Saul’s Sexual Insult and David’s Losing It,

And more – The Hebrew ‘ad higdil translates literally as “until [David] exceeded” (KJV; J. Green 1986; Houser & Johannson 1990, p. 298). Higdil relates to the adjective gadel (#1432), which means “large,” and to the verb gadal (#1431), which means “to be (or causative form: make) large” in some way, e.g. to exceed, become great, grow up, lift up, magnify, etc. (Strong). Most English translators connect ‘ad higdil to the preceding weeping and relate the idea of “exceeded” to the amount of weeping, e.g. but David “wept the more” (Lamsa 1933, NASB 1960, cf. NKJV 1982, NRSV 1989), “the most” (NIV 1978), “weeping especially hard” (Peterson 2002) – or “both shed many tears” (JB 1966), “wept aloud together” (NAB 1995), both “weeping copiously” (NJB 1998) or “wept with one another to excess” (Hertzberg 1964, p. 171). Another translation reads “David’s grief was even greater than Jonathan’s” (Ackroyd 1971, p. 166; NEB 1970; GNB 1983; REB 1989). Others view “exceeded” as referring specifically to a longer time, e.g. “the longer” (Fokkelmann 1986, p. 350) – or to an increased volume, e.g. “wept very loud” (Keil & Delitzsch 1950, p. 215) or “cried louder” (CEV 1995). Still others view “exceeded” as referring to an ending point, e.g. “recovered himself” (RSV 1946; cf. Elman 1994, p. 244) or “until David could weep no more” (LB 1976). Another translation views it as just the opposite: “there was no staunching [stopping] David’s tears” (Knox 1948). Finally, a few translations simply insert elliptical dots, rendering it e.g. as “until …” (Moffatt 1926; cf. McCarter 1980, p. 334). One can see ideas expressed here of weeping more, hard, longer, louder, to the end of it, with seemingly no end, or who knows?

The Septuagint Greek reads hoes sunteleias megales, which early translators rendered as “[for] a great while” (Thomson 1808, Brenton 1851). However, Van der Pool’s new Apostolic Bible Polyglot (2005), based on old sources, adds at the end, David uperebalen – and translates the whole sentence here as, “And each kissed his dear one [plesion], and each wept over his dear one [plesion], unto of a great finale, David exceeded.”59 Strong’s Greek-English dictionary notes that plesion (#4139) refers to “a neighbor, a friend” and that sunteleia (#4930) to “an entire completion, a consummation.” Jerome’s Latin Vulgate reads osculantes se alterutrum, fleverunt partier, David autem amplius, which translates literally as “one kissing the other, and likewise weeping; David, however, enlarged.” The final verb, amplio, means to “enlarge, amplify, extol, or glorify”60 – but only the first meaning makes any real sense here, as we shall see.

Many objections may be raised to most of the English translations. As William McKane (1963) notes, the idea of “excessively” is dubious Hebrew; and also the Hebrew cannot be translated as “until David recovered himself.”61 David Jobling writes that the textual evidence for “wept the more” or “the longer” is flimsy.62 Also, both the Hebrew and Greek texts make it clear that it is only David who “exceeded,” not both Jonathan and David. Further, in view of the larger story, it can hardly be imagined that “David’s grief was even greater than Jonathan’s.” The idea “until David recovered himself” hardly represents a great “consummation” as the Septuagint suggests, only a winding down. Peter Ackroyd points out that very likely something is missing here in the text, as it now stands.63 Hans Hertzberg notes that the Hebrew (‘ad higdil) is “incomprehensible”; and based on the older Septuagint text, the original Hebrew probably read ‘ad taklit gedola,64 which may be translated as “until [David] grew large [to] completion.”65 Peter Ackroyd translates the ending as “to a great climax,”66 and Warren Johannson even more bluntly as “until the ejaculation.”67

