Jonathan and David – something hidden?

March 8th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 26 comments

Question:

I have now been following you for some years and always enjoy reading your writings or listening to your podcasts. 

Recently, I was sharing with a friend about the deep friendship that existed between David and Jonathan, which I had always interpreted as nothing more than friendship, when I was struck to see the amount of writing suggesting that they actually had a homosexual relationship. I was wondering what the Jewish interpretation(s) were of the various passages between 1 Samuel 18 and 2 Samuel 1 referring to the relationship between the two. 

Would you be able to shed some light? It would be so appreciated. Such an interpretation would appear to go completely against Leviticus 18:22, and I could not help but wonder why God would have retained David as King if what he did was detestable before God. When David sinned with Bathsheba, God rebuked him and David repented. But regarding his relationship with Jonathan, I do not see any rebuke from God.

Jean-Pierre

Answer: 

Dear Jean-Pierre,

There is a reason we speak of ancient Jewish wisdom rather than modern Jewish wisdom. It is not because the wisdom is applicable only to those who lived long ago or because there can be no fresh applications to our time. We firmly dispute both those mistaken ideas. However, everything must be grounded in the written and oral Torah transmitted from God to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Original thinking comes in applying the ancient wisdom to new circumstances, not in ignoring or negating it. 

We find Secular Fundamentalism’s desperation to find validation for their moral squalor in the writings of Scripture to be fascinating.  Do we care if there is any validation for our views in the writings of, say, Karl Marx.  Of course not! Because we have little regard for him.  Secular Fundamentalism’s yearning for Biblical validation reveals the deeply embedded, perhaps subconscious, respect they actually do have for the Bible.

When you say that you see a great deal of writing suggesting a homosexual relationship, what you see is all of recent vintage. As you note, the Bible and the oral tradition do not hesitate to discuss the sins of great people in the Bible. Had there been anything to these modern rumors about David and Jonathan, we would find it in writings of millennia ago, not only recent accounts. Since that is not so, we reject anything written in that vein. Creative literature it may be, but it is not part of the transmission chain from Sinai. In other words, it is not part of ancient Jewish wisdom and we have no hesitation in dismissing it as unadulterated bilge-water.

Don’t let revisionist history trouble your Bible study,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

 

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26 comments

Mark Lampe says:

Bilgewater is a nice name for it, I have seen too much of this stuff in an attempt to justify immoral behavior, Hollywood trying to portray Jesus as a homosexual or as having fathered a child secretly with Mary Magdelene, it’s enough to induce retching. Suffice it to say, we are indeed living in close proximity to the days of Lot and I fully understand the consternation that man felt.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Indeed Mark–
And when this boater uses the term ‘bilgewater’ believe me, he knows bilgewater. A nauseating mix of engine oil, galley overflow, rancid seawater with a touch of raw sewage. Enough to induce retching for sure!
Cordially
RDL

Vanaly Palmer says:

Rabbi, Michal was Jonathons sister and David’s rather unfaithful wife. I believe THE woman David was talking about was Jonathon’s sister.

Susan Lapin says:

Vanaly – actually ancient Jewish wisdom does not accuse Michal, David’s wife, of unfaithfulness at all. There is an amazing story there – I need to check if we covered that in a Thought Tool. My husband definitely wrote a Thought Tool about a major problem in David and Michal’s marriage, though.

Katherine Gray says:

Rabbi,
COMPLETELY AWESOME ANSWER!! Thank you for setting us on solid ground.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thank you Katherine–
As Jeeves said to Bertie Wooster, “We endeavor to give satisfaction.” The notion that modern psychology that changes its mind more frequently even than they issue new editions of the DSM, should be sitting in judgement on the Bible and on ancient Jewish wisdom both of which have established their unchanging bonafides over millennia is so laughably ridiculous as to give one the hiccups.
Cordially
RDL

James says:

