and the shadows flee,
I will go up to the mountain of myrrh,
and to the hill of frankincense.
The Song of Songs 2:17Context
The Beloved to Her Lover:
turn, 3 my beloved –
be like a gazelle or a young stag
on the mountain gorges. 4
1 tn Heb “until the day breathes.”
2 sn Heb “until the day breathes,” which is figurative (personification) for the morning, that is, the time when the day begin its “life” (e.g., Song 4:6). Likewise, “the shadows flee” is figurative (personification) for the dawn, i.e., the time when the dark shadows of the night disappear, or the shadows of the evening which lengthen and are just as fleeting.
3 tn The exact meaning of סֹב (sov, Qal imperative 2nd person masculine singular from סָבַב, savav, “to turn”) in this context is uncertain. The imperatival form may be classified as an invitation. HALOT notes that סָבַב (“to turn”) occasionally denotes “to sit [lie] at a table” (1 Sam 16:11; Sir 9:9) and suggests that this is a figurative use of this nuance (HALOT 739 s.v. סבב 2c). The Beloved would be issuing an invitation to him to “turn aside to sit” at her table, that is, to enjoy the delights of her love. On the other hand, סֹב (“Turn!”) may simply be a synonym for the following parallel imperative דְּמֵה (dÿmeh, “Be like!”), that is, “turn, change” (HALOT 224 s.v. דָּם). In keeping with the extended simile in which the Beloved compares him to a gazelle or stag leaping upon the mountains, the term סֹב may simply denote “turn oneself around, change direction” (HALOT 739 s.v. 1). Rather than leaping somewhere else, so to speak, she invites him to leap upon the “mountain gorges.”
4 tn The expression הָרֵי בָתֶר (hare bater, “mountains of Bethar”) is difficult because there is no known mountain-range which was ever called by this name. The meaning of the noun בֶּתֶר (beter) is uncertain. DCH distinguishes between three homonymic nouns: (1) בֶּתֶר I noun “part, piece” (Gen 15:10; Jer 34:19) related to the verb בֶּתֶר “to cut in two” (Gen 15:10); (2) בֶּתֶר II noun “gorge” (Song 2:17); and (3) בֶּתֶר III place name “Bether” in Judah and 6.5 miles (11 km) SW of Jerusalem (Josh 15:59; 1 Chr 6:44; perhaps Song 2:17) (DCH 2:291 s.v. בֶּתֶר). Thus, הָרֵי בָתֶר might mean “mountains of gorge[s]” or “mountains of Bether” (DCH 2:291 s.v. III). The Hebrew root בָּתַר (batar, “cut in pieces, cut in half”) is related to Arabic batara “to cut off” (HALOT 167 s.v. בתר; BDB 144 בָּתַר). The word does not appear in Ugaritic, Akkadian, or Syriac. Aramaic בָּאתַר (ba’tar, “after, behind”) was used frequently in Northwest Semitic (DISO 45-46) and Late Hebrew (Jastrow 201 s.v. בָּאתַר); however, it offers little to this problem. Many scholars take בֶּתֶר as a genitive of description functioning as an attributive adjective. For example, BDB suggests that בֶּתֶר means “mountains of cutting,” that is, “cleft mountains” (BDB 144 s.v. בֶּתֶר), while Koehler posits “ravine,” that is, mountains with a ravine (HALOT 167 s.v. II בֶּתֶר). This is reflected in the LXX’s κοιλωμάτων (koilwmatwn, “hollow places, basin, cavity”): ὄρη κοιλωμάτων (orh koilwmatwn) “mountains with many ravines.” This approach is adopted by several translations, e.g., “rugged mountains” (NLT). On the other hand, Vulgate, Aquila, and Symmachus took it as a place name referring to the town of Bether (LXX Βαιθηρ = Mishnaic Hebrew בִּיתֵּר) located 6.5 miles (11 km) southwest of Jerusalem (Josh 15:59; 1 Chr 6:44). This approach is adopted by several translations: “mountains of Bether” (KJV, ASV, RSV, NASB, NIV margin, TEV). Theodotion takes it as a figurative expression, reading θυμιαματων (qumiamatwn, “incense”) which reflects a variant Hebrew reading of בְּשָמִים (bÿshamim, “balsam, perfume”) which also appears in Song 8:14. This approach is taken in a Jewish-English translation: “hills of spice” (NJPS). The botanist Löw connects Hebrew בֶּתֶר to Greek μαλαβάθρον (malabaqron) which was an Indian spice plant imported to Judah. See I. Low, Die Flora der Juden, 2:117-118. The expression “cleft mountains” (הָרֵי בָתֶר) might refer simply to a rugged and jagged mountain-range (NLT “rugged mountains”; NIV “rugged hills”). However, this may be a figurative description of the woman’s cleavage because similar imagery is used in Song 4:6 to describe her breasts. The name “Tihamah” (literally “the Great Deep”) was applied to the low-lying coastland between the mountains of Yemen and the Red Sea as well as to the depression of Djauf (Dumah) because of fresh-water springs which oozed up from below (Hebrew “Tehom” and “Tehomot,” Ugaritic “Tihamaten” or “Tahamatum,” Akkadian “Tiamat”). And it appears that in an Ammonite inscription that an area near the mountainous region of Rabbath-Amman is referred to by the name “Tymtn” (literally “The Two Depressions”), rather than by its real name (W. F. Albright, “Some Comments on the Amman Citadel Inscription,” BASOR 198 [April 1978]: 38-39).
sn Scholars offer three interpretations of her figurative request: (1) The Beloved desires her Lover to embrace her breasts, like a gazelle romping over mountains (mountains are figurative); (2) The Beloved entreats her Lover to leave and go back over the hills from whence he had journeyed (mountains are literal); and (3) As her Lover prepares to leave her country village, the Beloved asks him to return to her again in the same way he arrived, like a gazelle bounding over the mountains in 2:8-10 (mountains are literal).