August 31: Song of Songs 7:12-14

Song 7:12-14 [11-13]

As mentioned in the previous note, the young woman completes the sentence of the young man in v. 10, joining her song to his (as in an operatic love-duet). However, the girl’s song properly begins here with verse 12, framed by the two references to her beloved as “my love” (yd!oD).

“Come, my love, we will go out (into) the field,
spend the night among the henna-bushes;
we will go early to the vineyards—
we will see if the vine has sprouted,
(if) the blossom has opened,
(if) the pomegranates sparkle—
there I will give (all) my love to you.
The love-fruits give (out their) breath,
and at our openings (are) all precious (fruit)s—
newly (awake) and also sleeping,
my love, I have hidden (them here) for you.”

Translation note: The imperfect verb forms in vv. 12-13 (“we will…”) can be understood as having jussive or cohortative force (“let us…”); the latter rendering can be substituted into the translation above, with no loss of meaning, being largely a matter of translation style and preference.

This song echoes the earlier declaration by the girl in 6:11, where she states that she has “gone down” to the garden, exploring the newly blossoming fields and vineyards of spring-time. A quite similar idea is present in 2:10-14, where it is the young man who calls on the girl to go away with him into the fields, etc. Both of these earlier episodes inform the scene here. As noted on numerous occasions, the garden and vineyard serve primarily in the Song as symbols of the girl’s sexuality—as well as, secondarily, referring to the enjoyment of sexual pleasure by the two lovers. In 2:8-17, we are dealing with a romantic/sexual liaison between the two, and here there is a similar scene, only more explicit and suggestive of sexual intercourse. The latter aspect was already highlighted in the young man’s song (vv. 8-10a), as well as by the union of the two voices in v. 10 (cf. above).

The girl calls on her beloved (“my love”, yd!oD), to “go out” (vb ax*y`) with her into the field—meaning out into the open country at spring-time. The second line could be translated “we will lodge in the villages”, but this is inappropriately mundane for the context. The noun rp*K* can mean “village”, but there is an identical word that refers to a fragrant plant, usually identified with the cypress or henna-bush (cf. 4:13); the latter is clearly intended here. The verb /Wl (or /y!l) denotes spending the night in a place, and does not have any sexual connotation per se. However, the context clearly suggests that the two lovers are to spend the night together—i.e., sleeping together (in a sexual sense). Probably there is a bit of wordplay here, playfully indicating that the two will spend the night out in the fields just like one might lodge in a village house.

The sprouting/blossoming of the grape-vine and the pomegranate are essentially repeated from 6:11. In my prior note on that verse, I interpreted the scene as an expression of the girl’s blossoming sexuality—her journey being one of exploration as she becomes more and more aware of her sexual maturity. Here, she invites the young man to explore this with her. They both together will see whether the the vine and other plants have sprouted, whether the blossoms have bloomed, etc. Together, they will thus be exploring each other’s sexuality. The idea of “going early” (vb <k^v*) to the vineyard likely has a double meaning: (1) it indicates a time early in the season of growth (early spring), and (2) it suggests an eagerness to reach the garden/vineyard locale as soon as possible. The root <kv often denotes rising early in the morning and doing work or making preparations, etc; however, here, almost certainly the significance is more abstract and figurative, as I have indicated.

Their checking to see if the fruit-plants have blossomed, etc, could possibly include the further symbolic meaning of determining whether the ‘time is right’ for a consummation of their love (through sexual intercourse). Cf. further on this, briefly, below.

When they reach the garden locale, and if the time is ripe/right, then the girl declares that there (<v*, in emphatic position) she will give all her love to the young man. The plural form yd^D) essentially means “my expressions/gestures of love”, or, collectively, “my love-making”. In order to maintain the wordplay precisely, I have translated the plural here exactly as the singular yd!D), “my love”.

Another bit of similar wordplay is involved with the plural <ya!d*WD, which is presumably derived from the same root dwd denoting “love, beloved”. I have thus translated it here as “love-fruits”, i.e., fruits or plants which serve as an aphrodisiac. It is generally assumed by most commentators that the mandrake (or mandragora) plant is being referenced; however, to translate flatly as “mandrakes” would be inappropriate, instantly losing the important wordplay. The other main occurrence of the word is in Genesis 30:14-16 (cf. also Jer 24:1), where the context also indicates that it refers to a plant serving as an aphrodisiac. Yet, in the Song, the sense is not that the lovers will use this plant to aid in their love-making; rather, it simply makes explicit what is otherwise implied in the other garden-passages of the Song—namely, that the flowers and fruit, etc, are symbols of sexual love and enjoyment of sexual pleasure. The pleasure of these ‘garden-fruits’ is first encountered through their fragrant scent (lit. something blown, “breath,” j^yr@ [par. j^Wr]). It was through the fragrance of the garden, wafted by the wind, that the girl invites the boy into the garden of her sexuality in 4:16; much the same idea occurs here.

All of these fruits are most precious, meaning prized and delectable, etc; the same idiom, using the substantive dg#m#, occurred earlier in 4:13, 16 (cf. the earlier note). These fruits lie at the “openings” (plur. of jt^P#) of the two lovers. While I have translated this noun quite literally (primarily to capture the wordplay with the blossoms “opening” [vb jt^P*] in v. 13), it primarily refers to a door or other entrance. This could imply that the two lovers are together in the room of a house (cf. on the possible meaning of <yr!p*K= as “villages” in v. 12 above); however, the context clearly indicates that the place where they are to spend the night (sleeping together) is out in the open country—right there among the blossoming fields and vineyards. Most likely, the implied image is of a sheltered and secluded spot, surrounded by the fragrant and delectable plants; these fruits are thus right upon the door. There may also be a euphemistic sexual allusion with the idea of an “opening” —i.e., referring to a bodily orifice. The young man’s “hand” going through the ‘opening’ of the door to the girl’s room (in 5:4, cf. the earlier note) likely entailed a similar sort of sexual entendre (cf. also in 2:9).

In describing the ‘fruits’ of her sexuality, the young woman further characterizes them as <yn]v*y+-<G~ <yv!d*j&, which would be translated rather flatly as “new (thing)s (and) also old (thing)s”. If all that is meant is “new and old”, then it would simply serve as a summary expression (merism) referring to all kinds of sexual pleasure and lovemaking. However, the root /vy fundamentally refers, not to something being old, but to someone sleeping. Indeed, the plural adjective <yn]v*y+ here is virtually identical to the earlier <yn]v@y+ in v. 11 (according to the MT); and, if the MT is correct there (cf. the discussion in the prior note), then it is likely that <ynvy here is meant as a bit of wordplay echoing the earlier reference. For this reason, I have translated the expression as “newly (awake) and also sleeping”, which would fit the context of the lovers spending the night together, experiencing each others delight, both asleep and awake (cf. the upcoming discussion on 8:5).

In any case, the girl concludes her song by declaring that all of this love, all of the sexual delights to be experienced, she has hidden away (like a treasure, vb /p^x*) for her beloved. The implication is that she has hidden them away in the ‘garden locale’ where the two are to be united. The statement further implies that these are things which the two lovers have not yet experienced together, but it would be reading far too much into the verse to conclude that there had been no sexual intercourse between them in the previous episodes of the Song. The moral/ethical aspect of the relationship between marriage and sexuality, as understood and expressed within the Song, will be discussed in some detail once we have completed the notes on the text.

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