David and Jonathan: Same-sex love between men in the Bible

by Kittredge Cherry | Dec 29, 2019 (qspirit.net)

Gay David and Jonathan window from St. Mark's Portobello, Edinburgh, Scotland

Love between men is celebrated in the Bible with the story of David and Jonathan. “Your love to me was wonderful, surpassing the love of women,” David said in his famous a lament for Jonathan. David’s feast day is Dec. 29.

Their story inspires LGBTQ people and affirms that same-sex couples are blessed by God. New and historical artists, writers and musicians illustrate the same-sex love between Jonathan and David here.

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.  There are no wedding ceremonies in the Bible, so the same-sex vows between David and Jonathan and Ruth and Naomi provide the best Biblical models for wedding vows.

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.

Contemporary LGBTQ Christians point to Jonathan and David 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 LGBT Christian billboards from WouldJesusDiscriminte.org

Sixteenth-century Spanish mystic John of the Cross is one of the many writers who used their same-sex love as a model for divine love. “The love Jonathan bore for David was so intimate that it knitted his soul to David’s. If the love of one man for another was that strong, what will be the tie caused through the soul’s love for God, the Bridegroom?” John of the Cross asked in “The Spiritual Canticle.”

 David and Jonathan in scripture

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 two men met when David was a ruddy young shepherd.  Jonathan, a courageous warrior, had returned victorious from battle.  Jonathan was the eldest son of Saul, Israel’s first king. David was taken to see King Saul right after beheading the Philistine giant Goliath. Scholars estimate that David was about 18 and Jonathan was at least 10 years older.

Jonathan fell in love at first sight of the handsome young hero. As the Bible says, “The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David.” Their story gets more chapters in the Bible than any other human love story. Wedding ceremonies are absent from the Bible, but the covenant between Jonathan and David is described in detail.

Soon after David and Jonathan met, the two men expressed their commitment by making a covenant with each other. The dramatic moment is 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.”

Jonathan and David embrace, 1300

Jonathan and David embrace in a manuscript illustration, circa 1300. La Somme le roy (Wikipedia)

The Bible chronicles the ups and downs of David and Jonathan’s relationship over the next 15 years, including tears and kisses. King Saul is jealous of David’s popularity and keeps trying to kill him, while his son Jonathan rescues his friend in various ways.

David and Jonathan became so close that it looked like someday they would rule Israel together. But that day never came because Jonathan was killed in battle. David mourned deeply for him with a famous lament.

There are many translations of 2 Samuel 1:26, each one expressing how the love between Jonathan and David was “greater than,” “more wonderful than,” “deeper than” or otherwise “surpassing the love of women.”

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.

David and Jonathan in literature

The love between the two men is also celebrated in literature, including the 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.

Epic same-sex love between David and Jonathan is fleshed out in the 2016 historical novel “The Prince’s Psalm” by Eric Shaw Quinn, a New York Times-bestselling author. It is a perennial bestseller at Q Spirit. Beginning with young David slaying Goliath, the book shows how he won the heart of Prince Jonathan, heir to the throne of Israel. The star-crossed warrior-lovers face conflicts with King Saul and others as the Biblical story unfolds and David grows to become a king himself. The author uses artistry and restraint to present sex scenes between David and Jonathan (and each man with his own wife). With meticulous research and dynamic storytelling skills, he brings alive the dramatic same-sex love story at the core of religious tradition. The author is a celebrity ghostwriter who wrote novelizations of the TV series “Queer as Folk.”

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.

David and Jonathan in art

The love between the two men is honored in a 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 have sparked controversy since in 2005 when conservative Roman Catholic leaders accused Lentz of glorifying sin and creating propaganda for a progressive sociopolitical agenda with these “Images That Challenge.” Prints of “Jonathan and David” are available through Amazon and TrinityStores.com.

“Jonathan and David” by Robert Lentz

Artists throughout the ages have illustrated the the drama and same-sex passion of their story, beginning with the moment that David and Jonathan met.  A beautiful romantic version of their first meeting appears on their stained-glass window at St. Mark’s Portobello, a Scottish Episcopal church in Edinburgh. The inscription states, “The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David” (1 Samuel 18:1).

David and Jonathan window from St. Mark’s Portobello, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1882

Created in 1882, the window has a dedication at the bottom: “In loving memory of George Frederick Paterson of Castle Huntly who died at Portobello, 30th Sept. 1890, aged 33.” All that is known about Paterson is that he was in the army and unmarried. The window was paid for by “a friend.”

Another stained-glass window of David and Jonathan is located at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Indiana, Pennsylvania. It was created in the Tiffany style by Robert L. Dodge in 1906. The window is dedicated to the memory of John Sutton and A.W. Wilson, founders of Indiana University of Pennsylvania. It can be seen online at Stained Glass Resources Inc., which restored the window in 2000.

