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The Song of Songs 1:6-9

Context

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

for 2  the sun has burned my skin. 3 

My brothers 4  were angry 5  with me;

they made me the keeper of the vineyards.

Alas, my own vineyard 6  I could not keep! 7 

The Shepherd and the Shepherdess

The Beloved to Her Lover:

1:7 Tell me, O you whom my heart 8  loves,

where do you pasture your sheep?

Where do you rest your sheep during the midday heat?

Tell me lest 9  I wander around 10 

beside the flocks of your companions!

The Lover to His Beloved:

1:8 If you do not know, O most beautiful of women,

simply follow the tracks of my flock,

and pasture your little lambs

beside the tents of the shepherds.

The Beautiful Mare and the Fragrant Myrrh

The Lover to His Beloved:

1:9 O my beloved, you are like 11  a 12  mare 13 

among Pharaoh’s stallions. 14 

1 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).

2 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).

3 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.

4 tn Heb “the sons of my mother.”

5 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).

6 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].

7 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”).

8 tn Heb “soul.”

9 tn The causal relative pronoun שֶׁ (she, “because”; BDB 980 s.v. שֶׁ 3.b) is prefixed to the interrogative particle לָמָה (lamah, “why?”; BDB 554 s.v. מַה 4.d) to form the idiom שַׁלָּמָה (shallamah, “lest”; BDB 554 s.v. מַה 4.d.β; 980 s.v. שֶׁ 3b). BDB notes that לָמָה is used with an imperfect – as is the case here with אֶהְיֶה (’ehyeh, Qal imperfect 1st person common singular from הָיָה, haya, “to be”) – to deprecate a situation and for rhetorical emphasis to introduce the reason why something should, or should not, be done: “Why should?” (e.g., Gen 27:45; 47:19; Exod 32:12; 1 Sam 19:5, 17; 20:8, 32; 2 Sam 2:22; 13:26; 16:9; 20:19; 2 Kgs 14:10; 2 Chr 25:16; Neh 6:3; Pss 79:10; 115:2; Eccl 5:5; 7:16-17; Jer 40:15; Joel 2:17) (BDB 554 s.v. מַה 4.d.β). When connected with a foregoing sentence by the causal relative pronouns שֶׁ “because,” the idiom שַׁלָּמָה connotes “lest” (literally, “Because why should?”) (BDB 554 s.v. 4.d.β). The meaning of שַׁלָּמָה is identical to the parallel constructions אֲשֶׁר לָמָּה (’asher lammah, “lest”; Dan 1:10) and דִּי לְמָה (di lÿmah, “lest”; Ezra 7:23). In Song 1:6[7] the causal relative pronoun שֶׁ connects it to the preceding lines, and our idiom assumes the elided phrase לִי הַגִּידָהּ (haggidah li, “Tell me!”) which occurred earlier: “Tell me lest I …!” or “Tell me! For why should I…?”

10 tn The meaning of MT עֹטְיָה (’otÿyah, Qal active participle fs from עָטָה, ’atah, “to veil oneself”) is debated; several options have been proposed: (1) Some scholars attempt to explain this in light of ancient Israelite culture or customs. The term עָטָה describes a person wrapping oneself in a garment or with a veil (HALOT 813 s.v. I עטה) as (a) a sign of grief or mourning (Ezek 24:17, 22), uncleanness (Lev 13:45), or shame (Mic 3:7), and as (b) the clothing of the deceased (1 Sam 28:14) and veiled cult-prostitutes (Gen 28:14). The term is rendered “one who veils herself” (NASB), “one who is veiled” (NRSV, KJV margin) and “like a veiled woman” (ASV, NIV). BDB suggests that she veiled herself in mourning (BDB 741 s.v. I עָטָה). Rashi suggested that she veiled herself in mourning because she did not know where to find her beloved (Canticles Rabbah 1:6). Many commentators connect this with the veiled cult-prostitute soliciting business among shepherds. She wished to avoid what Tamar tried to do: to be mistaken as a harlot looking for business among the shepherds (Gen 38:14-23). If her beloved would not declare his whereabouts, she would be reduced to looking for him among the shepherds – an action that could be easily misunderstood. This is reflected in the CEV paraphrase: “Don’t let the other shepherds think badly of me.” R. E. Murphy (Song of Songs [Hermeneia], 131) writes: “Commentators have interpreted the covering as a sign of mourning (2 Sam 15:30) or as the sign of a harlot (Gen 38:14-15). These references are not helpful in explaining the context of v 7, and in neither of the instances is the word עָטָה used. She seems rather to refer to some kind of covering or disguise she will be forced to use unless she knows where to find him. One can infer that the disguise will enable her to avoid being identified by his ‘companions,’ but no reason is given (perhaps she does not want them to know about the rendezvous?)” (2) Other scholars resort to comparative lexicography. For example, S. R. Driver suggested that עֹטְיָה is not derived from עָטָה I (“to veil”), but from the Arabic root gth that came into Hebrew as the homonymic root עָטָה “to pick lice” (Isa 22:17; Jer 43:12) (HALOT 814 s.v. II עטה). Driver renders the line, “lest I be left picking lice,” that is, while away the siesta-time grooming herself. Most scholars reject this proposal; it seems strange in the context and unnecessarily creates a homonym for a well-known term that makes adequate sense contextually. Nevertheless, Driver’s proposal was adopted by the NEB: “that I may not be left picking lice.” See D. R. Driver, “Lice in the Old Testament,” PEQ 106 (1974): 159-160. (3) Still other scholars emend the text. MT reads כְּעֹטְיָה (kÿotÿyah, “like one who is veiled”) (preposition כְּ + Qal active participle fs עָטָה I “to veil”) which is also reflected in the LXX’s ὠ περιβαλλομενη (w periballomenh, “like one who is covered”; fs passive participle from περιβάλλω, periballw, “to cover”). However, several ancient versions (Greek: Symmachus, Syriac Peshitta, Vulgate) reflect a Hebrew Vorlage with metathesis of the first two consonants: כְּטֹעִיָּה (kÿtoiyyah) from טָעָה (taah, “to wander about, to stray”; e.g., Ezek 13:10). The root טָעָה would be an Aramaizing form of Hebrew תָּעָה (“to wander”). This emendation is suggested by the BHS editors and the lexicons (HALOT 377 s.v. טעה; 814; BDB 742 s.v.); It is adopted by many translations: “like one who wanders” (RSV, AV, JB, NAB, NJV), “like one who strays” (JPS, NJPS) and “as one that turneth aside” (KJV). This would make nice sense contextually: she begs her beloved to tell her where to find him because she does not want to wander around like someone who is lost.

