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The Song of Songs 8:1-2

The Beloved’s Wish Song

The Beloved to Her Lover:

8:1 Oh, how I wish you were 1  my little brother, 2 

nursing at my mother’s breasts;

if I saw 3  you outside, I could kiss you –

surely 4  no one would despise me! 5 

8:2 I would lead you and bring you to my mother’s house,

the one who taught me. 6 

I would give you 7  spiced wine 8  to drink, 9 

the nectar of my pomegranates. 10 

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 (’emtsaaka) 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, timalu), 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’…gamekhad, “not even one”; 2 Sam 17:12); גַּם אֵין (gamen, “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 tc The MT reads אֶנְהָגֲךָ אֶל־בֵּית אִמִּי תְּלַמְּדֵנִי (’enhagakhael-betimmi tÿlammÿdeni, “I would bring you to the house of my mother who taught me”). On the other hand, the LXX reads Εἰσάξω σε εἰς οἶκον μητρός μου καὶ εἰς ταμίειον τῆς συλλαβούση με (Eisaxw se eis oikon mhtpos mou kai eis tamieion ths sullaboush me) which reflects a Hebrew reading of אֶנְהָגֲךָ אֶל־בֵּית אִמִּי וְאֶל חֶדֶר הוֹרָתִי (’enhagakhael-betimmi vÿel kheder horati, “I would bring you to the house of my mother, to the chamber of the one who bore me”), followed by NRSV. The LXX variant probably arose due to: (1) the syntactical awkwardness of תְּלַמְּדֵנִי (“she taught me” or “she will teach me”), (2) the perceived need for a parallel to אֶל־בֵּית אִמִּי (“to the house of my mother”), and (3) the influence of Song 3:4 which reads: עַד־שֶׁהֲבֵיאתִיו אֶל־בֵּית אִמִּי וְאֶל חֶדֶר הוֹרָתִי (’ad-shehevetivel-betimmi vÿel kheder horati, “until I brought him to the house of my mother, to the chamber of the one who bore me”). The MT reading should be adopted because (1) it is the more difficult reading, (2) it best explains the origin of the LXX variant, and (3) the origin of the LXX variant is easily understood in the light of Song 3:4.

tn The verb תְּלַמְּדֵנִי (tÿlammÿdeni) may be rendered in two basic ways: (1) future action: “she will teach me” or more likely as (2) past customary action: “who would instruct me” (KJV), “who used to instruct me” (NASB), “she who has taught me” (NIV), “she who taught me” (NJPS). This is an example of casus pendus in which the subject of the verb serves as a relative pronoun to the antecedent noun (“my mother”). The JPS parses תְּלַמְּדֵנִי as 2nd person masculine singular (“that you might instruct me”) rather than 3rd person feminine singular (“she would teach me”). However, this would obscure the imagery: The Beloved wished that Solomon was her little brother still nursing on her mother’s breast. The Beloved, who had learned from her mother’s example, would bring him inside their home and she would give him her breast: “I would give you spiced wine to drink, the nectar of my pomegranates.”

7 sn Continuing the little brother/older sister imagery of 8:1, the Beloved suggests that if she had been an older sister and he had been her little brother, she would have been able to nurse Solomon. This is a euphemism for her sensual desire to offer her breasts to Solomon in marital lovemaking.

8 tc The Masoretic vocalization of מִיַּיִן הָרֶקַח (miyyayin hareqakh) suggests that הָרֶקַח (“spiced mixture”) stands in apposition to מִיַּיִן (“wine”): “wine, that is, spiced mixture.” However, several Hebrew mss read the genitive-construct vocalization מִיַּיִן הָרֶקַח (“spiced wine”). This alternate vocalization tradition is reflected in the Targum and other versions, such as the LXX. The genitive noun הָרֶקַח (“spices, spiced mixture”) functions as an adjective modifying the preceding construct noun יַיִן (“wine”).

tn Alternately “wine, that is, spiced mixture.” The term רֶקַח (reqakh, “spice mixture, spices”) refers to ground herbs that were tasty additives to wine (HALOT 1290 s.v. רֶקַח).

9 sn There is a phonetic wordplay (paronomasia) between אֶשָּׁקְךָ (’eshshaqÿkha, “I would kiss you” from נָשַׁק, nashaq, “to kiss”) in 8:1 and אַשְׁקְךָ (’ashqÿkha, “I would cause you to drink” from שָׁקָה, shaqah, “to drink”) in 8:2. This wordplay draws attention to the unity of her “wish song” in 8:1-2. In 8:1 the Beloved expresses her desire to kiss Solomon on the lips when they are outdoors; while in 8:2 she expresses her desire for Solomon to kiss her breasts when they are in the privacy of her home indoors.

10 sn This statement is a euphemism: the Beloved wished to give her breasts to Solomon, like a mother would give her breast to her nursing baby. This is the climactic point of the “lover’s wish song” of Song 8:1-2. The Beloved wished that Solomon was her little brother still nursing on her mother’s breast. The Beloved, who had learned from her mother’s example, would bring him inside their home and she would give him her breast: “I would give you spiced wine to drink, the nectar of my pomegranates.” The phrase “my pomegranates” is a euphemism for her breasts. Rather than providing milk from her breasts for a nursing baby, the Beloved’s breasts would provide the sensual delight of “spiced wine” and “nectar” for her lover.

tc The MT reads the singular noun with 1st person common singular suffix רִמֹּנִי (rimmoni, “my pomegranate”). However, many Hebrew mss preserve an alternate textual tradition of a plural noun without the 1st person common singular suffix רִמֹּנִים (rimmonim, “pomegranates”), which is also reflected in the Aramaic Targum. However, LXX ῥοῶν μου ({rown mou, “the nectar of my pomegranates”) reflects both the plural noun and the 1st person common singular suffix. Therefore, R. Gordis suggests that MT רִמֹּנִי is an apocopated plural with a 1st person common singular suffix: “my pomegranates.”

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