The Song of Songs

Chapter 5

Chapter 4 Chapter 6

Jewish Publication Society Tanakh, 1917

Thoughts on the text

I am come into my garden, my sister, my bride;
    I have gathered my myrrh with my spice;
I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey;
    I have drunk my wine with my milk.
In the last verse, her garden became his garden. Here, he concurs, and he intends to partake.
Eat, O friends;
    Drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.
O beloved. This is certainly not the proper translation. The text has dôdim which could go any of three ways, but none of them involve the couple being the ‘beloveds’ of the chorus. Dôd can refer to a friend (or an uncle) in a non-romantic context, so we could translate simply drink abundantly, friends. It could also just be ‘lovers,’ yielding something like drink abundantly, lovers. Of course, what they are being told to drink is not soda, not even alcohol (although that would be the surface meaning). But other scholars read dôdim not as referring to the lovers, but to what they should be doing, so the NRSV translates this “be drunk with love.” Dôdim used this way refers to lovemaking (Prv 5.19, 7.18).
Drink abundantly So, are they supposed to be intoxicated, or “drunk on sex”? I think it depends on which of the above readings you go with. Personally, I think being intoxicated is a better metaphor for love (the emotion) than it is for sex, although it leaves it open. But the third reading is not particularly flexible in what they are recommending. That would be a likely recommendation for 21st friends. I’m not so sure about this time period. This is not so say that it didn’t happen, only that it was probably less likely to be recommended so openly.
Some of the language in this next is quite suggestive, and probably intentionally so. Still, we seem to have a little plot unfolding here, so that it is easy to miss the suggestive elements. There are three primary ways of reading this passage:
The first is literal and surface. Secondly, some scholars (including Pope, of course) see all this as a sexual encounter, and there is some argument for this approach. Then, of course, it could be a dream sequence—it certainly seems surreal enough. I tend to read it this third way, which allows us to plug in interpretations from either of the other two readings.
I will try to show how each of these work, although having covered the first two, the third will not need much explanation, even though it is my preference.
That it is somehow connected with 3.1-5 is obvious.
2 I sleep, but my heart waketh;
    Hark! my beloved knocketh:
‘Open to me, my sister,
    my love, my dove, my undefiled;
For my head is filled with dew,
    My locks with the drops of the night.’
I sleep, but my heart waketh:
Natural/literal reading: She is asleep, but is awakened by her lover quietly calling to her from the door. Presumably the same lattices at which he was standing in ch. 2. He asks her to let him in.
Sexual reading: For my head is filled with dew ‘Drenched’ rather than ‘filled’ (true for either reading). Several similar passages (but not biblical ones) use this language for a young man’s night visit to his amour for sexual purposes.
Dream reading: It is her dreaming mind (‘heart’) that wakens, not her body (which doesn’t mean that she isn’t physically reacting).
3 I have put off my coat;
    How shall I put it on?
I have washed my feet;
    How shall I defile them?
Natural: She knows she should not admit him, so she makes up excuses.
Sexual: Her being naked does not require much explanation. Bathing her feet might. The term ‘foot’ is frequently used as a euphemism for genitals (e.g. Ruth 3.7-9). Given this approach to interpreting the passage, genitals getting soiled is also self-evident.
4 My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door,
    And my heart was moved for him.
Natural: He slips his hand through the lattice trying to get at the lock (alternatively, the latch is operated by lifting a bar, which is done by putting ones hand through a hole—the ancient equivalent of a door knob). She starts to have second thoughts about her being a ‘closed garden.’
Sexual: his hand by the hole of the door or, ‘hand in through the hole.’ ‘Hand’ is sometimes used as a circumlocution for ‘penis’ ( Isa. 57.8, and see this page by Duane Smith), but that is unnecessary here. It does get us on the appropriate track for understanding ‘hole.’
And my heart was moved for him, Fox: ‘My insides moaned for him.’ OK. I think you get where this is going.
5 I rose up to open to my beloved;
    And my hands dropped with myrrh,
And my fingers with flowing myrrh,
    Upon the handles of the bar.
Natural: She gets up to let him in. If she is all spiced up, perhaps she was hoping he would show up. See Prv 7.17 where the ‘adulterous woman’ says she has spiced up her bed in hopes of receiving a visitor.
