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The Song of Songs 1:7-8

The Shepherd and the Shepherdess

The Beloved to Her Lover:

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

where do you pasture your sheep?

Where do you rest your sheep during the midday heat?

Tell me lest 2  I wander around 3 

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.

1 tn Heb “soul.”

2 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…?”

3 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.

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