Shalom, Rabbi! Just like today’s revisionists are rewriting American history to fit their secularist ‘narrative,’ theologians are doing the same to interpret and insert unsavory ‘Freudian”-style motives, actions and consequences into Biblical events. This theological reductionism has been going on for a long, long time, indeed for decades. I can recall from the late 1960’s popcorn-theologians’ assertions that (1) David and Jonathan had the x-rated relationship as dealt with today, (2) Joseph refused Potiphar’s wife because he was unsure of his masculinity, etc., etc. The most egregious, if sensationalist assertion was by a man named Altizer: God is DEAD, in an improbable fusion of radical Christianity with Hegelian dialectic. Whose side are these guys on, anyway? Things got so bad that my sainted Mother left the Church, which had become infected with reductionist or feel-good theology trickled down from high offices, in favor of an old-fashioned Bible study group to hear less adulterated word of God. You have me convinced, however, that we all can stand to hear a great deal more Ancient Jewish Wisdom before consulting a spurious crystal ball of crackpot exegesis. Thanks for addressing this question.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Right James,
but don’t forget that they desperately seek validation for their positions in the Bible. If someone told me that a kindergarten year book in the city of Quagadougou’s finest early childhood education program disagrees with one of my views, I wouldn’t waste a millisecond of attention on that. I am so sure of my beliefs and have so little regard for that West African preschool. However, the preoccupation that Secular Fundies have with the Bible assures me that #1, they are not so sure of their beliefs, and #2, they have a deep but very high regard for the Bible.
Cordially
RDL

Joe Christian says:

Rabbi,
I agree in principle with your response but disagree with the reason you ascribe to the Secular Fundamentalists’ desperate search. I do not see them as well-meaning truth-seekers looking to validate their beliefs. Some may fit that description but many others are openly hostile to God and religion and actively try to destroy all teachings that have a sacred basis. Secularism is waging war with the sacred. Sowing doubt is a common tactic.

Susan Lapin says:

I don’t think we disagree, Joe. Sowing doubt is a tactic and there is certainly overt hostility out there. But there is another side to the story as well. Some agnostics are desperate truth-seekers. Atheism is a religion – you cannot scientifically prove there is no God anymore than you can scientifically prove that there is to the absolute agreement of all. If you could, there would be no such thing as faith. We don’t argue about whether gravity exists; we do argue about God. Secular fundamentalism is a religion as well. But many who are the most vehement secular fundamentalists proclaim themselves as proud Catholics, Christians or Jews and are desperate to support their views by quoting the very Bible that they are rejecting through their choices. Some of this is political posturing, but others truly want to believe that they are doing the right thing and that God would approve of their choosing what of His to accept and what to reject.

Dianne Pickford says:

Oh boy, I loved your answer to this poor misguided soul. I am very interested in Biblical apologetics so I can be bold and answer lovingly but sternly the many uneducated arguments against scripture that I run into on a daily basis! I am a substitute teacher in the public schools. Pray for me…
Watch and listen to you daily! ❤️

Susan Lapin says:

Dianne, what a challenge and an opportunity it must be to work in the public schools (we call them GiCs, government indoctrination centers) these days. Most arguments these days are uneducated – the Bible used to be a subject one was assumed to know in order to be educated, while today you can quote almost any verse or mention famous names and get unknowing stares from people who consider themselves educated.

Christel says:

And isn’t it a shame that the frequent outcome of this type of smearing is that many men withdraw from innocent and beneficial friendships with other men, and women with women because they now feel “uncomfortable” with how some in society may view/interpret that friendship.
While the Benjamin tribe may have had some issues involving that particular sin, the biblical picture of David and Jonathan’s friendship has always, to me, seemed to wonderfully illustrate the the true definition of FRIENDSHIP.
And as a Christian, how greatly I value the statement of Jesus that He now calls us His Friends…

Susan Lapin says:

Christel, you’re making a valuable point, especially with the indoctrination given children. Girls used to regularly walk with arms around each other, while sleepovers were a fun activity for both boys and girls. There is way too much information and too many question marks now so that kids get confused by what were completely innocent friendship activities and feelings. This is true for boy/girl relationships too. Premature sexuality in language and thought, such as completely inappropriate T-shirts or dress, destroys so much of childhood innocence. Adding the homosexual element is heaping even more stress and pressure that destroys childhood.

