Jonathan's Gifts and Their Secrets
By Bruce L. Gerig

Jonathan’s gifts, a challenge to interpreters – Having surveyed the development of Jonathan’s and David’s relationship, with the progression of their three covenants, we now return to the first covenant, the most enigmatic and elusive of the three, to examine closely another key piece in the puzzle: What specifically were the gifts that Jonathan gave to David, and what meaning(s) were they meant to convey? In 1 Sam 18:3-4 (NRSV), we read: “Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe [me‘il, Strong, #4598] that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armor [mad, #4055], and even his sword [kereb, #2719] and his bow [qeshet, #7198] and his belt [kagora, #2290].” Actually a great deal of discussion and difference of opinion have occurred among interpreters over the significance of Jonathan’s gifts given to David, including his clothes and weapons. In past century three general approaches have appeared, which have looked upon these gifts primarily as: (1) practical and personal (pre-1964), (2) political (1964 on), and (3) homoerotic (1987 on), in meaning.

Gifts with practical and personal meanings? – Henry Preserved Smith (1899) held that Jonathan gave David his cloak, apparel and weapons so that “the simple shepherd lad is thus fitted to shine at court.”1 W. Robertson Smith (1894) noted how ancient peoples left blood, hair, weapons and personal garments with a deity at a sanctuary as a “life-union” with that being, as “a vehicle of personal connection,” and as “a pledge of attachment.” In return (as with sacred relics), it was believed that something belonging to the god remained with the gift-giver. Homer’s Iliad describes how Glaucus and Diomedes exchanged armor “in token of their ancestral friendship.” So also when Jonathan makes “a covenant of love and brotherhood with David,” he invests him with his garments and weapons. Smith believed that “by ancient law Saul was bound to acknowledge the formal covenant thus made between David and his son,” and this should be remembered “in judging the subsequent relations between the three.”2 Glaucus was a Lycian (from the ancient country of Lycia in SW Asia Minor, an ally of Troy), while Diomedes was a Greek (held in high esteem second only to Achilles among those warriors who went to lay siege to Troy). Still, when Glaucus learned that his grandfather and Diomedes’ grandfather had been good friends, he said, “So let us avoid each other’s spears [at Troy] … And let us exchange our armour so that everyone will know our grandfathers’ friendship has made friends of us.” So they did.3 William McKane (1963) wrote, “The clothes, armour and weapons are so much part of the man that they can serve as a vehicle of personal connection and by means of them Jonathan and David become one flesh [italics added].”4 Johannes Pedersen (1926) believed that to wear the clothing and carry the weapons of another was to be imbued with his essence and to share intimately in his very being.5 Hans Hertzberg (1964) held that Jonathan’s gift “is more than the generous action of a prince to a shepherd boy who has neither clothing for court nor equipment for battle. It is the recognition of the alter ego [his attraction to David as a second self]…” By giving him his clothes, Jonathan gives to David “his own self [himself].”6 In summary, then: (a) Jonathan’s gifts represented a personal pledge of love, and by giving them Jonathan gave his heart and himself to David. (b) By David’s accepting them, he accepted Jonathan’s invitation to become his dearest friend and so a “life union” was established between them. (c) Besides this, the prince’s gifts could serve David well in the king’s service.

Gifts with a political meaning? – The main thrust of interpretation changed, however, with the appearance of an article by William Moran (1963) which argued that the love between David and Jonathan should not be viewed as personal affection but rather as an expression of “loyalty, service and obedience” as Jonathan pledges his allegiance to David, recognizing him as the next king of Israel.7 (Moran’s views were discussed earlier, in Supplement 13A.) Later commentators were greatly influenced by Moran’s view, although most did not accept this as the sole explanation of these gifts, as Moran did. For example, Peter Ackroyd (1971) wrote, “The presentation of cloak and tunic, together with military equipment, expresses the closeness of the bond; but it is [also to be] understood as a recognition by Jonathan that David is to be king.”8 J.A. Thompson (1974) declared that the gifts “denoted more than natural affection,” because the “passing of arms … seems to have had political implications in the Ancient Near East.”9 Kyle McCarter (1980) saw both “a deep bond of friendship” here and “political nuance” that perhaps suggests that Jonathan does “transfer his privilege of succession willingly to David” out of admiration, affection and loyalty.10 Robert Gordon (1986) saw in the giving of the robe “a virtual abdication [renouncing of the throne] by Jonathan, the crown prince.”11 However, J.P. Fokkelman (1986) proposed a three-fold meaning here: By giving David his arms, Jonathan “is transferring the title of champion [of Israel] to David,” as the national hero and great liberator in the name of the Lord. By giving David his cloak (me‘il), the crown prince hands over to him “his rights and claims to the throne.” But we should not forget that these gifts also were given to David as “tokens of love and as a material sign of the pact.”12

