The title “Song of Solomon” is derived from the opening verse of the Hebrew text, where it is called the “song of songs” and is attributed to Solomon. In the Septuagint text of Codex Vaticanus, the title is Asma, meaning “song,” but Codex Sinaiticus contains the longer title "Song of Songs," and Codex Alexandrinus reads, "Songs of Songs."
From ancient times, certain ones have been uncomfortable with the passionate expressions and the poetic descriptions of various parts of the human body that are an integral part of the “song.” This appears to have contributed to the development of many allegorical interpretations among ancient Jewish and Christian writers. In modern times, interpreters of the Song of Solomon have usually rejected the allegorical approach.
One common view is to represent the Song of Solomon as a collection of love songs. The singular Hebrew term for the word “song,” however, suggests that the work is a coherent composition.
Interpreters who consider the beloved one to be King Solomon also equate him with the shepherd. This is because monarchs were called shepherds, for they were responsible for promoting the welfare and security of their subjects. Monarchs also had large herds and flocks. While these animals would be under the care of shepherds and herders, it is in the realm of probability that the king made periodic inspections. This would provide a measure of support for an interpretation of the language in the composition to indicate that the king was away from his palace and among his shepherds with pasturing flocks of sheep and goats.
Fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus identifies the ones who are speaking and indicates that the song contains the expressions of two principal speakers. This manuscript refers to the “bride” and the “bridegroom” but does not represent the king and the shepherd as two persons. Similarly, fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus says “bride” or “bridegroom” when identifying the main speakers.
There are interpreters who believe that there are three principal speakers — the Shulammite maiden, King Solomon, and the shepherd. Those who support this view do not interpret the role of the shepherd in the same way. Many view the shepherd as the Shulammite’s true love, and others see King Solomon in that role. Therefore, either Solomon or the shepherd is the man regarded as trying to gain the love of the Shulammite.
The view that individuals take regarding the song itself often affects how the expressions are interpreted. This commentary does not provide a detailed discussion about the various views but focuses primarily on the thoughts the extant Hebrew text and the Greek text of the Septuagint appear to convey. Where the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus add information to identify the speakers, this will be noted in the commentary or in the accompanying notes.
The opening words identify the composition as the “song of songs,” indicating it to be a superlative, most excellent, or beautiful song. This song is attributed to King Solomon who, according to 1 Kings 4:32, came to have 1,005 (5,000 [3 Kings 5:12 (LXX)]) songs. (1:1)
In verse 13 of chapter 6, the young woman is twice called the Shulammite. Her expressions are quoted as the first ones in the song. “May he [her beloved] kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” or his lips. She then spoke of her beloved’s expressions of affection as being better or more pleasurable to her than wine. Fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus attribute the words of the initial phrase of this verse to “the bride.” The next phrase quotes the response of her beloved. Regarding her “breasts,” he said that they were better than wine or provided him with greater pleasure. (1:2)
The Shulammite found the fragrance of her beloved’s ointments to be “good” or pleasant. According to the Septuagint rendering, the aroma of his ointments was superior to that of all aromatic herbs. She likened his “name” or reputation to ointment that is poured out, which would then fill the air with its delightful fragrance. On account of her beloved’s outstanding reputation, maidens loved him. (1:3; see the Notes section.)
The Shulammite said to her beloved, “Draw me after you,” or take me with you. In the Septuagint, the maidens who love him are the ones identified as drawing him, and they are the ones saying, “We will run after you into the aroma of your ointments.” The Hebrew phrase about running may be rendered, “let us run,” with the Shulammite doing so with her beloved. For those who understand the shepherd to be her true love, these words are taken to express her desire to be taken away from the royal surroundings in which she found herself, for she is quoted as then saying, “The king has brought me into his chambers.” To preserve the thought that the king is her true love, others favor emending the Hebrew text and render the words as follows: “Bring me into your chambers, O king.” (REB) “Hurry, my king! Let’s hurry. Take me to your home.” (CEV) (1:4)
When the true love is considered to be the shepherd, the Shulammite is viewed as thinking of him when saying, “We will exult [gil] and rejoice [samách] in you” (her beloved, not Solomon who had brought her into his chambers). “We will remember [zakhár] your expressions of affection more than wine.” In this context, the Hebrew word zakhár may denote “mention,” “praise,” or “extol.” The Shulammite found her greatest delight in the one whom she loved. His love for her brought her far more pleasure than did wine. When Solomon is regarded as the beloved one, the words about rejoicing are commonly attributed to the maidens mentioned in verse 3. This attribution to the maidens has the support of an introductory comment in fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus (“The bride tells the young women and they say”). According to the Hebrew text, the Shulammite may then be considered as voicing her agreement with their expressions, saying, “Rightly [meysharím] they have loved you.” Whether these words are said regarding Solomon or the shepherd, the meaning would be the same. On account of his good name or outstanding reputation based on his fine qualities, the love the maidens had for him was deserved. (1:4; see the Notes section.)
The Hebrew word meysharím is a plural noun that has been defined as meaning “straightness,” “uprightness,” or “fairness.” In this context, it is commonly considered to be used as an adverb and translated “rightly.” The Septuagint rendering is the singular noun euthýtes (“uprightness”). Accordingly, the last phrase in the Septuagint could be translated, “Uprightness has loved you.” Possibly, as in the case of Hebrew word meysharím, the noun euthýtes may here be used as an adverb and could also be translated “rightly.” The Greek word for “love” (agapáo) is a third person singular active verb in the aorist tense, referring to an action that began in the past but is continuing. On this basis, the concluding phrase could be translated, “Rightly he has loved [or fallen in love with] you [the Shulammite].” In Codex Sinaiticus, the introductory comment for this phrase may be rendered, “The young women cry out the name of the bride to the bridegroom.” This suggests that the word euthýtes was understood to be the name of the Shulammite, giving rise to a different significance for the concluding phrase. “Euthytes has loved [or fallen in love with] you.” (1:4)
Addressing the “daughters of Jerusalem [Israel (fourth-century Codex Vaticanus)],” the Shulammite said to them, “I am black and comely” or beautiful, and she likened her dark skin to the “tents of Kedar” and the “curtains of Solomon.” The tent-dwelling nomads of Kedar probably had tents made from black goat’s hair, and black may also have been the color of Solomon’s curtains, hangings, or tent coverings. Another possibility is that the Shulammite likened her comeliness to the beauty of Solomon’s curtains. A number of translations have interpretively rendered the text to make the reference to curtains apply to those of another tent-dwelling Arab tribe (“curtains of Salma” [NAB], “tent curtains of Shalmah” [REB], “pavilions of Salmah” [NJB]). This change does not have the support of the Septuagint. (1:5; see the Notes section.)
To the daughters of Jerusalem, probably women in the palace, the Shulammite said, “Do not look at me because I am black.” This wording suggests that the women may have stared at her on account of her dark skin color, which must have contrasted significantly with their much lighter complexion. The Shulammite explained that she had been exposed to the sun because her brothers (“sons of [her] mother”) were angry with her and had given her vineyard duty. This, according to verse 15 of chapter 2, would have included keeping foxes from damaging the vines. On account of her assigned vineyard duty, the Shulammite could not guard her own vineyard. In this context, her “vineyard” could refer to her complexion. (1:6)
The Shulammite wanted the one whom her “soul” or she herself loved to tell her where he did shepherding, where he made the “flock lie down at noon.” This would have been an appropriate time to see him, as the flock would not have been on the move at midday. The reason for her request (which includes the obscure expression “like one wrapping”) has been variously interpreted, and this is reflected in the renderings of modern translations. “Why should I be like a veiled woman [like a mourner or a woman seeking to hide her identity like a prostitute] beside the flock of your friends?” (NIV) “Don’t let the other shepherds think badly of me. I’m not one of those women who shamelessly follow after shepherds.” (CEV) “That I may no more wander like a vagabond beside the flocks of your companions.” (NJB) “Lest I be found wandering after the flocks of your companions.” (NAB) “That I may not be left picking lice as I sit among your companions’ herds.” (REB) In Codex Sinaiticus, the Greek text of this verse is preceded by an allegorical introductory comment (“to the bridegroom Christ”). (1:7)
It appears that the women in the palace (the “daughters of Jerusalem”) responded to the words of the Shulammite. They tell her that, if she, the “fairest among women,” did not know the location of her beloved, she should “follow the tracks of the flock and pasture [her] kids beside the tents of the shepherds.” (1:8; see the Notes section.)
