Saturday, November 19, 2011

Was King David Gay?

One of the more redeeming gory movies of the nineties was "Braveheart." It had a great message, great cinematography, good acting (at least better than these sorts of movies often have), and was action-packed. But at the very beginning of the movie, there is an assertion about history that reflects a trend in modern historiography: deconstructionism/reconstructionism. This is the idea that all of history was written as propaganda for the winners, or even when sincere, it is only from the perspective of the winners who wish to paint themselves a certain way. In other words, we're not getting the actual story. The real story needs to be found in archaeology, snippets of true information that slipped past the author, or that he gave up as a concession to make a larger point about how great his side is. I have major issues with this trend, as I don't believe history can be known through these means, and what we often end up with is just an imaginative (and almost completely made up) retelling of the event that has no need of the event itself to exist. In other words, it's fictional storytelling, not an historical uncovering.

But this is what sells to modern academia, which is always looking to hear something new, as the Greeks on Mars Hill, and to the masses, who are always looking to throw off their external authorities, like the Bible and the Church, by rewriting the texts that support things that no longer accord with their modern religious identities. What is even better is to rewrite them to accord with those identities in order to turn the support they once gave to what opposes them into support for their modern theories and practices. What this often means is that the bad guys within the original story are often made into the good guys in our modern stories, or the good guys who would have condemned a particular practice that modern culture endorses are turned into the poster boys for it.

Hence, Jezebel was a strong woman, who was just painted as the bad guy in a patriarchal society that didn't like her assertive posture and strong push to make her husband a great man. To the modern reconstructionist historian, we should all want a wife and leader like Jezebel. Sure, Jezebel dominated Ahab, but that's what strong "women" do in our culture. Jezebel then becomes an icon to the modern pop-feminist.
In other instances, the women who were painted as strong women in Scripture because they were wise in their submission to male authorities in the original context, now are painted as manipulating those authorities within the system to gain power and influence within the modern reconstructions.

Likewise, when the Bible so strongly condemns a practice like homosexuality, modern reconstructionists, and lay groups alike, look for whatever they can to find any subversive element in the Bible that would support it instead. They supposedly find that in King David.

In Second Samuel 1:26, David is singing a lament psalm for Saul and Jonathan who have been killed in battle. Among the things he says of Jonathan, he proclaims:

 "I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; You have been very pleasant to me. Your love to me was more wonderful than the love of women. 

Another text tells us that David and Jonathan were as one soul:

  Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the  soul  of Jonathan was knit to the  soul  of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself. (1 Sam 18:1)

Now, although this had always been read in the context of the entire Bible, the fragmented nature of modern interpretation allowed for reconstructionists to come in and assert that David here is actually indicating to us that he and Jonathan had a homosexual relationship. After all, this speaks of an intimacy between them. David calls him "brother," which in ancient Near Eastern love poems is what women call their lovers. David says that Jonathan has been pleasant to him. The word for "pleasant" is used in the Song of Songs in reference to the woman's lover. And David tells us that Jonathan's love was more wonderful [i.e., beyond what one could comprehend] than the love of women, where love supposedly refers to a relationship like men and woman have that includes sex and a physical desire for one another.

Sounds convincing, right? Not really. Here are the reasons why this is fallacious.

