The Three Kinds of Love

Love, as we understand and feel it today, is not the the same kind of love which inspired the ancient Greek philosophers.

Love as we understand it is very often a prostituted intention. We say, “Oh, I love chocolate ice cream” which merely indicates that we prefer chocolate to other flavors. We are not in love with the chocolate.

We say “Oh, I love that red dress you are wearing” which only implies that you favor the red dress to others.

I love Beethoven and Mozart only means, to me, that I prefer Bach and Schubert. There is no love intended. It is only a matter of preference.

My wife and I did not love the zimmer we stayed in at Tiberias. We only preferred it to one where we had stayed in Tzfat.

The word “love” is badly misused.

But thanks to the ancient Greeks, love was divided into three separate categories.

“Agape” was love of nature, of surroundings, of culture and beauty.

“Filia” was devoted love of child to parent and reverse, of love and devotion to country and good friends.

And finally “Eros” was the erotic love without which we could not procreate and bring new life on earth.

The Greeks, in their wisdom, understood how to express feelings of love using three separate words.

When one man says to another man, or one woman to another woman, it is not something to be dreaded nor condemned. It is usually a combination of the 3 Greek expressions.

Such love involves “agape” as an expression of our love for another’s beauty, education, cultural creativity and good-heartedness. It may or may not be erotic love.

“Filia” describes clearly the love of children to parents and the love of parents to children. It also describes love of country, patriotism, warm and lasting devotion to our special friends.

The last form of love. “Eros”, stands alone. While it may include the two previous love forms it is particularly meant to embrace the physical and sexual feelings which arouse both body and mind and direct us to the proper venue to share it with one whom we admire or love both spiritually as well as physically.

“Eros” is probably the most common form of love.

In his 1978 published book, “Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times”, Professor Thomas Horner devoted six chapters to love and homosexuality as mentioned in the Hebrew Old Testament and the three final chapters to Christian sources found in the New Testament.

The opening page carries three references to human love.

“And it came to pass that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (I Samuel 18:1). After the death of Jonathan, David wept bitterly for his beloved friend. “Oh Jonathan, Jonathan. How great was our love. Our love for each other surpassed the love of women”. (II Samuel 1: 19-27)

It was supported by an Old Testament scholar, professor Walter Harrelson. And the renowned Jewish scholar, Raphael Patai has written “the high praise accorded in this Davidic lament to love between two men as against heterosexual love reminds us, of course, of the spirit that pervades Plato’s Symposium.

Professor Horner goes a bit too far off, in my opinion, when he refers to the love of Ruth for Naomi.

Male homosexuality was mentioned in early passages in the Book of Genesis. The first reveals the incident when Noah’s grandson, Ham, sees his drunken grandfather sleeping uncovered on the floor and performs a sexual act upon him.

When Noah awoke and realized what his grandson had done to him, he placed his curse upon Ham.

The second tells the story of three angels who came to the town of Sodom and wanted to sleep in the open fields. Lot, Abraham’s brother’s son, approached them and informed them that it was unsafe to sleep in the open fields.

He offered them hospitality in his home which they accepted. Later the Sodomites came to Lot’s house and banged on the doors demanding that the three guests be handed over to them for their sexual pleasure. Lot refuses, since they were under his protection, and he offers his three virgin daughters to the sex-craved men of Sodom.

There is a scholarly indication that when Joseph was released from prison in Egypt, his redeemer Potiphar used him for his sexual pleasure. Such a practice was widely known in ancient Egypt, Assyria and Babylon, countries in which the exiled Israelites lived and became accustomed to the practices of the native indigenous people.

The love relationship between Jonathan and David was a combination of the three Greek interpretations.

It consisted of agape, filia and eros. The love between two friends remains immortal.

In Israel for more than 60 years, my beloved friends and I have never shaken hands when we meet or depart. We simply embrace and kiss one another on both cheeks. No “Eros” ever existed between us.

Only the intense love and devotion of friends in agape and in beloved filia.

It is a pity that the Greek interpretations were never included in Jewish tradition. The Greek version came centuries before God’s Torah and moral code of law was revealed to Moses on Sinai and by him to the Children of Israel.

Nevertheless, if it were to be included in Israel’s moral code today, I guarantee that the number one winner would be Eros.

Can one think of an Israel without eroticism?

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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