Gifts with a homoerotic meaning? – Yet David Damrosch (1987) is more cautious. He does acknowledge that the me‘il becomes a symbol of kingship when Saul grabbed and tore Samuel’s “official robe” and then Samuel told him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, better than you” (1 Sam 15:27-28, RSV2). Then Damrosch adds, “This scene is echoed when Saul’s son unwittingly fulfilled this symbolism by giving his robe (again, me‘il) to David (18:4)” (italics added, except for the Hebrew).13 Yet, he notes also that this relationship in the text “has been developed far beyond anything that would have been required simply to assure the audience that David and Jonathan were close friends,” noting that their bond definitely has “both a political expression and erotic overtones.” After Jonathan gives David his royal robe and armor, David does assume Jonathan’s former role as Saul’s commander-in-chief. However, the struggle over the kingship thereafter is less a political maneuvering than an issue of finding the right balance between historical pressures (Saul’s hunt for David) and divine imperatives (God’s choice of David to be the next king).14 In fact, as Gary Comstock (1993) notes, a covenant in 18:4 of political advantage doesn’t make much sense at all. There is no evidence in the text that Jonathan and David conspire to gain power for David or to overthrow Saul. David deliberately refuses to harm Saul, even when opportunities present themselves (1 Sam 24, 26); and Jonathan remains behind to fight alongside his father (31:1-2). What Jonathan and David do conspire is “to love each other and keep each other safe. … They nurture and comfort each other … and they are there for one another at the most difficult times [and] when they are frightened, worried, or lonely.”15 Danna Fewell and David Gunn (1993) note that interpreters often bring “a conventional, heterosexist interpretation” to this story, concluding “that reading a homosexual relationship is ‘reading in’ what is not there, stretching the bounds of interpretative moderation, or [that seeing same-sex love here] is simply ‘perverse.’ Yet no few modern interpreters are willing to devote discussion and extend credibility to reading ‘love’ here as a cipher [symbol] for political commitment – borrowing from ancient treaty language… [which] turns out to be a highly prejudicial decision.”16 Steven McKenzie (2000) writes relating to the gifts that “it is hard to believe that Jonathan would give up his future as king to someone he had just met” and also “[i]t is hard to imagine Jonathan joining with David in a conspiracy against his father. And it is simply beyond belief that the crown prince would surrender his right to the throne in deference to David.” In fact, Jonathan never leaves his father to join David, but remains with Saul to the end.17

Jonathan’s gifts, a closer look – Now, however, we need to take a closer look at Jonathan’s gifts. As 1 Sam 18:4 (NRSV) notes, these gifts included the prince’s robe (me‘il, #4598) armor (mad, #4055), sword (kereb, #2719) bow (qeshet, #7198), and belt (kagora, #2290). Yet, what did this me‘il actually look like? And how might mad best be translated – which is rendered elsewhere as “garments” (KJV), “tunic” (NEB), and “all else he wore” (Knox)? But first, can we visualize how Jonathan (and David) might have dressed in general? This turns out to be a challenging question because the Bible gives us little fashion description, and also no pictorial representations of Israelite dress exist from the 11th-10th centuries B.C. Still, we do have earlier and later examples of attire from Syria and Israel that appear in Egyptian and Mesopotamian scenes; and many stylistic features continued over hundreds of years and were widespread in ancient Near East (apart from Egyptian fashion, which had its own more unique character).18 In general, the tunic (Heb. kettonet/kuttonet, #3801) became predominate in Bronze III (1550-1200 B.C.19) and normal dress in the Iron Age (1200-586 B.C.), replacing the waistcloth (ezor, #232) as a widespread form of male wear, except for soldiers and laborers. This kettonet was worn next to the skin, was made of wool or linen, came with or without sleeves, and could be short or long.20 For work or running this tunic was usually tied to the waist with a belt or sash.21 Underwear (shorts or briefs) was unknown in the ancient Near East, except later in Persia22 – however, priests in Israel were instructed to wear special, loose-hanging “breeches” that covered the waist and thighs (Exod 28:42, NJB) when ministering before the Lord. Over the kettonet, then, was often worn an outer garment, called generally a kesut (“covering,” #3682), or more specifically a silma/salma (“[outer] garment,” #8071); this was sometimes wrapped around the body and sometimes draped like a toga over the body. Ordinarily the silma was removed when working. Yet, it was useful in protecting the wearer from cold and rain, and it was often used as a covering at night.23

The kind of tunic (kettonet) and outer garment (silma) worn generally in Israel (and, in fact, widely throughout the ancient Near East north of Egypt) can be seen on the famous Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III (9th century B.C.), which shows Jehu, king of the northern kingdom of Israel, bringing tribute to the Assyrian king. The humbled Jehu bows before Shalmaneser wearing only his tunic, a short-sleeved garment that was put on over the head and was tied at the waist with a folded sash; it reaches down to near the ankles and has a long fringe along the bottom.24 Jehu is followed on the 6-1/2’ high obelisk by four Assyrian officials, then thirteen Israelite porters bearing the gifts. In contrast to Jehu, the porters wear over the tunic a silma, which hangs nearly (but not quite) as long as the tunic and is also fringed along the edge. One fringed edge of the silma, however, has been pulled up over the left arm or in some cases up the front of the body.25 Mary Houston, who has investigated fashion design in the ancient Near Eastern, describes this garment as a large, U-shaped piece of cloth (measuring around 5’x 5’), which was fringed on the curved edge but unfringed on the straight edge. Although worn in varying ways, it seems generally to have been put on by throwing one corner of the straight edge backwards over the left shoulder; then drawing the straight edge across the chest, under the right armpit, around the back and across the front again; and then throwing the remaining corner of the straight edge over the shoulder, where it hung down the back. Then the lower fringed edge on the left side was lifted up over the shoulder so that the left arm stuck out and could be used, as well as the uncovered right arm.26 Fringes and tassels on garments, including a blue thread, were required by the Law of Moses (Num 15:37-39, Deut 22:12) and so were placed on all Israelite garments with four corners27 – although they appear here, as well, on the porters’ U-shaped silma. It should be noted that fringes and tassels were commonly placed on ANE attire; and so it would have been the blue thread that was distinctive in Israelite wear, to remind the Israelites to keep God’s commandments. We can suppose that Jonathan sometimes wore a long tunic (kettonet) like this, with a wrap-around outer cloth (silma). However, the floppy caps with back-turned tips and soft shoes with upturned toes seen on Jehu’s porters seem more unusual and ‘modern’ (since they are not seen commonly elsewhere). Men in Syria, Canaan and Israel either wore sandals or went barefoot, while the women sometimes wore shoes – as can be seen in the caravan of Semites depicted in the tomb of Khnumhotep III (19th cent. B.C.).28 Sandals (na‘al, #5274; pl. na‘alayim) usually had a leather base fastened to the foot and ankle with leather straps. This term appear 23 times in the OT29 showing that sandals were used from earliest times (Gen 14:23, Deut 25:10, Josh 5:15) to protect the feet from sharp stones and hot sand. However, everyone removed their sandals indoors30 – and so we can be sure that it was a barefooted Jonathan and David who made their first covenant in Saul’s fortress.

