Jewish Publication Society Tanakh, 1917
Thoughts on the text
In the English numbering, following the Greek and Latin, this becomes
6.13. Hebrew is different, and, I am inclined to suspect better, making
it the beginning of chapter 7. There is a clearly intentional pattern in the Hebrew of SoS
in which pairs of chapters are matched in terms of verse counts: 1&2 are the
same, then 3 is different, then 4&5 are the same and 6 is different,
then 7&8 are the same. Generally, chapter breaks correspond either with
a change in topic or a change in speaker. 7-8 is a major shift. I am not
sure what to do with that hermeneutically, but I suspect that someone
thought it was important.|
He is back to saying nice things about her, especially praising the parts of her body which he should not have actually seen (unless that was their wedding just now).
Return, return, O Shulammite;|
Return, return, that we may look upon thee.
Return, return She’s been off working, the chorus wants her to come back|
Shulamite The problem here is that the syntax doesn’t really allow this to be a name. More likely it is a descriptive derived from šlm in some way, either meaning ‘peaceful one’ or ‘perfect one.’ The later makes more sense. They are perhaps talking about her tongue-in-cheek, referencing the boy’s over-the-top description of her.
Between the lines, she apparently does come back, and they are checking her out.
By the way, some people think this is a wedding, which would explain why they were staring at her, and perhaps why they are calling her, ‘perfect.’
What will ye see in the Shulammite?|
As it were a dance of two companies.
He is offended by their examination of her, and says basically, “Wa chu lookin’
at?” He also calls her ‘perfect’ (šlm—not so tongue-in-cheek).
As it were a dance of two companies. Many modern translations will give you something like mahanaim-dancer, assuming this is a technical term of unknown significance, or translating it as a dual (which is how it is pointed) as ‘dancer before two camps.’ Neither makes much sense. The pointing (which is medieval, and not original to the text) is probably wrong. This should be a simple plural (no change to the actual text) meaning something like ‘troops.’ He is perhaps accusing them of ogling her ‘like she was a stripper working the troops.’
How beautiful are thy steps in sandals,|
O prince’s daughter!
The roundings of thy thighs
are like the links of a chain,
The work of the hands of a skilled workman.
|Roundings of thy thighs = butt cheeks|
Thy navel is like a round goblet,|
Wherein no mingled wine is wanting;
Thy belly is like a heap of wheat
Set about with lilies.
One commentator (Gerleman) notes that Egyptian sculpture often makes the
navel quite deep, presumably viewed as an indication of beauty.
Comparison to a bowl makes this point nicely.
The bowl being full does not indicate that something other than the
navel is intended (as Pope wants it to be, you can guess what, and with what).
He is simply saying that a bowl so fine would surely be constantly in use.|
Heap of wheat does not describe shape but color (contradicting her earlier claim to be ‘black’).
Set about with lilies. Piles of wheat often had thorns stacked around to protect them from hungry critters. Her wheat is way too beautiful for that.
Thy two breasts are like two fawns|
That are twins of a gazelle.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, her breasts and neck are still beautiful ☺.|
The pool in Heshbon has been unearthed and was quite large.
Comparison of eyes to a spring is a pun in Hebrew (the word for ‘eye’ ‘yn) can also denote a spring, although that is not the word used for the ‘pools’ here.
Bat-rabbim could be a place. But it also means noblewoman. So the spring is near some famous gate, and her eyes are near the ‘gate’ (probably mouth) of a noblewoman.
Thy neck is as a tower of ivory;|
Thine eyes as the pools in Heshbon,
By the gate of Bath-rabbim;
Thy nose is like the tower of Lebanon
Which looketh toward Damascus.
Thy head upon thee is like Carmel,|
And the hair of thy head like purple;
The king is held captive in the tresses thereof.
Carmel is a place. It is also a pun on fine purple cloth, sort
of like her hair in the next phrase.|
Hair of thy head like purple = ‘Flowing locks.’ NIV gives ‘royal tapestry’ where JPS has ‘purple’ (obviously connecting with the carmel in the previous line) similar to the way in English we sometimes use ‘purple’ to describe royalty. In any case, it describes a hair style, well known from Egypt (right).
Locks may actually create the same pun in English—he is captured by her hair. There is a similar image in one of the Egyptian love poems:
She lassos me with her hair,
ensnares me with her eye,
ties me up with her thighs,
and brands me with her seal ring.
How fair and how pleasant art thou,|
O love, for delights!
This thy stature is like to a palm-tree,|
And thy breasts to clusters of grapes.
I said: ‘I will climb up into the palm-tree,|
I will take hold of the branches thereof;
And let thy breasts be as clusters of the vine,
And the smell of thy countenance like apples;
|The smell of thy countenance: As mentioned earlier, the most frequent kissing in the ancient world would be what we often call ‘Eskimo kissing.’ This is not the ‘kisses of his mouth.’ But nose kissing was plenty intimate, particularly if you were with the one for whom you have been longing for so long.|
|10a/9a||And the roof of thy mouth like the best wine.|
That glideth down smoothly for my beloved,|
Moving gently the lips of those that are asleep.’
The lips of those that are asleep: Septuagint, Aquila, Vulgate and Syriac:
‘flowing gently over lips and teeth.’ (NIV)|
Glideth down smoothly: The JPS translation does not divide this verse between speakers, but it is her speaking here. She interrupts him and completes his sentence. This is evident from the language (the girl and the boy use different terms of endearment, although they are often both translated ‘beloved’ in English translations). So he says her palate is the best wine, and she continues the sentence by saying that he is the one drinking from it. The rest of this passage is hers.
I am my beloved’s,|
And his desire is toward me.
|Whereas Gen. 3.16 has the woman desire her husband, which gives him power over her. Here she makes it clear that it works both ways. “I am my beloved’s” (on the one hand) [but] “his passion if for me.” Both desire and its accompanying lordship go both ways. So Eph. 5.21.|
|This passage refers back to 4.13-15. These things grow in the pardes (4.13—a Persian loan word from which we get the English word ‘paradise’), meaning ‘orchard’ or ‘garden.’ In the ch. 4 context, the pardes is the girl; here the young man is being offered her fruits.|
Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field;|
Let us lodge in the villages.
|The villages NIV suggests that this could be ‘the henna bushes,’ which might fit well with the pardes imagery, but it works just as well that they are getting away, out of the city.|
Let us get up early to the vineyards;|
Let us see whether the vine hath budded,
Whether the vine-blossom be opened,
And the pomegranates be in flower;
There will I give thee my love.
Hmm, maybe they did get married at the beginning of ch. 7 (or the end of
ch. 6). It certainly sounds like they are not planning to practice
celibacy in this section. The way I have been reading it so far is that
he keeps trying to push the cart a little farther, and she keeps holding
him off. Here she tells him to run off with her and spend the night,
where she will “give you my love.” But I am still guessing this gets its
fulfillment in the next chapter.|
Still, there may be reasons they are getting out of town. I don’t think that the pre-marital shack-up was invented in the 20th century (see my comments next page on 8.4).
Things are clearly blooming (like her) and buds, like her, are opening.
The mandrakes give forth fragrance,|
And at our doors are all manner
of precious fruits,
New and old,
Which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.
New and old. Old fruits are not dried fruits from last year,
but the varieties that come out a little earlier in the season.|
Precious fruits or ‘my caresses’ depending on who translates this. The Bodleian ms. explains this as “my virginity.” I don’t know if the text will bear that, but that is basically how I have been reading this.
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