On the Song of Songs: Part 1, the Allegory (Yahweh and Israel)

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On the Song of Songs: Part 1, the Allegory (Yahweh and Israel)

Here we are going to endeavor a commentary on the Song of Songs, which is also sometimes, and erroneously, referred to as the Book of Canticles. The work is attributed to King Solomon, and we have good reason to accept the attribution. Hopefully our effort shall correct at least some misgivings concerning the Song, as we shall call it here. Before we begin, we shall examine what early Christian writers thought of the Song, as we were also encouraged to do when we examined more modern references, namely the article discussing the Song found at Wikipedia.

Not every old adage is true. There is a popular saying, or at least it was popular in generations past, that warns us to “never look a gift horse in the mouth.” The common interpretation of the adage is correct, as it is saying that one should not criticize a gift. But even Solomon warned, in Proverbs chapter 19, that “6 Many will intreat the favour of the prince: and every man is a friend to him that giveth gifts.” In other words, the favor of a prince can be bought with gifts, which is bribery. So Solomon wrote later, in Proverbs chapter 29, that “4 The king by judgment establisheth the land: but he that receiveth gifts overthroweth it.” So a king who accepts such bribes may ultimately bring his own kingdom to ruin.

This is the problem with Wikipedia: access is free, so essentially, it is a gift to all who use it. But it is free because nobody is truly responsible for it, since its editors are mostly anonymous volunteers, and practically anyone can become an editor. Yet millions of people turn to it daily, and imagine it to be some fount of knowledge.

So in the Wikipedia article for the Song of Songs, the provenance, and therefore the veracity of the Song is disputed where we read that:

The most reliable evidence for its date is its language: Aramaic gradually replaced Hebrew after the end of the Babylonian exile in the late 6th century BCE, and the evidence of vocabulary, morphology, idiom and syntax clearly points to a late date, centuries after King Solomon to whom it is traditionally attributed. It has parallels with Mesopotamian and Egyptian love poetry from the first half of the 1st millennium, and with the pastoral idylls of Theocritus, a Greek poet who wrote in the first half of the 3rd century BCE; as a result of these conflicting signs, speculation ranges from the 10th to the 2nd centuries BCE, with the language supporting a date around the 3rd century.

Yet in another Wikipedia article discussing Biblical Aramaic, there are two lists of passages containing Aramaic words or phrases that are found in the Hebrew Old Testament. In a list titled “undisputed occurences”, there is supplied one verse each from Genesis, Proverbs and Jeremiah, and then large sections of the prophets Daniel and Ezra. Then, in a list titled “other suggested occurrences”, there is one verse each from Genesis, Numbers, Job, and the 2nd Psalm. One may think that if the Song of Songs had one Aramaic word, then it would have been mentioned there, as several of the listed passages have only one Aramaic word, or they are suspected to have one. But there is no mention at all of the Song.

However in an obscure article titled Israelian Hebrew, where competing methodologies for interpreting ancient Biblical Hebrew writings are discussed, we read: “The two theories are thus not incompatible, which is why they co-existed throughout the 20th century. However, the more recent work does pose a challenge to the traditional dating of some specific texts in the Bible, the Song of Songs in particular.” But the article does not explain “the more recent work”, and while the article refers one to the Wikipedia article on the Song, neither is it explained there.

The truth is that there are many competing theories on what constitutes Aramaic in Biblical Hebrew, or why certain words are esteemed to be peculiar to Aramaic rather than having also occurred in Hebrew, and why they appear in the Bible, and none of them are certain. But using recent theories, a couple of Jews named Ariel and Chana Bloch have apparently insisted that the Song has a much more recent authorship than Solomon himself, even as late as the 2nd century BC, and it is they whom Wikipedia had cited in that regard, from a book first published in 1998. So in essence, they take the speculation of two rather recent Jews and employ that to undermine our perceptions concerning the canonical value of the work.

As for the comparison with the Hellenistic Greek poet Theocritus, skeptics seem to ignore the fact that Hebrew Scriptures, especially in the form of the Greek translations represented in the Septuagint, had influenced Greeks throughout the Hellenistic period, and evidently even before they were translated. The structure of the Song of Songs is also much like that of the early Tragic Poets, and in fact, the Song itself could be such a play, as the Tragic Poets had written, as it is only missing the element of the Deus ex machina, or God in the machine, which customarily appears at the end of a play to resolve problems that could not be resolved by men. The Song has two main characters who have both dialogues and monologues, and a chorus of the women of Jerusalem who occasionally interact with at least one of the characters, very much like the Classical Greek poetry.

