July 21: Song of Songs 3:11

Song 3:11

“Daughters of Yerushalaim, go forth,
and look, (you) daughters of ‚iyyôn,
on the king, Šlomoh, on the crown
with which his mother crowned him,
on (the) day of his marriage,
on (the) day of (the) joy of his heart!”

As discussed in the previous note, The last two words of v. 10 (separated from the prefixed preposition –m) properly belong to v. 11 here, forming an initial parallel couplet in which the speaker—most likely the young woman—calls on the other girls to look with amazement at her bridegroom as he approaches. The “daughters of Jerusalem” are referenced a number of times in the Song, including earlier in 1:5; 2:7; 3:5. Here they function as spectators at the wedding, possibly even members of the bridal party. In my view, all of vv. 6-11 represents an ideal portrait, in the mind of the young woman, of her (intended/future) wedding to the young man.

It may be that this scene draws upon historical traditions regarding king Solomon’s wedding, but here, in the Song, the reference to Solomon is most likely figurative. It is the young man, the girl’s beloved and intended groom, who plays the role of her “king”, her “Solomon”. The crown (hr*f*u&, lit. a band, etc, wrapped around [the head]) emphasizes the royal character of the wedding. Again, this is figurative, and the sense of role-play may be indicated by the role of the boy’s mother in “crowning” him as king at the time of their wedding. The girl imagines the ceremonial splendor of her wedding as being on a truly grand scale, akin to the wedding of Solomon himself.

If there were any doubt that a wedding scene is in view, this is made explicit in the final lines. The noun hN`t%j& occurs only here in the Old Testament, but it is related to /t@j) and /t*j* which essentially denote being (or becoming) a son-in-law. This aspect is quite difficult to translate literally in English; one can only become a son-in-law through marriage, and that is probably the best way to translate hN`t%j& here.

The approach of the young man (the royal bridegroom) is parallel to the approach of the young woman (the royal bride) in v. 6 (cf. the prior note). In my view, this parallelism is clear and definite, like facing panels of a triptych with the central scene of the wedding bed/night (vv. 7-10) portrayed in between.

Jewish and Early Christian Interpretation

The Targum explains the wedding/coronation of Solomon in terms of the king’s dedication of the Temple. The Midrash Rabbah played on the presumed derivation of the name Solomon (hm)l)v=) from the root <lv, “(be) complete”, applying it to God who created all things in their fullness and perfection. The “crown” and the wedding-day could also be explained in historical terms, being associated with the Tabernacle, the giving the Law to Israel, and again with the consecration of the Temple. The motif of Israel as a bride (and/or bridegroom), united to YHWH in a covenant bond, was natural and well-rooted in Old Testament tradition (Isa 61:10; 62:3-5, etc). Cf. Pope, p. 449-50.

As Gregory of Nyssa explains it, the “daughters of Jerusalem” are those other souls being saved who have not yet attained to her level of growth and understanding, and so the Bride calls to them that they may follow her example. Christologically, it would be God the Father who “crowned” Christ, so Gregory feels compelled to offer some explanation as to why it says here that the king was crowned by his mother. In this regard, the name is not significant—whether male or female, it refers to the Power of God. The Church itself is interpreted as the ‘living stones’ embedded, it is assumed, in the Bridegroom’s crown; however, the Church only becomes so when believers “come out” to witness the King in all his splendor, and are thus purified and enlightened together as the Bride of Christ.

Ambrose’s explanation of the scene has a more ascetic emphasis, interpreting the command for the daughters of Jerusalem (the souls) to “come forth” as meaning:

“…come away from the cares and thoughts of this age, come away from bodily constraints, come away from the vanities of the world—and behold what love the peace-bearing King has on the day of his wedding, how glorious he is…” (translation by Norris, p. 150)

His fine comments at the close of this section are worth repeating:

“This is the victor’s crown of the great contest, this is the magnificent wedding-present of Christ, his blood and his suffering. For what more could he give, who did not hold himself back, but offered his death for our benefit?” (ibid)

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, general editor Robert Louis Wilken (Eerdmans: 2003).

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