Queering King David


In the narratives in 1 and 2 Samuel, King David had relationships with many women, including six wives and a number of concubines. Only one of David’s wives, Michael, professed her love for him, but the text does not indicate that her feelings were reciprocated (1 Sam. 18:20). 1 Samuel 25 describes David’s wives as possessions rather than lovers or companions. These marriages are the transactional results of David’s political life, not intimate covenants. Rather than experience love for his wives, David feels a deep love for Saul’s son Jonathan, a love “passing that of women” (2 Sam. 1:26). It is tempting to label David and Jonathan’s relationship: was their love platonic or romantic? According to Deryn Guest, labeling, even LGBT+ affirming labeling, detracts from the work of Queer Bible Hermeneutics.[1] To “Queer” David and Jonathan’s story is to examine what the text says about the relationship between these men and what possibilities exist outside of a heteronormative context.

In her book, Beyond Feminist Biblical Studies, Deryn Guest calls out the problem with “compulsory heterosexuality” ascribed to biblical interpretation.[2] While Guest speaks predominantly about Feminist hermeneutics in her book, her argument is centered around Queer Theory, which seeks to deconstruct normative thinking. Attempting to typecast David and Jonathan’s love does a disservice to the richness of David’s character. Queering David and Jonathan’s relationship produces a complex interpretation of David as a deeply flawed character. This interpretation invites readers to wonder why David handled human relationships the way that he did. Why didn’t David bond emotionally with his wives? When Amnon raped Tamar, why didn’t David punish his son, even if Amnon was his favorite child (2 Sam. 13)? What led David to think he was entitled to take another man’s wife, then kill the husband (2 Sam. 11)?

These questions challenge the patriarchal structure of ancient Israel. According to Guest, Queer Theory seeks answers by “mapping hegemonies” to understand the social dynamics of David’s time.[3] Biblical tradition identifies David as the incomparable “successful man” because he unites the tribes of Israel and remains faithful to God through his reign.[4] David’s sexual relationships in 2 Samuel indicate that he viewed hetero sex as acts of power and not of emotional intimacy.[5] David and Jonathan’s relationship, on the other hand, is deeply emotionally intimate. In 1 Samuel 20, the men pledge their love and devotion for one another similarly to Ruth and Naomi’s pledge (Ruth 1:16-17). When Jonathan dies, David weeps bitterly, declaring his love for Jonathan in a mournful hymn (2 Sam. 1:26).

If we wish to reject heteronormative and patriarchal thinking, can we identify any redeeming characteristics in David and use him as an example of a Godly ruler? A feminist interpretation of David will reject his treatment of women. When we queer that reading, we lean subversively against the context of empire[6]. Compulsive heteronormativity is forced on David himself, who procreates to legitimize his rule but finds no satisfaction in those relationships. Perhaps David was “queer” in that his way of loving was different from what was expected of him, or what today’s reader expects with our “heteronormative” conditioning.[7] Despite these challenges, and despite his many sins, David remained obedient to God. While a queer interpretation of his story requires readers to reject the oppressive motifs in David’s story, readers can remember that God is forgiving and merciful to those who love God.


[1] Deryn Guest, Beyond Feminist Biblical Studies (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2012), 51.

[2] Guest, 108.

[3] Guest, 132.

[4] Ibid., 128.

[5] Ken Stone, “1 and 2 Samuel,” in Queer Bible Commentary, ed. Deryn Guest et. al. (London: SCM Press, 1988), 208.

[6] Guest, 136.

[7] Stone, “1 and 2 Samuel,” 206.