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Gay King David theory starts Goliath of a row

THE SLAYER of Goliath. The conqueror of the Canaanites. The seducer of Bathsheba. A homosexual? David, the unifier of Israel, the great warrior king, was a man who, if born in New York or Detroit today, would be ineligible for military service in the US army? A camp David?

No] Impossible] Blasphemy] Well, not according to an Israeli parliamentarian, Yael Dayan, who drew the wrath of the righteous yesterday when she suggested that the most striking character of the Old Testament had been gay.

Ms Dayan, herself the progeny of a war hero, Moshe Dayan, made the assertion in a debate on homosexuals in the Israeli military. Although Israel says it does not bar gays from the army some have complained of discrimination. A champion of human rights, Ms Dayan last week convened the first gathering of gays and lesbians in the Knesset (parliament).

To support her position she quoted King David's eulogy for Jonathan, his faithful friend and the son of biblical Israel's first King, Saul, David's faithless master. Jonathan was killed by the Philistines in the battle on Mount Gilboa after which Saul committed suicide.

'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,' Ms Dayan quoted from the Second Book of Samuel.

This was more than religious members of the Knesset could stand. In Jewish tradition, David was more than just a king: he was the ideal king, the founder of a dynasty around whose figure and reign grew the messianic expectations of the people of Israel. To have suggested that the symbol of the fulfilment of the future was homosexual - an abomination against God in the eyes of the religious - caused an uproar of almost biblical proportions.

Members of the the ultra- religious Shas party - members of the Labour government coalition - stormed out of the chamber in protest. 'Chutzpah, chutzpah] Scandal]' shouted Hanan Porath, of the National Religious Party, jumping out of his seat. 'It is a shame and disgrace to talk like this about David and Jonathan. Who allowed you to do this?' he protested.

The Old Testament dutifully points out that David was notably handsome, 'ruddy and withal of a beautiful countenance and goodly to look to', he had many wives and concubines and fathered many children.

Ms Dayan said she was not interpreting the passage to mean David and Jonathan were lovers, but she asked: 'Are we to censor the Old Testament? Should we expunge the phrase 'Thy love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women' ?'

A Labour colleague, Elie Goldschmidt, criticised the religious lawmakers, saying: 'The Bible was not written by the coalition. You don't know how to deal with human nature. The Bible did.'

Ms Dayan ended her speech yesterday by saying: 'I urge Israeli society and the legislature to come out of the closet.'