August 26: Song of Songs 7:2-7 (continued)

Song 7:2-7, continued

(For verses 2-5a [1-4a], cf. the previous daily note.)

Verse 5b [4b]—Eyes and Nose

“Your two eyes (are like the) pools in Hešbôn
upon (the) gate of ‘Daughter of Rabbîm;’
your nose (is) like a great (peak) of the White (mountains),
looking down (on the) face of Dammešek.”

Describing eyes as ‘limpid pools’ is quite natural and common, emphasizing both the clear whiteness and wetness of them (cf. the earlier imagery in 5:12). Moreover, the word for “eye” (/y]u^) is identical with the (presumably related) word for “spring, fountain” (the two words may derived from separate, but cognate, roots); so there is a bit of wordplay involved. The mention of Heshbon—usually identified with the site of Tell „esbân in the highlands of Transjordan—adds a bit of geographic color, as does the reference to Damascus in the second couplet. If the ‘pools of Heshbon’ were especially famous or noteworthy, that particular detail has been lost to us; however, excavation of the 10th century B.C. site did reveal a significant (20+ foot-deep) water reservoir.

There is unquestionably some wordplay involved in the expression <yB!r^-tB^, and it is impossible to choose between flatly transliterating it as a  place-name (as most translations) do, and thus losing its meaning, or to translate it and preserve its meaning (but then lose the geographic detail). I have chosen to combine the two approaches, rendering it above as “Daughter of Rabbîm.” Apparently, this was the name of a gate in Heshbon, the literal meaning of which would presumably be something like “daughter of the great (one)s” —at any rate, that is the sense that the Song is playing on here, alluding to the epithet of the girl as “daughter of a noble” in v. 2.

Comparing the girl’s nose to a mountain prominence may seem inappropriate, but it is really no different that describing her neck as a “great (tower)”. The same locative word lD*g+m!, “place of great (height)”, is used here, presumably in reference to a “great peak” of the Lebanon range. Throughout the Song, the Lebanon mountains recur as an important image, because it combines together a number of key motifs: majesty and height, the whiteness of its snowy-peaks, and its famous cedar-wood notable both as a luxury item and for its fragrance. The latter detail is particularly significant, since the association with fragrant spices is also established via the word-play between the Lebanon (/onb*l=, l®»¹nôn) and the word for “frankincense” (hn*obl=, l®»ônâ)—both deriving from a root denoting “whiteness”. Probably the straightness of the girl’s nose is being particularly emphasized, but also how it gives a proud and distinguished (i.e., noble, majestic) appearance to her face as a whole. The geographic span from the Transjordan to Syria may also allude to the sense of majesty the young man ascribes to his beloved’s beauty—according it a kind of transcendent, cosmic royalty.

Verse 6 [5]

“(Indeed) your head upon you (is) like the fruitful (mountain),
and (the) dangling hair of your head like the (royal) purple—
a king is held fast in the (flow)ing locks!”

The mountain imagery from v.5b continues here, comparing the girl’s very head with the “fruitful (mountain)” (lm#r=K^). As with the Lebanon range, there is a play on the literal meaning of the Karmel (Carmel) mountain; and it is best to translate the term, rather than transliterating it in English as a proper name (where the meaning is lost). The name lm#r=K^ literally refers to a fruitful and fertile place. Such a fertile mountain peak is fitting for a description of the top of the girl’s head. The ‘fertile growth’ alluded to, apart from its general sexual connotation, refers here specifically to the girl’s rich locks of lush, flowing hair. The hair is hanging or dangling (hL*D^) down from her head, dark and luxuriant as though it had been dyed with the royal purple. Playing on this imagery, the young man adds a third short line to the couplet, exclaiming how a ‘king’ (i.e., he himself) has been captured (“held [fast],” vb rs^a*) by the girl’s flowing locks.

Some commentators would include the noun El#m# as part of the second line—i.e., “…like the purple of (the) king”. However, this does not fit metrically; it is better to keep El#m# as the subject of the short concluding line, pivoting conceptually on the idea of the royal purple. In the world of their love, the boy and girl are ‘king’ and ‘queen’ to each other, with their love-making having a kind of majestic, royal quality. The reference to the girl as a “noble daughter” in v. 2 [1] (cf. the previous note) follows this same line of creative, playful expression. Note also the wordplay in the expression <yB!r^-tB^ above.

Verse 7 [6]

“How beautiful you are and how pleasant you are,
(my) love, (you) daughter of delights!”

