating the meanings of the words based on the other places in the bible where the same words were used and the context they are in.
For example, Ehnder addresses the verb “love” that’s used in 1 Samuel 18:1 and 20:17 when the story refers to David’s love for Jonathan as being “loved as his own soul.” Ehnder states:
The Semantics of the Verb [not shown, but abbreviated “anx”] (“to love”):
Rather complex conclusions come out of an examination of the uses of the verb “anx” which goes beyond the limits of 1 Sam 18:1 and 20:17. The verb “anx” is attested 141 times in the HB. Eighty-one of the attestations deal with the relationship between man and God or between human beings, the latter covering fifty-four of the eighty-one attestations. In thirty of the fifty-four instances a sexual component is included or at least possible. In all of these cases it refers to relationships between a man and woman, never to relationships between persons of the same sex. These observations lead to the conclusion that from a purely statistical point of view the verb “anx” as used in 1 Sam 18:1 and 20:17 may or may not include a sexual component. In light of the fact that in all cases which actually do or at least may contain a sexual component it is always male-female relationships that are referred to, the probability that the verb “anx” in 1 Sam 18:1 and 20:17 has to be understood in a sexual way is very low”
Before reading this article by Ehnder, I personally would not have read this story as a homosexual relationship; however, I do see how the text is quite ambiguous in English. After reading this article however I’m quite convinced that the relationship between David and Jonathan, is definitely nothing more that the homosocial friendship that many many bible readers have interpreted it as.
Another statement that Ehnder makes is that there the language used here is not a sensual as the language used in more sexually explicit books of the bible like Song of Songs. Ok, so this may not mean much at first, but think about the English phrase where David writes to Jonathan saying “your love is sweeter to me than the love of a woman.” If a sexual fondness for David is implied in the original language and he was ‘flaming’ over Jonathan, wouldn’t that language, in particular, and the specific verb of ‘love’ here be written in the most sensual erotic way? That would require the use of the same ‘love’ verbs used in the Song of Solomon, which is not the case at all.
I think even the thought of the clothing of David and Jonathan, and the fact that we’ve already discussed the significance behind clothing in the Old Testament is another testament to the fact that nothing homosexual was occurring here between these two men. The scripture that states, “Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt,” has been twisted into an example of homosexuality since Jonathan got naked in front of David. However, looking through the lens of clothing as an example of social status, this scripture is a great moment in the friendship and bonding of two great men; almost like a passing of the torch.
Jonathan loved David as himself in a completely straight homosocial way and expressed that love by physically humbling himself and choosing to lift David up, as represented by the passing of his clothes and armor and weapons to David.
So why is it that this type of relationship is so far beyond our cultural view and acceptance? What has brought us thus far that we can no longer see deep emotional interaction between men as purely friendship lacking any romantic homosexual desires and tensions? Modern media has portray this disconnect between our judgments of men and women well. By looking at movies like Sex and the City, or Sisterhood of the Traveling pants, it’s completely acceptable and not questionable for women to cry together, to emotionally connect, and even to sleep in the same bed. But that standard is not true for men.