Another group of Assyrian scenes is equally interesting. Hundreds of wall reliefs were carved to decorate some 70 rooms, halls, courtyards and other areas in Sennacherib’s great Southwest Palace (7th cent. B.C.) in Nineveh. Depictions of captives from all over are considered quite accurate since Assyrian scribes accompanied all campaigns and deportees were also brought back to Nineveh.31 Of particular interest is Room 36, which contains scenes of the siege of Lachish, a major city in western Judah, showing captives being led away, some men stripped to their long tunics32 and others depicted in battle-wear.33 In the latter category, males from Judah are shown wearing a waistcloth reaching to the mid-thighs, leaving the figure barelegged and barefooted. The waistcloth here has no fringe along the bottom, but instead there hangs down from a belt, in front (or to the side), a single, 2”-wide, 2’-long fringe that extends past the knees. Such a waistcloth with decorative fringe was commonly worn by soldiers, workers, and captives; and sometimes it was worn under the tunic (as seen here) and sometimes with a short tunic tucked into it.34 The tunic here at Lachish is short-sleeved, was put on over the head, and extends only to just below the genital area. Shorter garments, such as these tunics and waistcloths, allowed for more facile movement than a long tunic. We might expect that Jonathan wore similar attire when he went for regular archery practice, since Assyrian archers are always so pictured.35 David when he came to court, as a youth and not yet a full-fledged soldier, might have worn a simple, knee-length tunic, as seen hanging loose on the Assyrian youth leading a horse in procession in Nineveh, in Room 67 in the SW Palace.36

Visualizing Jonathan’s me‘il – Probably made of fine linen (1 Chron 15:27), the me‘il (#4598) in the OT was a special outer garment worn by royalty, high priests, prophets, and other notables. Examples include the high priest (Exod 28:4,31); Samuel the prophet, as a child, an adult, and a ghost (1 Sam 2:19, 15:27, 28:14); King Saul (1 Sam 24:4); King David (1 Chron 15:27); Prince Jonathan (1 Sam 18:4); Job the rich man and his friends (Job 1:20, 2:12, 29:14); other rich people (Ezek 26:16); Ezra the priest (Ezra 9:3); and Levites, singers and the music director who accompanied David in the procession bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem (1 Chron 15:27). In the NRSV me‘il was variously translated as: “robe(s)” (Exod 28:4,31, 29:5, 39:22; 1 Sam 2:19, 15:27*, 18:4*, 28:14*; Job 1:20, 2:12, 29:14*; 1 Chron 15:27*; Isa 61:10*; Ezek 26:16*), “mantle” (Ps 109:29*, Isa 59:17*, Ezra 9:3*), and “cloak” (1 Sam 24:5). In ten of these instances (asterisked above), the NJB changed the translation to “cloak.” Leona Running (1982) has described the me‘il as a sleeveless coat, mantle or robe of rank.37 Philip King and Lawrence Stager (2001) visualized it as a wide-sleeved, loose-hanging elegant garment that was worn over all the other garments.38 Douglas Edwards (1992) viewed it as a type of cloak that was wrapped around the body.39 The confusion here, in translation and definition, certainly relates to the fact that the term appears applied to different types of garments in the Scripture itself. For example, the high priest’s me‘il had a hole in the center and was put on over the head (Exod. 28:32). Perhaps it hung loose, since the sash is described along with the tunic worn underneath the me‘il (28:39). However, on top of the me‘il was worn the vest-like ephod, which carried 12 stones representing the 12 tribes of Israel. Josephus later described the high priest’s me‘il as “descending to the ankles, enveloping the body and with long sleeves tightly laced round the arms.”40 It might be assumed that the me‘il of young Samuel, over which he wore a little linen ephod, was also modeled after the high priest’s attire (1 Sam 2:18-19) – although Samuel went on to become a prophet and not a priest. However, other OT passages speak of persons being “wrapped … in a me‘il” (1 Sam 28:14, Ps 110:29, Isa 59:17), suggesting the idea of a cloak.41 Also, Saul’s grabbing (and tearing) Samuel’s me‘il suggests that this garment had a hem extending upward within easy reach of the king (1 Sam 15:27). From a larger perspective, what may be most significant relating to the high priest’s me‘il, rather than its exact shape, is that it had expensive color (it was dyed blue [tekelet, #8504] all over),42 it had an unusual decorative hem (with alternating multicolored balls and golden bells), and it was made uniquely to signify a special office (for use by the high priest - Exod 28:31-35). On the surface, it would appear that the me‘il later evolved into a kind of long cloak.