11 tn Heb “I compare you to.”

12 tn The hireq-yod ending on סֻסָתִי (susati) is a remnant of the old genitive ending (e.g., nominative: malku, genitive: malki, accusative: malka), the so-called hireq compaginis ending. Thus, סֻסָתִי בְּרִכְבֵי פַרְעֹה (susati berikve paroh) is a double genitive-construct: “a mare among the chariot-horses of Pharaoh” (M. H. Pope, Song of Songs [AB], 338) or “a mare among the chariots of Pharaoh” (R. E. Murphy, Song of Songs [Hermeneia], 131). The hireq-yod ending was mistakenly treated as 1st person common singular possessive suffix “my mare” by LXX, Vulgate, Syriac. This approach is mistakenly adopted by several translations: “my mare” (NASB, NJB), “my filly” (NKJV) and “my company of horsemen” (DRA).

13 sn It was common in ancient love literature to compare a beautiful woman to a sleek filly. For example, Horace likened Lyde to a three year old filly: “She gambols over the spreading plains and shrinks from touch, to wedlock still a stranger, not yet ripe for eager mate” (Horace, Odes iii. xi. 9). Theocritus compared Helen of Troy to a graceful steed harnessed to a chariot: “As towers the cypress mid the garden’s bloom, as in the chariot proud Thessalian steed, thus graceful rose-complexion’d Helen moves” (Theocritus, Idyll xviii. 30-31).

14 tn Heb “among the chariot-horses” or “among the chariots.” The noun רֶכֶב (rekhev) has a wide range of meanings: “chariots, war-chariots” (Exod 14:17-18, 23; 15:19; Deut 11:4; 20:1; Josh 11:4) “chariot crews, chariot troops” (1 Kgs 9:22; 16:9; 22:31; 2 Kg 8:21), “column of chariots, troop of warriors” (Isa 21:7, 9), “charioteer” (Ps 76:7), and “chariot-horses” (Exod 14:9; 2 Sam 8:4; 1 Chr 18:4; Ezek 39:20) (HALOT 1233-35 s.v. רֶכֶב). Scholars have struggled with the meaning of בְּרִכְבֵי פַרְעֹה (bÿrikhbe paroh, “[harnessed to (?)] Pharaoh’s chariot”; HALOT 1234 s.v. 6.b). M. H. Pope (Song of Songs [AB], 338) suggests that רִכְבֵי (rikhbe) be nuanced “chariot-horses” and the phrase rendered “among the chariot-horses of Pharaoh.” Pope offers the best explanation of this enigmatic picture: “A crucial consideration overlooked by commentators is the well-attested fact that Pharaoh’s chariots, like other chariotry in antiquity, were not drawn by a mare or mares but by stallions hitched in pairs. This bit of intelligence radically alters the usual understanding of the verse and dispels the notion that there is a grammatical incongruity, which needs harmonizing. The juxtaposition is between a single mare and a plurality of stallions and it requires only a modicum of what is called ‘horse sense’ to appreciate the thrust of the comparison. The situation envisaged is illustrated by the famous incident in one of the campaigns of Thutmose III against Qadesh. On his tomb at Thebes, the Egyptian soldier Amenemheb relates how the Prince of Qadesh sent forth a swift mare, which entered among the army. But Amenemheb ran after her on foot and with his dagger ripped open her belly, cut off her tail, and presented it to the king, thus preventing a debacle before the excited stallions could take out after the mare.”



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