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The Song of Songs 4:9-10

Context

4:9 You have stolen my heart, 1  my sister, 2  my bride!

You have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes, 3 

with one jewel of your necklace.

4:10 How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride!

How much better is your love than wine;

the fragrance of your perfume is better than any spice!

1 tn The Piel denominative verb לבב is derived from the noun לֵבָב (levav, “heart”), and occurs only here. Its meaning is debated: (1) metonymical sense: “you have encouraged me,” that is, given me heart (BDB 525 s.v. לֵב; AV, RSV); (2) intensive sense: “you have made my heart beat faster” (KBL 471 s.v. I לבב); and (3) privative sense: “you have ravished my heart” or “you have stolen my heart” (HALOT 515 s.v. I לבב; GKC 141-42 §52.h) (NIV). While the Niphal stem has a metonymical nuance (cause for effect): to get heart, that is, to get understanding (Job 11:12), the Piel stem may have a privative nuance: to take away heart, that is, to take away the senses. Her beauty was so overwhelming that it robbed him of his senses (e.g., Hos 4:11). This is paralleled by a modern Palestinian love song: “She stood opposite me and deprived me of reason (literally, “took my heart”), your dark eyes slew me while I was singing, your eyebrows drove shame from me…the darkness of your eyes have slain me; O one clad in purple clothes, it is worthwhile falling in love with you, for your eyes are black and sparkle, and have slain me indeed.” Less likely is the proposal of Waldeman who relates this to Akkadian lababu (“to rage, be aroused to fury”), suggesting that Song 4:9 means “to become passionately aroused” or “to be aroused sexually.” See S. H. Stephan, “Modern Palestinian Parallels to the Song of Songs,” JPOS 2 (1922): 13; R. Gordis, Song of Songs and Lamentations, 85-86; N. M. Waldman, “A Note on Canticles 4:9,” JBL 89 (1970): 215-17; H. W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament, 40-58.

2 sn It is clear from Song 8:1 that the young man and his bride were not physical brother and sister, yet he addresses his bride as אֲחֹתִי (’akhoti, “my sister”) several times (4:9, 10, 12; 5:1). This probably reflects any one of several ancient Near Eastern customs: (1) The appellatives “my sister” and “my brother” were both commonly used in ancient Near Eastern love literature as figurative descriptions of two lovers. For instance, in a Ugaritic poem when Anat tried to seduce Aqhat, she says, “Hear, O hero Aqhat, you are my brother and I your sister” (Aqhat 18 i. 24). In the OT Apocrypha husband and wife are referred to several times as “brother” and “sister” (Add Esth 15:9; Tob 5:20; 7:16). This “sister-wife” motif might be behind Paul’s perplexing statement about a “sister-wife” (1 Cor 9:5). (2) In several Mesopotamian societies husbands actually could legally adopt their wives for a variety of reasons. For instance, in Hurrian society husbands in the upper classes sometimes adopted their wives as “sisters” in order to form the strongest of all possible marriage bonds; a man could divorce his wife but he could not divorce his “sister” because she was “family.” At Nuzi a husband could adopt his wife to give her a higher status in society. See M. Held, “A Faithful Lover in Old Babylonian Dialogue,” JCS 15 (1961): 1-26 and S. N. Kramer, The Sacred Marriage Rite, 103-5; T. Jacobsen, “The Sister’s Message,” JANESCU 5 (1973): 199-212; E. A. Speiser, “The Wife-Sister Motif in the Patriarchal Narratives,” Oriental and Biblical Studies, 15- 28; G. R. Driver, Canaanite Myths and Legends, 111.

3 tn Alternately, “eye-stone [of your necklace].” The term עִינַיִךְ (’inayikh, “your eyes”) probably refers to her physical eyes (e.g., 4:1). However, in Sumero-Akkadian literature the term “eye” sometimes refers to the eye-stone of a necklace. Agate-stones were cut so that white stripes appeared around the black or brown core to look like the pupil on the eye. M. H. Pope (Song of Songs [AB], 482-83) suggests that the parallelism between the A and B lines suggests the following: “with one of your eye-stones” and “with one jewel of your necklace.” See W. G. Lambert, “An Eye Stone of Esarhaddon’s Queen and Other Similar Gems,” RA 63 (1969): 65-71.



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