“David and Jonathan” by Katy Miles-Wallace

“David and Jonathan” by Katy Miles-Wallace. Available as prints and more at the Queerly Christian Zazzle and Etsy and shops.

David and Jonathan share a rainbow halo in an icon created in 2017 by queer Lutheran artist and seminarian Katy Miles-Wallace as part of her “Queer Saints” series. It appears at the top of this post. The series presents traditional saints with queer qualities and heroes of the LGBTQ community.

The icons are rooted in queer theology and in Miles-Wallace’s eclectic faith journey that began at a Baptist church in Texas and led to study at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California. She drew many of them on the altar of a seminary chapel. For more info, see the Q Spirit article “New icons of Queer Saints created by artist Katy Miles-Wallace.” The icons are available as prints, jewelry and more at the Queerly Christian Zazzle and Etsy shops.

“Jonathan Greeting David, after David killed Goliath” by Gottfried Bernhard Goez, 1708-1774 (Wikimedia Commons)

California artist Ryan Grant Long emphasizes the homoeroticism of the moment whenJonathan strips off his robe and wraps it around David with a kiss on the neck. For more about Long, see my previous post Artist paints history’s gay couples.

“David and Jonathan” by Ryan Grant Long

Artist Brandon Buehring imagined both men stripped bare in a private encounter between Jonathan and David in his “Legendary Love: A Queer History Project.” He uses pencil sketches and essays “to remind queer people and our allies of our sacred birthright as healers, educators, truth-tellers, spiritual leaders, warriors and artists.”

“Jonathan and David” by Brandon BuehringBuehring’s project features 20 sketches of queer historical and mythological figures from many cultures around the world. He has a M.Ed. degree in counseling with an LGBTQ emphasis from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He works in higher education administration as well as being a freelance illustrator based in Northampton, Massachusetts.

David and Jonathan sculpture by Malcolm Lidbury

David and Jonathan sculpture by Malcolm Lidbury, 2016 (Wikipedia)

David and Jonathan are among the many historical male couples sculpted by British gay artist/activist Malcolm Lidbury. They were included in his Cornwall LGBT History and Gay Art Sculpture ‘Open Studio’ Exhibition for National LGBT History Month in 2016.

Lidbury portrays the embrace of David and Jonathan with full frontal nudity. The exhibit (and related video) also include Saint SebastianOscar Wilde and many others. The figures appear to be solid bronze, but are actually a thin film of bronze paint over composite construction of wood, plastic, metal and such. These materials are a metaphor expressing the artist’s belief that laws protecting LGBTQ people appear strong but are actually a fragile veneer.

A more traditional view is presented by 16th-century Italian painter Cima da Conegliano. 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.

“David and Jonathan” by Italian painter Cima da Conegliano, 1505-1510 (Wikimedia Commons)

In contrast New Mexico artist Trudie Barreras shows the new friends both putting aside their armor to make a covenant with each other (left).

Jonathan Made a Covenant with David by Trudie Barreras

“Jonathan Made a Covenant with David” by Trudie Barreras, Collection of City of Light / First Metropolitan Community Church of Atlanta

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)

Other artists focus on a dramatic moment that came later when Jonathan met David at a pile (or “ezel”) of stone to warn him that Saul intended to kill him. An 1860 woodcut by German artist Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld illustrates that tearful farewell scene from 1 Samuel 20: 41-42:

“Then they kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most. Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’”

“David and Jonathan” woodcut for “Die Bibel in Bildern”, 1860, by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (Wikimedia Commons)

Detail from “David and Jonathan
at the Stone Ezel”
by Edward Hicks

Another version of the farewell scene was painted by American folk artist and Quaker minister Edward Hicks in 1847.  In both paintings a boy can be seen carrying away their weapons.  In the lower right Hicks places a scene of the Good Samaritan rescuing a downtrodden man.  Interestingly, the Jonathan and David window at St. Mark’s Portobello is also paired with a window showing the Good Samaritan. Scholar Mitch Gould analyzes the painting for the Jesus in Love Blog in his article Biblical same-sex love found in “David and Jonathan” art by Edward Hicks.