The Song must have been at least marginally popular, as well as having been considered a legitimate book of the Hebrew canon, in Palestine before the time of Christ. That is evident where surviving portions of four copies of the Song were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. So here, in order to expose the folly of the Wikipedia articles concerning the language of the Song, we will offer a large portion of the introduction to a Dead Sea Scrolls translation of the Song as it was offered in The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible by Martin Abegg Jr., Peter Flint and Eugene Ulrich (I have seen no evidence that any of these three men are Jews, and at least two of them certainly are not). What follows is from page 612 [where we inserted most of the footnotes in brackets]:

Four scrolls of the Song of Songs (or Canticles) were found at Qumran, three in Cave 4 [4Canta, 4Cantb and 4Cantc] and the fourth in Cave 6 [6QCant]. All were copied in the Herodian period (between 30 BCE and 68 or 70 CE) [4Cantc contains too little text on which to reach a firm conclusion] the latest being 6QCant (about 50 CE). Two of these scrolls – 4Canta and 4Cantb – deserve special mention, both because they are the best preserved and because each has a number of interesting features. Although 4Canta preserves quite a substantial amount of material [footnote omitted], the text between Canticles 4:7 and Canticles 6:11 is completely missing. Since in the Masoretic Text Canticles 4:7 forms the end of a content unit and Canticles 6:11 starts the beginning of another unit, it seems that the absence of chapters 4:8 through 6:10 was was no mere accident; this material was either deliberately omitted, was not part of the text being copied by the scribe, or occurred elsewhere in the scroll. When compared with the size of the book as a whole, the section missing in this scroll is very large (about 30 percent). One explanation is the sensual language and erotic imagery that is found in much of the missing portion; the Song of Songs was evidently a controversial book before the time of Jesus.

The second noteworthy scroll is 4Cantb, which also preserves a goodly amount of text [footnote omitted] but omits two large segments (3:6-8 and 4:4-7) and possibly ended at 5:1, thus containing only the first half of the book found in modern Bibles. It is interesting that 4QCanta and 4QCantb lack a section at exactly the same point (Cant. 4:7). But while 4QCanta omits a large piece of text starting after 4:7, 4QCantb omits the three verses preceding the end of 4:7. 4QCantb also features several scribal errors and, although written in Hebrew, contains several Aramaic word forms that reveal Aramaic influence on the scribe. Moreover, 4Cantb contains several unusual scribal markings that seem to represent letters in either the paleo-Hebrew script, the Cryptic A script (which was used in some Qumran sectarian writings), or a combination of several scripts including Greek. These letters in 4QCantb may indicate a sectarian scribal background or a special function of this manuscript among the Qumran community. The actual purpose of the unusual letters is not clear. Since they appear in lines that were slightly or much shorter than the surrounding ones, they may have served as line-fillers written in the spaces at the end of the lines to prevent such lines from being mistaken as “open sections.”

Notice that the scrolls from cave 4 are sometimes prefixed with ‘4’ and at other times with ‘4Q’, which was probably an oversight. The popular convention is to use the Q as it stands for Qumran. The same scrolls from the Song are also identified alternately as 4Q106, 107 and 108, and as 6Q6, in the publication of the scrolls made by Martinez and Tigchelaar. In preparing this commentary, I will consult the translation of this scroll by Abegg, Ulrich and Flint, and if any of their readings assist our understanding of the work, I shall certainly make a note of it. In The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition by Florentino Martinez and Eibert Tigchelaar, they did not reproduce the Hebrew text or offer translations from any of the scrolls containing Bible texts, but rather they often refer their readers to other translators, including Ulrich and Flint.

Now one conclusion we may draw from this information is that if Abegg, Flint and Ulrich, all three men having advanced degrees and experience in translating Hebrew, had made a special mention of the fact that one copy of the Song among the four which were found in the Dead Sea Scrolls had some Aramaic words, then it is fully apparent that copies of the Song existed, and were found among the scrolls, which were in Hebrew and which had no Aramaic words. So whatever copy of the Song was included in the Masoretic Text, the earliest existing manuscripts of which are dated to over a thousand years after the Dead Sea Scrolls, is immaterial. The Wikipedia conclusion about the language of the Song is defective, because it is based on incomplete evidence from a Jew who is not even specifically a Hebrew language scholar, but only a professor of Near Eastern history, according to information provided in reviews for his book.