Dumisa says:

“Secular Fundamentalism’s yearning for Biblical validation reveals the deeply embedded, perhaps subconscious, respect they actually do have for the Bible.” Wow! I never thought of it that way which to me proves there is really no excuse for what the secular fundamentalists are doing, it’s really not a lack of knowledge but a deliberate attempt to push God out of everyone’s life.

Susan Lapin says:

Dumisa, see if you can find a copy of My Life Without God by Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s son, who was the boy in the lawsuit which stopped school prayer in public schools. His mother was trying to not only deliberately push God out of public life but to destroy America.

RonnyG says:

It is indeed very refreshing to see that your Wisdom prevails Rabbi Lapin. In addition to your very appropriate definition of the Torah given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, I would add that in today’s culture of Anti-Secularism you can also consider “Political Correctness” as a major negative element in the interrelationship between people who are trying to communicate the Truth! Shelomith Shalom! Tushiyyah!

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear RonnyG–
thanks for writing and I totally agree with you. In fact I devoted one episode of my podcast https://soundcloud.com/rabbi-daniel-lapin-show a few months ago to explaining what political correctness really is and how it all goes only one way–against Judeo Christian Biblical belief.
Cordially
RDL

Pamela Moore says:

I want to talk with you but I let my inability to get out of bed paralyze me. Thank you so much for your Thought Tools and Susan’s Musings, I can lie here, enjoy them, agree and Praise God. Blessings.

B. says:

Explain what David meant when he said Jonathan’s love for him “passed the love of women.” When I read the story, it sounds more intimate than a friendship. This isn’t trying to revise anything.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear B.
Translations nearly always suffer the flaw of inaccuracy. This is because most languages possess words unique to that culture in much the same way that Innuit languages spoken by Eskimos in the far north have many more words for the many nuances of snow they experience. Furthermore, translations lose much of the subtle intent that lies in the original. You are referring to I Samuel 1:26 and the translation reads much as you put it. “…your love for me was more wonderful than the love of women”. Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that when a woman loves a man, that love is usually very durable. We all know accounts of women who wouldn’t leave abusive husbands even, telling people “But I still love him”. We all know cases of women who remain loving and loyal to husbands who are in prison for long terms. Most times when one hears of a divorce, most people just assume it was the man who walked away and abandoned the marriage. And though today there are more cases than there used to be of women initiating divorce, it still is true that most abandonments of a marriage are men. David’s point is that he appreciated Jonathan’s loyalty which more resembled the enduring dedication of a women than the more utilitarian friendship typically found between men.
As we explained above, the Hebrew Scripture is hardly reticent about describing the sins of its heroes and had David been in violation of the heavily and frequently emphasizes sin of homosexuality, you can be sure we wouldn’t have needed to hear about it by innuendo.
So rest assured, regardless of silly attempts to employ bogus scholarship to attempt the legitimization of homosexuality, King David of the Bible, whatever else he did, did not engage in that immoral behavior with his friend Jonathan.
Cordially
RDL

B. says:

How do you explain Jonathan’s soul being knit with David’s in 1 Samuel 18:3 and Jonathan making David vow his love for him in 1 Samuel 20:17 ? As I said before, I think this indicates something more intense than a friendship. Maybe the ancient writers were too afraid to admit it because of a negative reaction from the people
at the time.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear B–
Our goal is not to proselytize you or persuade you. It is merely to provide a glimpse into ancient Jewish wisdom for your entertainment, edification, and education. Accept it or reject it; either way is fine with us. But what we are not doing is entering into any long drawn out debates. And I think three letters making your point my dear friend, constitutes the start of a long and drawn out debate. Not going there. We’ve given you the correct approach (Never accept sexual guidance from a celibate or BBQing advice from a vegetarian) If you want to understand the Hebrew Scriptures, come to a Hebrew into which category I modestly place myself. And you did that. And we responded. So good luck, God bless, and all good wishes.
Cordially
RDL

B. says:

Also, Jean-Pierre wondered how God would retain David as king if he did something detestable before God. I read the story about David and Bathsheba and how David committed adultery with her and had Uriah killed in battle Adultery and murder are sins and God still picked him to be king. So what difference would it make if he was bisexual ? David was far from good.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear B–
See above
Cordially
RDL

B. says:

Cordially to you too. Thanks for discussing this with me.

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