It should be noted that ‘ad higdil (“until [David] exceeded”) contains the verb gadal (#1431) in the Hiphil (Causative) form68 – which expresses the idea of “he caused … to become great.” Other examples of gadal in the Hiphil/Causitive are found in Daniel 8:25 and Lamentations 1:9. In the first instance, Daniel saw in one of his dreams a “little horn” (representing a future ruler) who came and took control, and “he shall magnify himself in his heart…” (Dan 8:25, KJV, the italics marking a word not in the Hebrew). In the second instance, the prophet Jeremiah laments that Jerusalem, because of her sin, has fallen to the Babylonians, an “enemy [that] hath magnified himself.” (Lam 1:9, KJV) So also in 1 Sam 20:41, it is David who “made himself great” or enlarged himself – but in what way? Gadal (#1341) is used in the OT to refer to “making large” in many senses, of course. Yet in some instances, the verb is applied things growing in a physical sense. For example, Samuel “the boy grew up [in size, gadal]” (1 Sam 2:21, J. Green). An Israelite man taking the Nazarite vow was to let “the locks of the hair of his head grow [in length, gadal]” (Num 6:5, KJV). In another example, David complained that a friend whom he trusted and even fed had “lifted up [in degree, gadal] his heel against me” (Ps 41:9, KJV). All of these physical meanings could also be applied to a male erection (growing in size and in length, and changing degree). Yet, is there any evidence supporting such a sexual use in Scripture?

Although the verb gadal appears nowhere in a sexual context in the OT, the adjective gadel does. In Ezek 16, the Lord condemns Jerusalem and Judah for their unfaithfulness, which included making “male images [of the god Baal or of fertility phalluses]” (v. 17), building “a lofty place in every square [shrines for worshipping foreign gods and having sex with the cult prostitutes]” (v. 24-25), and “whoring [making alliances]” with foreign nations, rather than trusting in the Lord (v. 26, NRSV). The “lewd behavior” (v. 27) here is symbolic of Israel’s forsaking the Lord for foreign gods and political trust, as well as referring actual sexual activity that went on.69 At one point Ezekiel complains (v. 26), “Thou hast also committed fornication with the Egyptians thy neighbors, great [gadel] of flesh [basar]” (KJV). Walther Zimmerli (1979) and Leslie Allen (1994) recognize basar (#1320) here as a “phallic symbol” and a “[sexual] euphemism”;70 and indeed this is a common use of the word in the OT.71 As Moshe Greenberg notes, this is a reference to the penis,72 and more specifically to the Egyptians’ huge or enlarged phalluses. As can be expected, most translators slide over this, offering instead “the Egyptians, your lustful neighbors” (GNB 1976, NIV 1978, NRSV 1989, REB 1989) or they omit the phrase entirely (CEV 1995, Peterson 2002). Among general Bible translations, only the NJB (1998) seeks to be faithful to the Hebrew, with “your big-membered neighbors.” Nor is this the only place in Scripture that speaks of sex in a blunt and direct manner. In Ezek 23:20, again speaking of the Egyptians, the prophet says, “For she [Jerusalem] doted upon their paramours [lovers], whose flesh [basar] is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses” (KJV). The NRSV says here that Israel lusted after the Egyptians, “whose [phallic] members were like those of donkeys, and whose [seminal] emission was like that of stallions.” Earlier, after Solomon’s death, Rehoboam told the people, “My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s loins” – and their lives would be much harder than before (1 Kings 12:10-11, J. Green). All translations add “finger” (this word is missing in the Hebrew), but fail to note that “loins” here (#4975, mothnayim) is “clearly a degrading comparative reference to Solomon’s male organ.”73 In the end, we must accept that God’s revelation is both spiritual and lofty, but also sometimes very earthly and sexual.

