The billboards were put up by Faith in
What the billboard says: “David loved Jonathan more than women. II Samuel 1:26”
How the verse reads: “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.” (New International Version)
Miner’s [pro-queer] view: “As the story is told it becomes one of the greatest love stories in the Bible and it is clear that these two men had a deep romantic connection.” He adds: “When is the last time you heard a man say I love you more than anyone else in the world?”
Hunt’s [anti-queer] view: “Biblically, love is always defined in three classes — brotherly love, erotic love and the highest of loves, agape love, or Godly love. What he said here is that his love for Jonathan is godly love, which surpasses erotic love — a love of loyalty and selfless devotion.”
My response: 2 Samuel was written before the Greek (philia, agape, eros) differentiations between loves that Hunt is reading into the Hebrew Bible. The language in 2 Samuel is covenantal and rooted in ancient Near-Eastern covenant rhetoric, and it is to that we should turn for comparisons.
The issue here is why David would make a comparison with women in the first place. The "love of women" obviously has sexual connotations (2 Sam. 13:1,4,14; 1 Kgs 11:1; Prov. , etc.) So wouldn't it be sufficient to interpret David as saying his love with Jonathan was a higher love or different love than sexual love?
Not necessarily. Usually, in covenant language, when you make a comparison, you make a comparison between two relationships of the same type. So in Jer 2:2 the love of
But there is something jarring about 2 Sam 1:26. It shares the structure of these comparison formulations, but it differs by comparing not the love of a treaty partner to one of the same class. It does not compare Jonathan's love to the "covenant love" of another covenant relationship. Instead it compares Jonathan's love to the love of women (as a class--NOT as a "wife")--which is especially jarring in a covenant of equals.
The author sets up the language of covenant in the 2 Sam. 1 (the use of "brother," for instance) and when we get to verse 26, we expect a typical ancient near eastern formulation for love comparisons. Instead, we get a comparison of Jonathan's love to that of women. If the comparison between Jonathan's love and the love of women is not covenant fidelity, something else must drive the comparison because as we have seen, in covenant formulation, for this to make sense, Jonathan's love for David must then be analogous to "the love of women" (i.e. sexual love). The best option seems to be that Jonathan's "erotic love" for David was wonderful, surpassing the "erotic love" of women (Special thanks to Saul Olyan of Brown University's Judaic Studies program for pointing this out to me).
What the billboard says: “The early church welcomed a gay man. Acts -40”
What the passage says: To paraphrase, a disciple of Christ named Philip shares the gospel with a eunuch, a castrated man who served in the treasury of the queen of
Miner’s [pro-queer] view: “Introducing yourself as a eunuch in the ancient world is kind of like today introducing yourself as a hairdresser from
Hunt’s [anti-queer] view: Eunuchs were castrated to keep them from having relationships with women in royal courts, as in cases where they were employed to protect or serve a king’s wives. There is no Biblical or extra-Biblical evidence to show eunuchs were considered homosexuals.
My response: Hunt is technically right. There is no extrabiblical evidence that eunuchs were "homosexuals" because the category "homosexual" did not exist in antiquity. Those we would consider "gay" today were incorporated into other categories and labels.
However, there is plenty of evidence to show that eunuchs were not considered chaste and were a symbol of sexual transgression and disruption in the Greco-Roman world. I will not cite the evidence here, but will refer the reader to J. David Hester's "Eunuchs and the Postgender Jesus: Matthew 19.12 and Transgressive Sexualities" in Journal for the Study of the New Testament 28.1 (2005). There is also evidence that eunuchs were associated with "passive" men (men who acted non-penetratively during sex)--see Historia
Note to the billboard makers: While this passage in Acts works, I think that Matthew 19.12, is a much better passage for your purposes. I also think saying that eunuch equals gay is extremely problematic from a historical perspective. Queer Christians can and should identify symbolically with classical eunuchs because they represent transgressive sexuality in much Greco-Roman literature, but they cannot be equated to our modern categories of "gay, lesbian and bisexual."
That said, I cannot be too hard on the pro-queer interpreters. After all, they're just giving the anti-gay theologians a taste of their own exegetical medicine. When queers today want to identify with eunuchs, theologians are quick to scream that there is no evidence that the word has anything to do with "homosexuals."
But some of these same interpreters are more than happy to associate modern homosexuals with obscure Greek terms despite the fact that there is no "extrabiblical evidence" to suggest an association (i.e. arsenokoites in 1 Cor. 6:9-10). Many modern theologians also have no problems associating "homosexuals" with ancient Israelite cultic taboos that prohibit a specific, defiling act, not a phenomenon of "homosexuality" or all "homosexual acts" (i.e. Lev. 18:22; 20:13). So the sanctimonious lectures about cultural context and what Greek and Hebrew words meant what when are really disingenuous. Anti-gay theologians don't really care about that at all.
What the billboard says: “Jesus affirmed a gay couple. Matthew 8:5-13”What the passage says: To paraphrase, Jesus offers to come and heal the paralyzed servant of a Roman centurion. But the centurion said a visit is not necessary and asks Jesus only to speak words of healing. Jesus praises the centurion’s faith and heals the servant.
Miner’s view: The Greek word used here for “servant” was used in the ancient world to refer to one’s same-sex partner. Jesus encountered this gay centurion, healed his partner, praised him for his faith and assured him of a place in heaven.
Hunt’s view: The Greek word in question refers only to a servant or slave, without any gay connotation. “The only place where this word is interpreted as gay servant is on homosexual Web sites. It doesn’t come from any Greek scholar. It doesn’t have any basis at all.”
My response: The use of Matthew 8:5-13 bothers me as well, but for different reasons than Hunt. According to the "pro-queer" reading, this passage is a reference to a "boy-lover" in a possibly exploitative relationship (master-slave). All kinds of ugly power issues are raised here--which Miner and the billboard try to avoid by saying it is simply a "gay couple". No, it is not simply a gay couple; they are in a relationship of domination and submission. I would strongly counsel against using this passage in any queer theology.