Wednesday, December 29, 2010

David and Jonathan: Love between men in the Bible

Jonathan and David by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. © 1985

“Jonathan Made a Covenant with David” by Trudie Barreras, 2009
Acrylic, 20” x 16.” Collection of First Metropolitan Community Church of Atlanta, GA.

Intense love between men is celebrated in the Bible with the story of David and Jonathan. They lived about 3,000 years ago, but they still inspire GLBT people of faith. Today (Dec. 29) is the feast day of David, the king of Israel who is credited with composing many of the psalms.

The modern idea of a gay sexual orientation didn’t exist in Biblical times, and it’s impossible to know whether David and Jonathan expressed their love sexually. However, their powerful love story in 1 and 2 Samuel shows that gay relationships are affirmed and blessed by God. Many people honor David and Jonathan as gay saints.

The account begins with the two men making a covenant of love, which is illustrated in the painting above by Atlanta artist Trudie Barreras. She paints the scene in 1 Samuel 18:3-4: “Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.”

After Jonathan was killed in battle, David mourned for him with his famous lament from 2 Samuel 1:26:

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.

Jonathan and David embrace.
Manuscript illustration, circa 1300
La Somme le roy
Gay-positive Bible scholars have written extensively about the relationship between David and Jonathan. I recommend the classic book on the subject, “Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times” by Thomas Horner.

The love between the two men is celebrated in the classic poem “The Meeting of David and Jonathan” by 19th-century English poet John Addington Symonds. He is known as an early advocate of male love (homosexuality) and wrote many poems inspired by his own homosexual affairs. In “The Meeting of David and Jonathan” he writes:

There by an ancient holm-oak huge and tough,
Clasping the firm rock with gnarled roots and rough,
He stayed their steps; and in his arms of strength
Took David, and for sore love found at length
Solace in speech, and pressure, and the breath
Wherewith the mouth of yearning winnoweth
Hearts overcharged for utterance. In that kiss
Soul unto soul was knit and bliss to bliss.

The full poem appears in “Many Moods: A Volume of Verse” by Symonds.

The golden icon at the top was painted by Brother Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his innovative icons. It is one of 10 Lentz icons that sparked a major controversy in 2005. Critics accused Lentz of glorifying sin and creating propaganda for a progressive sociopolitical agenda, and he temporarily gave away the copyright for the controversial images to his distributor, Trinity Stores. All 10 were displayed there as a collection titled “Images That Challenge.”

The “David loved Jonathan” billboard below is part of the Would Jesus Discriminate project sponsored by Metropolitan Community Churches. It states boldly, “David loved Jonathan more than women. II Samuel 1:26.” For more info on the billboards, see our previous post, “Billboards show gay-friendly Jesus.”

David loved Jonathan billboard from GLBT Christian billboards from and

This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

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Icons of Jonathan and David and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores


Trudie said...

I've been waiting to see what comments would come up about David and Jonathan, but since no one else has remarked, I thought I'd share just a couple of ideas.

First, of course, it is quite obvious that there was SOMETHING going on because of Saul's intense jealousy. Not to go any further along that road, though, one must admit that given the customs of the time, a strong bond between two men, even with a physical component, was not unusual. what may have been unusual was the fact that David and Jonathan were peers, not (as with Saul and David) older mentor and younger servant.

What really needs recognizing, though, is that the fact that David in later years seemed to be completely in tune with his culture's notion that women were possessions, not people. In that context, it is not surprising at all that he believed his relationship with Jonathan, being a peer relationship of equals, was better than the love of women -- IN EVERY WAY!

That is, of course, the lesson we must take from current same-gender relationships. Where there is a sense of equality of power, deeper relationships inevitably result. This CAN be true of heterosexual relationships, but too often even today, it is not. This is what the One Man - One Woman advocates really want: the archaic model that has been all too familiar through the centuries, of male domination and female submission.

KittKatt said...

The love between David and Jonathan is beautiful in many ways. Thank you, Trudie, for highlighting their equality and its implications for today. And thanks again for sharing your painting of David and Jonathan here.

A LOT of people are reading this post even though they don’t leave comments. Last year’s post on David and Jonathan was the 4th most popular post here based on traffic, getting 876 page views from May to Dec 2010. This year I added more art and the Symonds poem.

Colin said...

The “David loved Jonathan” billboard is wrong in saying “David loved Jonathan more than women. II Samuel 1:26”. The verse actually says that Jonathan’s love to David was more wonderful than the love of women. While the biblical author says a number of times that Jonathan loved David, the author never says that David loved Jonathan. Nevertheless, it is still a prominent story of same-sex romantic attraction and love.

KittKatt said...

Don't you think that David returned Jonathan's love? It seems obvious from the overall story, even if most translations don't use the “L-word” to describe David's feelings for Jonathan. It does seem that Jonathan's love for David was more intense than David's love for Jonathan.

Your comment caused me to reread various translations of David's lament for Jonathan, and I see that you do have a valid point, depending on the translation.

I discovered this rather surprising translation from the Douay-Rheims Bible:

“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.”

It boldly states that David loved Jonathan -- and then adds the comparison to the mother's love for her son, which is found in no other translation. It looks like they couldn't stand the same-sex love between biblical heroes!