The Song of Songs

Chapter 2

Chapter 1 Chapter 3

Jewish Publication Society Tanakh, 1917

Thoughts on the text

I am a rose of Sharon,
    A lily of the valleys.
Rose (or crocus) of Sharon/valley-lily. She is not bragging on herself. Basically she is saying she is just a wild-flower, particularly in light of the previous chapter (v. 5) where she says she has been tanned (which she regards as bad—some things do change. See my comments there).
As a lily among thorns,
    So is my love among the daughters.
He responds by turning her self-negation around, a lily among thorns.
As an apple-tree among the trees of the wood,
    So is my beloved among the sons.
Under its shadow I delighted to sit,
    And its fruit was sweet to my taste.
She responds in kind, comparing him to an apricot tree (probably—“cultivated apples are a relatively recent development, while the wild apple, which is not indigenous to Palestine anyway, is scarcely edible” [M.V. Fox] [The old adage “As American as apple pie” is actually accurate.  It was invented at Valley Forge to feed the starving troops with what had been previously considered junk fruit.]). She rests in his shade, and loves his ‘fruit’ (probably kisses).
4 He hath brought me to the banqueting-house,
    And his banner over me is love.
Banqueting-house. Fox: “house of wine,” not ‘banqueting hall’ (a translation based on the unlikely assumption that this is a wedding). Some have made the also unlikely proposal that this refers to a pub, but that does not fit the context here at all. More likely, this is simply where the wine is kept, but it could be where it is drunk, and if so, it might be the same as ‘the king’s bedroom’ in the previous chapter (harkening back to their outdoor tryst referenced in 1.16f). They are looking for some privacy, and he has some designs.
His banner over me. The word translated ‘banner’ (diglô) has been the subject of much discussion over the last more than a century. G. Buchanan Gray argued, based on its use mostly in Numbers, that its basic meaning is ‘a military unit.’ More recently, Yakov Eidelkind seems to concur, and notes some non-biblical usages where love is described using military analogies. This is also how the LXX translators read it, as did the Peshitta (Syriac) and the Vulgate (Latin) (although, admittedly, the latter two tend to lean toward the LXX anyway). This would give us something like, ‘array love over me’ (Jay Treat). Eidelkind also tells us that at Qumran dgl is used to mean a ‘sign’ or ‘symbol.’ This gets us closer to ‘banner,’ although its application is much broader than just military.
In 1969, Robert Gordis pointed that the Akkadian cognate, dagalu, meaning ‘look,’ could lead us to read this as something like ‘his glance toward me was love.’
Taking it a step further, Marvin Pope argued from the same cognate that the Hebrew in this place must mean ‘intent’ (it can mean that elsewhere in Akkadian). Following Pope apparently, the NRSV has “His intention toward me was love.” Fox asserts that this must mean the physical expression. The ‘love’ word here, it should be noted however, is ahavah, which is not normally about sex (unlike dôday), and quite likely isn’t here either.
5 ‘Stay ye me with dainties, refresh me with apples;
    For I am love-sick.’
‘Put me to bed,’ rather than Stay me which goes better with ‘love-sick’ because when you are sick, you go to bed. Of course, lovers do other things with a bed, and remember that the apricots (apples) are probably his kisses. What some translations have as ‘raisin cakes’ (JPS: dainties) are probably ‘fruit clusters.’ The raisin cakes would, I suspect, inappropriately invoke the Ishtar-Dumuzi myth.
6 Let his left hand be under my head,
    And his right hand embrace me.
The context suggests that they have fallen asleep in each other’s arms; she does not want to be disturbed.
The gazelles and hinds of the field may provide an exception to the observation that God is not referred to in this book. Gazelles - ţavaot is the same word used in Yahweh Ţavaot (LORD of hosts). Hinds of the field (’aylot haššadeh) may invoke ’el šadday (El Shaddai), although less obviously (the ‘-ot’ ending could be a sort of plural of majesty, as most suggest the ‘-im’ in Elohim to be). Clearly it is part of an invocation—‘by the one and the other’). Either way the animals are epitomes of fertility in Mesopotamian literature.
7 ‘I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
    By the gazelles, and by the hinds of the field,
That ye awaken not, nor stir up love,
    until it please.’
2.8-15 We seem to be in a different time in the next section. It may be that the whole song is a mish-mash, but perhaps it is a flash-back to an earlier part of the day, or of their courtship in general. She is at home in bed. He comes to her window and is trying to persuade her to get up and run off with him. As I read it, she quotes a proverb to him, the message being that young women need to watch out for lascivious young men who want what they are not supposed to get. By the way, this is one of the parts that make it real hard to see her lover as the actual King. Kings do not generally run around peering through the windows of the peasant houses. Besides if she tends sheep, her house is probably not in the ‘big city’ anyway.
