The story of David and Jonathan is one of those most frequently quoted in any discussion of biblical same sex relationships. As with the stories of Ruth & Naomi, or of Jesus and John (the “beloved disciple”), it is similarly bedeviled by discussion over the degree of physical intimacy involved (was there or wasn’t there?), and the impossibility of knowing for certain.
Personally, I see these questions as something of a distraction, just as I do with the other cases. Gay men are frequently accused of being “obsessed” with genital sex. If we only accept as “gay” those men for whom we know there was this genital activity, we are simply reinforcing the stereotype. I prefer simply to recognize that there was clearly a deeply intimate emotional relationship here, and to ignore the degree of physical expression. (Chris Glaser has pointed out that whatever the nature of the relationships, the stories of David & Jonathan, and of Ruth and Naomi, are the two longest love stories told in the Bible – longer than any obviously heterosexual love stories. Marriage in Biblical times was not about love. See “Coming Out as Sacrament“)
However, for those who are determined to dig deeper, there is a reference by John McNeill (in Sex as God Intended) which is worth thinking about. Before giving you his words though, I ask you to remember that any reading of the Bible today is obscured by the modern translations we use, which have frequently had their original sense obscured, sanitized or downright bowdlerized by well-meaning editors and translators who shade their translations by their understanding of what the passage “could” and “could not” mean – not always by the plain sense in front of them. Thousands of years of “traditional” readings can take us along way from the original meaning.
This is what McNeill writes:
When Jonathan came out to visit David in hiding, we read: “They kissed each other and both shed many tears”. My Hebrew scholar friends pointed out to me that the Hebrew text says “they released themselves” and could with equal validity be translated “they ejaculated”.
With “equal” validity? If the Hebrew word really is “they released themselves”, ejaculation sounds to me a closer reading than “kissed.” But why have the translators not used “released themselves”? Unless McNeill has been incorrectly advised, this looks to me like yet another example of translators and editors who have obscured the original menaing to fit their own misconceptions of propriety.
Are there any Hebrew scholars out there who can comment?
Take a look also at the excellent post and picture at Jesus in Love blog, in their on-going series on LGBT Saints: David and Johnathan: Love Between Men in the Bible.
For the most extensive discussion I have seen on-line, go to “Gay Couples in the Bible: Davis and Jonathan“, which includes several depictions in art, and discussion of some of the Hebrew words used: the Hebrew word used to describe David’s love, it seems, is also widely used to describe sexual love elsewhere.
Off-line, the most comprehensive reference is the well-known and highly regarded book by Thomas Horner, “Jonathan Loved David“
“David the Prophet”, at the ever valuable “Calendar of Lesbian, Gay, and Transgender Saints“