The next topic I want to explore is the intended meaning of the Song of Songs.
The first passage I’m considering is part of the first chapter, ch.1 vv2-6.
(The translation being used is the RSV)
I need to explain my naming of the “speakers” in these passages.
The two main characters of the Song are frequently called “the Lover” and “the Beloved”, giving the first name to the male.
Those labels make the male the active pursuer, following the conventions of romance.
They mask the reality of this poem, that the woman is patently doing most of the pursuing.
That should be one of the clues that this is not a conventional romance.
So I’m calling these characters “the Woman” and “the Loved One” in that order.
It isn’t always clear, from the text, how the dialogue in this poem is to be broken down.
Readers and translators are obliged to use their own judgement.
In the fourth verse, for instance, the speech jumps from one person to another in many translations.
My own view is different. I’m going to maintain that the Woman is the only speaker in this passage, from the second verse down to the end of the
v2 This verse sets the tone for the whole poem, which begins (as it ends) with a speech from the Woman.
Addressing the Loved One, she tells him that she wants his love.
She compares him with the pleasant taste of wine and the pleasant smell of oil, and his name (perhaps) with the gentle touch of oil.
(I’m aware of the word-play in the last comparison, but I don’t have enough space or Hebrew to comment on word-plays in general)
These are reasons why “the maidens” in general should love him.
So she’s not a “unique” lover. She regards herself as one of many.
v4 This verse follows on from the previous verse, describing the Loved One as someone to be pursued.
“Draw me after you”; the Woman speaks to the Loved One, expressing her desire to follow him.
Perhaps also suggesting that she needs his help to do so.
“Let us make haste”; in each other’s company.
Alternatively, she speaks to the “maidens” mentioned in the previous verse, proposing that all of them should follow the Loved One together.
She then goes back to addressing the Loved One;
“We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine”.
She says “We” because she now speaks for that whole band of maidens, not just for herself.
Finally, in the last line of the verse, the rest of the maidens have become “They”; “Rightly do they love you”.
This would not have been said in the normal romance, where the other girls would have been her rivals.
That’s another clue that the Song of Songs is not a normal romance.
(I’m setting aside, for the moment, the line “The king has brought me into his chambers”, which implies a different set of circumstances. I’ll
come back to it when I look at the rest of the chapter.)
v5 The Woman is now addressing “the daughters of Jerusalem”.
She admits that she is “dark”, but claims that she is also “comely”.
It’s not clear to me whether she means “dark like the tents of Kedar and comely like the curtains of Solomon” or “dark and comely combined,
like each of them”.
The message, either way, is that they’re both true at the same time.
v6 She begs them not to look down on her because of her dark skin.
The dark skin is explained in the second half of the verse; she spends her time in the open air, as a keeper of the vineyards.
It’s clear from the same explanation that she comes from a local family, and that she’s under the authority of her immediate relatives, which
rules out the popular theory that she’s an African slave.
In fact the mental association between slavery and black skin is a fairly modern one, which should not be projected back into the ancient world.
Slaves in the ancient world were not just from Africa, but would have come from all over the place.
Having a “dark skin”, here, is not about her ethnic origin but about her social status;
The “scorching by the sun” is literal, not metaphorical, and it marks her out as a peasant girl, one who works in the open fields.
If she’s going to be despised for this reason, it will be by the city girls, “the daughters of Jerusalem”, with a social status which enables
them to remain indoors.
She says that her instructions have come from her brothers, “the sons of my mother”.
Why not “the sons of my father”?
I think the simplest answer is “polygamy”.
If a man could have more than one wife, the children of the same mother would be a distinct and more compact group, a very strong social support.
When Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, was raped by Shechem, she was avenged by Simeon and Levi, both sons of her mother, while her father and her
half-brothers held back (Genesis ch.34).
Again, when Tamar was raped by her half-brother Amnon, it was her full brother Absalom who took her under his wing (2 Samuel ch.13).
It seems that a girl’s most natural protectors and guardians, in that kind of society, would be the sons of her own mother, closer sometimes even
than her father.
She says they were angry with her and they made her keeper of the vineyards, but I’m not sure which came first.
Did they put her over the vineyards because they were angry with her (and wanted to restrain her movements)?
Or were they angry with her because they had put her over the vineyards (and she kept moving away)?
However, the two meanings could quickly merge, if the wandering away and the getting brought back were frequent events.
What have we discovered about this Woman?
We know there is someone she loves.
She believes she has a close relationship with him (“The king has brought me into his chambers”). But it isn’t always as close as she would like
(“Draw me after you”).
She doesn’t find it amiss that others should also love him.
She’s conscious that others might hold her in low esteem (“I am dark”), but ready to protest that she deserves a better opinion (“ I am also
I believe this Woman is God’s people.
One of the recurring themes of the Prophets is the picture of the woman who represents God’s people.
God calls himself her husband, claims her as his bride, and talks about the love that he feels towards her.
In this poem, she loves him in return.
Many scholars, on the basis of the language, believe that the Song was written in the period after the Return from the Babylonian exile.
That would certainly help to explain some of the features of this chapter.
It would explain the sense of loss and failure expressed by “my own vineyard I have not kept.”
If the community was sadly diminished, and also conscious of moral failings (as described in Malachi), that would explain why they might think
It would account for the way that Solomon, king of the ideal kingdom before the disaster, is placed on a pedestal in this poem, and invoked in the
Most of all, it would explain the Woman’s intense longing, to know the Loved One more closely, once again.
We don’t have to assume that the “sons of her mother “ are hostile to this (though we can, if we like, identify them with the Samarian
The issue in v6 might be just a “Mary and Martha” dispute;
Is the Woman better occupied in the “Martha” task of caring for the vineyard, or should she be allowed, like Mary, to seek out her Loved One more
In her search, she rests in the confidence expressed in v5;
Nothing in the “blackness” of her situation prevents her from being “comely” in the sight of her God.
edit on 26-5-2013 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)