Read spiritually, this is obviously God calling to us to ‘come away’ with him.  Is it significant that it is in the morning?  Her reticence is correct, but wrong.  I often think that ours is, too.  There are things we should be doing, we have responsibilities, etc.  His call to her is improper.  I think there is a level at which that is true for us as well.  I don’t want to normalize this by saying that ‘we let other things get in the way.’  His desire for her overrides what is humanly ‘proper,’ as does hers for him.   
8 Hark! my beloved!
    behold, he cometh,
Leaping upon the mountains,
    skipping upon the hills.
9 My beloved is like a gazelle or a young hart;
    Behold, he standeth behind our wall,
He looketh in through the windows,
    He peereth through the lattice.
10 My beloved spoke, and said unto me:
    ‘Rise up, my love,
    my fair one, and come away.
11 For, lo, the winter is past,
    The rain is over and gone;
You might be thinking that ‘April showers bring May flowers,’ but in Palestine, winter is the rainy season. So this does not mean, “winter and spring are both over, now it is summer.” It just means winter is over, it is spring, the time for love and all that.
12 The flowers appear on the earth;
    The time of singing is come, And the voice of the turtle
    is heard in our land;
And the voice of the turtle is heard. This is the literal translation. I have heard folks say that turtles don’t have voices, but I used to live by a pond, and I guarantee that they do, and their voices are used for mating. They don’t sound that good, though (except to the girl turtles, I assume)! However, The time of singing probably refers to bird song. Recognizing that the ‘turtles’ are likely some kind of birds, translations often say ‘turtledove’; I suspect that this is because in English we conveniently have a bird named after the turtle. The actual bird being referred to in Hebrew is probably lost to us, except that apparently it could sing. The dove is mentioned, however, in vs. 14, which could possibly suggest a connection.
The time of singing can also mean, ‘the time of pruning,’ though. Fox sees in this an intentional ambivalence.
13 The fig-tree putteth forth her green figs,
    And the vines in blossom
give forth their fragrance.
    Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock,
    in the covert of the cliff,
Let me see thy countenance,
    let me hear thy voice;
For sweet is thy voice,
    and thy countenance is comely.’
15 ‘Take us the foxes,
    the little foxes,
that spoil the vineyards;
    For our vineyards are in blossom.’
This is the, “girls, watch out for those boys” proverb I was referring to earlier. The girls are the vineyards in bud, which makes the boys the foxes (jackals and wolves are lusty lovers in the Egyptian songs). Remember the girl’s reference to her womanhood as a ‘vineyard’ in 1.6.
My beloved is mine, and I am his,
    That feedeth among the lilies.
[He] feedeth among the lilies. He ‘feasts’ on her pleasures. The term for ‘grazes’ often has sexual implications (see 5.1 and Prov. 29.3=’consort with [lit. feed] harlots’). It is also cognate with the term he uses throughout SoS for her, ra‘yaty —“my darling.”
17 Until the day breathe,
    and the shadows flee away,
Turn, my beloved,
    and be thou like a gazelle
Or a young hart
    upon the mountains of spices.
If this is part of vss. 8-15, then she is telling him to get lost (before dawn, turn [and leave]—i.e. don’t let my brothers find you). If not, we may be back into the mutual admiration section.
The mountains of Spices/Division/Bet(h)er. The word does mean ‘cleft’, and the mountains are in the plural. But the Syriac has ‘spices’ for beter (which may, however, be under the influence of 8.14). It could refer to a real mountain: Bittîr south of Jerusalem where gazelles and roes can still be seen. On the one hand, we may have another case of double-entendre here in which it refers to her breasts (where she has cleavage and keeps her spices, according to 1.13).
Other writers see a reference to her mons pubis, which obviously has a cleft and its own set of spices. Whether you read vs. 16 & 17 as part of 8-15 may determine if such a double-entendre is intended. At any rate, if they are not yet intimate at this point, him making such references to her nether region don’t seem appropriate.

The next section (Chapter 3)
The previous section (Chapter 1)


Return to Jewish and Christian Literature Page Return to Song of Songs page

Return to Jewish & Christian
Literature Page

Page: © Copyright 1995-2011 Alan Humm.
Comments and corrections: