Skip to main content



JONATHAN (Heb. יוֹנָתָן ,יְהוֹנָתָן), eldest son of *Saul, the first king of Israel (i Sam. 14:1). At the beginning of Saul's reign, during the revolt against the Philistines, Jonathan already was the commander of a part of the army (i Sam. chs. 13–14). He was a constant friend and companion of *David and assisted him when David was forced to escape Saul's wrath (i Sam., chs. 18, 19, 20, 23). Jonathan died together with his father and two of his brothers in the battle with the Philistines at Mount Gilboa (ch. 31). Their corpses were despoiled by the Philistines and exposed on the wall of Beth-Shean (i Sam. 31:12). David lamented their death in a moving elegy (ii Sam. 1:17–27).

In the stories of the Book of Samuel the character of Jonathan is idealized, with no contrasting bad qualities. He is portrayed as the intrepid and heroic son of the king, a loyal comrade to the end. In the biblical account he stands in sharp contrast to Saul, whom God had rejected as king, and who was obsessed by an evil spirit. In the portrayal of Jonathan pure literary motifs are employed: the heroic son of the king leads an assault on the enemy with only his armor-bearer; he unwittingly transgresses the king's adjuration and faces all the danger resulting from such an action (ch. 14), and he becomes a faithful friend of the very man who is destined to deprive his father's house of its royal inheritance. In the story as a whole, there is a marked tendency to show Jonathan on the one hand as the war hero who played a decisive role in the struggle for freedom from the Philistine yoke, and on the other hand as David's faithful friend who recognized fully that even though he was himself heir to the throne, David would succeed Saul as king. (Jonathan's recognition of David's ultimate rule is displayed with some subtlety. Jonathan takes off his robe and gives it to David, along with his armor, sword, bow, and belt (i Sam. 18:3). Jonathan expresses the hope, "May yhwh be with David as he was with my father" (i Sam. 20:13)). Apparently these two elements became intertwined from the very outset in the book of Samuel, and in David's lament over Saul and Jonathan the two themes are combined (ii Sam. 1:17–27). Both themes are based on reality, and there is no reason to doubt the tradition of the pact of friendship between David and Jonathan, even though these events occur in the context of stories designed to justify David's right to the kingdom. Indeed, Morgenstern raised the possibility that in early Israel the son-in-law of the king might have had a greater presumptive right to the throne than his son, and so a pact between Jonathan and David would have been appropriate. Even after Jonathan's death, David was careful to honor this pact and dealt very kindly with Jonathan's son *Mephibosheth (ii Sam. 9:1ff.). In the list of Saul's descendants, which is included in the genealogical lists of families of the tribe of Benjamin in i Chronicles 8:33ff., ten generations are mentioned after Jonathan through Merib-Baal (that is Mephibosheth). It would seem that the object of this list is to illustrate the maintenance of the pact between the house of David and the house of Jonathan.

[Jacob Liver /

S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]

In the Aggadah

The Midrash applies the verse "For love is strong as death" to the love that Jonathan bore for David (Song R. 8:6, 4). Because of that great love, he risked his life for him (Ar. 16b), when he said to his father, "Wherefore should he (David) be put to death? What hath he done?" (i Sam. 20:32). His humility is revealed in his statement to David "Thou shalt be king over Israel and I shall be next to thee" (i Sam. 23:17). But the opinion is also expressed that he said this only because he saw that the people were flocking to David (bm 85a), and that "even the women behind the beams of the olive press knew that David was destined to be king" (tj, Pes. 6:1, 33a). Jonathan, however, committed an inadvertent transgression which was regarded as reprehensible as though it had been deliberate, in that he failed to provide David with food when he advised him to flee (i Sam. 20:42), "for had Jonathan given David two loaves of bread for his travels, the priests of Nob would not have been massacred, nor would Saul and his three sons have been killed" (Sanh. 103b–104a). The love of David and Jonathan did not depend upon any material cause, and it is taken as the prototype of disinterested love which never passes away (Avot 5:16). This distinction between two types of love is also made by Greek scholars (Aristotle, Magna Moralia, 1209b; Nichomachean Ethics, 1156a).

[Elimelech Epstein Halevy]


De Vaux, Anc Isr, index; Kallai, in: J. Liver (ed.), Historyah Ẓeva'it… (1965), 134, 136–7, 144; Noth, Personennamen, index; em, 3 (1965), 533–5. in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, index. add. bibliography: J. Morgenstern, in: jbl, 78 (1959), 322–25; J. Thompson, in: vt, 24 (1974), 334–38; D. Edelman, in: abd, 3:944–46; S. Bar-Efrat, i Samuel (1996), 235–36.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Jonathan." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . 15 Aug. 2018 <>.

"Jonathan." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . (August 15, 2018).

"Jonathan." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved August 15, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.