The king likened the Shulammite to his “mare among the chariots of Pharaoh.” Possibly this means that she was like the leading mare or the most impressive and beautiful one among all the horses hitched to Pharaoh’s chariots. (1:9)
In the Hebrew text, the adornment on the Shulammite’s comely cheeks is the plural of tohr, a designation that may apply to “rows,” “sequences,” or “strings” of jewels. According to the Septuagint rendering, her cheeks had become beautiful “like turtledoves” — a development that may be attributed to the precious ornaments with which the cheeks were adorned. The neck of the Shulammite had been beautified with “strings of beads” or necklaces. (1:10; see the Notes section.)
It appears that the first person plural Hebrew verb that may be rendered “we will make” is to be understood as a plural of excellence that applies to the king. He is the one who would commission the fashioning of gold ornaments for the Shulammite. As in the previous verse, the Hebrew designation for the ornaments is the plural of tohr, about the meaning of which there is uncertainty. In the concluding phrase, there also is uncertainty concerning the significance of the plural Hebrew noun nequdóhth that precedes the word for “silver.” Suggested meanings include “spots,” “studs,” “points,” “glass beads,” and “circular” or “drop-shaped ear ornaments.” The Septuagint rendering could be understood to indicate that the “representations” or ornaments would be made of gold “with studs” or “points of silver.” This could mean that the items would primarily be fashioned from gold and inlaid with silver. (1:11)
While the “king” reclined “on his couch,” the Shulammite referred to her “nard,” a costly aromatic substance, as releasing its fragrance. In Codex Sinaiticus, the phrase about the nard starts a section that is identified as being spoken by “the bride to herself and to the bridegroom.” (1:12)
To the Shulammite, her beloved was like a “pouch of myrrh” (a highly valued aromatic substance) positioned between her breasts. There he (LXX) was the one who would lodge or spend the night. (1:13)
The Shulammite spoke of her beloved as being to her like a cluster of fragrant “henna blossoms in the vineyards of En-gedi,” a city located at about the midway point of the western shore of the Dead Sea. En-gedi is an oasis that supports lush semitropical vegetation, palm trees, fruit trees, and vines. The Shulammite considered being with her beloved like enjoying a delightful fragrance while surrounded by the abundant vegetation of a pleasant oasis that stood out from the surrounding arid region. (1:14)
In Codex Sinaiticus, the introductory comment for the words that follow is, “the bridegroom to the bride.” “Look, you [are] beautiful my companion [my beloved]; look, you [are] beautiful. Your eyes [are] doves.” The repetition serves to indicate that her beloved considered her to be truly attractive. Her eyes appear to have reminded him of the beauty of gentle doves. (1:15)
Possibly because the Shulammite had previously mentioned “henna blossoms in the vineyards of En-gedi,” her words continue to focus on an outdoor setting. Codex Sinaiticus includes the introductory comment, “the bride to the bridegroom,” and Codex Alexandrinus says “the bride.” She responds with the words, “Look, you [are] beautiful [handsome], my beloved; yes, delightful. Our couch [is] leafy” or “luxuriant” (“shaded” [LXX]). (1:16) The “beams of our house [are] cedars, our rafters [a collective singular in Hebrew; coffered ceilings (LXX)] junipers [cypresses (LXX)].” Both in the Hebrew text and that of the Septuagint, the word for “house” is plural, possibly meaning a magnificent house. (1:17)
In verse 3, the plural form of the Hebrew word shémen (“oil” or “ointment”) is written with the suffix that means “your.” A Dead Sea Scroll (6QCant, thought to date from the middle of the first century CE) does not include this suffix. In the next occurrence of shémen, the scroll contains the first two letters of the word mirqáchath, which lexicographers have defined as meaning “ointment mixture.”
In Codex Sinaiticus, the introductory comment represents the words about being brought into the king’s chambers (verse 4) as something the bride told to the young women. There is no introductory comment for the phrase that includes the word for “wine” and which phrase the text appears to represent as an expression of the beloved. “We shall love your breasts more than [literally, over] wine.” Unlike in the Masoretic Text, a form of the Hebrew verb samách appears first in a Dead Sea Scroll (6QCant). Even though the rest of the phrase is not preserved, the reconstructed text could be translated to read, “We will rejoice and exult in you.” The last Hebrew word after meysharím is not the same as in the Masoretic Text, and the concluding phrase could be understood to say that the “beloved ones” are right.
Both the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus indicate that the words of verse 5 are those of “the bride.”
Views about who speaks the words found in verse 8 differ. A heading preceding verse 8 in the Contemporary English Version is, “He speaks,” that is, King Solomon. Another interpretation is that the speakers are the friends of the shepherd lover. The introductory comment in Codex Sinaiticus is, “the bridegroom to the bride.”
Codex Sinaiticus introduces the words of verse 10 with the phrase, “the young women to the bride.”
Modestly, the Shulammite said about herself, “I [am] a meadow saffron [chavatstséleth (flower or blossom [LXX])] of the plain, a lily of the valleys.” She regarded herself as no more remarkable than a common flower, not as someone truly special. (2:1; see the Notes section.)
Codex Sinaiticus identifies the words of this verse as having been spoken to “the bride.” The beloved of the Shulammite considered her to be much more than a common flower. To him, she was like a “lily among thorns,” a young woman who, as his companion, stood out uniquely “among daughters” or other maidens. (2:2)
The Shulammite likened her beloved to an “apple tree among the trees of the forest.” Among “sons,” or other young men, he was unique, standing out from ordinary trees in a forest as would an apple tree. His company was a source of pleasure to her. She yearned for the shade he could provide in the form of affection and under which she could be refreshed as if sitting under a tree and partaking of its fruit. The delights he could offer her proved to be like fruit that she found to be “sweet” to her “palate” (“in [her] throat” [LXX]). (2:3; see the Notes section.)
The Shulammite spoke of her beloved as having brought her “into a house of wine,” and his “banner” over her was “love.” This may indicate that love motivated him to bring her to the location where they could enjoy one another’s company as though sharing in a banquet of wine. His love was like a banner proclaiming his feelings for her. In the Septuagint, the words of the Shulammite are expressed as a request, “Lead me into a house of wine. Appoint love over me.” The concluding phrase could mean to appoint love as a signal or to appoint love like an army against her, to completely captivate her. (2:4; see the Notes section.)
So intense was the Shulammite’s love for her dear one that it left her in a weakened state. She referred to herself as being “sick” (“wounded” [LXX]) with love and requested to be sustained with raisin cakes and supported or refreshed with apples. The Hebrew words for “sustain” and “support” or “refresh” are plural imperative verbs and were apparently directed to women in the royal court. (2:5)
The Shulammite longed for intimacy with her beloved, with his left hand under her head and his right hand embracing her. According to the Septuagint rendering, the word for “embrace” is a future tense verb (“will embrace”), indicating that she confidently anticipated enjoying intimacy in her dear one’s embrace. (2:6; see the Notes section.)
Wanting her love to develop naturally and not to be forced, the Shulammite put women in the royal court under oath, telling them, “I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem, by gazelles or by hinds of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love [in me] until it please” or until it is ready or inclined. Possibly the oath “by gazelles or by hinds of the field” denotes an adjuration by everything that is graceful and beautiful in the open land. The Septuagint says, “by the powers and by the strengths of the field.” (2:7; see the Notes section.)
The Shulammite portrayed her beloved as being anxious to see her. She is quoted as referring either to hearing his voice or to the sound of his swift approach. The introductory “look” in the next phrase apparently serves to focus on his eagerness to come to see her. He is represented as “leaping on the mountains, bounding over the hills.” (2:8; see the Notes section.)