Only a few references to ejaculation appear in the OT (besides the one above), including two references that are generally held to refer to masturbation in general:74 “if semen goes out from him [a man]” (Lev 15:16,32; J. Green) and “a man who has go out from him an emission of semen” (Lev 22:4, J. Green). Another reference refers to nocturnal emission, i.e., “because of an accident at night” (Deut 23:10, J. Green; cf. NRSV). The Hebrew word used here for “semen” is zera (#2233), which can refer either to “seed” planted for crops or human “semen” or “offspring.”75 An earlier reference relates to Onan, who was supposed to give his widowed sister-in-law, Tamar, an heir; but instead every time he laid intimately with her, “he spilled it on the ground” (Gen 38:9, KJV). The Hebrew lacks a word for “semen,” which the reader must fill in. Such limited references as these, in the Law of Moses and to Onan and the Egyptians, show that speaking of male ejaculation was a taboo in Israel – a view that probably influenced the editing out that occurred in 1 Sam 20:41.

The damaged sexual reference in 1 Sam 20:41 probably has its closest parallel, however, in the drunken Noah story (Gen 9:20-27), discussed earlier in Part 9 of this series. Here Noah “uncovered” himself in his tent (v. 21), whereupon his son Ham saw his “nakedness [‘erwa = ‘his genitals’]” (v. 22); and then evidently Ham got his youngest son, Canaan, to go into the tent, after which something was “done” to Noah (v. 24) – in fact, apparently something sexual and so embarrassing that the deed itself was later deleted from the text. Hence we are left guessing as to why Noah, after he awoke, laid such a horrible curse on Canaan (v. 25-27). Gerhard von Rad writes, “Probably the narrator suppressed something even more repulsive than mere looking.”76 Umberto Cassuto feels that “a coarser and uglier” deed was done than the Biblical editor wished to retain in the text, and so it was slurred over.77 In 1 Sam 20:41 we are faced with the same kind of situation: we have a fragmented text, relating to an intimate situation, probably sexual in nature, where something “sensitive” was deleted. As a result, the text now is incomplete and puzzling.

David Jobling (1998) thinks that if we have a gay relationship here, which seems to be the case, then Jonathan must have taken the female role.78 He offered himself to David sexually, which David could not resist. Jonathan Kirsch (2000) reminds us that we should not be blind to the “earthiness and ribaldry [vulgarity]” that is part of the Bible – and “nowhere are these qualities more extravagantly on display than in the biography of David.”79 There is no mention of sex between the Greek heroes Achilles and Patroclus, as well, although the former called his later slain friend his “dearest companion … whom I loved as much as my own life” (Homer, Iliad, 18.80-82). David Greenberg is sure that one or more editors of the David and Jonathan story could have altered certain text of which he or they did not approve.80 Still, what we see here in the text, hidden away, are the two companions, in each other’s arms, kissing, weeping, and holding each other close. The juices begin to rise. As J.P. Fokkelman notes, they are enacting here their own version of the Song of Songs:81 “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging fire.” (Song 8:6, NRSV) Even Martti Nissinen admits, their love is expressed physically here, as they bid their tender farewell. “These considerations make it conceivable to interpret David’s and Jonathan’s relationship as homoerotic” – as do Tom Horner (1978), Samuel Terrien (1985), Schroer & Staubli (2000), Erhard Gerstenberger (1993),82 and a growing list of others.