But perhaps we should dig a little deeper. By Saul’s time, Israel already had an obsession to be “like other nations” (1 Sam 8:5); and Zephaniah would later record how the officials and princes of Israel “dress themselves in foreign attire” (Zeph 1:8, NRSV). Since Saul came to the throne as a “man of wealth” (1 Sam 9:2, NRSV), he and his family could afford fine clothes, including imported dyed cloth and beautifully embroidered hems. Jacob Milgrom (1983) notes that the more ornate the hem, the greater the social status and wealth of a person.43 Still, when we survey Assyrian wear (of which numerous images remain, and which shared features with Syrian and Israelite wear), we find almost no examples of cloaks. Some “Westerners” depicted in Room 12 of Sennacherib’s SW Palace wear cloak-like garments that hang open in the front, are knee-length, and have short sleeves – but these are common and not royal wear. Other males in Room 32 wear animal-skin cloaks – but this seems a different kind of case.44 Elsewhere, there is the picture of a Canaanite ruler of Megiddo, incised on ivory (late 13th–early 12th cent. B.C.), who wears over his ankle-length tunic a short, wrap-around garment (reaching down just past the hips), which is “spangled,” i.e., that has pieces of metal sewn onto the cloth to reflect the light45 – yet this cape-like garment hangs over one shoulder and under the other arm, and so it hardly looks like a cloak. Perhaps it is this near absence of cloaks in pictorial evidence that led C. de Wit, honorary conservator at the Royal Museum of Art and History in Brussels, to suggest that both the special “robe” of the favored Joseph (Gen 37:3,31) and of the princess Tamar (2 Sam 13:18-19, both called a kettonet passim46 – along with Jonathan’s me‘il – might belong to the class of garments shown on Syrians in the tomb of Huy (14th cent. B.C.) in Egypt47 – which might be best described as a beautifully decorated wrap-around outer garment. When we look at the royal wear of Assyrian kings, this is exactly what we find. For example, Ashurnasirpal II, sitting in his audience hall (Room G) in one scene, displays royal garments with beautiful figural, floral and geometric patterns, even replicating scenes on the adjacent walls and showing divinities facing the sacred tree, the king with his attendants, and scenes of hunting and warfare.48 Sennacherib also, when he receives bowing captives from Lachish, wears a garment (silma) similar to Jehu’s porters, but with richly-patterned cloth, decorative hems, and both small fringe tufts and large tassels. Elsewhere in the SW Palace, Sennacherib is shown wearing a plain tunic but with a short top shawl decorated all over with a dotted (or rosette) pattern,49 recalling the sparkle effect of the garments of the Syrians in the tomb of Huy.50 In one scene Sargon II wears a wrap-around garment like Shalmaneser III and Jehu’s porters, but decorated with embroidered rosettes. In another scene, he wears a wrap-around garment with a lengthy fringe (c. 15” long), worn in this case over a short, only knee-length, fringed tunic.51 Therefore, most likely the me‘il that Jonathan wore and then gave to David was neither a cloak nor a mantle, but rather the familiar wrap-around, sari-like garment (silma) – but made special and signifying rank because of its beautiful hemming, rich embroidery, and perhaps long fringes. The difference between the silma and me‘il, then, was something like the difference today between a suit and a tux, a dress and an evening dress, and a plain robe and a decorated, colorful ecclesiastical robe with stole – the latter in each case being elegant wear.

Assyrian garments were probably beautifully colored as well, although no traces of garment color remain on the Assyrian reliefs.52 Scripture notes that when the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they especially prized dyed cloth (Judg 5:3); and later lists of booty taken by Tiglath-pileser III (745-727 B.C.) from kings of the west, including Samaria and Judah, mention “linen garments with multicolored trimmings, garments of their native (industries) (being made of) dark purple wool.”53 Images of Syrian wear in Egyptian tombs through the 2nd millennium B.C. clearly show a love for and a use of vibrant color and pattern.54 Therefore we must also imagine Jonathan’s wrap-around me‘il as having beautiful color and pattern, as well. Of course, the question arises whether David ever wore Jonathan’s royal garment out in public or at court, which surely would have been viewed as presumptuous and even scandalous. Perhaps David remembered another teenager who got into trouble by parading around in an elegant garment given to him as a gift (Joseph), and so he wisely put on this me‘il only when he and Jonathan were alone and Jonathan asked him to.

Translating mad in 1 Sam 18:4 – Although beged (#899) is the most common word used for “clothes” in the OT (over 200 times),55 mad (#4055) is a similar word. Strong’s lexicon notes that the latter derives from a root meaning to “stretch or measure,” and so it refers to “vesture” (clothes, a garment, raiment, including armor).56 The word always appears in a collective plural form (madin, etc. = maddim),57 although like “clothes” in English it may refer only to a single article of clothing. Translators have variously rendered mad[dim] in 1 Sam 18:4 as: “garments” (KJV 1611, Lamsa 1933), “apparel” (J. Green 1986), “tunic” (Ackroyd 1971, p. 147; NEB 1970; NIV 1978; REB 1989; Elman 1994, p. 236), and “all else he wore” (Knox 1948) – but more frequently as “armor/armour” (RSV 1946; NASB 1960; Hertzberg 1964, p. 146; JB 1966; GNB 1983; NKJV 1982; NRSV 1989; NJB 1998; Peterson 2000), “military dress” (NAB 1995, cf. CEB 1995), “battle garb” (Alter 1999, p. 112-13), “warrior’s garment” (Klein 1983, p. 171), and “uniform” (Fox 1999, p. 93). The question raised here, then, is whether the reference is to Jonathan’s basic tunic or some military wear.

