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Masoretic Text
צַר־לִי עָלֶיךָ אָחִי יְהֹונָתָן נָעַמְתָּ לִּי מְאֹד נִפְלְאַתָה אַהֲבָֽתְךָ לִי מֵאַהֲבַת נָשִֽׁים׃

NRSV
I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
greatly beloved were you to me;
your love to me was wonderful,
passing the love of women.

Commentaries I read were saying either that:

  • David had in mind his past experiences with Merab and Michal, as both were offered and taken from him;

  • general love of wife to husband or mother to child and since David loved Jonathan as himself and vice versa, their love was greater;

  • Jonathan relationship is to be considered as diplomatic and David says that among all diplomatic relationships with women he experienced the one with Saul's son was best.

All three of these interpretations seem stretched to me, so I ask here. Can we determine from Hebrew something that narrows down possibilities what David had in mind? And if original text is as broad as translation, how this passage was understood by ancient Jews?

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    Men in general, not just David in particular, love women very much. But the love for one's close friends and family runs, of course, much deeper.
    – Lucian
    Aug 2 '19 at 11:30
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The problem of 2 Sam 1:26 can be set as two alternatives revolving around who is loving whom in the phrase, "your love for me". Specifically,

  1. David is discussing Jonathon's love for David. In this case, David says that Jonathon's love for David was more wonderful that any love that any woman had ever expressed to him, presumably including any of his wives or mother or aunts or sister(s). In support of this view, Jonathon as crown prince had everything to lose and David everything to gain; despite this Jonathon still loved David - a precious, deep friendship that David prized more than any love ever expressed to him by a woman.
  2. David is discussing David's love for Jonathon. in this case, David says that David's love for Jonathon was more wonderful and meaningful that the love David had ever had or expressed to any woman, presumably including any of his wives or mother or aunts or sister(s).

In both Hebrew and LXX the phrase, "your love to me" is capable of either understanding. Ellicott appears to favour option #1, but the Pulpit Commentary is ambiguous suggesting it was the mutual love that David so valued.

Inasmuch as the LXX uses the verb "agape" to describe this love, I am inclined to believe that both options above are in view and that David and Jonathon shared one of the rare friendships with a mutual love that surpassed all others.

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[Jhn 15:13 NASB] (13) "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.

Hence the love of a friend who lays down their life for you surpasses what David, a man of passion and a man loathe to be alone (IE: Bathsheba), found to set the bar, which was the love of women.

Perhaps Jonathon, in meeting with and aiding David with his arrow was putting his future as king in jeopardy, or his very skin.

And it is evident that both David and Jonathon were spirit filled so they would share the love of God which far surpasses all other love. For God is love.

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