Sexual: The natural works fine with the sex version, too. But as long as we are on a sort of X-rated course, the ‘myrrh’ dripping from her hands, could be her own, uh, spices, and we don't need to speculate here how it got on her hands. The ‘bar’ doesn’t require much imagination either.
6 I opened to my beloved;
    But my beloved had turned away, and was gone.
    My soul failed me when he spoke.
I sought him, but I could not find him;
    I called him, but he gave me no answer.
Natural: By the time she gets to the door, he is gone. Probably scared off by something (remember, he is not supposed to be there). She goes after him.
Sexual: Now we run into the problem when he suddenly disappears. If this lovemaking, I pretty much guarantee that is not going to happen.
Lucid dream: This last point is one of the reasons for my preferring the dream interpretation. Even the police segment makes some sense there (particularly if the dream is informed by her earlier real experience with them—3.3).
7 The watchmen that go about the city found me,
They smote me, they wounded me;
    The keepers of the walls took
    away my mantle from me.
Natural: The cops accost her (compare their earlier friendly treatment—probably different officers). They think she is a prostitute (why else would a scantily clad woman be roaming the streets at night?), and treat her accordingly: They rough her up and take her clothes (a light over-garment, she has nothing underneath, as we saw in v. 3).
Lucid dream: Even the police segment makes some sense here (particularly if the dream is informed by her earlier real experience with them). If we want to play psycho-analyst here, we might even find some guilt surfacing from her earlier dream-naughtiness.
8 ‘I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
    If ye find my beloved,
what will ye tell him?
    That I am love-sick.’
Natural and dreaming: Depending on how you read this, she is may be asking the female chorus to tell her lover that she is ‘love sick’ (an explanation for this strange behavior? Does someone have to come and pick her up at the precinct?). Or, the same text can be read as her telling them not to tell him (he shouldn’t know I was acting this crazy). In either case, it is an admission of temporary insanity.
‘What is thy beloved more than another beloved,
    O thou fairest among women?
What is thy beloved more than another beloved,
    That thou dost so adjure us?’
A little jealousy here? Sour grapes? The chorus wants to know, “Your lover has disappeared, so what? What’s so great about him, anyway? There are plenty of fish.”
She responds to the chorus-girls.
Remember, this is the point in ch 3 where we have the apparently imaginary wedding starring Solomon.
10 ‘My beloved is white and ruddy,
    Pre-eminent above ten thousand.
Now we are back into gushy dewy-eyed remembrance. If the last part was real, she is answering the chorus. If it was a dream, she is reminding herself of her good fortune, and answering the imaginary chorus.
I am inclined to think she is waking up.
The imagery in this section is not as strong as in his description of her. The recurring theme is of a statue, and particularly the statue of a god. Some commentators have referred to the statue in Daniel, although the analogy breaks down.
The god-statue image is not a reference to idolatry in the same sense that we might describe a he-man as ‘like a god’ without suggesting that we believe in some pantheon.
11 His head is as the most fine gold,
    His locks are curled,
    And black as a raven.
12 His eyes are like doves
    Beside the water-brooks;
Washed with milk,
    And fitly set.
Non-statue images include his eyes being doves bathing in milk (white on white), spicy cheeks and back to lily-lips, that drip myrrh and presumably the sweetness of his palate.
13 His cheeks are as a bed of spices,
    As banks of sweet herbs;
His lips are as lilies,
    Dropping with flowing myrrh.
14 His hands are as rods of gold
    Set with beryl;
His body is as polished ivory
    Overlaid with sapphires.
His head and arms are gold, he has jasper inlays, and an ivory torso adorned with lapis lazuli (here translated sapphires, which would not be wrong in another context. Lapis lazuli was usually reserved only for portraits of the gods, although possibly for divinized heroic types). His thighs are marble and he stands like a cedar pillar on a pedestal of gold.
15 His legs are as pillars of marble,
    Set upon sockets of fine gold;
His aspect is like Lebanon,
    Excellent as the cedars.
16 His mouth is most sweet;
    Yea, he is altogether lovely.
This is my beloved, and this is my friend,
    O daughters of Jerusalem.’

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