Talmud this Shabbat: Jonathan and David–Platonic Love, Queer Love, or Complex Love That Cannot be Put in a Box


One of the more enigmatic relationships in the Hebrew Bible is that of Jonathan and David. They are natural antagonists. Jonathan is the son of King Saul, and according to dynastic principle would be king himself. David is the youngest son of a shepherd who becomes king.

Yet for all this natural antagonism, they are famous not for fighting but for love.

The Hebrew Bible uses words of love and intertwined souls to capture their relationship. But when you read the text closely, the nature of their relationship is hard to pin down.

Tomorrow we will do three things.

Read the text in I Samuel and II Samuel closely, and let it speak for itself.

Read a classic rabbinic interpretation—namely, that the relationship of Jonathan and David is a paradigm of unconditional platonic love.

Read the interpretation of a queer scholar who argues that the couple were clearly lovers. Whatever you think of the merits of this view, the reinterpretation of the facts of the story—the stripping of clothes, the shooting of a bow—in homoerotic terms is really interesting.

What if neither the traditional nor queer read takes in the complexity of the story? What do Jonathan and David teach us about us?

See you tomorrow at 8:30.

Shabbat shalom,
Wes