The Shulammite likened her beloved to a gazelle or to a young stag (literally, “young one of the stags” [“on the mountains of Baithel” (Bethel) (LXX)]). This comparison suggests that he was both swift and handsome. After his arrival, he is portrayed as outside the dwelling and anxiously trying to determine whether his beloved was there. “Look! He is standing behind our wall, gazing [or looking intently] through the windows, peering through the lattices.” Anciently, windows were rectangular openings in the wall of a house, and lattices made with crossed strips of wood were used to cover them. (2:9; see the Notes section.)
The beloved of the Shulammite invited her to accompany him, saying to her, “Arise, my companion, my beautiful one, [my dove (LXX)], and come away” (2:10), “for look, the winter has passed; the rain is over and gone.” (2:11) The rainy season of winter had ended, and spring had arrived. “Flowers” bloomed “on the land.” It was then a time for “trimming” (zamír) vines. Turtledoves had completed their migration from the southern location where they had wintered. Therefore, the beloved of the Shulammite is quoted as saying, “The voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.” (2:12; see the Notes section regarding zamír.)
Fig trees were then bearing unripe fruit and grapevines had blossoms that filled the air with their fragrance. Again the beloved of the Shulammite invited her to accompany him. “Arise, my companion, my beautiful one, [my dove (LXX)], and come away.” (2:13; see the Notes section.)
The Shulammite’s dear one affectionately called her “my dove.” At the time, she was hidden from him as if in a “concealed place of the rock” or crag, in a “hiding place of the cliff.” According to the Septuagint, he referred to her as his dove “in the shelter of the rock” that was around the area of the wall. He wanted to see her face and to hear her voice (“sound” [4QCantb]) — the voice he perceived to be “sweet” and the face he found to be beautiful. (2:14)
In view of the earlier mention of the Shulammite’s vineyard duty her brothers assigned to her (1:6), they probably are the ones saying, “Catch us foxes, the little foxes that are spoiling vineyards.” At the time, the grapevines were in blossom. (2:15; see the Notes section.)
The Shulammite or, according to the introductory comment in Codex Sinaiticus, “the bride” said regarding her beloved, “My beloved [is] mine, and I [am] his. He is pasturing [his flock] among the lilies.” (2:16)
The expression “until the day breathes and the shadows flee” may refer to the time when the sun rises and the shadows of the night vanish. A number of modern translations are explicit in conveying this significance (“until daylight comes and shadows fade away” [CEV]; “until the day breaks and the shadows flee” [NIV]). It is also possible that the reference is to the time of the evening breezes when the lengthening shadows begin to disappear. The Shulammite wanted her beloved one to “turn,” hastening back to be with her as if he were a “gazelle or a young stag [literally, young one of the stags] on the mountains of separation [ravines (LXX)].” The “mountains of separation” may refer to the barriers that kept the two lovers apart. It is also possible that the reference is to “cleft mountains,” “rugged mountains,” or to the “mountains of Bether” (an unknown location). (2:17; see the Notes section.)
“Meadow saffron” is one possible rendering for the Hebrew word chavatstséleth. (Verse 1) Lexicographers have also suggested that the Hebrew word may apply to the “crocus” or “asphodel.” In Codex Sinaiticus, an introductory comment identifies the words of this verse as having been spoken by “the bridegroom to himself.” It appears unlikely that he would have likened himself to a flower, especially in view of what he is quoted as saying to the Shulammite in the next verse.
Codex Sinaiticus precedes the words of verse 3 with the comment, “the bride to the bridegroom.”
In Codex Sinaiticus, the words of verse 4 are introduced with the comment, “the bride speaks to the young women.” Grammatically, this agrees with the second person plural imperative verbs (eisagágeté [“lead” or “bring”] and táxate [“appoint” or “set”]).
Codex Sinaiticus introduces the wording of verse 6 with the comment, “the bride to the bridegroom.”
The introductory comment of Codex Sinaiticus for the words in verse 7 is, “the bride to the young women.” In The Revised English Bible, the adjuration is interpretively worded to convey a cultic significance. “I charge you, maidens of Jerusalem, by the spirits and the goddesses of the field.” This rendering is questionable, for it would have been offensive to the Jews who accepted the poetic composition as belonging among their sacred writings.
In Codex Sinaiticus, the introductory comment for verse 8 is, “the bride heard the bridegroom.” This comment is followed by the words that may be rendered, “voice [or sound] of my beloved.”
Before the phrase about the beloved one in a standing position behind the wall (verse 9), Codex Sinaiticus includes the introductory comment, “the bride to the young women; she shows them the bridegroom.”
In verse 12, there is uncertainty about the meaning of the Hebrew word zamír. Suggested possible meanings include “pruning,” “trimming,” and “singing” (that is, the singing of birds that were back in the land). The Septuagint rendering may be translated, the “time” or the “season of pruning has arrived.”
The first word of verse 13 in a Dead Sea Scroll (4QCantb) but not in the Masoretic Text is hinnéh (“look”).
The introductory comment in Codex Sinaiticus for verse 15 is, “the bridegroom [said the following] to the young women.” In this verse, a Dead Sea Scroll (4QCantb) and the Septuagint say “little foxes” (not “foxes, little foxes”).
In Codex Alexandrinus, the phrase that begins with the word that may be rendered “turn” (verse 17) is identified as being spoken by “the bride.”
The Shulammite’s affection was so great for her beloved that he seemingly came to be the prime focus in her dreams. During the nights while upon her bed, her “soul” or she herself sought the one whom she loved but she did not find him. (3:1; see the Notes section.) This gave rise to the thought that she should rise and “go about the city, in the streets and in the squares,” to locate the one whom her “soul loved.” Although she looked for him, she did not find him. (3:2) The “watchmen” on their rounds in the city found her, and she asked them, “Have you seen him whom my soul loves?” (3:3; see the Notes section.) Hardly had the Shulammite passed the watchmen when she found the one whom her “soul” loved. She held on to him and did not let him go until she had “brought him into her mother’s house” and into the chamber of the one who gave birth to her. (3:4; see the Notes section.)
Again the Shulammite put women of the royal court (“daughters of Jerusalem”) under oath “by gazelles or by hinds of the field” that they not stir up nor awaken love in her “until it please” or until it is ready or inclined. The wording is the same as in 2:7 (which see for additional comments). Codex Sinaiticus introduces this wording with the comment, “the bride adjures the young women a second time.” (3:5)
The scene changes to depict the arrival of Solomon after he had been away from Jerusalem. Women of the city appear to be the ones who then spoke. “What [is] this coming up from the wilderness like columns of smoke from the burning of myrrh and frankincense, with every [fragrant] powder of a trader?” The adjective rendered “this” is feminine gender and seems to refer in a general way to what the women were observing. So great was the quantity of myrrh, frankincense, and other aromatic substances being burned that it formed columns or clouds of smoke, and the fragrance could be perceived from a considerable distance. (3:6; see the Notes section.)
Solomon appears to be portrayed as carried on a “couch” or litter, with 60 “mighty men” all around it. These men apparently were valiant warriors specially chosen from the “mighty men of Israel.” (3:7) Each one of the men had a sword and was skilled in warfare. With “his sword at his thigh,” each mighty man was prepared to confront the “dread of the nights,” which could have included surprise attacks under the cover of darkness or encounters with large predators. (3:8)
The litter on which Solomon was carried is described in greater detail. He had it made from the trees of Lebanon, which most likely would have been cedar. (3:9) Its posts were of silver, which could mean that the wooden posts were overlaid with silver. There is a measure of uncertainty about the part of the litter that was fashioned from gold or overlaid with gold. One suggested possible meaning for the Hebrew designation rephidáh is “support,” and the reference has been understood to apply to the back or to the arm of the litter. Renderings in modern translations for the Hebrew word include “headrest” (REB), “back” (NRSV), “roof” (NAB), “canopy.” (NJB), and “base.” (NIV). The “seat” was of “purple,” probably meaning that it was covered with cloth that had been dyed purple. According to the Septuagint, the part of the litter described as “purple” was the “step” or the means by which it could be approached. “Daughters of Jerusalem” or skilled women from the city had a part in beautifying the litter. Regarding what they did in relation to the litter, the Hebrew text could be translated, “fitting with love.” The thought appears to be that their handiwork was a token of their affection for Solomon. In the Septuagint, the reference appears to be to an interior with a stone pavement or possibly a mosaic. This is followed by the phrase, “with love from the daughters of Jerusalem,” indicating that their work was an expression of their love for Solomon. (3:10; see the Notes section.)