Maddim is a rare word in the OT, appearing only 12 times58 – 4 times referring to the “measure” or “stature [great size]” of something (Job 11:9, 2 Sam 21:20, 1 Chron 20:6, Jer 13:25); once to something hand-made (Judg 5:10);59 and 7 times to some kind of wear. Relating to the latter, Lev 6:10 required the high priest to put on his special linen “vestments” over his linen undergarments. (Words used to translate maddim in the NRSV are bolded here.) In 1 Sam 4:12, a messenger ran from the battlefield to report Israel’s defeat to Eli the high priest, with his “clothes” torn. In Judg 3:16, Ehud fastened a dagger on his right thigh under his “clothes,” then went off to kill King Eglon of Moab. Ps 109:18 speaks of an enemy clothing himself with cursing as his “coat” – but “garments” (KJV, REB) is probably better, since the coat as we know it is rarely found in ancient pictorial representations. In 2 Sam 20:8, Joab (David’s commander-in-chief) set off to kill Amasa wearing a “soldier’s garment [REB: ‘tunic’]” and over it a sheathed sword attached to his belt. Joab may have been wearing military garb, or just as likely (as with Ehud) he might have gone out in everyday wear to disguise his mission. The KJV’s “garment” alone seems sufficient, and better. The word appears twice in 1 Sam 17:38-39, where David came forward to fight Goliath: “And Saul clothed David with his armor [maddim]; he put a bronze helmet [koba, #6959] on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail [shiryon, #8302]. David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor [maddim], and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. … So David removed them” (NRSV). Although the NRSV and most versions translate maddim here as “armor,” the meaning could just as well be “apparel,” since the specific articles are then spelled out by their technical names (koba and shiryon). Although we have no pictorial representations of Israelite armor, Egyptian reliefs at Medinet Habu (c. 1175 B.C.) depict Philistine soldiers wearing an armored piece of bronze or leather across the abdomen, shaped like an inverted V and containing overlapping plates, of one of these materials. Underneath they wore the standard military knee-length tunic, and so they seem to have fought barelegged and barefooted.60 Richard Gabriel, a specialist in modern and ancient warfare, pictures an elite Israelite solider as wearing scale or lamellar armor (shiryon) – “lamella” referring to thin plates, like on the Philistine armor. In full gear, an Israelite light infantryman may have worn a bronze helmet, held a short thrusting spear and a straight iron sword, carried a dagger in his belt and a shield on his back, and wore a short tunic and sandals.61 Of course, with metalworking controlled by the Philistines during Saul’s reign (1 Sam 13:19-22), it might be questioned just how much metalware fighting men in Israel had access to, beyond picking up their axes, sickles, and other farm tools, along with their bows and slings. In 1 Sam 18:4, which speaks of Jonathan giving his maddim to David, there is no reason why, here as well, the basic, primary meaning of the word (“clothes”) should not be preferred over “armor.” Since the shiryon (plated chest armor) was quite heavy,62 one has to wonder whether Jonathan would be wearing this away from the battlefield – and also if he would put this bulky wear on over an expensive, elegant me‘il. More likely, he gave his princely robe to David, along with the rest of his clothing (his tunic).

Jonathan’s belt, sword, and bow – Jonathan’s sword (kereb, #2719) would have been a very valuable gift, since only the king and the crown prince were allowed by the Philistines to possess swords in Israel (1 Sam 13:22). Earlier swords were more like daggers (Judg 3:16, c. 17 inches long); but the fact that Saul asks his armor-bearer at the end to “thrust me through” (1 Sam 31:4) shows that he and Jonathan had (c. 3 feet) long, straight, two-edged thrusting swords, not daggers or scimitars (curved, slashing swords). Perhaps these were still bronze swords, since archaeology suggests that the Philistines were still exploring at this time how to make the more superior carbonized iron sword.63 By giving David his precious, irreplaceable sword, Jonathan expressed his belief that David would become the new military hero and “saviour” of Israel. Later, when David flees, this sword remains behind with Jonathan; David then retrieves Goliath’s long sword, which had been stored at Nob (1 Sam 21:9).

Jonathan’s belt (kagora, # 2290) could refer to either a sash or a belt. Often it was a long piece of wool or linen that was folded and wrapped around the waist several times;64 and in its folds could be carried things like money (cf. Matt 10:9) or even a dagger (2 Sam 20:8).65 However, leather and bronze belts have also been found in Iron Age tombs at Tel Aitan,66 which would provide more support for carrying a heavy sheathed sword. Probably the belt that Jonathan gave to David was of the more unusual type (leather), which would be sturdy enough to carry his large sword. Assyrian belts sometimes included a wide waistband with a narrower belt.67

Jonathan’s bow (qeshet, #7198) and arrows was no child’s game, but useful both in hunting and warfare. If this was a composite bow (introduced c. 2200 B.C.), it was made of several strips of wood (for better resiliency), combined with sections of animal horn, animal tendons and sinews, and glue. (At Lachish, both sides used composite bows.) When strung, it reached from top of the head to the waist of the archer; and a powerful bow had a range of up to 650 feet. For this reason, skilled archers were the most formidable warriors in the ancient army.68 David will later describe Jonathan as an expert archer (2 Sam 1:22), and so he must have practiced regularly. In a later song of thanksgiving, David refers to his “bow of bronze” (2 Sam 22:35, repeated in Ps 18:34) – which could refer to decorative metalwork or to a bronze handle or tips, as pictured in some ancient Egyptian representations.69 Whether Prince Jonathan’s bow included bronze or not, this fine weapon would certainly be a special gift. Moreover, since David came to court here with little training in warfare, it is not hard to imagine that Jonathan followed his gifts of fine weapons with spending a lot of time with David out in the field, training him hands on, in how to use these in an expert manner. (Also, did they find some place to bathe together afterward, to rid themselves of sweat before putting on fresh garments to head off to the evening meal?)

