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The Song of Songs 7:3-4

Context

7:3 Your two breasts are like two fawns,

twins of a gazelle.

7:4 Your neck is like a tower made of ivory. 1 

Your eyes are the pools in Heshbon

by the gate of Bath-Rabbim. 2 

Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon

overlooking Damascus.

The Song of Songs 7:7-8

Context
The Palm Tree and the Palm Tree Climber

The Lover to His Beloved:

7:7 Your stature 3  is like a palm tree, 4 

and your breasts are like clusters of grapes. 5 

7:8 I want 6  to climb the palm tree, 7 

and take hold of its fruit stalks.

May your breasts be like the clusters of grapes, 8 

and may the fragrance of your breath be like apricots! 9 

1 tn Alternately, “the ivory tower.” The noun הַשֵּׁן (hashshen, “ivory”) is a genitive of composition, that is, a tower made out of ivory. Solomon had previously compared her neck to a tower (Song 4:4). In both cases the most obvious point of comparison has to do with size and shape, that is, her neck was long and symmetrical. Archaeology has never found a tower overlaid with ivory in the ancient Near East and it is doubtful that there ever was such a tower. The point of comparison might simply be that the shape of her neck looks like a tower, while the color and smoothness of her neck was like ivory. Solomon is mixing metaphors: her neck was long and symmetrical like a tower; but also elegant, smooth, and beautiful as ivory. The beauty, elegance, and smoothness of a woman’s neck is commonly compared to ivory in ancient love literature. For example, in a piece of Greek love literature, Anacron compared the beauty of the neck of his beloved Bathyllus to ivory (Ode xxxix 28-29).

2 sn It is impossible at the present time to determine the exact significance of the comparison of her eyes to the “gate of Bath-Rabbim” because this site has not yet been identified by archaeologists.

3 tn The term קוֹמָתֵךְ (qomatek, “stature”) indicates the height of an object, e.g., tall person (1 Sam 16:7; Ezek 13:8), tall tree (2 Kgs 19:23; Isa 10:33; Ezek 31:3-5, 10-14), a towering vine (Ezek 19:11).

4 sn The term תָּמָר (tamar, “palm tree”) refers to the date palm tree (Phoenix dactyliferia) that can reach a height of 80 feet (24 m). It flourished in warm moist areas and oases from Egypt to India. Ancient Iraq was the leading grower of date palms and dates in the ancient world, as today (M. H. Pope, The Song of Songs [AB], 633). There is also a hint of eroticism in this palm tree metaphor because the palm tree was often associated with fertility in the ancient world. The point of comparison is that she is a tall, slender, fertile young woman. The comparison of a tall and slender lady to a palm tree is not uncommon in love literature: “O you, whose height is that of a palm tree in a serail” (Homer, Odyssey vi 162-63) (S. H. Stephan, “Modern Palestinian Parallels to the Song of Songs,” JPOS 2 [1922]: 76).

5 tn Alternately “clusters of figs.” The term אַשְׁכֹּלוֹת (’ashkolot, “clusters”) usually refers to (1) clusters of grapes, that is, the stalk on which the bunch of grapes grow and the bunch of grapes themselves (Gen 40:10; Num 13:23-24; Deut 32:32; Isa 65:8; Mic 7:1) or (2) the berry on a cluster of henna bush (Song 1:14) (HALOT 95 s.v. I אַשְׁכּוֹל). It is possible that this is an anomalous usage in reference to a cluster of dates rather than to a cluster of grapes for three reasons: (1) the תָּמָר (tamar, “palm tree”) referred to in 7:7 is a date palm, (2) the term סַנְסִנִּים (sansinnim, “fruit stalks”) in 7:8a refers to the fruit stalk of dates (Rademus dactylorum), being related to Akkadian sissinnu (“part of the date palm”), and (3) the reference to climbing the palm tree in 7:8a is best understood if it is a date palm and its fruit are dates. The comparison between her breasts and clusters of dates probably has to do with shape and multiplicity, as well as taste, as the rest of this extended metaphor intimates. M. H. Pope (The Song of Songs [AB], 634) notes: “The comparison of the breasts to date clusters presumably intended a pair of clusters to match the dual form of the word for ‘breasts.’ A single cluster of dates may carry over a thousand single fruits and weigh twenty pounds or more. It may be noted that the multiple breasts of the representations of Artemis of Ephesus look very much like a cluster of large dates, and it might be that the date clusters here were intended to suggest a similar condition of polymasty.”

6 tn Heb “I said, ‘I will climb….’” The verb אָמַר (’amar, “to say”) is often used metonymically in reference to the thought process, emphasizing the spontaneity of a decision or of an idea which has just entered the mind of the speaker moments before he speaks (Gen 20:11; 26:9; 44:28; Exod 2:14; Num 24:11; Ruth 4:4; 1 Sam 20:4, 26; 2 Sam 5:6; 12:22; 2 Kgs 5:11). M. H. Pope renders it appropriately: “Methinks” (Song of Songs [AB], 635).

7 sn A Palestinian palm tree grower would climb a palm tree for two reasons: (1) to pluck the fruit and (2) to pollinate the female palm trees. Because of their height and because the dates would not naturally fall off the tree, the only way to harvest dates from a palm tree is to climb the tree and pluck the fruit off the stalks. This seems to be the primary imagery behind this figurative expression. The point of comparison here would be that just as one would climb a palm tree to pluck its fruit so that it might be eaten and enjoyed, so too Solomon wanted to embrace his Beloved so that he might embrace and enjoy her breasts. It is possible that the process of pollination is also behind this figure. A palm tree is climbed to pick its fruit or to dust the female flowers with pollen from the male flowers (the female and male flowers were on separate trees). To obtain a better yield and accelerate the process of pollination, the date grower would transfer pollen from the male trees to the flowers on the female trees. This method of artificial pollination is depicted in ancient Near Eastern art. For example, a relief from Gozan (Tel Halaf) dating to the 9th century b.c. depicts a man climbing a palm tree on a wooden ladder with his hands stretched out to take hold of its top branches to pollinate the flowers or to pick the fruit from the tree. The point of this playful comparison is clear: Just as a palm tree grower would climb a female tree to pick its fruit and to pollinate it with a male flower, Solomon wanted to grasp her breasts and to make love to her (The Illustrated Family Encyclopedia of the Living Bible, 10:60).

8 tn Heb “of the vine.”

9 tn The Hebrew noun תַּפּוּחַ (tappukha) has been traditionally been translated as “apple,” but modern botanists and the most recent lexicographers now identify תַּפּוּחַ with the “apricot” (BDB 656 s.v. I תַּפּוּחַ). This might better explain the association with the sweet smelling scent,
especially since the term is derived from a Semitic root denoting “aromatic scent.” Apricots were often associated with their sweet scent in the ancient world (Fauna and Flora of the Bible, 92-93).



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