It may be that the women who first noticed Solomon’s arrival on his litter were the ones who suggested that other women, “daughters of Zion,” leave from their respective locations and go to see King Solomon with the “wreath” his mother had woven for him to wear “on the day of his marriage.” According to the Septuagint, this “wreath” or crown was one with which his mother crowned him. The day of his marriage is also called the “day of the rejoicing of his heart” or one of special joy for him. (3:11; see the Notes section.)
In verse 1, a Dead Sea Scroll (4QCantb) repeats the word for “night” (a plural noun in both occurrences) preceded by a preposition. The Hebrew wording could be rendered, “at night, every night.”
Codex Sinaiticus introduces the Shulammite’s question in verse 3 with the words, “the bride said to the watchmen.”
For the phrase about the Shulammite’s taking hold of her beloved (verse 4), Codex Sinaiticus contains the introductory comment, “having found the bridegroom, she said.”
In verse 6, the first word of the Hebrew text could also be rendered “who,” and the “columns of smoke” could be described as “perfumed with myrrh and frankincense.” Codex Sinaiticus represents the question as being that of the “bridegroom to the bride.”
The wording of verses 6 through 8 is not included in one Dead Sea Scroll (4QCantb).
If the Hebrew text of verse 10 is emended to read “with ebony” (instead of “with love”), the concluding phrase could be translated, “with ebony, O daughters of Jerusalem.” Numerous modern translations do not follow the reading of the Masoretic Text. This accounts for a variety of renderings that do not include the “daughters of Jerusalem” as having done any work on Solomon’s litter (“the centre is inlaid with ebony” [NJB]; “its framework inlaid with ivory” [NAB]; “its lining of leather” [REB]).
In verse 11, a Dead Sea Scroll (4QCanta) says “daughters of Jerusalem,” not “daughters of Zion.” This scroll also does not include the conjunction “and” before the concluding phrase (“on the day of the rejoicing of his heart”). The Septuagint refers neither to the “daughters of Jerusalem” nor the “daughters of Zion.”
The Shulammite’s dear one expressed his love for her, telling her how very attractive she was to him. “Look, you [are] beautiful, my companion; look, you [are] beautiful.” The repetition may here serve to emphasize how exceptionally beautiful he found the Shulammite to be. He continued his comments about her. “Your eyes [are] doves behind your veil [tsammáh]; your hair like a flock of goats descending the slopes [literally, mountain or hill] of Gilead” (“appeared” [“revealed” or “became visible”] from Galaad” [LXX]). In being like doves, the eyes apparently were soft and gentle, reflecting qualities associated with these birds. From a distance, a flock of goats descending one of the slopes of the mountainous region of Gilead looked like the beautiful black hair that framed the face of the Shulammite. (4:1; see the Notes section.)
The beloved likened the teeth of the Shulammite to a “flock of shorn [ewes]” that had come up “from the washing.” Her teeth were white like sheep that had been washed and then shorn of their wool. Not a single tooth was missing, and all the upper teeth were beautifully aligned with the lower teeth. This appears to be the basis for the comparison of the teeth to ewes bearing twins, with not one missing (“barren” [LXX]) among them. (4:2)
The reference to the “lips” of the Shulammite being like a “scarlet thread” probably applies to the color of her lips. To her beloved, her speaking, or her mouth as the organ of speech, was “beautiful.” “Behind [her] veil,” her “temple” or “cheek” (raqqáh) appeared like a “slice [rind (LXX)] of pomegranate.” The Hebrew text likely relates to the color of the temples or cheeks of the Shulammite, but the Septuagint rendering “rind of pomegranate” could apply to the smooth and glowing appearance of the skin. (4:3)
Impressively adorned, the neck of the Shulammite looked like the “tower of David” that had been built in “courses” [talpiyyóhth], or well-arranged rows of blocks, and on which a “thousand bucklers” had been hung, “all the shields [plural of shélet] of the mighty men” or warriors. There is a measure of uncertainty about the meaning of shélet. The Septuagint rendering is a form of bolís, a term that can designate a javelin, dart, arrow, or missile. (4:4; see the Notes section.)
The beloved of the Shulammite likened her breasts to two fawns, “twins of a gazelle,” that “are feeding among lilies.” He appears to have thought of her breasts as very attractive and surrounded by beauty like the lilies among which the young ones of a gazelle feed. (4:5)
The expression “until the day breathes and the shadows flee” may be understood in one of two ways. It could designate the time when the sun rises and the shadows of the night disappear or the time of the evening breezes when the lengthening shadows start to vanish. The identical wording is found in verse 17 of chapter 2 (which see for additional comments). Possibly the Shulammite’s dear one likened his going to “the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of frankincense [Lebanon (LXX)]” to his joining her and delighting in her company as if coming to an elevated site to enjoy the fragrance of myrrh and frankincense. (4:6)
To her beloved, the Shulammite was outstandingly beautiful, with no flaw to mar her attractiveness. (4:7)
It appears that the Shulammite’s dear one thought of his not being with her as if she were far away in the mountainous region of Lebanon and without his protective care from dangers comparable to those that large predators pose. He is quoted as telling her to come with him as his bride “from Lebanon,” to leave from the “peak [literally, head] of Amanah” (either a part of or the entire Anti-Lebanon range [Lebanon (LXX)]), “from the peak [literally, head] of Senir [possibly one of the peaks of Mount Hermon] and Hermon, from the dens of lions, from the mountains of leopards.” (4:8; see the Notes section.)
The Shulammite’s dear one was so deeply in love with her that he is quoted as saying to her, “You have heartened [laváv] me, O my sister [a designation denoting intimacy], [my] bride, you have heartened [laváv] me with one of your eyes,” or one look of your eyes, “with one pendant of your necklace” (with merely a small part of an ornament that belonged to her; “one ornament of your neck” [LXX]). The form of the Hebrew verb laváv in the text is followed by a singular first person suffix and incorporates the word for “heart.” Suggested meanings for the Hebrew word with its suffix include “stolen my heart,” “encouraged me,” “made my heart beat,” and “enchanted my heart.” The thought appears to be that the Shulammite had completely captured his affection. (4:9)
To her dear one, the expressions of her affection were “beautiful.” He considered them as being “better” or more pleasurable than wine and the fragrance of her “oils” or “ointments” (“oil” or “ointment” in a Dead Sea Scroll [4QCantb]) as superior to that of all “spices” or aromatic substances. Everything about her or anything that she might have applied to herself surpassed whatever could bring pleasure or delight. Her beloved referred to her as his “sister” (an intimate companion whom he deeply loved) and his “bride.” (4:10; see the Notes section.)
The words of the Shulammite were delightfully sweet to her beloved. “O [my ] bride,” he said to her, “your lips drip honey,” suggesting that the expressions that passed her lips were like honey that flowed from the combs. To him it seemed as if an abundant supply of “honey and milk” was under her tongue, bringing him much pleasure when she spoke. The scented ointment the Shulammite used on herself would also have made her garments fragrant. This is the apparent reason that her beloved is quoted as referring to the “fragrance of [her] garments” as being “like the fragrance of Lebanon” or as pleasing a fragrance as one would enjoy among the magnificent cedars for which the land was known. (4:11)
The Shulammite’s dear one continued to speak of her as “my sister, [my] bride,” reflecting his intimate relationship with her and his deep affection for her. He recognized her as being exclusively devoted to him and that all other men were excluded from coming to be recipients of her love. She was like a “barred” garden, only permitting him to enter. The Shulammite was like a “barred” spring, a “sealed” fountain, for him alone to be refreshed and delighted with everything she made available to him in expression of her exclusive love. (4:12; see the Notes section.)