Reenacting the making of the first covenant – The most important aspect in 1 Sam 17:38-39 is, of course, that David could not walk in Saul’s heavy shiryon and koba (“metal-plate armor” and “helmet”).70 Therefore it is questionable whether, only one day later, a similar gift from Jonathan would be of much usefulness either, since one would expect that such army wear would have to be fitted to some degree for each individual soldier. If Jonathan was like his father, he was taller and bigger than David, who was a teenager. What happened then in 1 Sam 18:4 was that “Jonathan stripped himself of the robe [me‘il] that (was) on him and gave it to David, even to his apparel [maddim]…” (J. Green, literal trans.) – which refers here simply to Jonathan’s “tunic” (and is so translated by Ackroyd, NEB, NIV, REB, and Elman). Jonathan takes off everything he’s got on and stands before David in the nude, and then extends his clothes to him. But before David can put these on, he must undress himself – and so finally the boy himself stands there disrobed, perhaps embarrassed and tentative, before the crown prince. Most readers fail to note here, as do Fewell & Gunn, that “Jonathan strips himself for David” (italics added).71 Jonathan Kirsch notes, Jonathan is a “man wholly governed by his appetites and passions for David,” and there may even be “flirting” here on his part.72 Anyway, Jonathan gets a good look at the young, bare David, who is presented earlier in the Biblical text as having such dazzling looks and striking form. David also gets a look at Jonathan in all his manliness – who was tall, still of a handsome age, and probably in shape from his military interests. Forget all the talk of claims to the throne and renunciation of kingship, as Jonathan, who was attached to young men in the past and now is smitten head-over-heels with David, fixes David’s beauty forever in his memory. Finally, after a long pause, Jonathan reached over, his clothes still in hand, and (as Kirsch writes) “tenderly draped them on the handsome young man.”73 Then, he leaned over and kissed him.74

WORKS OF ART (chronological order and including online sources) - In the
General Search box, type the number for the online Radovan images (numbers given below in this section and in the Footnotes section), and click Search. When you get to the next screen, click on an image to see it enlarged.
- To see the "Assyrian
Rulers" section, type onto the end of the web address:
/pictures/AssyrianR.htm - and to the see the "Dress" section, type onto the end of the web address: /pictures/Dress.htm - To see more Assyrian pictures, on the intial webpage type "Assyria" in the Search box. Again, click on an image to see it enlarged.

Caravan of Asiatics (Semites) Bringing Tribute for Senusert II, in the Tomb of Khnumhotep III, c. 1890 B.C., at Beni Hasan (Egypt), wall painting. Hieroglyphic text with this long relief panel records a group of “thirty-seven,” although only 12 Semitic adults, plus 3 children, are depicted, along with 2 Egyptian royal officials (far right), who accept their gift of eye-paint. Most of the Semites’ loincloths and robes are colorfully patterned. – Online Radovan, 3639, 1819, 1820; Pritchard 1954, fig. 3, p. 2-3.
Syrians Bringing Tribute for Thutmose IV (c. 1421-1413 B.C.), Tomb 63 at Thebes, now in the British Museum, wall painting. Eleven men (with one child) are shown, presenting vessels, ointment, a quiver, etc. Most wear a special shawl wrapped around and around the waist, decorated with a beautiful, multicolored hem. – Online Radovan, 1835-3, 1835-2; Pritchard 1954, fig. 47, p. 16.
Syrians Bringing Tribute for Tutankhamen (c. 1361-1352 B.C.), Tomb of Huy (tomb 40) at Thebes, wall painting. Twenty-two figures are shown, including 12 elite males who are dressed in special full-length, wrap-around sari-like garments, decorated all over with dots. The porters, however, only wear short kilts (waistcloths), with long hanging tassels on the corners. – Pritchard 1954, fig. 52, p. 17.
Ruler of Megiddo Celebrating a Victory, late 13th–early 12th cent. B.C., from Megiddo (Canaanite), Israel Museum, 10” long, incised ivory plaque. Ruler wears an unusual spangled upper garment draped over one shoulder. Megiddo, near Mount Carmel, had been allocated to the tribe of Manasseh, but did not become part of Israel until the time of David and Solomon. – Pritchard 1954, fig. 332, p. 111; King & Stager, ill. 136, p. 264; Rainey, A.F., “Megiddo,” ISBE III(1986), p. 310.
Four Prisoners, Mortuary Temple of Ramses III (c. 1195-1164 B.C.), Medinet Habu (Egypt), now in the Cairo Museum, multicolored glazed tiles (faience). Include a Lybian, a Negro, a Syrian, a bedouin (or Philistine), and a Hittite. Figures wear highly decorative, beautifully colored, and variously styled garments. – Online Radovan, 1872-2, 1876-2, 1876; Malek, p. 252-53; Pritchard 1954, fig. 54, p. 18.
Philistine Prisoners, Mortuary Temple of Ramses III (c. 1195-1164 B.C.), Medinet Habu, taken captive in the great naval battle with the Sea Peoples c. 1175 B.C. (Bierling, p. 39), wall relief. Shows the distinctive headdress of the Philistines, made of (what was once thought to be) feathers, or more likely reeds, stiffened horsehair, or leather (Gabriel, p. 25). – Online Radovan 3544-1, 3545-4; Pritchard 1954, fig. 57, p. 19; Gabriel, fig. 2.4, p. 25; Bierling, fig. 83.
Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III (858-824 B.C.), originally stood in the main square of Nimrud (Assyria), now in the British Museum. Four panels extending around the second row depict King Jehu of Israel with 13 porters (with 4 Assyrian officers separating the king and the porters) bringing tribute to the Assyrian king. Gifts include golden vessels, tin and javelins, and fruit. – Online Radovan, 1000-1, 1001-3, 1001-1, 1001-2 (in proper sequence); online Bible Picture Gallery, search for “Dress,” then click on “AssyrianR” and look at Shalmaneser III images; Pritchard 1954, fig. 351-54, p. 120-21; King & Stager, ill. 134a-e, p. 261-62; Harrison, R.K., “Jehu,” ISBE II(1982), p. 982; Bierling, fig. 7.
Scenes, Palace of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 B.C.), Nimrud (Assyria), now in the Brooklyn Museum, carved reliefs. – Paley, plates 6,11,18b,19a-c; Reade, ill. 41, p. 33; Crawford, fig. 20-21, p. 27-28.
Scenes of the Siege of Lachish, Southwest Palace of Sennacherib (704-681 B.C.), Room 36, Nineveh (Assyria), now in British Museum, wall reliefs. – Scenes depicts the battle and victory of 701 B.C. with captives being led away from this important city in western Judah. – Online Radovan, 138-3, 138-6; Pritchard, fig. 371-73, p. 129-31; King & Stager, ill. 48,108,126,128,135,138,159, p. 118,226,248,251,263,267,282; Barnett, plates 338,342,343,352,388; Reade, ill. 62-63,73, p. 45,51.
Scenes (other), Southwest Palace of Sennacherib (704-681 B.C.), Nineveh (Assyria), in various locations. – Online Radovan 1022-4, 1025-4, 1022-7; Barnett, plates 265,280,324,429,455,458,461,477-79,490,659a-b,660.
Scenes, Palace of Sargon II (721-705 B.C.), Khorsabad (Assyria). – Albenda, plates 47,70; fig. 16,17,19,61; Reade, ill. 38, p. 31.

