August 13: Song of Songs 6:1

Song 6:1

“Where has he gone to, your love,
O beautiful (one) among the women?
Where has he turned to, your love,
so we might seek him with you?”

Both of the songs in 5:2-6:3 conclude with an address by the young woman to the “daughters of Jerusalem”, followed by their question in response. In each case the question by the chorus of Jerusalem girls is also transitional, leading the way into the next song.

The narrative situation created by the juxtaposition of these songs is curious, in that the young woman initially, at the end of the first song, asked the help of the other girls in locating her beloved (5:8-9), but now those girls are the very ones asking the young woman where her beloved has gone. Suddenly, without any real explanation, the young woman knows where her beloved is (vv. 2-3), and does not require any help finding him.

Here, however, verse 1 must first be understood in the immediate context of the praise song (waƒf) in 5:10-16 (discussed in the previous two notes). In that song, the young woman praises the beauty (and sexual appeal) of her beloved. The purpose, within the narrative context of the section, is to describe the young man’s appearance to the other girls, so that they will be able to locate him. In describing him, however, it becomes evident to the young woman where he must be. By contrast, it is the other girls, the “daughters of Jerusalem,” who are confused following the praise-song, asking “where is he…? you must help us find him, this young man who is so beautiful and attractive as you describe!”

The poetic logic developed within the praise-song helps to explain what is going on here. As she describes her beloved, praising each body part, she applied a range of garden-imagery to his physical beauty. This was applied specifically to the description of his mouth (v. 13), alluding to (and anticipating) their lovemaking through kisses. As the song comes to a close (vv. 15b-16), the garden-imagery comes more clearly into view, representing, as it does throughout the Song, the sexuality of the lovers and the experience of sexual pleasure the two find with each other. In particular, it is the motif of the fragrant “spices” (including myrrh), which symbolize sexual attractiveness and sexual union; mention of the aromatic cedars of Lebanon add to this association (on the wordplay involved, cf. the discussion in the previous note).

The world of the love poetry itself represents the ideal location where the two lovers can be together—it is in the garden of their love, far away from the confines of the city where the elements and forces within society stand as barriers to their union. The girl understands that they can only be together in the garden, and that is where her beloved must have gone. This point, in relation to the thematic structure of 5:2-6:3, will be discussed further in the next note.

The specific question asked by the “daughters of Jerusalem” uses the fundamental interrogative pronoun hn`a* (or /a*), derived from the interrogative particle ya^ (“where…?”). The question is: where has the young man gone? The verb El^h* is the basic verb indicating movement—specifically “to walk,” or, more generally, “to go.” Parallel to it here in these lines is the verb hn`P* (“turn”), referring to the direction of the young man’s movement.

While the praise-song, in its narrative context, may have had the purpose of providing an objective description of the young man, its result (as a love poem) was to stimulate desire. After hearing the song, the other girls are now just as eager to find the beautiful and handsome young man whose sexual appeal was so vividly described to them. Now it is they who ask the young woman for help in finding this young man, so that “…we might seek him with you” (cp. 1:3-4). The w-conjunction that begins the final line indicates what the girls wish might come about once the young woman tells them where they can find the young man; in context, it is best translated as “so (that)”, i.e., “so (that) we might seek him with you”. Literally, it could be rendered: “and (then) [i.e. when you have told us] we can seek him with you”.

Jewish and Early Christian Interpretation

The Targum regularly identifies the “daughters of Jerusalem” with the Prophets of Israel, as they function as intended intermediaries communicating between the young woman (Israel) and the young man (YHWH). Here, their question to the girl is related to the historical sin(s) by Israel which caused YHWH to go away from her:

“When the prophets heard the praise of YHWH from the mouth of the Assembly of Israel, they said: ‘For what sin was the Presence of YHWH withdrawn from thee, thou whose conduct was more beautiful than that of all nations; and whither has thy Beloved turned (away) at the time He left thy sanctuary?’ The Assembly of Israel replied: ‘For the sins of rebellion and insurrection which were found in me.’ The prophets said: ‘Now return in penitence and let us rise, and let us pray before Him and let us beg mercy together’.” (Pope, p. 554)

The Midrash Rabbah offers a different interpretation to the exchange(s) between the woman (Israel) and the “daughters of Jerusalem,” that is, the other girls, understood as representing the other nations. For the nations, who have no share in YHWH, they do not understand where He (the true God) has gone, and ask Israel’s help in finding Him.

In Gregory of Nyssa’s sermons on the Song, the “daughters of Jerusalem” symbolize those other souls who follow the example of the Bride—the soul who has been brought to perfection—as their guide. Here they ask the Bride to help them find the beauty and truth of the Beloved (Christ, the Divine Word) who has been announced to them, just as the first disciples were introduced to the person of Jesus by others to whom he had been revealed (cf. John 1:29-45ff). Such souls, once they find the place to which the Beloved has ‘turned’, may go there as well, to stand where they can look upon Him and behold His glory (“Come and see…”, Jn 1:46).

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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