July 20: Song of Songs 3:9-10

Song 3:9-10

“King Šlomoh himself made a canopy
from (the) trees of the white (mountains):
its standing (post)s he made (with) silver,
(and) its spread (was made with) gold;
its seat(-cushion) (was made with) purple,
(the space) within it was inlaid (with) love.”

The meaning of the term /oyr=P!a^ (°appiryôn), which occurs only here in the Old Testament, remains uncertain and much debated. It is probably a foreign loanword, suggestions ranging from the Sanskrit paryanka to Greek phoreion (forei=on). While the derivation of the word cannot be determined with any certainty, cognate words in Aramaic can at least provide some clarity to its meaning. These terms (pwrywm°, prywn, pwryyn°, pwry°, pwryh, and note also Syriac pwrywn; cf, Fox, p.125) all refer to a bed or couch, including a portable unit that can be transported. The context here clearly refers to a canopied (covered) structure, with posts and a frame. Since the bed/couch itself was referenced in vv. 7-8 (cf. the previous note), I understand the description of the /oyr=P!a^ here as referring primarily to the covered structure (canopy) for the bed.

While it is possible that the description draws upon authentic historical tradition, regarding a grand structure which was actually made for Solomon, its purpose here is almost certainly figurative. The frame of the canopy is made out of cedar-wood from Lebanon (lit. the “white [capped mountains]”). The posts are additionally covered/decorated with silver, and its “spread” (the carpeted covering) with gold. Thus it is truly a luxurious (and expensive) structure!

The final two lines focus on the space inside the frame. The cushions (lit. place to sit, bK*r=m#) are made with expensive purple-dye, while rest of the space is said to be “fit together” (or “inlaid”, vb [x^r*) “(with) love”. This last phrase is problematic, complicated by the textual confusion in the MT, as the final two words of v. 10 almost certainly belong at the start of v. 11 (a point recognized by most commentators). It has been suggested that the initial –m of MT tonB=m! should be attached instead to the end of the previous word, as an enclitic <-, and this seems plausible; the expression “daughters of Jerusalem” fits better with what follows in v. 11.

Some commentators would emend <bha (“love”) to <ynba (“stones”); while this makes sense, there is really no textual support for such a change. Perhaps what the poet has in mind is the decoration of the bed-frame (and canopy) with scenes of lovemaking. Pope (p. 445) notes the ivory carvings on the bed of the king of Ugarit which include the scene of a man and woman embracing (photo provided by Pope in Plate II [following p. 360]). The ivory beds mentioned in Amos 6:4-7 may have contained similar sorts of decoration. Mention should also be made of the great ivory throne of Solomon (1 Kings 10:18); the principal reason for the use of ivory is it viability for carved (and inlaid) decoration.

It seems likely that the overall portrait in vv. 7-10 is of a portable canopied bed which could be set in a favored location. A gardened pavilion may be in view, akin to what is described in Esther 1:5-6. This “little house” (/t^yB!) of the king has parallels with the garden pavilions of royalty in Mesopotamia (where the cognate term bitanu is used) and Egypt. Such a royal chamber, with couches for drinking and love-making, seems to be in view earlier in the Song (1:4) as well.

Jewish and Early Christian Interpretation (vv. 9-10)

The Targum and Midrash explained the (portable) bed of Solomon, in historical terms, as the Temple and/or the Ark of the Covenant. The posts of the canopy and the seat “inlaid with love” were particularly connected with the Ark and its cover. The Midrash Rabbah further develops this symbolism, whereby the interior “inlaid with love” was explained as the merit and virtue of the Torah, and of those righteous ones who study it (cf. Pope, p. 446).

Among early Christian interpreters, Theodoret takes advantage of the etymology of the name Solomon as meaning “peaceful” (cf. above on the root <lv), identifying him as a type of Christ (“he is our peace,” Eph 2:14), and turning to Psalm 72 [LXX 71], ascribed to Solomon, as an account of the “righteous deeds of the Savior” (Norris, p. 148), whose kingdom of peace will come to extend over the entire world. Theodoret interprets the sexuality of the wedding night (and the bed) primarily in a moral and religious sense: the Bride lies down with the Bridegroom (Christ) to receive the seeds of his teaching, eventually conceiving and ‘giving birth’ to offspring (in a spiritual sense). The sixty warriors and the canopy (cf. above) are similarly interpreted in a typological manner, as referring to the Old Testament saints and the apostles, the “pillars” of the canopy specifically being those leading apostles of the Jerusalem Church mentioned by Paul in Gal 2:9, etc.

Ambrose takes a more lyrical (and mystical) approach, identifying Solomon’s bed directly with the person of Christ, who is called “the bed of the saints, upon whom the weary hearts of every one of them rest from the struggles of this age” (transl. by Norris, p. 150). This is applied primarily to the Patriarchs and saints of the Old Testament, but it also anticipates the Bride (believers) mounting the bed to lie down with Christ (the Bridegroom) himself.

References marked “Pope” above (and throughout these notes) are to Marvin H. Pope, The Song of Songs, Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 7C (1977).
Those marked “Fox” are to Michael V. Fox, The Song of Songs and the Ancient Egyptian Love Songs (University of Wisconsin Press: 1985).
Those marked “Norris” are to Richard A. Norris, Jr., translator and editor, The Song of Songs: Interpreted by Early Christian and Medieval Commentators, The Church’s Bible, general editor Robert Louis Wilken (Eerdmans: 2003).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *