July 26: Song of Songs 4:8-11

Song 4:8-11

Verse 8

“Come from (the) white (mountains), (my) bride,
come from (the) white (mountains), come to (me)!
Journey from (the) head of Amana,
from (the) head of Senîr and Hermôn,
from (the) dwelling-places of lions,
from (the forest) <lairs> of leopards.”

The mountain-theme from verses 5-6 (and earlier in the Song) continues here in vv. 8-11. As discussed previously (cf. the notes on vv. 5 and 6), this mountain motif can represent the idea of separation between the lovers, but also, at the same time, the expectation (and anticipation) of union. In vv. 8-11, the emphasis is on separation, while in the song that follows (vv. 12-17) it is union.

The high mountain peaks referenced here in v. 8 suggest an inaccessible location. The young man is currently separated from his beloved, and her location up in the ‘mountains’ symbolizes her inaccessibility, as well as the inability for the two lovers to be together. This is why the young man calls fervently to his beloved to come to him, since it would be difficult for him to come to her. With many commentators, I read yta as an imperative of the verb ht*a* (yt!a&, “come!”), rather than MT yT!a! (“with me”). The subsequent imperative in the second line, from the verb aoB (also meaning “come”), I take as specifically meaning “come near, come to me.”

There is also a textual question regarding the parallel imperative in line 3, yr!WvT*—does it derive from rWv I (“see, look, watch”) or rWv II (“travel, journey”)? Both are possible, but the second better fits the context here in v. 8, since for the woman to come to him means that she must travel to him from her mountain dwelling. The mountains are identified with two peaks—(1) Amana (Akkadian Umanum, Ammanna, Ammun), the source of the Amana (= Abanah, 2 Ki 5:12) river in the Anti-Lebanon; and (2) Senîr, apparently a specific peak in the Hermon range (cf. Deut 3:9; 1 Chron 5:23). The term /onb*l=, typically transliterated in English as “Lebanon” (l®»¹nôn), derives from a word designating white—referring to the snow-white peaks of the Lebanon mountain range. The Song makes considerable use of the Lebanon-motif, as part of its broader mountain-theme; it will be discussed further in the next note.

The reference to the dwelling-places of lions and leopards (or panthers) is problematic for commentators attempting to establish a real geography in this verse. The references, however, are all figurative, and need to be understood as such. Traveling from the mountain peaks entails passing through the forests and wilds that are the haunts of dangerous animals such as lions and leopards. With commentators such as Pope and Fox (p. 135), I tentatively emend MT yr@r=h^ (“mountains of…”) to yr@j) (“holes/lairs of…”); the focus is on the secret/covered dwelling places of these animals in the forests and mountain wilds. The mention of these wild animals adds to the sense of inaccessibility, of the barriers (and possible dangers) that currently separate the two lovers. Pope (pp. 475-7) makes much of the religious/ritual interpretation whereby the young woman is identified with ancient goddess figure-types; of these are the well-known “lady of the beasts” type, associated with the lion and other wild animals. According to this line of interpretation, the girl’s mountain dwelling includes the presence of lions, etc.

Verse 9

“You have (captur)ed my heart, my sister, (my) bride,
with (just) one (look) from your two eyes,
with one neck-bead from your necklace!”

Most commentators would derive the verb bb^l* here as denominative from the noun bl@ (= bb*l@), “heart”. It has alternatively been suggested that a separate root bbl (= Akkadian lab¹bu), denoting “enrage, arouse (to fury)”, is involved, but here with the specific meaning of sexual arousal (cf. Pope, p. 479). Assuming that the connection with bl@ (“heart”) is correct, the verb can be understood here in a couple of different ways: (a) “stir my heart”, or (b) “capture my heart”; the latter is to be preferred. The young woman’s beauty and sexual appeal have captured his heart, so that he is full of desire for her, and cannot but love her. This ‘conquest’ of his heart is so complete, that just a glance from one of her eyes, and even a single decorative bead from her necklace, is enough to overwhelm him with love and desire. Probably a round bead or gem-stone, resembling a human eye, is in mind. The nouns qn`u& and /orW`x^ both can refer to a necklace or other ornamentation for the neck; I take the first term as referring to a piece (bead, strand, jewel, etc) of the necklace.

There is a bit of alliterative wordplay here between the verb form yn]T!b=B^l! (liba»tinî) and /onb*l= (l®»anôn) in verse 8.

Mention should be made of the use of the terms “sister” (toja^) and “bride” (hL*K^) in v. 9. They are used repeatedly, but one should not necessarily assume that the young man calling the girl his “bride” means that they are currently married (or even engaged), any more than calling her his “sister” means that they are actually related (as brother and sister). Both titles are used figuratively, as terms of endearment and intimacy. However, given the wedding emphasis at the close of the first division of the Song (3:4-11), we may, at the very least, recognize here an anticipation of the couple’s future wedding/marriage. On the custom of lovers referring to each other as “brother” and “sister”, this simply reflects ancient Near Eastern cultural tradition; there are numerous examples that can be cited in the Sumerian and Egyptian love poems, and elsewhere. This will be discussed further as we proceed through the Song.

The remainder of this song (vv. 10-11) will be considered in the next daily note, along with examples of Jewish and early Christian interpretation for vv. 8-11 as a whole.

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).

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