In keeping with the comparison of the Shulammite to a garden, her beloved is quoted as mentioning the delights it contained in terms of trees and aromatic plants. “Your shoots” or sprouts are a “park [paradise (LXX)] of pomegranates, with choicest fruits.” Also “henna” (a shrub that bears very fragrant flowers) and “nard” (an aromatic plant) flourished in this garden. (4:13) Other plants or plant products included saffron (a crocus from which saffron is derived), calamus (an aromatic reed or cane), cinnamon (a tree of the laurel family, from the inner bark of which cinnamon is obtained), frankincense trees, myrrh (an aromatic gum resin obtained from a variety of thorny shrubs), aloes (trees that yield an aromatic substance; possibly eaglewood trees [Aquilaria agallocha]), and all the chief (literally, “heads”) spices. (4:14; see the Notes section.) As the garden and its plants are only being used for comparison purposes, all the aromatic plants mentioned were not necessarily native to ancient Israel.
The “spring” to which the Shulammite is likened is described as perennial — a “well of living” or fresh “waters” and “flowing streams from Lebanon,” streams that had their source in the mountains of that land. This indicated that her beloved could depend on her love for him and her desire to express her affection to the fullest extent possible. (4:15)
The Shulammite is portrayed as wanting her beloved to derive the greatest delight from the expressions of her love. Applying the comparison of a garden to herself, she called upon the “north wind” and the “south wind” to blow upon her garden, causing its fragrance to be wafted abroad for him to enjoy. She invited her dear one to be with her. “Let my beloved come into his garden and eat its choicest fruits.” (4:16; see the Notes section.)
There is uncertainty about the etymology of the Hebrew word tsammáh, which (in the context of verse 1) is thought to designate a veil. Where this word appears in Isaiah 47:2, the Septuagint translator rendered it as katakálymma (“covering”). The translator of the Song of Solomon, however, rendered it as siópesis (“silence”), suggesting that he had difficulty in understanding the Hebrew word.
The Septuagint translator appears not to have understood the meaning of the Hebrew word talpiyyóhth (verse 4) and transliterated it as thalpioth.
A Dead Sea Scroll (4QCantb) omits all the words from verses 4 through 7.
In verse 8, the Septuagint rendering differs somewhat from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. The beloved of the Shulammite asked her, his “bride,” to “come from Lebanon,” to “come from Lebanon.” He then told her, “You will come and pass through from the beginning of trustworthiness, from the peak [literally, head] of Sanir [Senir] and Hermon, from the dens of lions, from the mountains of leopards.” The rendering “trustworthiness” or “faithfulness” (a form of pístis) appears to have resulted when the translator linked the proper name Amanah to the root ’áman.
A Dead Sea Scroll (4QCanta) omits all the text from verse 8 of chapter 4 to verse 10 of chapter 6.
In verse 10, the Septuagint rendering differs somewhat from the Hebrew text. “How beautiful your breasts have become, my sister, [my] bride! How beautiful your breasts have become beyond wine, and the aroma of your garments above all spices!”
In the Masoretic Text, the word for “garden” (gan) only appears once in verse 12. There is, however, a second occurrence of gan in many Hebrew manuscripts. Where the Masoretic Text has the word gal that commonly designates a “wave” and, in this context, appears to apply to a “spring,” numerous other Hebrew manuscripts read gan (“garden”). The Septuagint rendering is képos (“garden”).
In verse 14, the Septuagint transliterates the Hebrew word for aloe as “aloth.”
Codex Alexandrinus of the fifth century CE identifies the words of verse 16 as those of “the bride.” Fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus has an unusual introductory comment for the concluding phrase. “The bride asks the father that his bridegroom descend.” The pronoun “his” is considered to be an error. Contextually, the text should read “her bridegroom.”
The Shulammite’s dear one responded to her invitation to enjoy the expressions of her love that were comparable to everything available to one who had been granted exclusive admittance into a private garden. Affectionately, he addressed her as his “sister,” his “bride,” telling her that he had come into his garden, “gathered [his] myrrh with [his] spice,” eaten his “honeycomb [bread (LXX)] with [his] honey,” and drunk his “wine with [his] milk.” In Codex Sinaiticus, the encouragement to eat and to become intoxicated is that of the bridegroom to companions or friends. The Hebrew text has been variously translated. “Eat, O friends, and drink; drink your fill, O lovers.” (NIV) “Eat, friends, drink! Drink freely of love!” (NAB) “Eat, friends, and drink deep, till you are drunk with love.” (REB) “Eat, friends, and drink, drink deep, my dearest friends.” (NJB) (5:1; see the Notes section.)
Although the Shulammite was asleep, her “heart” was awake. This suggests that her beloved was continually in her thoughts so that even her dreams were about him. The words that follow indicate that she had a disturbing dream. She heard her beloved knocking (“on the door” [LXX]) and saying to her, “Open to me, my sister, my companion, my dove, my flawless one.” The hair of his head was wet with dew. He also referred to the dew as “drops of the night.” (5:2; see the Notes section.)
The response of the Shulammite was one that might be expected as being spoken in a dream but not one that would have been expressed had she been fully awake. “I have taken off my garment; how can I put it on [again]? I have washed my feet; how can I dirty them [again]?” (5:3; see the Notes section.)
The beloved of the Shulammite put his hand through an opening in the door. Possibly this hole was that for the latch, and the objective would have been to raise the latch to open the door. Just the sight of her dear one’s hand affected the Shulammite emotionally in her inmost self. She is quoted as saying, “My inward parts [belly (LXX)] were stirred up within me [for him (LXX)].” (5:4)
Before retiring for the night, the Shulammite may have rubbed fragrant ointment on herself. Therefore, when she got up to open the door for her beloved, she is quoted as saying, “My hands dripped with myrrh and my fingers with liquid myrrh on the handles of the bolt.” (5:5)
When the Shulammite opened the door for her beloved, he was no longer there. He “had turned, passed on.” Regarding the effect on her, she is quoted as saying, “My soul went out in [or at] his speaking [in (or at) his word (LXX)].” This could mean that she was emotionally overcome or felt faint when she heard him speak. The Shulammite tried to find her dear one, but she could not. She “called him, but he did not answer” her. (5:6; see the Notes section.)
In the quest to locate her beloved, the Shulammite came upon the watchmen that went about in the city. They struck her, wounding her. Those who guarded the walls removed her wraparound (redíd). The Hebrew word redíd probably designates some kind of linen or wool wraparound for the upper part of the body. It could have been a wide shawl. In the Septuagint, the corresponding designation is théristron, which may here apply to a lightweight garment, a veil, or a headcloth. (5:7)
The Shulammite adjured the “daughters of Jerusalem,” or women in the royal court, that, if they found her beloved, they should tell him that she was lovesick. According to the Septuagint, she put them under oath “by the powers and by the strengths of the field.” (5:8)
Addressing the Shulammite as “beautiful one among women,” the daughters of Jerusalem, or women in the royal court, asked her how her beloved proved to be more than some other beloved or was better, more outstanding, or unique. In view of her having put them under oath, they wanted to know why he was superior to some other dear one. An introductory comment in Codex Sinaiticus indicates that the “daughters of Jerusalem and the watchmen [or guards] of the walls” were the ones who asked “the bride.” (5:9)
The Shulammite responded to the questioning with a glowing description of her beloved. “He [is] radiant,” dazzling, “white” (LXX) “and ruddy” or red (reddish brown or fiery), “outstanding,” distinguished, unique, or “selected” (LXX) “among ten thousand.” (5:10; see the Notes section.) “His head” is “gold, refined gold” (paz). “His locks” (the locks of his hair) are “date palm panicles” (taltallím) or “firs” (LXX), “black like a raven.” The rendering “date palm panicles” is a possible meaning for the Hebrew designation taltallím. It has been understood to be descriptive of wavy hair or hair resembling waving palm branches. (5:11; see the Notes section.)