“David and Jonathan at the Stone Ezel” by Edward Hicks, 1847

Contemporary gay Israeli artist Adi Nes gives shocking clarity to David and Jonathan by using images of homoeroticism and homelessness to subvert stereotypes about people in the Bible. The triumph of David over Goliath is often used to symbolize Israel’s military victories over its enemies, but Nes chooses to depict David as a vulnerable youth with a crutch, leaning on another young man for love and support. Dirty and unkempt, they embrace beneath an industrial overpass covered by graffiti. They look battered, perhaps from a gay bashing. The tender moment suggests the scenes when “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David” or when “they kissed each other and wept together.” (For more about Adi Nes, see my previous post “Gay Israeli artist Adi Nes humanizes Bible stories. “

“Untitled (David and Jonathan)” by Adi Nes

David and Jonathan in music

The love between the two Biblical heroes is celebrated in classical music, such as “O Jonathan, Woe Is Me,” a sacred madrigal for six voices by 17th-century Englisher composer Thomas Weelkes. The text comes from 2 Samuel 1:25b-26 and ends with the telling phrase, “passing the love of women.”

Music based on the same-sex love between Biblical heroes David and Jonathan is explored in the 2017 interdisciplinary book “Jonathan’s Loves, David’s Laments: Gay Theology, Musical Desires, and Historical Difference” by Dirk von der Horst.  He connects the writings of LGBTQ theologians and Bible scholars with early modern musical interpretations by composers such as Handel and Weelkes.  Queer possibilities are reinforced when he listens closely to the music with scholarly exegesis and historical analysis of whether the love between Jonathan and David was homoerotic.  It includes a foreword by pioneering feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether.  The author teaches religions at Mount St. Mary’s University, Los Angeles.

LGBTQ books related to David and Jonathan

The Love of David and Jonathan: Ideology, Text, Reception” by James E. Harding (2014)

Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times” by Tom M. Horner (1978)

The Prince’s Psalm” by Eric Shaw Quinn (2016) (historical novel about the homosexual love between Jonathan and David)

Jonathan’s Loves, David’s Laments: Gay Theology, Musical Desires, and Historical Difference” by Dirk von der Horst (2017)

LGBTQ links related to David and Jonathan

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

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

David and Jonathan” by 17th-century Dutch artist Ferdinand Bol at Israel Museum

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

Bible story of Jonathan’s death: 2 Samuel 1

To read this article in Spanish, go to:
David y Jonatán: El amor entre hombres en la Biblia (Santos Queer)

Top image credit: David and Jonathan window (detail) from St. Mark’s Portobello, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1882. Special thanks to Ruth Innes for the photo and info.
This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Qspirit.net presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.

“David and Jonathan” by Katy Miles-Wallace

David and Jonathan and other LGBTQIA+ Christian saints are available as prints, jewelry and more at the Queerly Christian Zazzle and Etsy shops

Kittredge Cherry


Kittredge Cherry

Founder at Q SpiritKittredge Cherry is a lesbian Christian author who writes regularly about LGBTQ spirituality.She holds degrees in religion, journalism and art history.She was ordained by Metropolitan Community Churches and served as its national ecumenical officer, advocating for LGBTQ rights at the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches.

The Illuminations of Hannah Arendt


By Richard J. Bernstein

Mr. Bernstein is a professor of philosophy at The New School for Social Research.

June 20, 2018 (NYTimes.com)
Hannah Arendt, shown here in 1969, wrote of her condition as a stateless person following the Holocaust and of the substitution of truth with fictions in politics.
Hannah Arendt, shown here in 1969, wrote of her condition as a stateless person following the Holocaust and of the substitution of truth with fictions in politics.Credit…Neal Boenzi/The New York Times

In the preface to her 1968 collection of essays, “Men in Dark Times,” Hannah Arendt wrote: “Even in the darkest of times we have the right to expect some illumination.” Today, in our own dark time, Arendt’s work is being read with a new urgency, precisely because it provides such illumination.

Born in Germany in 1906, Arendt studied with prominent philosophers of her time, but fled the country in 1933, living for a time in Paris, and later, in the United States. She is best known for her major works, including “The Human Condition,” “On Violence,” “Truth and Politics,” “The Origins of Totalitarianism” and especially “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil,” which grew out of her coverage of the trial of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann for The New Yorker.

She was remarkably perceptive about some of the deepest problems, perplexities and dangerous tendencies in modern political life, many of them still with us today. When she speaks of “dark times” and warns of the “exhortations, moral and otherwise, that under the pretext of upholding old truths degrade all truth in meaningless triviality” we can hear not only a critique of the horrors of 20th-century totalitarianism, but also a warning about forces pervading the politics of the United States and Europe today.

Arendt was one of the first major political thinkers to warn that the ever-increasing numbers of stateless persons and refugees would continue to be an intractable problem. One of Arendt’s early articles, the 1943 essay “We Refugees,” based on her personal experiences of statelessness, raises fundamental questions. In it, she graphically describes what it means to lose one’s home, one’s language and one’s occupation, and concludes with a more general claim about the political consequences of the new mass phenomenon — the “creation” of masses of people forced to leave their homes and their country: “Refugees driven from country to county represent the new vanguard of their peoples … The comity of European peoples went to pieces when, and because, it allowed its weakest member to be excluded and persecuted.”