FOOTNOTES: 1. Ackroyd 1971, p. 167.     2. Gordon, p. 167-68.     3. Cartledge, p. 242.     4. Fokkelman II(1986), p. 325,339.     5. Fewell & Gunn, p. 150.     6. McCarter 1980, p. 340.     7. Klein, p. 209.     8. Fokkelman II(1986), p. 340.     9. Hertzberg, p. 176.     10. Cf. Klein, p. 210.     11. Driver, p. 134-35.     12. McCarter 1980, p. 339; Greek: vie korasion automolounton, Brenton 1851.     13. Latin: Fili mulieris virum ultro rapientis, Biblia Sacra, Vulgatae Editionis; cf. Johansson, in Houser & Johannson, p. 297-98.     14. Youngblood, p. 724.     15. Driver, p. 135-36, ftnt 2.     16. Soderlund, S.K., “Septuagint,” ISBE, IV(1988), p. 405-06.     17. Chrysostom, p. 196; cf. Johannson, in Houser & Johannson, p. 298.     18. Fewell & Gunn, p. 150.     19. Hertzberg, p. 175.     20. Chrysostom, p. 196.     21. Smith, H., p. 193.     22. Nissinen, p. 55.     23. Ackerman, p. 187.     24. Bandstra & Verhey, p. 433.     25. Knutson, F.B., “Naked,” ISBE, III(1986), p. 480.     26. Horner, p. 32.     27. Thomson, and Brenton, 1 Sam 20:30.     28. Driver, p. 136.     29. Van der Pool, 1 Sam 20:30.     30. Hanse, H., in Kittel & Friedrich, abridged by Geoffrey Bromiley, p. 289.     31. Horner, p. 31.     32. Smith, H., p. 193.     33. Polzin, p. 190.     34. McCarter 1980, p. 345.     35. McKane, p. 129.     36. Keil & Delitsch, p. 213.     37. Greek: ou gar oida hoti metochos ei su to huio Iessa.     38. Horner, p. 32.     39. Johansson, in Houser & Johansson, p. 298.     40. Jobling, p. 131.     41. Nissinen, p. 55; 158, ftnt 94.     42. Ackerman, p. 187-88.     43. Schroer & Staubli, p. 30.     44. Hertzberg, p. 177.     45. Youngblood, p. 725.     46. Ibid.     47. Robinson, p. 113.     48. Edwards, D.M., “Adoration,” ISBE, I(1979), p. 55.     49. Hertzberg, p. 177.     50. Jobling, p. 163-64.     51. McKim, D.K., “Kiss,” ISBE, III(1986), p. 44.     52. Pope, p. 35.     53. Johnson, p. 5,10,15.     54. Ibid., p. 18,21.     55. Ibid., p. 22.     56. Ackerman, p. 184.     57. Klein, p. 210.     58. Blaikie, p. 318.     59. Greek: kai katephilesen ekastos ton plesion auton kai eklausen ekastos epi to plesion auton eos sunteleias megales David uperebalen.     60. Levin’s dictionary.     61. McKane, p. 130.     62. Jobling, p. 164, ftnt 35.     63. Ackroyd, p. 168.     64. Hertzberg, p. 171.     65. Cf. Strong, #1431, #8502.     66. Ackroyd, p. 168.     67. Johannson, in Houser & Johannson, p. 298.     68. Brown, #1431, p. 152.     69. Greenberg, M., p. 280-82.     70. Zimmerli, p. 344; Allen, p. 229.     71. Bandstra & Verhey, p. 432.     72 Greenberg, M., p. 283.     73. Bandstra & Verhey, p. 432.     74. Ibid., p. 434-35.     75. Brown, #2233, p. 282.     76. Von Rad, p. 137.     77. Cassuto, p. 150-51.     78. Jobling, p. 164.     79. Kirsch, p. 3.     80. Greenberg, D., p. 114.     81. Fokkelman II(1986), p. 341,198.     82. Nissinen, p. 55.

Ackerman, Susan, When Heroes Love, 2005.
Ackroyd, Peter, The First Book of Samuel, 1971.
Allen, Leslie, Ezekiel 1-19 (Word Biblical Commentary), 1994.
Alter, Robert, The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 & 2 Samuel, 1999.
Bandstra, Barry, and Allen Verhey, “Sex; Sexuality,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. IV, 1988, p. 429-439.
Bauer, Walter, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, translated and adapted from the 5th ed. (1958) by William Arndt and Wilbur Gingrich, 1979.
Biblia Sacra, Vulgatae Editionis, Sixti V … et Clementis VIII…, 1680, reissued 1730.
Blaikie, W.G., The First Book of Samuel, 1898.
Brenton, Lancelot C.L., trans., The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English, 1851, reprinted 1980.
Brown, Francis, et al., The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, 2000 ed.
Brueggemann, Walter, First and Second Samuel: Interpretation, 1990.
Cartledge, Tony, 1 & 2 Samuel (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary), 2001.
Cassuto, Umberto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis. Part II: From Noah to Abraham: Gen VI 9 to XI 32… Translated from Hebrew 1949 by Israel Abrahams, 1972.
Chrysostom, John, “Homily 23 [on 1 Cor. 13:4],” Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers. Vol. 12:

Chrysostom: Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, ed. by Philip Schaff, First Series 1994.
Driver, S.R., Notes on the Hebrew Text of the Books of Samuel, 1890.
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, Everertt, Give Us a King: Samuel, Saul, and David. A New Translation of Samuel I-II, 1999.
Gordon, Robert, 1 & 2 Samuel: A Commentary, 1986.
Green, Jay, Sr., gen. ed. & trans., The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-Greek-English, 2nd ed. 1986.
Greenberg, David, The Construction of Homosexuality, 1988.
Greenberg, Moshe, Ezekiel 1-20 (The Anchor Bible), p. 1983.
Hertzberg, Hans, I & II Samuel: A Commentary, 1964.
Homer, The Iliad, rev. and updated trans. by Peter Jones and D.C.H. Rieu, 2003.
Horner, Tom, Jonathan Loved David, 1978.
Houser, Ward and Warren Johannson, “David and Jonathan,” Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, 1990, vol. I, p. 296-299.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vols. I-IV, 1979-88.
Jobling, David, 1 Samuel (Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry), 1998.
Johnson, Paul R., Gay Version of the Song of Songs, 1987.
Keil, C.F., and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Books of Samuel, 1950.
Kirsch, Jonathan, King David: The Real Life of the Man Who Ruled Israel, 2000.
Klein, Ralph, 1 Samuel (Word Biblical Commentary), 1983.
Kittel, Gerhard and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament; trans. and abridged in one volume by Geoffrey Bromiley; orig. 9 vols. 1933-73, this ed. 1985.
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.
Levine, Edwin, et al., comp., Latin Dictionary / Latinum Dictionarium, 1967.
McCarter, P. Kyle, Jr., I Samuel (Anchor Bible), 1980.
McKane, William, I & II Samuel: Introduction and Commentary, 1963.
Nissinen, Martti, Homoeroticism in the Bible World: A Historical Perspective, 1998.
Polzin, Robert, Samuel and the Deteronomist. Part II: 1 Samuel, 1989.
Pope, Marvin, Song of Songs (Anchor Bible), 1977.
Robinson, Gnana, Let Us Be Like the Nations: A Commentary on the Books of 1 and 2 Samuel (International Theological Commentary), 1993.
Schroer, Silvia & Thomas Staubli, “Saul, David and Jonathan – The Story of a Triangle? A Contribution to the Issue of Homosexuality in the First Testament,” in Samuel and Kings, ed. by Athalya Brenner, 2000, p. 22-36.
Smith, Henry Preserved, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Books of Samuel, 1899.
Strong, James, “Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary” and “Greek Dictionary of the New Testament,” in Strong’s Abingdon’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible…, 1890.
Thomson, Charles, The Septuagint Bible … in Translation, 1808, reprinted 1954.
Van der Pool, Charles, editor-in-chief, Apostolic Bible Polyglot, 2005.
Von Rad, Gerhard, Genesis: A Commentary, English trans. by W.L. Jenkin 1972, of the 9th German ed. 1972.
Youngblood, Ronald, “1, 2 Samuel,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. III, 1992, p. 551-1104.
Zimmerli, Walther, Ezekiel 1: A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, Chapters 1-24, trans. from German by Ronald Clements, 1979.

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.     Moffatt, James: Holy Bible, 1926.     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.


© 2005 Bruce L. Gerig

Previous Page

Back to Homosexuality & the Bible