This probably happened more frequently than we can imagine, that ancient scribes are found to have updated the language of older scrolls which they were copying, and it seems to have been an aspect of the scribal art. For example, in 1 Corinthians 9:9 there is a word, muzzle as it appears in the King James Version, which in the 3rd century papyrus P46 and the Codices Sinaiticus (א), Alexandrinus (A), Ephraemi Syri (C) and the Majority Text is φιμόω. However in the Codices Vaticanus (B) and Claromontanus (D) it is κημόω, which is a synonym. This is one example of differences in the manuscripts which were made due to preferences in vocabulary from one dialect of Koine Greek to another. It is plausible that perhaps φιμόω was obscure or not even used in some areas, while κημόω was better known, so a substitution was made which by no means injures the meaning of the passage. There Paul had cited Deuteronomy 25:4, where φιμόω was the word used in the Septuagint. So perhaps what we have in the versions of the Song found in the Dead Sea Scrolls is evidence of that same thing, that the original Hebrew was preserved in one copy of the Song, while another copy had changed some of the language to equivalent Aramaic words, which were apparently more recognizable to contemporary readers. That is only speculation, but the evidence speaks for itself.

Furthermore, since in those same Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient copies of the Song do indeed exist which were written in Hebrew and evidently do not contain Aramaic words, the academic arguments over the appearance of Aramaic words in the Old Testament are completely irrelevant in regard to the Song. What is more relevant is to wonder how the 10th century Jews who compiled the Masoretic Text had apparently defective manuscripts, as they are also often at odds with the testimonies of not only many of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but also those of Flavius Josephus and the Septuagint. Therefore, according to the evidence, the provenance and veracity of the Song of Songs of Solomon cannot be reasonably disputed, as the language of the Song in the Masoretic Text was the only grounds for such a dispute, and the existence of much older Hebrew copies eliminates those grounds. Wikipedia is not the authority which it pretends to be, but rather, its pages are replete with the biases and agendas of its anonymous editors.

Among early Christian writers, the so-called “Church Fathers”, the Song of Songs was mentioned by the early 3rd century Christian bishop Hippolytus of Rome (born circa 170 AD), who in surviving fragments of his writing where he was evidently inquiring as to the whereabouts of the many books and other works of Solomon which are mentioned in the historic accounts of the Old Testament, in part he was quoted as having said: “And where is all this rich knowledge? and where are these mysteries? and where are the books? For the only ones extant are Proverbs, and Wisdom, and Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs.” So there we also see that Hippolytus had clearly accounted the Song of Songs and also the Wisdom of Solomon as a part of the canon, as well as having accepted their attribution to Solomon. His contemporary, Melito of Sardis, also known as Melito the Philosopher, mentioned the Song in reference to the ascension of Christ, where he cited a particular passage which he believed had presaged that event (Song 2:8), and also in his Book of Extracts he had listed it as part of his received Old Testament canon.

The Song is mentioned twice in the surviving epistles of Cyprian, a 3rd century bishop of Carthage, in one epistle which he had received from Firmilian, a bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, and in another which he sent to an otherwise unknown Magnus, of which the subject was “Baptizing the Novatians”, a sect which had been deemed heretical. It was also mentioned by Cyprian in his Treatises in Treatise I, the title of which is On the Unity of the Church and in Treatise IV, which is On the Lord’s Prayer. It was mentioned twice by Methodius of Olympus, a late 2nd century bishop of Olympus in Lycia and later of Tyre, in The Banquet of the Ten Virgins, in Discourses VII, titled Procilla and IX, titled Tusiane. It was also mentioned in the prologue to a Latin translation of the writings of Origen made by the 4th century Christian monk and theologian Tyrannius Rufinus, who praised Jerome for his translation of the work into Latin.

The Song was mentioned by Origen himself in Book 1 of his Commentary on the Gospel of John, in chapter 36 which was titled Christ as a Sword. Origen seems to have been the most influential of these writers until the 6th century, when the Church officially branded him as a heretic at the second council of Constantinople in 553. Earlier, in 543, Justinian had condemned him as a heretic and ordered all his writings to be burned. In our opinion, Origen was a heretic, but for entirely different reasons than those of the heretical Church, which nevertheless continues to follow Origen more closely than it does Christ.