FOOTNOTES: 1. Smith, H., p. 166.    2. Smith, W., p. 334-36.    3. Homer, The Iliad, 2003, 6.210-230.    4. McKane, p. 115.    5. Pedersen, I, p. 302-03.    6. Hertzberg, p. 155.   7. Moran, p. 82; cf. Ackerman, p. 170-72.    8. Ackroyd 1971, p. 147.    9. Thompson, p. 335-36.    10. McCarter 1980, p. 305.    11. Gordon, p. 159.    12. Fokkelman, II(1986), p. 198-99.    13. Damrosch, p. 207.    14. Ibid., p. 208,202-03.    15. Comstock, p. 86.    16. Fewell & Gunn, p. 149.    17. McKenzie, p. 80,84-85.    18. Cf. Wit, p. 394; Edwards, p. 232.    19. Dates, King & Stager, p. xxiii.    20. Wit, p. 394; Running, p. 402.    21. King & Stager, p. 266.    22. Wit, p. 394.    23. King & Stager, p. 268-69.    24. Radovan, 1000-1.    25. Radovan, 1001-3, 1001-1, 1001-2.    26. Houston, fig. 144a,c, p. 146-147.    27. Isaacs, E.D., “Fringes,” ISBE II(1982), p. 363.    28. Radovan, 3639, 1819, 1820.    29. Howard, Jr., D.M., “Shoe; Sandal,” ISBE, IV(1988), p. 491.    30. King & Stager, p. 272-73.    31. Russell, p. 28,208.    32. Pritchard 1954, fig. 371, p. 129.    33. King & Stager, ill. 139, p. 267.    34. Barnett, II, plate 461.    35. Ibid., plate 324.    36. Ibid., plate 458.    37. Running, p. 403.    38. King & Stager, p. 269.    39. Edwards, p. 233.    40. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, iii.7.2; quoted in Running, p. 405.    41. Edwards, p. 233. 42. Cf. Spanier & Ron, p. 9-10.    43. Milgrom, J., in Edwards, p. 233.    44.    Barnett, II, plates 155,280.    45. Pritchard 1954, fig. 332, p. 111 and 288; King & Sager, ill. 136, p. 264.    46. Translations have variously described Joseph’s garment as a “coat of many colors” (KJV), a “long robe with sleeves” (REB), and a “richly ornamented robe” (NIV); and no consensus agrees on which is best, cf. Hamilton 1995, p. 407-09.    47. Wit, p. 396; Pritchard 1952, fig. 52, p. 17.    48. Paley, plate 19b; Crawford, fig. 20,21, p. 27-29.    49. Barnett, II, plates 342, 479.    50. Pritchard 1954, fig. 52, p. 17.    51. Albenda, plate 70, fig. 19.    52. Crawford, p. 27; see the color imagined, however, in Healy & McBride, plates B,D,G.    53. Garber, P.L., “Color,” ISBE I(1979), p. 730.    54. Radovan, 3639, 1819, 1820, 1835-2, 1835-3, 1872-2.    55. Edwards, p. 232.    56. Strong, #4055.    57. Cf. Keil & Delitzsch, p. 187; Running, p. 403.    58. Brown, #4055, p. 551.    59. In Judg 5:10, maddim is usually translated either as “rich carpets” (LB, NRSV, cf. Brown) or “saddle-blankets” (NIV, NJB, cf. REB).    60. Gabriel, p. 25.    61. Ibid., p. 34.    62. Hoffmeier, p. 1041.    63. Ibid., p. 1037; cf. Bierling, p. 116-17.    64. King & Stager, p. 267.    65. Running, p. 404.    66. Edwards, p. 233.   
67. Cf. - Look at examples of Assyrian belts on the third row.   68. King & Stager, p. 227.    69. Hoffmeier, p. 1039.    70. Ibid., p. 1041.    71. Fewell & Gunn, p. 149.    72. Kirsch, p. 59-60,131.    73. Ibid., p. 60.    74. Pedersen notes that any kind of bodily touch would have strengthened an ancient covenant, whether done by shaking the hand or a kiss (cf. Pedersen I, p. 303).

