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The Song of Songs 1:5-6

Context
The Country Maiden and the Daughters of Jerusalem

The Beloved to the Maidens:

1:5 I am dark but lovely, O maidens 1  of Jerusalem,

dark 2  like the tents of Qedar, 3 

lovely 4  like the tent curtains 5  of Salmah. 6 

1:6 Do not stare at me because 7  I am dark,

for 8  the sun has burned my skin. 9 

My brothers 10  were angry 11  with me;

they made me the keeper of the vineyards.

Alas, my own vineyard 12  I could not keep! 13 

1 tn Heb “O daughters of Jerusalem.”

2 sn The term “dark” does not appear in the Hebrew in this line but is supplied in the translation from the preceding line for the sake of clarity. The poetic structure of this tricolon is an example of redistribution. The terms “black but beautiful” in the A-line are broken up – the B-line picks up on “black” and the C-line picks up on “beautiful.” The Beloved was “black” like the rugged tents of Qedar woven from the wool of black goats, but “beautiful” as the decorative inner tent-curtains of King Solomon (J. L. Kugel, The Idea of Biblical Poetry, 40; W. G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry [JSOTSup], 181).

3 sn The comparison of her dark, outdoors appearance to the “tents of Qedar” is quite fitting for two reasons. First, the name “Qedar” refers to an ancient Arabian tribe of bedouin who lived in tents and inhabited a region in northern Arabia. Their tents were traditionally woven from the wool of black goats. They were not beautiful to look at; they were rough, rustic, rugged, and weather-beaten. Second, the terms שְׁחוֹרָה (shÿkhorah, “black”) and קֵדָר (qedar, “Qedar”) create a wordplay because the root קָדַר (qadar) means “dark, dirty” (HALOT 1072 s.v. קדר). The point of the comparison is that the Beloved had dark skin and a rugged outdoors appearance because she had been forced to work outdoors, and so her skin had become dark as 1:6 states.

4 tn The term “lovely” does not appear in the Hebrew in this line but is supplied in the translation from the first line in this verse for the sake of clarity.

5 sn There is debate whether the terms “tents” אָהֳלֵי (’ahale, “tents”) and יְרִיעוֹת (yÿriot, “tent-curtains”) used here as synonyms or antonyms. The term אֹהֶל (’ohel, “tent”) is often used in reference to an overall tent assembly, with particular emphasis on the external structure (e.g., Gen 4:20; 18:1; 31:33; Exod 26:13; 40:19; Judg 4:17; Isa 54:2; Jer 37:10) (HALOT 19 s.v. I אֹהֶל). The term “tent-curtains” (יְרִיעוֹה) is used to refer to (1) inner hanging curtains, such as decorative hangings or tapestries inside a tent (e.g., Exod 26:1-2, 7; Num 4:25) and (2) a tent as a whole (e.g., 2 Sam 7:2; Jer 4:20; 10:20; Hab 3:7) (HALOT 439 s.v. יְרִיעוֹת). The two terms are often used in parallelism as an A-B word pair (Isa 54:2; Jer 4:20; 10:20; 49:29; Hab 3:7). Like the “tents” (אֹהָלִים) of Qedar which were made from the wool of black goats, “tent-curtains” (יְרִיעוֹה) also were sometimes made from goat hair (Exod 26:7). If the two are synonymous, the point is that the tents of Qedar and the tent-curtains of Salmah were both black but beautiful. If the two terms are antonyms, the point is that the tents of Qedar are black but the tent-curtains of Salmah are beautiful. In either case, her point is that she is black, but nonetheless beautiful. Rabbinic midrash misses the point; it views the metaphor as contrasting her swarthy outward appearance with her inner beauty: “Just as the tents of Kedar, although from outside they look ugly, black, and ragged, yet inside contain precious stones and pearls, so the disciples of the wise, although they look repulsive and swarthy in this world, yet have within them knowledge of the Torah, Scriptures, Mishnah, Midrash, Halachoth, Talmud, Toseftas and Haggadah” (Midrash Rabbah 4:54-55).

6 tc The MT vocalizes שׁלמה as שְׁלֹמֹה (shÿlomoh, “Solomon”); however, the BHS editors suggest the vocalization שַׁלְמָה (shalmah); cf. NAB “Salma.” Salmah is the name of an ancient Arabian tribe mentioned in Assyrian and South Arabic sources, as well as Targum Onqelos (Gen 15:19; Num 24:21; Judg 4:17). Like the tribe of Qedar, Salmah was an Arabian nomadic tribe which inhabited a region in northern Arabia and the region of Petra. The proposed revocalization produces tighter parallelism between Qedar and Salmah, than Qedar and Solomon. This also creates a striking wordplay on the name שְׁלֹמֹה (M. H. Pope, Song of Songs [AB], 320).

7 tn The relative pronoun שֶׁ (she) on שֶׁאֲנִי (sheani, “because I”) functions in a causal sense, as in the following colon (BDB 980 s.v. שֶׁ 3.b) (e.g., Song 5:2; Eccl 2:18).

8 tn The relative pronoun שֶׁ (she) on שֶׁשֱּׁזָפַתְנִי (sheshshezafatni) functions in a causal sense, as in the preceding colon (BDB 980 s.v. שֶׁ 3.b) (e.g., Song 5:2; Eccl 2:18).

9 tn Heb “the sun has stared at me.” The verb שָׁזַף (shazaf) means “to look at, catch sight of, glance at” (e.g., Job 20:9; 28:7) (HALOT 1456 s.v. שׁזף; BDB 1004 s.v. שָׁזַף). The Beloved personifies the sun (הַשָּׁמֶשׁ, hashshamesh) as having looked at the Beloved too long, that is, it burned her skin.

10 tn Heb “the sons of my mother.”

11 sn The verb הָרָה (harah, “to burn in anger, to be angry”) creates an interesting wordplay or pun on the preceding line: “The sun burned me (= my skin).” The sun burned her skin, because her brothers had burned (נִהֲרוּ, niharu) in anger against her. This is an example of a polysemantic wordplay which explains the two basic meanings of הָרָה (“to burn, to be angry”) (W. G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry [JSOTSup], 241-42).

12 sn The noun כֶּרֶם (kerem, “vineyard”) is used figuratively in this line (see following note on the wordplays in this verse). Some suggest that her “vineyard” refers to her virginity, that is, she lost her virginity. However, this runs contrary to the moral purity accorded to the Beloved throughout the Song (e.g., 4:12; 8:8-10). It is better to take the “vineyard” imagery as a reference to her ability to take care of her physical appearance which had been thwarted by being forced to work outside where her skin had been darkened by the scorching rays of the sun, as alluded to throughout 1:4-5[5-6].

13 sn The repetition of the noun כֶּרֶם (kerem, “vineyard”) and the verb נָטַר (natar, “to keep, maintain”) creates a series of eloquent wordplays. The first occurrence of כֶּרֶם (“vineyard”) and נָטַר (“to keep”) is literal, the second occurrence of both is figurative (hypocatastasis). Her brothers forced her to work outside in the sun, taking care of the vineyards; as a result, she was not able to take care of her appearance (“my own vineyard I could not keep”).



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