However with this, regardless of what we think of them, we have many early Christian-era attestations of the veracity of the Song of Songs, in addition to its presence among the Dead Sea Scrolls and in the Greek Septuagint. When these passages to which we refer are actually examined, we will find that early Christians esteemed the bride of the Song to have been a type for the Church and its relationship with Christ. Here I will offer a few examples, first from the Treatises of Cyprian, who was martyred at Carthage in 258 AD, and whose teachings on the Song very well represent those of the Roman Catholic Church since it was established in later centuries. Two other examples are from the Letters of Cyprian, although one of them is attributed to a bishop named Firmilian. Then a fourth example will be offered from Methodius.

From Cyprian’s Treatise IV, titled On the Lord’s Prayer, in part from paragraph 31:

Moreover, when we stand praying, beloved brethren, we ought to be watchful and earnest with our whole heart, intent on our prayers…. Let the breast be closed against the adversary, and be open to God alone; nor let it suffer God’s enemy to approach to it at the time of prayer…. This is absolutely to take no precaution against the enemy; this is, when you pray to God, to offend the majesty of God by the carelessness of your prayer; this is to be watchful with your eyes, and to be asleep with your heart, while the Christian, even though he is asleep with his eyes, ought to be awake with his heart, as it is written in the person of the Church speaking in the Song of Songs, “I sleep, yet my heart waketh.” Wherefore the apostle anxiously and carefully warns us, saying, “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same;” teaching, that is, and showing that those are able to obtain from God what they ask, whom God sees to be watchful in their prayer.

From the epistles of Cyprian, Epistle LXXIV, which was written to him by Firmilian, the bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, against a letter by a certain Stephen and dated to 256 AD. There is a grammatical error which was probably caused by errant typesetting in all of the copies I have found, which I have tried to correct here. So in part, from paragraph 15:

But neither must we pass over what has been necessarily remarked by you, that the Church, according to the Song of Songs, is a garden enclosed, and a fountain sealed, a paradise with the fruit of apples. They who have never entered into this garden, and have not seen the paradise planted by God the Creator, how shall they be able to afford to another [to] bring water of the saving lava from the fountain which is enclosed within, and sealed with a divine seal?

Finally, from the epistles of Cyprian, Epistle LXXV, written to a certain Magnus and titled On Baptizing the Novatians, and Those Who Obtain Grace on a Sick-Bed, from paragraph 2:

But that the Church is one, the Holy Spirit declares in the Song of Songs, saying, in the person of Christ, “My dove, my undefiled, is one; she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bare her.” Concerning which also He says again, “A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring sealed up, a well of living water.” But if the spouse of Christ, which is the Church, is a garden enclosed; a thing that is closed up cannot lie open to strangers and profane persons. And if it is a fountain sealed, he who, being placed without has no access to the spring, can neither drink thence nor be sealed. And the well also of living water, if it is one and the same within, he who is placed without cannot be quickened and sanctified from that water of which it is only granted to those who are within to make any use, or to drink.

Finally, from chapter 3 of Methodius’ The Banquet of the Ten Virgins, in Discourse IX titled Tusiane, in part:

… The Jews, uncircumcised in heart, think that the most beautiful fruit of wood is the citron wood, on account of its size; nor are they ashamed to say that God is worshipped with cedar, to whom not all the quadrupeds of the earth would suffice as a burnt-offering or as incense for burning. And moreover, O hard breasts, if the citron appear beautiful to you, why not the pomegranate, and other fruits of trees, and amongst them apples, which much surpass the citron? Indeed, in the Song of Songs, Solomon having made mention of all these fruits, passes over in silence the citron only. But this deceives the unwary, for they have not understood that the tree of life which Paradise once bore, now again the Church has produced for all, even the ripe and comely fruit of faith.

Such fruit it is necessary that we bring when we come to the judgment-seat of Christ, on the first day of the feast; for if we are without it we shall not be able to feast with God, nor to have part, according to John, in the first resurrection….

I would like to have included more of that passage for a better sense of its original context, but to do so we would have to address many other theological disputes which we would have with Methodius, who for example had thought that the Tree of Life in Genesis was wisdom simply because Solomon in the Proverbs had described wisdom as a tree of life. While wisdom may be described as a tree, that does not necessarily mean that the original tree is limited in its substance to being wisdom alone. Later, in Discourse 7 of the same work, titled Procilla, Methodius had abused certain terms in the Song so that he could idealize and promote perpetual virginity among men, which also seems to have lent authority to the corrupt Roman Catholic priesthood.

Where Cyprian asserted that the Song is “speaking in the person of the Church”, the words of the passage he cited, which are from Song 5:2, are spoken by the king’s bride. So we see that Cyprian interpreted the Song as an allegory where the main characters represent Christ and His Church as His bride. Then in agreement with Cyprian, Methodius also described the Church as the garden of the Song, and in the Song itself the garden in turn is an allegory for the bride. This is evident where the king declares that “A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed”, in Song 4:12. To that extent, we would agree with all of that, as that is indeed the allegory of the Song.

However we would seriously differ at the point of defining what the Church is. To Cyprian, it was an ethereal body of believers. To later Roman Catholics, it became an institution incorporating anyone whom it could initiate into its own organization. To us, as it was to both the apostles and prophets of Christ, the Church are the genetic descendants of the ancient children of Israel who were promised redemption and reconciliation to Yahweh their God through Christ. So the Church is the children of Israel in the Old Testament, and the Church is the children of Israel in the New Testament, as it is by the mouth of the prophets, that the Word of God is proven to be true when the descendants of the scattered children of Israel hear His voice and return to Him in Christ. But Cyprian and Methodius cannot be blamed for the later corruptions of the Roman Catholic Church, as they were only faithfully fulfilling what they had received, unwittingly or not.

While we cannot speculate as to what the apostles themselves had thought of the Song, as it is not mentioned or cited in the New Testament, we should understand that it is indeed a love poem describing the relationship between Yahweh and the children of Israel, disguised as an erotic poem of the mutual love between King Solomon and his bride. We have already explained that the Song is actually a series of monologues and dialogues in which there are several participants: the husband or king, which is Solomon himself, the bride, who is variously described as his lover or beloved, his sister and his spouse, and a chorus identified as “ye daughters of Zion” or more often, “ye daughters of Jerusalem” where they are addressed by the bride on eight occasions, although they are never addressed by the husband.

According to Britannica, the attribution of the Song to Solomon is a late addition, which is something that they cannot prove. The earliest manuscripts of both the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls contain the attribution to Solomon, so they have no basis whatsoever for such a statement. Then they assert that modern scholars lean towards the opinion that the Song is a mere collection of disparate love poems, however as we proceed we also hope to elucidate the folly of that contention. Now it seems that at least on this occasion, Britannica is no better than Wikipedia. However even Bertrand Comparet, as we had discussed in a past presentation on the Song, had made the same errant conclusion, having said “I don't see why mere poetry, as such, is entitled to be put in the Bible.” Wesley Swift had an even worse assessment of the Song, which was so bad that it is almost embarrassing to Identity Christians.

Apparently, both Swift and Comparet were following the many modern academics who complain that the Song has nothing to do with God or with the law. But in that August, 2016 presentation on certain aspects of the Song, I wrote the following:

The Song of Solomon is indeed about God, in the form of Solomon as a type for Yahshua Christ, and it also represents an inspired message from God. The allegories in the Song of Solomon reveal that Solomon is a type for Christ, and that the wife of the king is the collective body of the children of Israel. The queen in the Song of Solomon represents the Israelites as a people, and the Song of Songs merits its illustrious title because it represents the greatest love story ever told: that of Yahweh's love for Israel His bride.

Now I shall add the assertion that the fulfillment of the allegory of the Song is clearly found in the Revelation in chapters 21 and 22, where the City of God is seen to be an allegory for the people of God, the tribes of Israel as the bride of the Lamb, and as the garden found in the midst of that city. Although the word garden itself was not utilized, the city and its people were certainly described in that manner. Thus we shall begin our commentary on the text of the Song itself.

Song of Solomon chapter 1:

1 The song of songs, which is Solomon's.

The opening verse seems only to have been a title. Here we will preface each verse or portion with the apparent speaker, as the entire body of the work is either dialogue or monologue, and the first dialogue begins immediately.

Bride: 2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.

Chorus: 3 Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is as ointment poured forth, therefore do the virgins love thee.

Bride: 4 Draw me, we will run after thee: the king hath brought me into his chambers:

The King James Version rendering is confused here, and also confusing as it changes perspective from the first to third person in mid-sentence. The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible translates this first half of this verse relatively close to what is offered in the New American Standard Bible, from which we shall repeat it:

Bride: 4 Draw me after you and let us run together! The king has brought me into his chambers.

Now returning to the King James Version for the second half of the verse:

Chorus: we will be glad and rejoice in thee, we will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee.

The New American Standard Bible has the last phrase of that verse to read “Rightly do they love you.” The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible has “How right are your beloved ones!” Brenton reads the Greek well where he has in his Septuagint “righteousness loves thee.” Examining the Hebrew, since the noun which literally means uprightness is plural, I am persuaded that the rendering in the King James Version is correct.

Although the verb for brought is apparently a past tense, the bride is not in the chambers quite yet, as she now addresses the Chorus:

Bride: 5 I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon. 6 Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother's children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.

With a casual reading of the Song, or even after many such readings, along with many others I also had once imagined that these words belonged to Solomon himself. But while Solomon wrote the words, they are actually placed in the mouth of his bride.

It is highly unlikely that the bride of Solomon, who is described in Song 7:1 as the daughter of a prince, or noble, had ever actually worked to keep a vineyard. So as soon as the Song begins, we see an allegory which helps us to understand that this is no simple love poem. Rather, it is a love poem that stands as an allegory for the relationship between Yahweh God and the people of Israel, who collectively as a nation are His bride, and who were given a garden to keep. Then, just as Yahweh had taken His bride out of Egypt, Solomon infers that his own bride was a woman who was taken out of Egypt, where he is described in verse 9 of this chapter as having compared her “to a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariots.”

With this, it is further apparent that Solomon is using his own wife as the model for the allegory which is represented in this song, as we read in 1 Kings chapter 3: “1 And Solomon made affinity with Pharaoh king of Egypt, and took Pharaoh's daughter, and brought her into the city of David, until he had made an end of building his own house, and the house of the LORD, and the wall of Jerusalem round about.” So the circumstances described in the poem fit both the relationship of Solomon with his wife, and the relationship between Yahweh and Israel.

The words attributed to the woman, where she says “I am black, but comely” are much abused by certain commentators who would insist that she is some sort of negress. However where she pleads later in the verse addressing the daughters of Jerusalem to “Look not upon me, because I am black” we see that she considered it a disgrace to be black, and therefore the state of being black must have been considered a reproach. The reason for her blackness is also explained where she further said “… I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me.” So we see that she was not truly black, but swarthy from a suntan. The bride is swarthy because she had been out working in the vineyard. A truly black woman in a black society would not lament being black, or be ashamed for being black, as this woman is here.

In words attributed to the king and his description of this bride, in Song chapter 7 we read, in part, where he tells her that: “… thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies…. 4 Thy neck is as a tower of ivory; thine eyes like the fishpools in Heshbon …” So this bride who described herself as being swarthy because she had been tanned by the sun certainly is a Caucasian woman, which we would expect in the historical context of Solomon’s time, having a belly white like wheat, a neck white like ivory, and eyes like pools of water, which would probably have been blue but perhaps may also have been either gray or green. Another Egyptian princess of whom we have a certain physical description, is Nefertiti, the wife of the pharaoh Akhenaten who lived until about 1370 BC, 400 years before Solomon, who had fair skin and blue or gray eyes. A painted full-color bust of her was discovered in 1912 at an excavation at Tel-el-Amarna, and is currently housed in a museum in Berlin.

While the bride had been addressing the daughters of Jerusalem, now she directly addresses her husband:

Bride: 7 Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon: for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?

While the text of the Dead Sea Scrolls is fragmented, and missing from this point until the beginning of Song 2:8, Abegg, Ulrich and Flint have the end of this verse to read: “… why should I be like one who veils herself beside the flocks of your companions?” In contrast to the word for kids in verse 8, the word for flocks here is a masculine plural form.

Here the bride is showing her modesty and desires to be with her husband exclusively. So now the husband speaks for the first time, in reply to the inquiry of the bride, whose words in verse 7 had expressed her longing for him:

Husband: 8 If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds' tents.

