Thursday, December 29, 2011

David and Jonathan: Biblical men who loved each other

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David and Jonathan: Love between men in the Bible

Jonathan and David
by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

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 LGBT people of faith -- and many others. David’s feast day is today (Dec. 29).

David, the second king of Israel, was an acclaimed warrior, musician and poet. He is credited with composing many of the psalms in the Bible. The gospel genealogies list David as an ancestor of Jesus.

The modern idea of sexual orientation didn’t exist in Biblical times, but the powerful love story of Jonathan and David in 1 and 2 Samuel suggests that same-sex couples are affirmed and blessed by God.

The love between the two men is honored in a controversial golden icon by Brother Robert Lentz. Unlike most images of Jonathan and David, the Lentz icon shows Christ above blessing their relationship. It is one of 10 Lentz icons that sparked a major uproar in 2005 when conservative Roman Catholic leaders accused Lentz of glorifying sin.

The story of Jonathan and David gets more chapters in the Bible than any other human love story. The two friends met when David was a ruddy young shepherd and Jonathan was the privileged eldest son of Saul, Israel’s first king. David was taken to see King Saul right after beheading the Philistine giant Goliath. Jonathan fell in love at first sight of the handsome hero. As the Bible says, “The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David.” (1 Samuel 18:1)

Artists throughout the ages have tried to capture the romantic moment described 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.”

“David and Jonathan” by Ryan Grant Long

Ryan Grant Long, a young gay artist based in Wisconsin, emphasizes the homoeroticism of the gesture as Jonathan strips off his robe and wraps it around David with a kiss on the neck in the image at the top of this post. For more about Long, see our previous post Artist paints history's gay couples.

“David and Jonathan” by Italian painter Cima da Conegliano, 1505-1510 (Wikimedia Commons)
“Jonathan Made
a Covenant with David”
by Trudie Barreras
Collection of
First Metropolitan
Community Church
of Atlanta

A more traditional view is presented by 16th-century Italian painter Cima da Conegliano (above). In both images David is still carrying the head of Goliath as he bonds with his new friend Jonathan, hinting at the union of violence and eroticism. In contrast Atlanta artist Trudie Barreras shows the new friends putting aside their armor to make a covenant with each other (left).

The Bible chronicles the ups and downs of David and Jonathan’s relationship over the next 15 years, including tears and kisses. An 18th-century German “friendship medal” (below) captures another highlight as Jonathan pledges to David, “I will do the desires of your heart” (“Ich will die thun was dein Herz begehrt”) from 1 Samuel 20:4.

German friendship medal of Jonathan and David by Philipp Heinrich Müller, c.1710 (Wikimedia Commons)

David and Jonathan became so close that it looked like someday they would rule Israel together. But that day never comes because Jonathan was killed in battle. David mourned deeply 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. The classic book on the subject is “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.

It’s impossible to know whether David and Jonathan expressed their love sexually. Some consider David to be bisexual, since the Hebrew scriptures also recount how he committed adultery with Bathsheba and later made her one of his eight wives. There is no doubt that many people today do honor David and Jonathan as gay saints.

Their story is used by contemporary LGBT Christians to counteract conservatives who claim that the Bible condemns homosexuality. 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

Related links:

David and Jonathan: Why did God focus on their intimate partnership? (GayChristian101)

Pharsea’s World: Homosexuality and Tradition: David and Jonathan

Subjects of the visual arts: David and Jonathan (

David the Prophet and Jonathan, His Lover (Queer Saints and Martyrs - And Others)

Bible story of David and Jonathan’s first meeting: 1 Samuel 18

Bible story of Jonathan’s death: 2 Samuel 1

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.

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


Unknown said...

ALWAYS thought there was more to the relationship between these two.

Mareczku said...

Very interesting.

Ruth said...

I had a most unusual stained glass window of D & J in my old church which left me in no doubt that they were gay.
Would you like a pic?

Kittredge Cherry said...

Yes, Ruth, I’d love it! Please do send your out and proud D & J stained glass window image. You can email it to me at Or on Facebook.

With a name like Ruth, maybe you have a great Ruth and Naomi picture too?

Anonymous said...

Where can I find a David and Jonathan medal that can be worn around the neck? I've found David medals but not both.

Kittredge Cherry said...

Good question! I can't find a David and Jonathan medal online, but offers to create pendants for any saints that you request. They do beautiful work at a reasonable price.