The Shulammite continued to describe her beloved. She likened “his eyes” to “doves” by “wadis of waters” or, according to the Septuagint, “upon an abundance [plural form of pléroma (fullness)] of waters.” In this context, the comparison to doves appears to apply more specifically to the pupils and irises of the eyes, for the next phrase refers to them as “bathing in milk.” This suggests that the white of the eyes is depicted as glistening water flowing through wadis. The next phrase contains the Hebrew word millé’th. Suggested meanings of lexicographers for this word include “rim,” “socket,” “border,” “fullness,” or “full place.” The thought could be that the irises are “sitting” as if in borders or rims that the white of the eyes surround. In the Septuagint, the concluding phrase is rendered like the one at the beginning, “sitting upon an abundance [plural form of pléroma] of waters.” The “waters” seemingly designate the white of the eyes. (5:12)
The “cheeks” of the Shulammite’s beloved were “like beds of spices, towers of fragrant herbs.” This description apparently applies to cheeks with a well-groomed beard that is compared to a garden filled with aromatic plants. In the Septuagint, the reference is to “cheeks like bowls” (probably in the sense of garden beds), yielding aromatic herbs. The Shulammite likened her dear one’s “lips” to “lilies, dripping with liquid myrrh.” This suggests that she found the words passing his lips as delightful as a fragrant substance. (5:13) The “hands” of the beloved were like “cylinders of gold filled with topaz” (tarshísh; transliterated as tharsis in LXX). According to the Septuagint, the hands were gold worked in relief. In this context, “hands” may be understood to apply more specifically to the fingers, with the fingernails being what fills them as with topaz, a transparent or translucent gemstone. (5:14; see the Notes section.)
The Shulammite spoke of her beloved’s “abdomen” as being like a “plate” or “tablet of ivory” covered with sapphires. Possibly this means that he was wearing a blue garment (the color of sapphire) over the light skin of his firm outer belly. (5:14) “His legs” were like “pillars of alabaster” or “marble,” straight and strong, with the feet being “like bases of gold.” “His appearance” was “like Lebanon, choice like cedars.” Lebanon was known for its magnificent cedars, and the allusion could be to his being tall and handsome, truly outstanding as one of the choice cedars there. (5:15) The reference to his “palate” (“throat” [LXX]) being “sweetnesses” could mean that the speech that passed his palate or came from his throat was “most sweet” or truly pleasurable to the Shulammite. She referred to her beloved as being altogether an object of desire (plural in Hebrew), and concluded with the words, “This is my companion, daughters of Jerusalem” (or women of the royal court). (5:16)
Codex Sinaiticus introduces the words of verse 1 with the comment, “the bridegroom to the bride,” and Codex Alexandrinus says, “the bridegroom.”
In verse 2, the Septuagint rendering that includes the words about “knocking on the door” are preceded by the phrase, “voice of my beloved.” Codex Sinaiticus here has an introductory comment indicating that the “bride” perceived that the “bridegroom” was knocking on the door. The request for the Shulammite to open the door begins with the introductory comment, “the bridegroom.”
Codex Sinaiticus identifies the words of verse 3 as being those of “the bride.”
In verse 6, the Hebrew word translated “speaking” is an infinitive form of davár followed by a third person masculine suffix. A number of modern translations have opted to emend this text in a way that is considered to better fit the context, not using any word that suggests speaking. “My soul failed at his flight.” (NJB) “My heart sank when he turned his back.” (REB) “My heart sank at his departure.” (NIV) These renderings, however, do not have the support of the Septuagint (lógo [the dative form of the Greek noun for “word”] nor of the Vulgate (locutus [the active perfect participle form of the word for “speak”]).
Codex Sinaiticus identifies the words that start in verse 10 as those of “the bride” that describe what her beloved is like.
The translator of the Septuagint appears not to have understood the Hebrew word paz (in verse 11) and transliterated it as phaz, referring to the “head” of the Shulammite’s beloved as “gold and phaz.”
“Topaz” (verse 14) is one meaning lexicographers have suggested for tarshísh. It may have been a precious stone from the Iberian Peninsula to which Tarshish (as a geographical location) has been linked.
The Shulammite’s comments about her beloved aroused the curiosity of the “daughters of Jerusalem” (women of the royal court). Addressing her as “the beautiful one among women,” they asked her where her beloved had gone. Thereafter they are quoted as raising the same question and revealing their reason for doing so. “Where has your beloved turned, that we may seek him with you?” (6:1; see the Notes section.)
The Shulammite’s response suggests that she came to realize that the glowing description of her beloved had made women of the royal court too curious about him. “My beloved has gone down to his garden, to the beds of spices, to pasture in the gardens and to gather” (or to pick) “lilies.” (6:2; see the Notes section.) She then made it clear to the women that he belonged to her alone and she to him, implying that she did not want them to share in any search for him. The Shulammite said, “I [am] my beloved’s, and my beloved [is] mine, [he] who is pasturing [his flock] among the lilies.” (6:3)
At this point, the king appears on the scene and expresses his admiration and love for the Shulammite. “You [are] beautiful, my companion, [beautiful] as Tirzah [goodwill (LXX)], comely as Jerusalem, awesome as [a military force with] banners” (plural participial form of dagál). The city of Tirzah is identified with a site about 37 miles (c. 60 kilometers) north of Jerusalem. Tirzah became the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel when Jeroboam, the first king of the realm, appears to have transferred his residence from Shechem to Tirzah. (1 Kings 12:25; 14:17) Possible meanings lexicographers have assigned to dagál include “bannered” (that is supplied with banners or standards), “row of flags,” and “[army with] banners.” Perhaps the Shulammite was being described as having an overwhelming impact like that of an army assembled with banners and ready for battle. In the Septuagint, the rendering of the plural participial form of dagál is the plural participial form of tásso, meaning to “station,” “appoint,” or “set.” The participial form has been understood to denote “ones arrayed for battle.” (6:4; see the Notes section.)
The request for the Shulammite to turn her eyes away suggests that just seeing them had an emotionally overwhelming effect on the king. He is then quoted as commenting about her with the same expressions as found in verses 1 to 3 of chapter 4 (which see). The king likened her hair to a “flock of goats descending from the slopes [literally, mountain or hill] of Gilead” (“having appeared from Galaad” [LXX]). Framing her face as it did, her black hair resembled a flock of goats descending a mountain slope in Gilead, a region east of the Jordan River. (6:5)
The Shulammite’s teeth are likened to a “flock of ewes” that had come up “from the washing.” Her teeth were white like washed sheep, and not a single tooth was missing. All the upper teeth beautifully aligned with the lower teeth, resembling “ewes bearing twins,” with not one missing (“barren” [LXX]) “among them.” (6:6)
Behind the Shulammite’s veil, her “cheek” or “temple” (raqqáh) looked like a “slice [rind (LXX)] of pomegranate.” A slice of the fruit may here relate to the color of the cheeks or temples. The reference in the Septuagint could be understood to apply to the smooth and glowing appearance of the skin. (6:7; see the Notes section.)
The king was a polygamist, mentioning his “60 queens and 80 concubines and maidens without number.” (6:8) Regarding the Shulammite, he said, “One” (meaning “only one”) is “my dove, my perfect one,” the “one” (unique one, the specially loved one) “of her mother,” the “one flawless [the choice or outstanding one (LXX)] to her that bore her.” “Daughters” or maidens saw the Shulammite “and pronounced her happy.” “Queens and concubines” also saw her, “and they praised her.” She was the object of her mother’s high regard and deep affection, and all the women in the royal court looked favorably upon the Shulammite. (6:9) Her beauty was beyond compare. Codex Sinaiticus attributes the words that follow to “daughters” or maidens “and queens” who saw “the bride and pronounced her happy.” In this context, however, the words may be regarded as a continuation of what the king said. “Who [is] this” who looks down [from above] “like the dawn, beautiful as the full moon, “pure” or bright (“choice” [LXX]) “like the sun” (literally, “heat,” with the application being to the source of heat or warmth), “awesome as [a military force with] banners?” Everything about the Shulammite was beautiful and radiant, and the impression she made on others was comparable to that of an army assembled with banners and ready for battle. (6:10; for additional comments about “banners,” see verse 4; also see the Notes section.)
