Jonathan (1 Samuel)

Frederic Leighton, Jonathan’s Token to David .[1] Jonathan shooting three arrows to warn David

Jonathan (Hebrew: יְהוֹנָתָן Yəhōnāṯān or יוֹנָתָן Yonatan) is a heroic figure in 1 Samuel in the Hebrew Bible. A prince of the United Kingdom of Israel, he was the eldest son of King Saul as well as a close friend of David, who eventually succeeded Saul as king.

Like his father, he was a man of great strength and swiftness (2 Samuel 1:23), and he excelled in archery (1 Samuel 20:20, 2 Samuel 1:22) and slinging (1 Chronicles 12:2).[2]

Conflicts with SaulEdit

Jonathan first appears in the biblical narrative as the victor of Geba, a Philistine stronghold (1 Samuel 13), while in the following chapter he carries out a lone and secret attack on another Philistine garrison, demonstrating his "prowess and courage as a warrior."[3] However, he eats honey without knowing that his father had said, "Cursed be any man who eats food before evening comes" (1 Samuel 14:24). When he learns of his father's oath, Jonathan disagrees with the wisdom of it, as it requires the soldiers to pursue the enemy although weak from fasting.[4] Saul decides to put Jonathan to death for breaking the ban, but relents when the soldiers protest (1 Samuel 14:45).

The story of David and Jonathan is introduced in chapter 18, where it says that "Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself" (verse 1). Jonathan helps David escape from Saul, and asks him to show kindness to his family (1 Samuel 20:14–15); biblical scholar Joyce Baldwin suggests that this indicates that Jonathan recognised David as the future king.[5]

Saul suspects that Jonathan is colluding with David, who he believes is conspiring to overthrow him. Saul insults Jonathan calling him the "...son of a perverse and rebellious woman!" in 1 Samuel 20:30. While this is an "idiom of insult directed at Jonathan",[6] some scholars see in this verse support for the theory that Ahinoam, the wife of Saul was also the wife of David. Jon Levenson and Baruch Halpern suggest that the phrase "to the shame of your mother's nakedness" suggests "David's theft of Saul's wife".[7] Saul even goes so far as to attempt to kill Jonathan by throwing a javelin at him during a fit of paranoid rage. But, before this event happened all Jonathan did was ask his father what did David to him so that he would be put to death? (1 Sam. 20:32-33).

The last meeting between Jonathan and David would take place in a forest of Ziph at Horesh, during Saul's pursuit of David. There, the two would make a covenant before the Lord before going their separate ways (1 Samuel 23:1518).[2]


"David and Jonathan," by Rembrandt. Jonathan is the figure in the turban.[8]

Jonathan died at the battle of Mount Gilboa along with his father and brothers[9] (1 Samuel 31). His bones were buried first at Jabesh-gilead, (1 Samuel 31:13) but were later removed with those of his father and moved to Zelah.[2] [10] Jonathan was the father of Mephibosheth, to whom David showed special kindness for Jonathan's sake (2 Samuel 9).

Cultural symbolismEdit

Jonathan has typically been portrayed as a "model of loyalty to truth and friendship", in the words of T. H. Jones.[3]

A homoerotic, chaste or otherwise, interpretation of the story of David and Jonathan has been adopted by one writer. André Gide's play Saul portrays Jonathan as "a beautiful, fainting, effeminate creature, in a state of hysterical rapture over David’s physical strength." This is counter to the biblical narrative, in which Jonathan was a much older and stronger warrior having been well seasoned in battle before David was ever given a chance to fight Goliath. At this time David was thought to be puny and weak. [11]


  1. ^ "Jonathan's -token-to-david".
  2. ^ a b c ", 'Jonathan'". Retrieved 2014-05-23.
  3. ^ a b T. H. Jones, "Jonathan," in J. D. Douglas, (ed.), New Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 654.
  4. ^ Bar, Shaul. "Saul and Jonathan". Jewish Bible Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 2, 2019, p. 95
  5. ^ Baldwin, J., 1 and 2 Samuel (TOCT; Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), p. 135.
  6. ^ David Toshio Tsumura, The First Book of Samuel (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 520.
  7. ^ Jon D. Levenson and Baruch Halpern, "The Political Import of David's Marriages", JBL 99 [1980] 515.
  8. ^ Hermitage News Archived 2008-07-04 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ (1 Chronicles 10:1–2)
  10. ^ G. Darshan, "The Reinterment of Saul and Jonathan’s Bones (II Sam 21, 12–14) in Light of Ancient Greek Hero-Cult Stories", ZAW, 125,4 (2013), 640–645.
  11. ^ Edward Sackville West, New Statesman, 10 July 1926, xxvii, 360, in R. P. Draper, D. H. Lawrence: The Critical Heritage, p.261.

Further readingEdit

  • Adam Green, King Saul, The True History of the First Messiah (Lutterworth Press, 2007) – includes a critical literary reassessment of the character and personality of Jonathan and his relationships with Saul and David.