When King Saul found his oldest son, Jonathan, siding with David, whom he considered his archenemy, he cursed him out by saying that he had made David a friend "to your ownshame, and to the shame of your mother's nakedness" (1 Samuel 20:30). They are strong words, and some have interpreted them as meaning that Saul suspected a sexual relationship between the two young men.

This view can be further buttressed by such verses as "The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul" (1 Samuel 18:1) and the words David spoke when he learned of Jonathan's death, "Your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women" (2 Samuel 1:26). When David and Jonathan said good-bye to each other for almost the last time, they "kissed one another and wept" (1 Samuel 20:41), we're told, and there are undoubtedly those who would point to that too as evidence.

There seem to be at least three things to say in response to all this.

The first is that both emotions and the language used to express them ran a good deal higher in the ancient Near East than they do in Little Rock, Arkansas, or Boston, Massachusetts, or even Los Angeles, California, and for that and other reasons the theory that such passages as have been cited necessarily indicate a homosexual relationship is almost certainly false.

The second is that it's sad, putting it rather mildly, that we live at a time when in many quarters two men can't embrace or weep together or speak of loving one another without arousing the suspicion that they must also go to bed together.

Third, in the event that there was a sexual dimension to the friendship between Jonathan and David, it is significant that the only one to see it as shameful was King Saul, who was a manic depressive with homicidal tendencies and an eventual suicide.

Everywhere else in the book of Samuel it seems to be assumed that what was important about the relationship was not what may or may not have gone on behind closed doors, but the affection, respect, and faithfulness that kept it alive through thick and thinuntil finally Jonathan was killed in battle and David rent his garments and wept over him.

~originally published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words

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