The words spoken next are commonly attributed to the Shulammite. An introductory comment in Codex Sinaiticus, however, says, “the bridegroom to the bride.” “I went down to the garden of nut trees to look at the blossoms in the wadi, to see whether the vines had budded [and] the pomegranates were in bloom.” In the Septuagint, there is a concluding phrase that is not found in the extant Hebrew text. Codex Sinaiticus introduces this phrase with the words, “the bride to the bridegroom [as follows].” She is then quoted as saying, “there I will give you my breasts.” (6:11)
What the Shulammite encountered was unexpected. “I did not know [that] my soul [or my desire (that is, her desire to view the signs of spring] set me in [or beside] a chariot of my willing [or noble] people [or Ammi-nadib].” This might be understood to mean that she unexpectedly found herself where the king was encamped. According to the Septuagint, her “soul” (or desire) had set her like “chariots of Aminadab.” Translators have rendered the Hebrew text to convey a variety of meanings. “Before I realized it, my desire set me among the royal chariots of my people.” NIV) “Before I knew it, my desire set me mid the chariots of Ammi-nadib.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “Before I was aware, my fancy set me in a chariot beside my prince.” (NRSV) “But in my imagination I was suddenly riding on a glorious chariot.” (CEV) “I did not recognize myself: she made me a prince chosen from myriads of my people.” (REB) (6:12)
Those who consider the Shulammite’s beloved to have been the shepherd believe that, after she turned away from him, the king said to her, “Return, return, O Shulammite; return, return, [that] we may look upon you.” These words have also been interpreted as a request from companions for the Shulammite to dance. The designation Shulammite could identify her as having her home in Shulam (which some have thought to be an alternate name for Shunem). Her response to the request to return has been interpreted as a refusal to do so or an acceptance of the request to dance. Translations vary in the way they render the obscure Hebrew text. “Why should you look upon the Shulammite, as upon a dance before two armies?” (NRSV) “Why will you gaze at the Shulammite in the Mahanaim dance?” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “Why would you gaze on the Shulammite as on the dance of Mahanaim?” (NIV) “Why are you looking at the girl from Shulam, dancing between two lines of dancers?” (NJB) “How you love to gaze on the Shulammite, as she moves between the lines of dancers!” (REB) The Septuagint rendering may be translated, “Why will you look at the Soulamite? She is coming like a company [of dancers] of the camps.” (6:13 [7:1]; see the Notes section.)
For verse 1, the introductory comment in Codex Sinaiticus is, “The daughters of Jerusalem ask the bride where her beloved had gone.”
The “daughters of Jerusalem” (or women of the royal court) would have known what the king looked like. Therefore, their questions (verse 1) and the response of the Shulammite (verses 2 and 3) have been pointed to as indicating that her beloved was the handsome “shepherd” and not the king.
Codex Sinaiticus introduces the words of verse 2 with the comment, “But the bride answered.”
Codex Alexandrinus introduces the text of verse 4 with the words, “the bridegroom,” and Codex Sinaiticus says, “the bridegroom to the bride.” The translator of the Septuagint apparently did not understand Tirzah to be a city but rendered the Hebrew designation as eudokía (“goodwill,” “approval,” or “pleasure”). This rendering probably arose from linking the Hebrew designation for the city with the root ratsáh (“take pleasure in” or “be favorably disposed”).
In verse 7, the Septuagint includes the reference to the lips and speech (as in verse 3 of chapter 4, which see for comments.)
Codex Alexandrinus attributes the words of verse 10 to “the bride.”
Codex Sinaiticus introduces the words of verse 13 (7:1) with the comment, “the bridegroom to the bride.” Then, before the question about the Shulammite, this codex includes the comment, “The bridegroom [says what follows] to the queens and the daughters” or maidens.
The description of the Shulammite in verses 1 through 5 (2 through 6) may be understood as applying to her while she danced. In the previous verse, the Septuagint referred to her as coming like a “company,” that is, a company of dancers. “In sandals,” the feet (“steps” [LXX]) of the Shulammite (here addressed as “noble daughter” or princely young woman) looked “beautiful.” Her “curved thighs” resembled “ornaments [necklaces (LXX)],” the “work of the hands of an artisan.” (7:1; see the Notes section.)
The “naval” of the Shulammite is compared to a round bowl (literally, a “bowl of roundness”) never without mixed wine or never lacking in potential to give pleasure. Her belly is likened to a “heap of wheat surrounded with lilies.” For an agricultural people, a large pile of golden threshed wheat or “grain” (LXX) encircled by lilies would have suggested something truly beautiful to behold. (7:2; see the Notes section.)
The “breasts” of the Shulammite are likened to two fawns, “twins of a gazelle.” This description appears to relate to beauty and, by extension, a source of delight or pleasure. (7:3)
Possibly because of its being erect and shapely, the neck of the Shulammite is compared to an “ivory tower.” It may be on account of the beauty of her shining or sparkling eyes that they are likened to “pools in Heshbon by the gate of Bath-rabbim.” The name “Bath-rabbim” literally means “daughter of many,” and this is the rendering in the Septuagint. It could be a designation for a populous city. Ancient Heshbon was located east of the Jordan River about midway between the Arnon and the Jabbok. (7:4)
The well-proportioned nose of the Shulammite appears to be portrayed as a prominent and pleasing feature of her attractive face. This facial feature is compared to a “tower of Lebanon overlooking the face [or area] of Damascus.” (7:4)
In her bearing, the Shulammite appears to be portrayed as holding her head erect in a dignified manner. The “head upon [her]” is described as being “like Carmel,” a mountain range close to the shore of the Mediterranean Sea and extending in a southeastern direction for a distance of some 30 miles (50 kilometers). In being referred to as being “like purple,” the sheen of the black “hair” (dalláh) of her head may be compared to purple cloth. The Hebrew word dalláh is linked to a root meaning to “hang down” and has been understood to refer to “loose hair” or to “flowing locks.” There is uncertainty about what it was that bound or captivated a king. The Hebrew word is a plural form of ráhat. Based on context, lexicographers have suggested “locks of hair” as a possible meaning. In other contexts, ráhat is understood to refer to a “trough,” “leather strip,” and “beam of a loom.” For this verse, a common rendering in modern translations is “tresses” (“a king is held captive in the tresses” [NRSV]; “the king is held captive by its tresses” [NIV]). The Septuagint contains a plural form of paradromé, a word that lexicographers have defined as meaning “retinue,” “train,” “passage,” and “gallery.” (7:5)
The king extolled the beauty of the Shulammite. “How beautiful and how pleasant [you are], O loved one among delights!” The expression rendered “delights” probably applies to women who were a source of exquisite delight. According to the Septuagint, the reference is to the Shulammite’s delights (“in your delights”). (7:6)
The “stature” of the Shulammite was “like a [date] palm,” with her “breasts” being like clusters of dates. (7:7)
The king expressed his desire to enjoy the pleasure he could have in the company of the Shulammite, likening these pleasures to the enjoyment of fruit and pleasing fragrances. “I said, I will climb the [date] palm. I will take hold of its branches” or take hold of its fruit stalks. “O may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the fragrance of your nose like apples.” (7:8)
The king’s desire was that the “palate” (“throat” [LXX]) of the Shulammite be “like good wine,” pleasurable like wine of the best quality. This reference to the “palate,” or (according to the Septuagint) the “throat,” could apply to it as being the source of words that would bring delight. (7:9)
The wine is described as “going down for my lover, with smoothness [plural in Hebrew], gliding over lips of sleepers.” This could mean that the wine would be of such a nature that even persons who were half asleep would be able to drink and swallow it without any problems. In view of the reading “my lover,” it appears that the speaker is the Shulammite. This is also indicated in Codex Sinaiticus, which contains the introductory comment, “the bride.” The wording in the Septuagint about the wine is, “going to my beloved in straightness” or in a straight line (perhaps directly to him and to no one else), “suiting my lips and teeth” (or having a pleasant taste as the Shulammite perceived it). (7:9)
When the king is regarded as the beloved, the response of the Shulammite could be understood as expressing her love for him. “My darling, I am yours, and you desire me.” (CEV) Those who consider her beloved to be the shepherd interpret the response to be focused on him, not the king. “I [am] my beloved’s, and his desire” (“turning” or “attention” [LXX]) is “for me.” (7:10)
The Shulammite extended an invitation to her dear one to accompany her. “Come, my beloved, let us go out to the field; let us lodge among the henna plants [in villages (LXX)].” (7:11) “Let us rise early” to go “to the vineyards. Let us see whether the vine has budded, whether the [grape] blossom has opened” and the “pomegranates are in bloom.” There, in the field, the Shulammite promised to bestow her dear one with expressions of her love. According to the Septuagint rendering, she would give him her “breasts.” (7:12)
The Shulammite had prepared herself to make available to her dear one many expressions of her love, doing so as if surrounded by a pleasant aroma and having delightful fruits within easy reach. “The mandrakes” were giving forth their fragrance. By the doors of the two lovers, there were all kinds of “choice fruits” — “new as well as old.” The Shulammite assured her dear one that she had treasured up these fruits for him alone. (7:13)
The translator of the Septuagint apparently understood the Hebrew word nadív to be a proper noun and transliterated it as “Nadab.” In other contexts, the adjective nadív means “willing” but here, in verse 1(2), it appears to describe the Shulammite as a “noble” or “princely” young woman.
