July 25: Song of Songs 4:6-7

Song 4:6-7

“Until (the time) when the day breathes
and the shadows fly (away),
I will go myself to the mountain of myrrh,
and to the hill of white (incense).
All of you (is) beautiful, my companion,
and there is no defect in you!”

Verse 7 summarizes the wasf song in vv. 1-5; in those lines (cf. the previous note), the young man praises the beauty of his beloved, one body part at a time, moving from the eyes to the breasts. Now, at the close of the song, he declares that all of her (EL*K%, “all of you”) is beautiful. The sense is that, having reached her breasts in his praise-song, the young man, overcome with desire, is not able to continue. Instead, he longs to be united with her, and expresses this in no uncertain terms in verse 6.

This aspect of sexual union was implicit at the end of v. 5, with the motif of the (male) animals grazing—that is, of the young man enjoying the beauty and sexual appeal of the young woman, focused particularly at her breasts. It becomes more explicit in verse 6, pivoting on the playful echo of the girl’s words to him in 2:17. The same temporal phrase is used:

“Until (the time) when the day breathes
and the shadows fly (away)”

In both passages, this refers to the night-time, before the coming of daylight, when the two lovers can be together. In 2:17, the implication is that the two have been together, and the young woman is urging her beloved to depart before the dawn comes and their love is discovered. This seems to be the significance of the expression “mountains of rt#b#.” Assuming the reading rt#b# is correct, then it is best to explain the word in terms of the fundamental meaning of the root rtb, “cut in two (pieces)”. This can be understood in two ways (cf. the discussion in the note on 2:17):

    • The motif of separation between the two lovers, or
    • The two split mountains symbolize the woman’s breasts, and thus allude to the (sexual) union between the lovers

In my view, the primary meaning is that of separation, yet there is also contained within the expression the possibility of future union. And, indeed, the two mountains of sexual union are described here in 4:6. The mountains are associated with the fragrant spices that elsewhere symbolize the young woman’s beauty and sexual appeal—myrrh and (frank)incense (lit. “white [stuff]”, hn`obl=), 3:6; 4:14 (cf. also 1:13; 5:1, 5, 13). There can be little doubt that here these two mountains specifically refer to the young woman’s breasts, continuing the imagery from v. 5). The similarity of shape between a mountain and a breast is obvious; on this aspect of the word dv^, cf. the previous note.

The use of the verb El^h*, together with the reflexive suffixed preposition yl! (“[for] myself”), expresses the young man’s desire to go to his beloved and be united with her: “I myself will go…” to those fragrant ‘mountains’.

Jewish and Early Christian Interpretation

The Targum interpreted the ‘fleeing shadows’ of the night as the demons that are dispelled by the burning of the spice-incense at the Temple altar (the Temple having been built on mount Moriah). The praise of the woman’s beauty in v. 7 was explained in terms of Israel’s beauty, when her people fulfill the Divine will through performance of the Torah regulations (including the Temple sacrifices). The Talmud and the Midrash Rabbah added the aspect of Israel’s ritual purity—pure both in terms of righteousness and the absence of any physical defect. Cf. Pope. pp. 472-3.

Gregory of Nyssa explains the praise of the woman’s entire body in relation to the Church (the body of Christ) as a whole, as opposed to the beauty of its individual members (i.e., the souls of believers). He connects this with the declaration of the young man (Christ) in v. 6, interpreting the ‘two mountains’ in a Christological sense: myrrh representing the humanity (suffering) of Jesus and the frankincense his Divine glory. In particular, his sacrificial death (i.e., going to the “mountain of myrrh”) allows human nature to be purified of its flaw (sin). The person who shares in Christ’s suffering will also share in his glory, so that we (the Church) will come to be “all beautiful”.

References marked “Pope” above (and throughout these notes) are to Marvin H. Pope, The Song of Songs, Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 7C (1977).

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