The Beloved to Her Lover:
nursing at my mother’s breasts;
if I saw 3 you outside, I could kiss you –
The Song of Songs 8:8Context
The Beloved’s Brothers:
8:8 We have a little sister,
and as yet she has no breasts.
What shall we do for our sister
on the day when she is spoken for? 6
The Song of Songs 8:10Context
8:10 I was a wall,
and my breasts were like fortress towers. 7
1 tn The imperfect יִתֶּנְךָ (yittenka) may denote a desire or wish of the subject, e.g., Gen 24:58; Exod 21:36; 1 Sam 21:10 (IBHS 509 §31.4h). The optative particle מִי (mi) with an imperfect expresses an unreal wish, e.g., Judg 9:29; 2 Sam 15:4; Mal 1:10. The construction יִתֶּנְךָ מִי (mi yittenka) is an idiom expressing an unreal wish in the optative mood (HALOT 575 s.v. מִי), e.g., “Would that it were evening…Would that it were morning!” (KJV) or “If only it were evening…If only it were morning!” (NIV) (Deut 28:67); “Oh that I knew where I might find him” (KJV, NASB, NJPS), “I wish I had known,” “If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling!” (NIV) (Job 23:3); “I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets!” (NIV), “Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets” (NASB) (Num 11:29). Evidently, the LXX did not understand the idiom; it rendered the line in wooden literalness: Τίς δώῃ σε ἀδελφιδόν μου (Tis dwh se adelfidon mou, “Who might give/make you as my brother?”).
2 tn Heb “you were to me like a brother.”
3 tn Heb “found” or “met.” The juxtaposition of the two imperfects without an adjoining vav forms a conditional clause denoting a real condition (GKC 493 §159.b). The first imperfect is the protasis; the second is the apodosis: “If I found you אֶמְצָאֲךָ (’emtsa’aka) outside, I would kiss you (אֶשָּׁקְךָ, ’eshshaqÿkha).” The imperfects are used to express a condition and consequence which are regarded as being capable of fulfillment in the present or future time (GKC 493 §159.b). The simple juxtaposition of two verbal clauses without any grammatical indicator, such as vav or a conditional particle, is rather rare: “If you rebel (תִּמְעָלוּ, tim’alu), I will disperse you (אָפִיץ, ’afits) among the nations” (Neh 1:8); “If I counted them (אֶסְפְּרֵם, ’esppÿrem), they would be more numerous (יִרְבּוּן, yirbun) than the sand!” (Ps 139:18); “If a man has found a wife (מָצָא, matsa’), he has found (מָצָא) a good thing” (Prov 18:22) (Joüon 2:627 §167.a.1). On the other hand, LXX treated the imperfects as denoting future temporal sequence: εὑροῦσά σε ἒξω, φιλήσω σε (eurousa se exw, filhsw se, “I will find you outside, I will kiss you”). Ordinarily, however, vav or a temporal particle introduces a temporal clause (Joüon 2:627 §167.a; GKC 502 §164.d). The English translation tradition generally adopts the conditional nuance: “If I found you outdoors, I would kiss you” (NASB), “Then, if I found you outside, I would kiss you” (NIV). However, a few translations adopt the temporal nuance: “When I should find thee without, I would kiss thee” (KJV), “Then I could kiss you when I met you in the street” (NJPS).
4 tn The particle גַּם (gam, “surely”) is used with לֹא (lo’, “no one”) for emphasis: “yea, none” (HALOT 195 s.v. גַּם). Similar examples: לֹא...גָם אָחַד (lo’…gam ’ekhad, “not even one”; 2 Sam 17:12); גַּם אֵין (gam ’en, “yet there is no one”; Eccl 4:8).
5 sn Song 8:1-2 may be classified as a “a lover’s wish song” that is similar in content and structure to an ancient Egyptian love song in which the lover longs for greater intimacy with his beloved: “I wish I were her Negro maid who follows at her feet; then the skin of all her limbs would be revealed to me. I wish I were her washerman, if only for a month; then I would be [entranced], washing out the Moringa oils in her diaphanous garments. I wish I were the seal ring, the guardian of her [fingers]; then […]” (The Cairo Love Songs, 25-27, in W. K. Simpson, ed., The Literature of Ancient Egypt, 311). The Egyptian and Hebrew parallels display a similar structure: (1) introductory expression of the lover’s wish to be something/someone in a position of physical closeness with the Beloved; (2) description of the person/thing that is physically close to the Beloved; and (3) concluding description of the resultant greater degree of intimacy with the Beloved. In the Egyptian parallel it is the man who longs for greater closeness; in the Hebrew song it is the woman. The Egyptian love song borders on the sensual; the Hebrew love song is simply romantic. The Beloved expresses her desire for greater freedom to display her affection for Solomon. In ancient Near Eastern cultures the public display of affection between a man and woman was frowned upon – sometimes even punished. For example, in Assyrian laws the punishment for a man kissing a woman in public was to cut off his upper lip. On the other hand, public displays of affection between children and between family members were allowed. Accordingly, the Beloved hyperbolically wished that she and Solomon were children from the same family so she could kiss him anytime she wished without fear of punishment or censure.
6 sn The Beloved’s brothers knew that once a couple is betrothed, sexual temptations would be at their greatest. Thus, in v. 9 they devise a plan to protect the purity of their sister: If she is a virtuous young woman, they would reward her; however, if she is prone to temptation, they will restrain her and guard her from promiscuity.
7 sn The noun מִגְדָּל (migdal, “tower”) can refer to the watchtowers of a fortified city (2 Kgs 17:9; 18:8; 2 Chr 26:9), projecting median towers along the fortified city wall which were crucial to the defense of the city (2 Chr 14:6; 26:15; 32:5), or fortress towers in the countryside set for the defense of the land (Judg 9:52; 2 Chr 27:4; Ezek 27:11) (HALOT 544 s.v. I מִגְדָּל). The Beloved mixes metaphors by describing her breasts with a comparison of sense and a comparison of sight: (1) Comparison of sense: She successfully defended her virginity and sexual purity from seduction, as fortress towers defended the city. (2) Comparison of sight: Just as the fortress towers along a city wall projected out at the corners of the wall, the Beloved’s breasts finally developed into beautiful “towers” (see 8:8 when she had no breasts as a young girl).
8 tn Heb “peace.” An eloquent wordplay is created by the use of the noun שָׁלוֹם (shalom, “peace, favor”) in 8:10b and the name שְׁלֹמֹה (shÿlomoh, “Solomon”) in 8:11a. The Beloved found “favor” (שָׁלוֹם) in the eyes of Solomon (שְׁלֹמֹה). She won his heart because she was not only a beautiful young woman (“my breasts were like fortress towers”), but a virtuous woman (“I was a wall”).
9 tn Heb “Then I became in his eyes as one who finds peace.”