August 23: Song of Songs 7:1

Song 7:1

The most significant textual issue in 7:1 [6:13, EV] involves the longstanding question regarding the precise meaning of the articular noun tyM!l^WVh^ (hašûlammî¾). Traditionally, tymlwv has been understood as a designation of place, i.e., a woman from <lwv, but often treated as a proper name for the young woman of the Song: “the Shulam(m)ite”. This does provide a convenient handle for referring to the girl, but many commentators use it carelessly, as though this really was her name. The term occurs in the Song only here, so it is scarcely a regular designation for the young woman, and should not be treated as such. The place-name theory is based largely on the similarly with the gentilic tyM!n~WVh^ (hašúnammî¾), “the Shunam(m)ite woman”, in 1 Kings 1:3, 15; 2:17, 21-22 (referring to Abishag); also 2 Kings 4:12, 25, 36. The assumption is that šûlammî¾ is a variant of šûnammî¾, with a town “Shulem” = Shunem. The identification of the girl with Abishag would allow for the Song to be placed in a Solomonic milieu, involving the figure of Solomon himself.

Unfortunately, nowhere else in the Song is there even the slightest reference to the town of Shunem/Shulem[?]; by all accounts, the poems are set entirely in Jerusalem and its environs. Thus, if the term is truly a gentilic (as its form suggests), it seems more likely that it is an allusive reference to Jerusalem (cf. below). I will here present what, in my view, are the three most likely explanations for the term tyM!l^WVh^ here in the Song:

    • As just mentioned, it may be understood as a gentilic referring to the city of Jerusalem—calling the young woman of the Song “the Shulam [= Yerushala(i)m] girl”. Though rare in the Old Testament, <l@v* (Š¹l¢m) is a shortened (poetic) form of <!l^v*Wry+ (Y®rûš¹laim), Psalm 76:4[3], and comp. Gen 14:18. This shortened, condensed form utilizes the vowel pattern of the full name (û-a-i); a similar kind of shortened gentilic occurs in Num 26:39, where hašû¸¹mî derives from the name Š®¸û¸¹m (šppm => špm). Cf. Bloch, pp. 197-9.
    • The name may be meant as a kind of parallel to Solomon (hm)ýv=, Š®lœmœh), playing upon the Solomonic setting of the Song, or, more probably, as an allusion to the young woman as a majestic ‘queen’. The more precise parallel, as a feminine form corresponding to hm)ýv=, would be tym!ýv= (Š®lœmî¾), occurring in Lev 24:11; 1 Chron 13:19 (cf. Fox, p. 157). I suspect that there is an intentional allusion to Solomon here, but only by way of wordplay, as both terms derive from the same root (<lv), and carry similar meanings.
    • The best solution, in keeping with the overall language and idiom of the Song, is to view tyM!l^WVh^ as a descriptive term—noun or substantive adjective—derived from the verbal root <lv. This root has the fundamental meaning “complete, fulfill”, or, in a stative (intransitive) sense, “be complete”. In context, the word would mean, “(you) the complete (one)”, or, in a vocative sense, “O, complete (one)”. In English idiom, we would probably say “perfect one”. There have been numerous such descriptive titles and epithets used in the Song, in reference to the beauty and ‘perfection’ of the young woman; it seems likely that this is another such title. In meaning, it is largely synonymous with yt!M*T^ (tamm¹tî), “my complete/pure (one)”, in 5:2 and 6:9.

I do feel that the third option best fits the language of the Song, as well as the specific context within this section—6:8-10 emphasizing particularly the majestic and perfect beauty of the girl. However, it is possible that all three explanations may play a role; certainly, the wordplay and thematic associations with Jerusalem and Solomon were well in mind for the author. There remain difficulties in terms of the specific morphology of the term, but I adopt the third explanation for it, given above, in my translation:

“Return, return, (you) the complete (one)!
Return, return, and let us gaze on you!
(For) what [i.e. why] would you gaze on the complete (one),
like (one who is) twirling (in) the tent-circles?”

In some ways, the scenario here in 7:1 is as obscure as that of 6:12 (discussed in detail in the previous note), and requires a substantial discussion. In order to avoid overextending the length of this note, I will continue it in the daily note tomorrow.

References marked “Fox” above are to Michael V. Fox, The Song of Songs and the Ancient Egyptian Love Songs (University of Wisconsin Press: 1985).
Those marked “Bloch” are to Chana Bloch and Ariel Bloch, The Song of Songs: The World’s First Great Love Poem (Random House: 1995/2006).