August 16: Song of Songs 6:4

Song 6:4-7:7

The next section of the second movement of the Song extends from 6:4 to 7:7. Following the two songs by the young woman in 5:2-6:3, the focus shifts back with a pair of songs by the young man. This section is lacking somewhat the structural symmetry and splendid artistry of 5:2-6:3; it is looser in structure, and the narrative drama of the scene is less clearly defined (due, in part, to the obscurities in 6:11-7:1, which will be discussed in detail).

Song 6:4-10

The first of these two songs is in 6:4-10. It is a partial waƒf praise-song, nearly identical (in vv. 5b-7) to the initial portions of the song in 4:1-7 (vv. 1b-3, on these, cf. the earlier note). While there are numerous repetitions in the Song, the repeated lines here tend to weaken the force of the poetry, though that is admittedly something of a subjective artistic judgment. Possible reasons for this repetition will be discussed in the next note.

Verse 4

“Beautiful you (are), my companion, like Tirƒah,
wonderfully fair like Yerushalaim,
terrible like the (one)s seen (on high)!”

Metrically, this initial verse is a 4-beat (4+4) couplet, though the parallelism in the second line essentially requires that it be divided into two parts, yielding a poetic triad (with 4+2+2 meter). The parallelism runs through all three lines:

    • Beautiful | like Tirzah
    • Lovely/fair | like Jerusalem
    • Terrible | like {the ones seen up high}

In each line an adjective is used, followed by a comparative term with prefixed preposition K= (indicating the force of the comparison, “like, as”). The parallelism in the first two lines is precise (and nearly identical): “beautiful like {Tirzah/Jerusalem}”. The adjectives hp*y` and hw`an` are largely synonymous, each term meaning “beautiful”. The latter adjective connotes something that is especially well-suited or fitting; I have rendered it above in the sense of “unusually lovely” (= “wonderfully fair”).

Tirzah (hx*r=T!) was a prominent northern city of the Kingdom period, serving (initially) as the capital city of the northern Kingdom (cf. 1 Kings 14:17; 15:21, 33; 16:6, 8-9ff), parallel with Jerusalem in the south. Commentators have sought to use this reference as a key to dating the Song, but that is highly questionable. Tirzah could have lingered in people’s memory as a legendary (royal) city long after it ceased to have any prominence (after the fall of the northern kingdom). It would have evoked the Solomonic Age more so than the later northern capital of Samaria. It is also appropriate here due to its presumed derivation from the root hxr, denoting something “delightful”. Several commentators (e.g., Pope, pp. 558-9) have claimed that the city Tirzah is not being referenced at all, and that hx*r=T! is properly a verbal adjective; the first line would then be translated something like “You are beautiful, my companion, (and) most pleasing”. However, the structural similarity of the wording in verse 10 argues against such an explanation; there, the sun and moon are parallel objects, which would seem to require similar parallelism here in v. 4—viz., two parallel objects (cities), Tirzah and Jerusalem.

It should be noted that the early versions (Greek, Aramaic, Syriac) apparently did not understand hx*r=T! as a proper name. LXX rendered it as eu)doki/a (loosely, “well-pleasing”), and the Syriac ƒe»y¹n¹. The Targum seems to have regarded it as a verb, “you are pleased” (cf. below).

The final line also occurs in verse 10, suggesting that it has more general meaning, and does not apply exclusively to the city-motif in v. 4. What the two contexts have in common is the idea of prominence (and majesty, etc), along with the physical aspect of height. The sun and moon are the prominent, ruling entities in the sky, just as Tirzah and Jerusalem represent the great (capital) cities of Israel. The major Near Eastern cities tended to be elevated, either built upon natural rises or built up over successive levels of occupation (tells). The word tolG`d=n! is best explained as a passive (Niphal) participle of the verb lg~D*, denoting “see” (comp. Akkadian dag¹lu). The main idea here is “prominence”, in the specific sense of something raised up high, which can be seen clearly by people all around. The parallel in verse 10 suggests that the term here may allude the to realm of the heavenlies (the point will be discussed further when we come to v. 10).

The adjective hM*y%a& literally means “terrible” —referring to something which creates terror (fear and dread). Here, it is used loosely, indicating that the young woman’s beauty is so great and striking that it overwhelms and disturbs all who see her. This anticipates the opening of the praise-song (a partial waƒf) that follows in verse 5 (to be discussed in the next note). Possibly, the adjective is also meant to suggest a kind of religious awe. According to at least one line of interpretation, mythical-religious (and ritual) language, used of Near Eastern goddess figures (esp. Inanna/Ishtar in Mesopotamia), was applied to the figure of the young woman in the Song. I do not find this line of interpretation particularly convincing, and have mentioned it only rarely in these notes; however, it is not without merit, and it will be discussed further at the end of the notes, when we examine the various interpretive approaches to the Song in more detail.

Jewish and Early Christian Interpretation

As noted above, the Targum apparently understood hx*r=T! as a verbal form (“you are pleased”). It is spoken by the young man (= YHWH), in reference to the moment(s) when His Beloved (Israel) shows the desire to do His will. The Midrash also understood the term in the verbal sense of “to be acceptable”, explaining it in relation to the sacrificial offerings and the Tabernacle. Cf. Pope, p. 563.

Theodoret, following the LXX rendering of hx*r=T! as eu)doki/a (“well-pleasing”, cf. above), has the young man (God/Christ) calling his beloved “good favor”, indicating that her beauty is the result of having received favor from him. The comparison with Jerusalem naturally brings to mind the New Testament use of the city to represent the heavenly realm, the Jerusalem that is “above” (cf. Gal 4:21-31), the “new” Jerusalem, etc; this is not inappropriate for the context, given the possible allusion to the heavenly realm in the third line (cf. above). The idea of something being fitting or suitable (cf. above on the adjective hw`an`) allows Theodoret to apply the typical early Christian line of ethical interpretation to the verse, connecting beauty with the ascetic ideal—denial of the flesh, cultivation of virtue, etc. Such an ordered and well-regulated life inspires fearful wonder (cf. on hM*y%a& above) among all who observe it.

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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