Here once again, it is very unlikely that we should interpret this as a literal husband, who is a king, addressing his wife and queen. It is very unlikely that a noble woman of Solomon’s time would be found out in the pastures with flocks of goats or sheep. It better seems to fit as an allegory of the children of Israel inquiring after Yahweh their God, and receiving this answer.

Yet we may interpret this allegorically in another manner, as being a reference to the daughters of Jerusalem found in the company of the bride, as the word for kids is a feminine plural form which describes young female goats. Therefore it would be evident that the bride did not want to bring her own companions into the company of the male flocks representing the companions of the king, who are unmentioned otherwise.

The husband continues to address the bride:

Husband: 9 I have compared thee, O my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariots. 10 Thy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels, thy neck with chains of gold. 11 We will make thee borders of gold with studs of silver.

Here there is a clue in the identity of the bride, indicating that she was the wife which Solomon had taken from Pharaoh in Egypt. This is because if she were a woman of Israel there would be no reason to compare her to Pharaoh’s horses, as the chidren of Israel by Solomon’s time had a sufficient number of their own horses. In fact, it is evident that the area ruled by David along with the subjected vassal states was larger, more prosperous and more populous than Egypt as it was ruled by Pharaoh at that same time. But if the bride was an Egyptian princess, then the comparison would be fitting in that context.

In verse 10, “thy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels”, the word jewels was added by the translators, as was the word for gold in the clause read “thy neck with chains of gold.” The word for chains can mean necklaces by itself, where the New American Standard Bible has ornaments. The word for rows is Strong’s # 8446, תור or tuwr, and it is defined as a circlet, a plait or a turn, such as of hair or of gold. As a verb, it is to seek out, search or explore, and is certainly the word from which the English word tour is derived. Often, however, as a noun it is translated as turtledove, referring in certain contexts to a bird, as it is here, and also later in Song chapter 2. It is turtledove in Genesis chapter 15 and frequently elsewhere in Scripture. For that reason, here in the Septuagint version, in Brenton’s translation we read: “How are thy cheeks beautiful as those of a dove, thy neck as chains!” In verse 11, the same word is translated as borders in the King James Version, and ornaments once again in the New American Standard Bible.

Now the bride answers her husband:

Bride: 12 While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof. 13 A bundle of myrrh is my wellbeloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts. 14 My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of Engedi.

The word for wellbeloved and beloved here in these verses is on both occasions דוד (Strong’s # 1730), dawd or dowd, and being in the masculine form here it can refer to a close male relative as well as to a loved one. As a digression, it is my opinion that this is the ultimate source of the English word dad, as in a father. When the Septuagint was translated from Hebrew, this word here in this passage was apparently rendered as ἀδελφιδός. But strangely, that particular form of the word ἀδελφός, or brother, was more typically used to describe a nephew. While the original 9th edition of the Liddell & Scott Greek-English Lexicon cites this passage and adds beloved one to the definition for ἀδελφιδός, the 1996 Supplement strikes the words.

There is no explicit indication that the scene has changed, but by this point the husband and the bride must be alone in the main bedroom chamber of the house.

In this context, it is certain that the word for table, Strong’s # 4524, מסב or mesab, is better translated as couch or even as bedside. The word describes something which is round, or some thing that surrounds another. In the Septuagint version of this passage, it was translated with the feminine form of the word ἀνάκλισις, which in the New Testament often described a couch, upon which the Greeks customarily reclined, or sat while dining. In the context of the passages which follow, it becomes evident that the bride is describing herself as this table.

The word for camphire is Strong’s # 3724, כפר or kopher, which among other things is asphalt or pitch. The New American Standard Bible translated the word as henna here, which is acceptable in other contexts but here it is unfortunate. That is because Engedi is the largest oasis on the western shores of the Dead Sea. It was a refuge for David as he fled from Saul (1 Samuel 23:29). So the location provides the context for what is meant by the use of the word kopher here.

In his Geography, Book 16, Strabo of Cappadocia had described the Dead Sea as being full of such asphalt as is described by the word kopher, which occasionally rose to the surface and cooled whereby the local people would harvest and sell it. He also described it as being the source of below-surface fires which caused the asphalt to rise bubbling to the surface before it cooled and hardened. So here it is apparent, that a “cluster of camphire” depicts something which is burning intensely, and together with references to the feminine form the graphically sexual nature of the Song begins to become apparent, which apparently made the Song controversial in early times.