1. The context of David is that he loves the law and observes it wholeheartedly. As such David would observe the prohibitions against homosexuality, and see it as evil.
2. For those who see Leviticus as written after David, however, David would have had the understanding of sex as primarily (not solely) given to have children, and as such, would have still viewed homosexuality to have been evil, having known that it is incapable of producing children.
3. Intimacy in Scripture is not sexual intimacy. This is an important point, as we often interpret sex as a unifying factor of the soul between two individuals. In other words, we see sex as making us spiritually one with the other person (this is due to our romanticism and need to supply sex with a more spiritual meaning rather than one that just gives pleasure--we have to do this because we've removed the procreative aspect as primary in the sexual union). Hence, speaking of one intimately is a reference to a spiritual bond that one can have with or without the presence of the physical bond. The Bible simply does not see the two as necessarily linked.
4. Although familial terms like "brother" or "sister" are used in ancient Near Eastern love poetry, they're used to refer to any close friendships one might have, and it is for that reason that they are used in love poetry (the lover is declared as a friend to let us know that the two are not just seeking one flesh, but also to be united as one spirit. A good relationship is one where the person of the opposite sex is spoken of in spiritual terms because it conveys a close spiritual bond with the person the individual seeks a physical bond with as well. But, again, this is seen as something that is not linked to the physical bond, and thus, must be added to make a spiritual statement about the relationship. Note the likely use here in continuity with Proverbs 18:24, "there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother."
5. The word for pleasant is used in Song of Songs, but it's also used in seven other contexts where it does not refer to sex, but only to something nice (e.g., a place to live in, etc.) that brings happiness to the soul. Transferring a sexual meaning that it may gain from one context to another is a semantic fallacy in linguistics, and as such, being that the present context is not about sex, it just means that Jonathan's friendship with David was something that he valued highly, as it brought the love of true friendship into his life.
6. The phrase that Jonathan's love was better to David than the love of women is not a sexual phrase. Again, we are imposing our modern terminology back onto the text. Love in the Bible almost never means sexual love. It has numerous connections to friendship and family though. It only rarely ever refers to sexual desire or romantic feelings in the Bible, where we in the modern day use it for that all of the time. However, I do think "love of women" here refers to sexual love. But this would mean that the love of Jonathan was a different type of love than the love of women, not the same thing, as David says that it was "more wonderful than," not the "same as." In fact, the mem partitive here indicates distinction from, not similarity to. Hence, David saying that his love is better than the love of women is actually saying that his friendship with Jonathan had more of an impact on his life than all of his romantic relationships.
7. This brings us to their souls being knit together. This is not a statement of sexual unity, but spiritual unity. Again, the phrase to refer to sexual unity is "one flesh," not "one spirit," which is why people are free to remarry after their spouse dies (the one flesh union is broken and thus the sexual bond is broken). Instead, if we look at the passage, this occurred when David had finished speaking to Saul, not as a result of a sexual encounter. It is the same as saying that they were kindred spirits. Again, this is a reference to their deep friendship and love for one another as best friends, not as lovers. Hence, it says that David loved Jonathan as he loved himself (i.e., he was a true friend).
What this all means is that the traditional interpretation that this is a song about a deeply held love for a best friend who has died is the correct one in context. It is not an expression of sexual or romantic love, as that would be expressed both in physical terms (primarily) and perhaps added spiritual terms of unity, not just spiritual terms of unity by themselves. Again, romantic love (as one has in love poems) are expressed in physical terms. The two becoming one flesh is a physical unity, not a spiritual one. The spiritual can be added, but it is added in friendship, not in the mere act of sex.

So there is actually nothing here to indicate any sort of homosexual relationship at all, simply because there is nothing here that indicates a physical relationship, or exclusively speaks of romantic feelings that would be indicated in the context of such a physical relationship. So, no, King David was not gay.

And this is important for us to understand for many reasons, one of which is that the purpose of sex itself isn't to gain spiritual intimacy with one's partner. One can gain spiritual intimacy with one's partner in the act of sex only when adding it. It does not automatically come with it on its own (an important clarification with implications for marriage as well).

In any case, it is a sad day when such a beautiful portrayal of friendship is twisted to support a modern political agenda, and is, thus, ruined in the process. And I can't help but feel that this is perhaps a true instance of a homophobic tendency in our culture to paint anything that expresses love and spiritual intimacy between two people of the same gender as "gay." Perhaps, the modern reconstructionist, in his support of homosexuality has simply adopted the fearful tendency to act macho in our modern culture in order to paint anything that is not macho as having a homosexual tendency. But homosexuality is not to be feared, lest we distort the nature of the spiritual intimacy we are meant to have with one another. It is to be rejected, because it works against the procreative command and is therefore evil. In other words, it is the physical sexual act, and the romantic feelings that would seek that act, that is homosexual and evil. Seeking spiritual intimacy, a bonding of brotherhood, a love that makes us one soul, is a human thing. One is evil and the other is good. Let's not confuse them, lest we distort this text and be lost in the confusion that is modern manhood. The modern reconstructionist that seeks to support homosexuality, then, is actually doing himself a disfavor by rehashing those stereotypes that label such language as "gay," and he is involved in a dubious enterprise that would distort the original text by taking it out of its context, and retelling the story, as it were, to fit his modern narrative in discontinuity with the biblical one that would condemn such a practice.

In any case, we ought to remember that biblical history is in fact written by the winners, and that Winner is God. I don't think trusting in a modern reconstructionist, therefore, is the way to go, simply because the trend in our culture has gotten steam and seeks to take over HisStory, since "no matter how the wind howls, the mountain cannot bow to it" (my favorite "Mulan" quote).

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