Authorizing Marriage? Canon, Tradition, and Critique in the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions

By Mark D. Jordan; Meghan T. Sweeney et al. | Go to book overview

“SURPASSING THE LOVE OF WOMEN”

ANOTHER LOOK AT 2 SAMUEL 1:26 AND THE
RELATIONSHIP OF DAVID AND JONATHAN

Saul M. Olyan

The love of Jonathan for David reported in the biblical text has been the focus of much attention from both nonspecialist commentators and professional biblical scholars. Many nonspecialists, and some biblical scholars, have claimed that texts such as 1 Sam. 18:1–3 and 2 Sam. 1:26 suggest that David and Jonathan shared a homoerotic love, with some arguing that this love was expressed sexually.1 At the same time, most specialists addressing these texts have ignored or dismissed both sexual and nonsexual homoerotic interpretations. Instead, biblical scholars have often argued that the relationship of Jonathan and David is best understood as a close friendship, with a number of commentators underscoring the political dimensions of the love of Jonathan for David. According to these scholars, the rhetoric of love found in the biblical materials describing the relationship of Jonathan and David is clearly a manifestation of ancient West Asian covenant discourse, in which loyal partners in a political relationship—whether equal or unequal in status—are said to love one another, and refer to one another using the terminology of kinship (e.g., “brother” in parity relationships; “father” and “son” in treaties of unequals).2 Though there can be no doubt that covenant discourse has indeed shaped the descriptions of Jonathan's relationship to David, are the majority of specialist commentators correct to dismiss or ignore the homoerotic interpretation entirely? My purpose in this essay is to explore whether or not the biblical text may also suggest a homoerotic—and possibly sexual—relationship between Jonathan and David alongside the obvious covenant bond attested in both the prose narratives of 1 Samuel and in the elegy of 2 Sam. 1:19–27. The focus of my interest is the curious claim of David's Lament with respect to Jonathan: “Your love for me was wondrous, surpassing the love of women” (2 Sam. 1:26). At the end of this investigation, I will consider briefly the implications of a homoerotic interpretation of 2 Sam. 1:26 for contemporary debate regarding gay marriages and same-sex unions.

Though rarely recognized by nonspecialists, the covenantal dimensions of the Jonathan/David materials are quite explicit and have been well

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