Ackerman, Susan, When Heroes Love, 2005.
Ackroyd, Peter, The First Book of Samuel, 1971.
Albenda, Pauline, The Palace of Sargon, King of Assyria, 1986.
Alter, Robert, The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 & 2 Samuel, 1999.
Barnett, Richard, Sculptures in Sennacherib’s Southwest Palace, vols. I-II, 1998.
Bible Picture Gallery, – To see the “Assyrian... [and add rest of text as finalized for the beginning of the WORKS OF ART section]
Bierling, Neal, Philistines: Giving Goliath His Due, 2002.
Brown, Francis, et al., The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, 2000 ed.
Comstock, Gary, Gay Theology without Apology, 1993.
Crawford, Vaughn, et al., Assyrian Reliefs and Ivories in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Palace Reliefs of Ashurnasirpal II and Ivory Carvings from Nimrud, 1980.
Damrosch, David, The Narrative Covenant, 1987.
Edwards, Douglas, “Dress and Ornamentation,” Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1992, II, p. 232-238.
Elman, Yaakov, The Living Nach: Early Prophets – A New Translation Based on Traditional Jewish Sources, 1994.
Fewell, Danna and David Gunn, Gender, Power, and Promise, 1993.
Fokkelman, J.P., Narrative Art and Poetry in the Books of Samuel. Vol. II: The Crossing Fates (I Sam. 13-31 & II Sam. 1), 1986.
Fox, Everett, Give Us a King: Samuel, Saul, and David. A New Translation of Samuel I-II, 1999.
Gabriel, Richard, The Military History of Ancient Israel, 2003.
Gordon, Robert, 1 & 2 Samuel: A Commentary, 1986.
Green, Jay, Sr., gen. ed. & trans., The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-Greek-English, 2nd ed. 1986.
Hamilton, Victor, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50, 1995.
Healy, Mark, and Angus McBride, The Ancient Assyrians, 1991.
Hertzberg, Hans, I & II Samuel: A Commentary, 1964.
Hoffmeier, James, “Weapons of War,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, IV(1988), p. 1033-43.
Homer, The Iliad, rev. and updated trans. by Peter Jones and D.C.H. Rieu, 2003.
Houston, Mary, Ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian & Persian Costume, 2nd ed. 1954, reprinted 2002.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
, vols. I-IV, 1979-88.
Keil, C.F., and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Books of Samuel, 1950.
King, Philip, and Lawrence Stager, Life in Biblical Israel, 2001.
Kirsch, Jonathan, King David: The Real Life of the Man Who Ruled Israel, 2000.
Klein, Ralph, 1 Samuel (Word Biblical Commentary), 1983.
Knox, Ronald, The Old Testament: Newly Translated from the Vulgate Latin… Vol. I: Genesis to Esther, 1948.
Malek, Jaromir, Egypt: 4000 Years of Art, 2003.
McCarter, P. Kyle, Jr., I Samuel (Anchor Bible), 1980.
McKane, William, I & II Samuel: Introduction and Commentary, 1963.
McKenzie, Steven, King David: A Biography, 2000.
Moran, William, “The Ancient Near Eastern Background of the Love of God,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 25(1963), p. 77-87.
Paley, Samuel, King of the World: Ashur-nasir-pal II of Assyria 883-859 B.C., 1976.
Pedersen, Johannes, Israel: It’s Life and Culture, vols. I-II, 1926, reprinted 1991.
Pritchard, James, The Ancient Near East in Pictures: Relating to the Old Testament, 1954.
Radovan, Zev, see Zev Radovan’s Land of the Bible: Picture Archive, - In the General Search box [add rest of text as finalized for the beginning of the WORKS OF ART section]
Reade, Julian, Assyrian Sculpture, 1983.
Running, Leona, “Garments,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, II(1982), p. 401-407.
Russell, John, Sennacherib’s Palace without Rival at Nineveh, 1991.
Smith, Henry Preserved, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Books of Samuel, 1899.
Smith, W. Robertson, The Religion of the Semites, 2nd ed. 1894.
Spanier, Ehud and Moshe Ron, eds., The Royal Purple and the Biblical Blue: Argaman and Tekhelet, 1987.
Strong, James, “Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary,” in Strong’s Abingdon’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible…, 1890.
Thompson, J.A., “The Significance of the Verb Love in the David-Jonathan Narratives in I Samuel,” Vetus Testamentum, 24(1974), p. 334-338.
Wit, C. de., “Dress,” The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1980, I, p. 394-401.

TRANSLATIONS: Contemporary English Version, 1995.    Good News Bible, 1983.    Jerusalem Bible, 1966.    King James Version, 1611.    Lamsa, George: Holy Bible … from the Aramaic of the Peshitta, 1933.    Living Bible, 1976.    New American Bible, 1995.    New American Standard Bible, 1960.    New English Bible, 1970.    New International Version, 1978.    New Jerusalem Bible, 1998.    New King James Version, 1982.    New Revised Standard Version, 1989.    Peterson, Eugene: The Message, 2002.    Revised English Bible, 1989.    Revised Standard Version, 1946.    Revised Standard Version, 2nd ed. 1972


© 2006 Bruce L. Gerig

Main Menu

  Back to Homosexuality & the Bible