The praise song ends as it began (in v. 2 [1]), with an exclamation with the particle hm*—an interrogative pronoun (“what”), rendered here in an exclamatory sense (“how…!”). In verse 2, the exclamation referred specifically to the beauty of the girl’s feet, but now the young man makes his (dual) exclamation in a comprehensive sense, referring to the entire beauty and attractiveness of his beloved. This double-reference has two layers of meaning. On the one hand, it relates to the narrative context of the praise-song, explaining how the girl’s beauty is truly perfect, far beyond the attractiveness of a mere dancing girl (cf. the prior note on v. 1b). On the other hand, it deftly combines the two aspects of the praise song—namely, the girl’s physical beauty, and her sexual appeal. The first aspect is indicated by the verb hp*y` (“be beautiful, fair”), the second by <u^n` (“be pleasant, sweet, delightful”).

In conclusion, he calls her hb*h&a^ (“love”), which is essentially synonymous with the more frequent doD—both terms, in the context of the Song, mean “beloved, loved one”, i.e., the one whom I love. Perhaps the regular verbal aspect of the root bha here alludes specifically to the act of love-making between the two—something which takes on greater prominence in the next unit of the Song (7:8-14).

MT <yg]Wnu&T^B^ (“with the delights” [?]) should instead be divided into the construct expression <yg]Wmu&T^ tB^ (“daughter of delights”), as many commentators recognize (supported by the Peshitta Syriac and Greek Aquila versions). It essentially means something like “(you) delightful girl”, but the formal expression carries important echoes of the earlier “daughter of the great ones” (v. 5) and “daughter of a noble” (v. 2). Again these references to nobility/royalty are part of the symbolic make-believe world of love-play and love-making, and this comes very much into focus here at the close of the praise-song (and the section [6:4-7:7] as a whole). Calling her “daughter of delights” anticipates the more explicit imagery and references to love-making in the following section (7:8-14), which we will begin discussing in the next note.

Jewish and Early Christian Interpretation

The imagery of the praise-song in vv. 2-7 was interpreted, e.g. by the Targum and Midrash, in a manner quite similar to the approach taken with the earlier waƒf songs. For example, the feet and legs in v. 2 were explained by the Targum as representing the feet of Israel when her people faithfully appear before YHWH in observance of the holy festivals, while the loins (thighs) symbolize the devout children who are born from them. The Midrash similarly understood the “feet” in relation to Passover and the festival of Sukkot, with the sandal-latches referring to the completion of the people’s festival duties (which will lead to blessing and prosperity during the year). The thighs also suggested the specific association with the rite of circumcision, and the blessings of health, etc, which follow from it for Israel.

The Targum and Midrash each interpret the ‘navel’ in v. 3 as representing the head of the Sanhedrin, which also stands as the religious center for Israel in its study and observance of the Torah; the stomach/belly extends the motif to include all those sages who surround him in the Sanhedrin. The two breasts of the girl follow the interpretation of 4:5, while the Targum here specifically emphasizes the breasts as symbolic of the two Messiahs (son of David, and son of Ephraim) who will come to redeem Israel.

The mention of Mt. Carmel in v. 6 naturally brought to mind the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18), while the purple color represents the exaltation (restoration) of the lowly but pious ones in Israel. The Midrash interestingly explains the ‘captive king’ of the verse as referring to YHWH (the King), in that He has bound Himself (by oath and the covenant) to make His presence manifest in the midst of Israel. Cf. Pope, pp. 616ff.

Theodoret typically interprets the girl’s body parts in an ethical-religious sense—the feet are praised because they “walk the straight path along the royal way”, the thighs signify practical virtue and the moral awareness of believers as they walk along the way; the navel (in terms of the umbilical cord) represents the sin and idolatry that is ‘cut off’, while the belly, depicted as a heap of grain, symbolizes the “storehouses of the soul full of hidden mysteries”. Christians such as Theodoret had to work hard to fit the various geographic details (“pools of Heshbon,” et al) into such an allegorical and ethical framework, giving explanations that sometimes verge on the preposterous. However, occasionally commentators might be aided by a peculiarity of translation in the Greek, such as when Aquila took /obv=j# (µešbôn) as a common noun (cf. Eccl 7:25, 27; 9:10) and translated it e)n e)pilogismw| (i.e., “in thought, contemplation”, cp. Sirach 27:5; 42:3); this allowed Theodoret to interpret the idiom of the pools as “reservoirs of an abundance of godly thoughts”. Cf. Norris, pp. 256ff.

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 “Norris” are to Richard A. Norris, Jr., translator and editor, The Song of Songs: Interpreted by Early Christian and Medieval Commentators, The Church’s Bible, Robert Louis Wilken, general editor (Eerdmans: 2003).

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