This week’s Twible readings cover the Bible’s finest bromance: the love between David and Jonathan.
The Bible doesn’t spill the exact details of how they met, but it’s clear that they’re kindred spirits from the start. Jonathan’s heart is “knit” to David’s (18:1), and he immediately gives David his own clothes as a token of his love–robe, armor, belt, weapons, the works. In the following chapter, Jonathan warns David that King Saul (who’s going a little mental; see last week’s soap opera report) is plotting to kill him. Jonathan risks his father’s love–and, it should be pointed out, his own chances to be king someday–by defending David and helping him escape. He “loved David as he loved his own soul.” (20:17) Sweet.
At first, you think that this is going to be one of those unrequited crushes that’s absolutely devastating for the person in love and seriously awkward for the object of his affection. But David’s got feelings too. He and Jonathan make a covenant, and there’s clearly deep affection on both sides. They weep and kiss each other when they have to say good-bye–“but David more so.”
After Jonathan is killed in battle (sorry for the spoiler, people), David’s mourning is so fierce that he shoots the messenger–literally. Then he sings a lament that has set off the Gaydars of a whole new generation of readers:
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.
Aha! The smoking gun. Passing the love of women. And they kissed each other! Right there in the Bible!
So the debate rages — were they or weren’t they? Both men were married–David to Jonathan’s sister Michal (and later to many, many others) and Jonathan to some chick whose name we do not know. Jonathan’s seemingly bizarre behavior of stripping naked before David upon first meeting–way to leave a calling card!–is likely a symbolic act of divesting himself of all of the privileges that would come with the whole “prince” package and bestowing them on David, someone he recognized as a future king. And in that patriarchal culture, men had abiding friendships with each other that they simply did not have with women, who were not regarded as equals. So the whole “passing the love of women” thing might not mean that much.
Or perhaps it does. As you can see from Michelangelo’s depiction at left, David was something of a hottie.
What’s sad about our own culture is that we seem to have only two rigid categories in which to place this relationship. Choice #1 is that David and Jonathan can be guy pals who watch sports together, swap Philistine war stories, and give each other an annual Awkward Man Hug only when they are under the influence of strong mead. Choice #2 is that they’re wearing barely-there loincloths and hurling javelins in the Gay Games. No middle ground for us; our culture doesn’t allow for the complexity of the biblical experience. In fact, our homophobia is so pervasive that the Living Bible translates the whole kissing passage as “and they sadly shook hands, tears running down their cheeks until David could weep no more.” Please.
So were D&J gay lovers? It is one possible interpretation. Yesterday I asked a bona fide biblical scholar this question and he smiled and said, “Why wouldn’t they?” Why, indeed? In fact, some interpreters have posited that the use of the Hebrew word gadol (great) to describe David after the whole kiss-and-cry scene referred to the growing size of his erection rather than the copious quantity of his tears. I certainly haven’t heard that one in Sunday School.
We simply don’t know. What happened in the army tent they shared stayed in the army tent they shared. We can ask, but they’re not telling.
#Twible 1 Sam 15: G has 2nd thoughts re: Saul as king. Obi-Sam returns as guest star to tell Saul he’s on his own; G’s rejected him. Uh oh.
#Twible 1 Sam 16: Star search. G wants Sam to anoint one of Jesse’s 8 sons as king. David’s the runt of the litter, but G picks him anyway.
#Twible 1 Sam 17: Dav fells Philistine giant Goliath w a slingshot. Awesome! Joins Susan Boyle, Rocky & Karate Kid in Underdog Hall of Fame.
#Twible 1 Sam 18: Dav’s best buds w Jon. He’s Saul’s top guy & a chick magnet. But Saul’s jealous; tries 2 kill him. It’s always something.
#Twible 1 Sam 19: Michal defies Saul, her dad, to save Dav. And they say blood is thicker than water. Not in this family, baby.
#Twible 1 Sam 20: Bible’s finest bromance. Dav+Jon=BFFs. Jon disobeys Saul to protect Dav. Bitter tears & pinky promises @ parting. Sniff.
#Twible 1 Sam 21: Celeb sighting! Dav flees Saul; locals recognize him & call TMZ. Dav pretends to be crazy, which isn’t a huge stretch.
Tune in to Flunking Sainthood every Friday for new installments of As the Bible Turns.