Narrator: Eleanor Penningway
"And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul," my husband began to read. I knew not chapter 18, but I knew chapter 17; young King David's famous fight with Goliath, before he was King. I assumed that this conversation was in relation to those events. He continued, "That the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul."
"I'd like to point out," said Reverend Archvale, "that the Hebrew definition of 'soul' includes both spirit and body."
The words echoed in my mind, "was knit with the soul of" ... "loved him as his own soul", and I heard it again, in my mind, with the word 'body' replacing 'soul'. I cringed, and couldn't help but speak up, "Are we talking David as in King David?!"
"Yes, mother, that David," Kieth said smugly.
Reverend Archvale nodded, "Continue, Sean."
I brought my glass to my lips, whispering my thanks to Joshua as he proceeded to pour wine into his father's glass. But that thanks held something more, as if I was thanking him for being normal.
"And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father's house. Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul."
"Genisis chapter two, verse twenty-four," recited the Reverend off the top of his head, as if he'd had this discussion before with another family. "'Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh'. That resonates in this passage, does it not, Eleanor?"
I frowned, "I suppose so. Everything but the word 'wife'. How can you tell me that this constitutes marriage?"
"We'll get to that," assured the Reverend.
"'And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle'."
"People didn't wear underwear in those days," added Kieth, implying the nakedness of the situation.
"Skip to verse twenty," instructed the Reverend, "And do not read the italicized words, for they do not exist in the Hebrew version."
"Homophobic translators," mused Kieth, almost inaudibly.
Sean kept read, "And Michal, Saul's daughter, loved David: and they told Saul, and the thing pleased him. And Saul said, I will give him her, that she may be a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him. Wherefore Saul said to David, 'Thou shalt this day be my son in law in the twain.' "
"What does that mean?" Greg asked. "In the twain?"
"In two ways, in double, for the second time," said the Reverend. "And since, in the part we did not read, David did not take up the hand of the first daughter of Saul that was offered to him in marriage, one can only conclude that this is a reference to his covenant with Jonathan, which is therefore marital."
I gulped, no wine in my mouth. I couldn't find a flaw in his reasoning. "What is this, polygamy?"
"You called me here to discuss your eldest son's sexual orientation. Let's not change the subject," he told me. "Chapter twenty, verse forty-one."
Sean flipped through the Bible obligingly, "And as soon as the lad was gone, David arose out of a place toward the south, and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed himself three times: and they kissed one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded."
"Oh, dear me," said Kieth, pretending to be alarmed at the choice of words.
"That's ambiguous," I pointed out.
"The Hebrew word gadal is used here, as it is with many verses about King Solomon. Some theologians suggest that the term, in this context, suggests that David had an erection. But you won't find that in any English translation. I suppose we're just not that tolerant."
"Top of his class in theology," Sean whispered to me. Then he continued to read, "And Jonathan said to David, Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, The Lord be between me and thee, and between my seed and thy seed for ever."
The Reverend laughed, "I didn't want you to read that, Sean."
Joshua was leaning against the wall. Greg and Kieth were looking at the Reverend as if they'd met a school teacher whose lessons were interesting.
I was disgruntled, to say the least.
Kieth spoke up, "Second Samuel, verse twenty-six?"
It was not his place to suggest a reading. Or so I thought.
The Reverend simply turned to Sean.
"'I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women'."
"And since platonic relationships between women and men were forbidden at that time, it is clearly a more intimate love that he compares," the Reverend pointed out. Then, he whispered something to Kieth, and I strained myself to hear him, "And I think we can avoid mentioning Daniel and Ashpenaz, as I'd rather not debate the sexual capabilities of eunuchs with your mother."
I took another sip of my wine.
"Now, I'd caution you with what you take literally from the Bible, Eleanor," he told me. "There are some vile practices encouraged in the Bible, as you well know, but I do not think this is among them. Homophobia is as bad a persecution as the racism that drives slavery. And if we all took the Bible at its every word, we'd be stoning each other for the mere wearing of multi-hued fabric, which I think everyone in this room is guilty of."
I gasped, at his comparison.
"I trust that you have the good faith and morality to, in time, set your discrimination aside and accept your son as he is. Remember that, though some of the scriptures are written indirectly by God, through men who were deemed prophets, it is also written by men. Men who lived in societies that were close-minded, barbaric, sexist, racist, faithist and heterosexist. Much of that wickedness, we choose to ignore. And yet here you are, casting hatred upon your own son, as he is, as God created him."
I was speechless, even moved. I was at a loss for words and thought. And then it moved, in my stomach, a knot of guilt that tightened fiercely.