In verse 3(2), the Septuagint describes the bowl with the adjective toreutós a word that has been defined as meaning “carved” or “worked in relief.”
The Shulammite wanted to be completely open in expressing love for her dear one. Her wish was that he might be like her own brother who had nursed at her mother’s breasts. Then, when meeting him outside where others could see her, she would kiss him, and no one would despise her or find fault with her for doing so. In the Septuagint, the initial thought is worded as a question, “Who will give you as my beloved, nursing the breasts of my mother?” The giving may be understood in the sense of making her beloved like one who had nursed at her mother’s breasts. (8:1)
The Shulammite wished that others could view her and her beloved as if they were brother and sister. She would then be free to lead him and bring him into her mother’s house — the mother from whose teaching she had benefited. There she “would give [him] spiced wine to drink, the juice of [her] pomegranates.” Apparently these acts represent the expressions of the love of which he would become the recipient. (8:2) The Shulammite and her beloved would enjoy intimacy with one another. “His left hand” would be under her head, and “his right hand” would embrace her. (8:3)
Once again, the Shulammite adjured the “daughters of Jerusalem” (women of the royal court). The adjuration is worded as a question, with the implication being that the women should stop trying to influence her in matters of love. “Why do you stir up and why do you awaken love until it please” (doing so before it is ready or inclined)? (8:4)
Codex Sinaiticus introduces the next question with the comment, “the daughters [or young women] and the queens and the [companions] of the bridegroom say.” Those who consider the beloved to have been the shepherd, however, usually attribute the question to her brothers who see her coming home. “Who is this coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?” Codex Sinaiticus introduces what the beloved says with the comment, “the bridegroom [says] to the bride [as follows].” Apparently this comment was based on the fact that the Shulammite was returning to her home. The quoted words are, “Under the apple tree I awakened you. There your mother was in labor pains with you. There she who gave birth to you was in labor pains.” In the Hebrew text, the suffix that is rendered “you” is masculine gender and, therefore, does not apply to the Shulammite but applies to her beloved. (8:5; see the Notes section.)
Anciently, seals were used to make impressions that served to authenticate documents or to establish ownership. They were carefully guarded from falling into the wrong hands. The Shulammite wanted her beloved to place her as a seal upon his heart and upon his arm. This indicated that she desired to have an exclusive place in his affection and to be under his protective care. A dead person cannot escape from the lifeless state, and love has a binding power that is just as strong as death. The ardor, jealousy, or demand for exclusive affection that is associated with love is as hard, strong, or unyielding as Sheol (Hades [LXX]), the realm of the dead, from which no human can effect release. The “blazes” of love are “blazes of a fire, a flame of Yah.” Love is like a consuming fire, but it is not destructive. This is indicated by the expression shalhévethyah, ending with “yah,” the apparent abbreviation of the divine name YHWH. This identifies God as the source of true love (“a flame of Yahweh himself” [NJB]; “a very flame of the LORD” [Margolis]). The Septuagint does not include this thought. It says, “its sparks, sparks of a fire, its flames.” (8:6)
Whereas water can put out a fire, large amounts of water cannot extinguish true love, “and rivers cannot sweep it away.” “If a man gave all the wealth of his house [all his means of living (LXX)] for” (or in an attempt to purchase) “love,” “they [people] would be scorning him with scorn.” The repetition of verb forms for scorn or despise serves to emphasize how great the contempt would be. A number of modern translations do not preserve the third person plural verb form in their renderings and do not represent the contempt to be for the one offering his wealth to purchase love. “If one offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned.” (NRSV) “If someone were to offer for love all the wealth of his house, it would be laughed to scorn.” (REB) (8:7)
At an earlier time, the brothers of the Shulammite said, “We have a little sister, and she has no breasts. What shall we do for our sister on the day that she will be spoken for” (or when a man will want to marry her)? (8:8) If, when that time came, she had proved herself to be firm like a wall in maintaining purity, they would honor her as if building upon her a “battlement of silver.” In case she ended up being like a door that was open to anyone who might choose to enter, they would prevent this with an action comparable to barring a door with a cedar board. (8:9)
Concerning herself as a mature woman who was exclusively devoted to her beloved, the Shulammite declared, “I [am] a wall, and my breasts [are] like towers. In his eyes” (the eyes of her dear one), she was “as one who finds peace.” This suggests that her beloved could see that she was in no uncertainty about her love for him. The Shulammite was content, and enjoyed a state of well-being and security with the one whom she loved. (8:10; see the Notes section.)
When the beloved of the Shulammite is considered to be the shepherd, the words about Solomon’s vineyard point to a rejection of his attempts to win her love. “Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon” (Beelamon [LXX], a place that has not been identified with any known site). He turned over the vineyard duties to keepers, and each one of them was to bring a “thousand silver pieces for its fruit.” (8:11) The Shulammite may have been referring to herself as the vineyard of which she had full possession, saying, “My vineyard, my own, [is] before me” (literally, “my face”). The thousand pieces of silver were for Solomon, and those attending to the vineyard would receive two hundred pieces of silver for their labor. (8:12; see the Notes section.)
In the Hebrew text, the participial form of the verb for sitting is feminine gender and so is the suffix (“your”) linked to the word for “voice.” This indicates that the beloved is the one wanting to hear the Shulammite’s voice. “O you, the one sitting in the gardens, companions” or friends “are giving attention to your voice. Let me hear it [also].” (8:13; see the Notes section.)
The Shulammite yearned to be united with the one whom she loved. “Hasten, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag” (literally, a young one of the stags) “upon the mountains of spices.” The thought could be that he should quickly make himself visible on the heights where spices flourished and then come to be with her. (8:14)
Codex Alexandrinus attributes to “the bridegroom” the phrase about effecting the awakening under an apple tree. (Verse 5)
Codex Sinaiticus introduces the wording of verse 10 with the comment, “the bride speaks confidently.”
When the king is considered to be the beloved, the Shulammite is understood to be giving her “vineyard” freely to him (unlike the vineyard from the fruit of which Solomon derived profit and the keepers received their share). “My vineyard is mine to give.” (Verse 12, REB)
The introductory comment for verse 13 in Codex Sinaiticus does not reflect the feminine gender that identifies the one being addressed in the extant Hebrew text. This comment identifies “the bride” as the one speaking.