Ben Witherington the Third: Queer reading of David and Goliath?
Ben Witherington the Third: Queer reading of David and Goliath?

An important, objective queer reading of the David and Goliath narrative is developing in a rather unlikely venue: Ben Witherington the Third’s The Bible And Culture blog.

I have long wondered whether the battle between David and Goliath, which positions David “under Saul” and has David wearing Saul’s clothes (cf. the homoerotic 1 Sam 18.1-3), is a displacement of some earlier account in which David battled Saul himself for possession of the Israelite crown. For the final form of 1-2 Samuel rather overdetermines its defence of David’s innocence in wresting the crown from Saul, while still acknowledging David’s alliance with Israel’s enemies the Philistines when Saul and his heir are killed in battle by those very Philistines. Moreover, Saul, like Goliath, is described as being head and shoulders taller than any of his contemporaries (1 Sam 9.2), a height which is probably identical with that of Goliath in LXX 1 Sam 17.4 (4-and-a-half cubits, or 6 3/4 feet tall). Why would Saul have been afraid of someone his own height, and why would Saul have sent the shorter David against Goliath? It doesn’t make much sense – unless the fight was originally between David and Saul!

The discussion on Ben Witherington the Third’s blog is taking place between commenter “BW16” and other commenters. It follows Ben Witherington the Third’s reproduction of Robert Gagnon’s response to Jennifer Knust, on the topic of the Bible and homosexuality. Gagnon, dubbed an “academic turned ayatollah” by Jean-Fabrice Nardelli, is particularly inflamed by the topic of homosexuality, and has devoted much of his time and thought to the subject.

BW16’s original focus was on homoerotic elements in the story of Jesus fishing for male disciples in Galilee.  However, BW16’s queer reading was challenged by commenter Dan Wells, who asked:

Could the story of David and Goliath be a romance tale of two homosexual men disagreeing with each other?
Dan Wells

Dan Wells’ question appears to be, shall we say, tongue in cheek. But BW16 takes him seriously, and provides this insightful response regarding the story of David and Goliath:

I had never thought about the story of David and Goliath as a feud between lovers before but I am definitely interested in teasing out your reading a bit. Usually interpreters suggest there was something going on between David and Jonathan, but I much prefer your suggestion. In the ancient world, war often had phallic connotations and the Israelites regularly showed disdain towards the Philistines for being an uncircumcised race (eg: 1 Sam 31.4). As such, there is something to be said for David’s peculiar action of cutting off Goliath’s “head.” It is almost as if David intends it as a symbolic act of castration. What might Goliath have done to deserve such an emasculating death? Was this a fitting punishment for a previous personal incident that the text is silent about?

A fascinating exchange is developing between these two men. Have a read here.