When Arendt wrote this she could scarcely have realized how relevant her observations would be in 2018. Almost every significant political event during the past 100 years has resulted in the multiplication of new categories of refugees, and there appears to be no end in sight. There are now millions of people in refugee camps with little hope that they will be able to return to their homes or ever find a new one.

In her 1951 work, “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” Arendt wrote of refugees: “The calamity of the rightless is not that they are deprived of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or of equality before the law and freedom of opinion, but that they no longer belonged to any community whatsoever.” The loss of community has the consequence of expelling a people from humanity itself. Appeals to abstract human rights are meaningless unless there are effective institutions to guarantee these rights. The most fundamental right is the “right to have rights.”

By dwelling on the horrors of totalitarianism, and grasping that the aim of total domination is to destroy human spontaneity, individuality and plurality, Arendt probed what it means fully to live a human life in a political community and begin something new — what she called natality. She also sought to probe the threats to the dignity of politics — the type of politics in which individuals confront each other as political equals, deliberate and act together — a politics in which empowerment can grow and public freedom thrive without violence.

Her essay “Truth and Politics,” published in 1967, might have been written yesterday. Her analysis of systematic lying and the danger it presents to factual truths is urgently relevant. Because factual truths are contingent and consequently might have been otherwise, it is all too easy to destroy factual truth and substitute “alternative facts.”

In “Truth and Politics,” she wrote: “Freedom of opinion is a farce unless factual information is guaranteed and the facts themselves are not in dispute.” Unfortunately one of the most successful techniques for blurring the distinction between factual truth and falsehood is to claim that any so-called factual truth is just another opinion — something we hear almost every day from the Trump administration. What happened so blatantly in totalitarian regimes is being practiced today by leading politicians with great success — creating a fictional world of “alternative facts.”

According to Arendt, there is an even greater danger: “The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lies will now be accepted as truth, and the truth defamed as lies, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world — and the category of truth vs. falsehood is among the mental means to this end — is being destroyed.” The possibilities for lying become boundless and frequently meet with little resistance.

Many liberals are perplexed that when their fact-checking clearly and definitively shows that a lie is a lie, people seem unconcerned and indifferent. But Arendt understood how propaganda really works. “What convinces masses are not facts, not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably a part.”

People who feel that they have been neglected and forgotten yearn for a narrative — even an invented fictional one — that will make sense of the anxiety they are experiencing, and promises some sort of redemption. An authoritarian leader has enormous advantages by exploiting anxieties and creating a fiction that people want to believe. A fictional story that promises to solve one’s problems is much more appealing than facts and “reasonable” arguments.

Arendt was not a doomsayer. To counter her warnings about political dangers, she elaborated a detailed conception of the dignity of politics. Because of our natality, our capacity to act, we can always begin something new. The deepest theme in Arendt is the need to take responsibility for our political lives.

She warned against being seduced by nihilism, cynicism or indifference. She was bold in her description of the lying, deception, self-deception, image-making and the attempt of those in power to destroy the very distinction between truth and falsehood.

Her defense of the dignity of politics provides a critical standard for judging the situation many of us find ourselves in today, where the opportunity to participate, to act in concert and to engage in genuine debate with our peers is being diminished. We must resist the temptation to opt out of politics and to assume that nothing can be done in face of all the current ugliness, deception and corruption. Arendt’s lifelong project was to honestly confront and comprehend the darkness of our times, without losing sight of the possibility of transcendence, and illumination. It should be our project, too.

Richard Bernstein is a professor of philosophy at The New School for Social Research and the author of the forthcoming “Why Read Hannah Arendt Now.”

First Lady of the World: Eleanor Roosevelt’s Impact on New Deal to U.N. Declaration of Human Rights

(DemocracyNow.org) 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote, and we begin the new decade with a New Year’s Day special about one of the most influential women in U.S. politics: first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. She served as the first lady of the United States from 1933, when her husband Franklin D. Roosevelt took office, until his death during his fourth term in office in 1945. She went on to serve as United States delegate to the United Nations General Assembly and spearheaded the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights. President Harry Truman later called her the “First Lady of the World.” We speak with the prize-winning historian Blanche Wiesen Cook, distinguished professor of history and women’s studies at John Jay College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She is the author of the definitive three-part biography of the former first lady: “Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 1: The Early Years, 1884-1933,” “Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 2: The Defining Years, 1933-1938” and “Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 3: The War Years and After.”