August 25: Song of Songs 7:2-7

Song 7:2-7

The poem in 7:2-7 [1-6] is another waƒf praise-song, the third such unit overall in the Song. In it, the speaker praises the beauty (and sexual appeal) of the beloved, focusing on one body part at a time. The first such waƒf song (using the term from Arabic love poetry tradition) was in 4:1-7 (by the young man), with the lines from vv. 1b-3 repeated in 6:5b-7; the second (by the young woman) was in 5:10-16. That praise-song by the young woman was set within the dramatic context of 5:2-6:3, essentially occurring as a response to the question by the “daughters of Jerusalem” in 5:9. Similarly, this current praise-song must be understood within the narrative of the section (6:4-7:7), in response to the call by the male youths (parallels to the “daughters of Jerusalem”) in 7:1a. As discussed in the previous note, while the protagonist agrees with their assessment of the girl’s physical beauty, their inclination to look at her as they might an attractive dancing-girl (v. 1b) is unworthy of his beloved. The transcendent perfection of her beauty is the focus of his praise-song.

In this particular waƒf, the praise of the beloved’s body parts proceeds in the opposite direction—beginning down at the feet and ending up at the head.

Verse 2 [1]—Feet and Legs

“How beautiful are your feet with (their) latch-straps,
O daughter of a noble!
The turns of your thighs (are) like (precious) ornaments,
(the) work of a steady (design)er’s hands.”

The initial line, with its opening interrogative pronoun, could perhaps be translated as, “What is the beauty (of) your feet…?”, i.e., “how should I compare them?” This question (rendered as an exclamation above) establishes the subsequent comparisons of the praise-song. The latch-straps (<yl!u*n=) of the girl’s sandals only add to the visual appeal and sensuousness of her small feet.

Her thighs are literally turning (noun qWMj^, from a root meaning “turn”)—either in the sense of how they move, or the sensuous curve of their shape. Probably the latter is meant, but in any case it continues the conceptual word-play of this section, utilizing the motif or theme of turning (cf. the previous note on v. 1 [6:13]). The curvature of her thighs is smooth and perfect, like the work of a skilled craftsman of jewelry, etc. The closing phrase literally reads “(the) work of (the) hands of a steady (crafts)man [/M*a*]”.

The expression “daughter of a noble” is part of a recurring theme throughout the Song—that the love between the young man and young woman has a royal quality to it. In the world of their love, the two are like great nobles, even ‘king’ and ‘queen’ to each other. Here the epithet emphasizes the majesty of the girl’s beauty (cf. earlier in 6:8-10), beyond that of any mere ‘dancing-girl’ (7:1b). It also plays on the reference (however enigmatic) to the noble young men in 6:12. Perhaps the sense here is that the girl, his beloved, is just as noble (if not far more so) than they.

Verse 3 [2]—Stomach/Belly/Pelvis

“(Below) your navel (there is) a rounded bowl—
may it not (ever) lack the (spic)ed wine!
Your belly (is like) a heap of (fine) wheat,
fenced around with lilies.”

The noun rr#v* occurs only here, but the equivalent form (> rv)) elsewhere in the Old Testament properly refers to the (place of the) umbilical cord—i.e., the navel (cf. Ezek 16:4, and note also Prov 3:8). However, it is unlikely that here it is simply a reference to the navel per se; rather, the navel serves as a point of reference for the two distinct areas of the body being described: (3a) the area below the navel down between the thighs, and (3b) the area above the navel (i.e., the “belly”, /f#B#) up to the breasts. Pope (p. 617) notes the cognate Arabic term surr, but also the similar word sirr (“secret”), which can serve as a euphemism for the female sexual organs (as well as for sexual intercourse). This is on the right track in terms of the meaning here, but Pope’s translation of rr#v) as “vulva” is inappropriately precise. In my view, v. 3a refers to the entire area, the surface from below the navel down to the sexual organs. This area is describes as a “rounded bowl”, that is, with convex or slightly hollowed shape. The noun /G`a^ refers to a small bowl used for mixing, etc (Exod 24:6; Isa 22:24), with cognate terms occurring throughout the ancient Near East (Akkadian agannu, Egyptian °ikn, Greek aggo$, cf. Pope, p. 618).

As in v. 2 [1], the first couplet here should be read as an exclamation, particularly the negative exclamation of the second line, “may it not (ever) lack the (spic)ed) wine!”, governed by the negative particle la^. The noun gz#m# occurs only here in the Old Testament, but the variant form Es#m# occurs in Psalm 75:9[8], along with the verb Es^m* in Isa 5:22; 19:14; Psalm 102:10[9]; Prov 9:2, 5. It refers to the mixing of wine—sometimes understood in the sense of wine being mixed with water, but here, most certainly, the reference is to wine that is mixed with spices (“spiced wine”). The “bowl” of this region of the girl’s body thus is a mixing bowl, where the spiced wine (to be drunk) can be found. This is important in terms of the overall imagery of the Song, and explains the force of the exclamation. Throughout the Song, “spices” serve as a fundamental symbol of (female) sexuality, and of sexual pleasure.

The comparison of the “belly”—that is, the area above the navel—with a heap of wheat may seem strange, but the principal idea would seem to be of a curved surface that is soft to the touch. Perhaps the tawny hue of the wheat may also be meant to describe the color of the girl’s skin. This ‘wheat’ is fenced (or hedged) around (vb gWs II) by lilies (<yn]v^ov). The blossoming lily-flower is another basic sexual image in the Song, occurring rather frequently (2:1-2, 16; 4:5; 5:13; 6:2-3). The grazing/eating of the flowers (or of ‘plucking’ them) symbolizes the enjoyment of sexual pleasure—spec. of the young man enjoying the beauty and sexual charms of his beloved. For the specific identity of the flower /v*ov, and the background/meaning of the motif, cf. the earlier note on 2:1-2.

Verse 4 [3]—Breasts

“(Your) two breasts (are) like two young stags,
twins of a gazelle… .”

This couplet is identical with 4:5, with the final phrase omitted (“…grazing among (the) lilies”). It may have been omitted because of the reference to lilies in the previous line. At the same time, the shortened couplet could help to explain the following truncated couplet in v. 5[4]a, which may have been shortened to give poetic balance. For a discussion of this verse, cf. the earlier note on 4:5. That prior praise-song ends, in rather tantalizing fashion, at the breasts of the girl; here, the breasts are set at the mid-point of the song—yet in both songs they are central to the sexuality of the imagery.

Verse 5a [4a]—Neck

“Your neck (is) like a great (tower) of ivory-tooth.”

It seems like a second line has dropped out here, and that may indeed be the case. On the other hand, as noted above, it may have been truncated to balance the shortened couplet in v. 4[3]. If so, then rhythmically vv. 4-5a belong together:

“(Your) two breasts (are) like two young stags,
twins of a gazelle;
Your neck like a great (tower) of ivory-tooth.”

The comparison of the girl’s neck with a tower echoes the earlier praise-song (4:4, cf. the earlier note), emphasizing its long and elegant shape. The additional detail here of “the tooth” (i.e., elephant tusk, ivory), brings out the smoothness of its surface as much as its bright/white gleam.

(The remainder of the praise-song will be discussed in the next daily note, along with a brief summary of some Jewish and Early Christian interpretation of the imagery involved.)

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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