Now the bride is answered:

Husband: 15 Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves' eyes.

In this case the word for dove is יונה or jonah, which was also the name of the prophet Jonah. In the King James Version it was sometimes also translated as pigeon.

Now the bride responds:

Bride: 16 Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant: also our bed is green. 17 The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir.

Our bed is green: throughout this poem, the bride is described as a garden of wonderful plants and fruits. However here the word for green is Strong’s # 7488, רענן or ra’anan, which is defined as to be or grow luxuriant or fresh or green, from an unused root word which means to be green. The word for bed here is Strong’s # 6210, ערש or ‘eres, a couch or a bed. In my opinion, this is the ultimate root of the Greek word ἔρως which is erotic love.

The chapter breaks are not always appropriate in many places in the Bible. Here there is a break in the middle of the response of the bride. In my opinion, the chapter breaks have led many men to err, taking things out of context because they often ignore clarifying statements which preceded or follow a chapter break, not looking past the breaks. Here they reflect another problem: that the translators had not endeavored to distinguish, or perhaps even to determine, who was saying what from one verse to another in this poem. For example, when we get to the passage at Song 6:13, we shall be compelled to move six English words to the beginning of chapter 7, and other anomalies shall also have to be addressed. So for now, here we will continue a short space into chapter 2:

Song of Solomon chapter 2:

Bride: 1 I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.

While the rose in English is the flower which best represents romance, the Hebrew word חבעלﬨ or chabatstseleth (Strong’s # 2261) is said to be a meadow-saffron or crocus. But the שושן or shushan (Strong’s # 7799) is “probably a lily or any lily-like flower.” Once again the husband replies:

Husband: 2 As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.

The word for thorns, חוח or choach (Strong’s # 2336), may refer to briers or brambles or any type of thorny shrub. The word love may have been more clearly rendered as beloved. Here the feminine form of the word רעיה or ra’yah (Strong’s # 7474), which is more literally a companion, was usually translated as love or beloved where the husband of the Song employs it in reference to the bride. This feminine form of רעיה appears in Scripture only in the Song of Songs, and on nine occasions.

The bride responds once more:

Bride: 3 As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons.

The words for sons in verse 3, and daughters in verse two, are not necessarily the sons and daughters of either the husband or the bride, but may have been rendered as young men and young women or maidens, as they were in these passages in the New American Standard Bible.

From this point in the middle of verse 3, the bride is no longer addressing the husband, but is rather expressing her ensuing experience and the result of it aloud, in a monologue, as we shall see that the husband has already fallen asleep:

Bride: I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.

As it is in Genesis chapter 3, the eating of fruit here is a euphemism for the act of sexual intercourse, and we shall see more of this as we progress through the Song of Songs. The bride continues to relate her experience:

Bride: 4 He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. 5 Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.

The banqueting house is literally house of wine, as it also was translated in the Septuagint. But even then it is a euphemism for the bedroom, as the king certainly would not engage in love-making in his dining hall, which was probably one of the busiest and most public areas of his house.

In the Septuagint, the word for flagons here was translated to a feminine form of ἄμορος, which is without a lot or share of something, and for that reason, unfortunate, unlucky or wretched. But in the Latin of the Vulgate, it was translated to a word which means flowers.

The word for stay here is סמך or samak, Strong’s # 5564, which is to support, lean on, rest upon or uphold. In the context of the verse, the bride is looking to be sustained with flagons, which in turn comes from a Hebrew word אשישה or ashiyshah (Storng’s # 809), which is raisin-cakes. That much better fits the context of the clauses which follow, so we would prefer the rendering of verse 5 found in the New American Standard Bible:

Bride: 5 Sustain me with raisin cakes, Refresh me with apples, Because I am lovesick.

Continuing with the words of the bride, she draws a picture of their intimacy:

Bride: 6 His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me.

The text of verse 5 describes the bride as having become weak from love-making. But evidently by this time the husband has fallen asleep. So now she once again comes out to address the Chorus:

Bride: 7 I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please.

Here it is fully evident that the scene to this point has been one of love-making, couched in euphemisms but peppered with some more explicitly erotic language. When we return to this point in the Song of Songs, it seems that there is a new scene, the bride is recovered, and she is once again longing for her husband.

Yahweh willing, we shall return to this point in the Song of Songs in the near future.

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