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Song of Songs [11/15]; The dance of the Shulamite

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posted on Aug, 4 2013 @ 05:16 PM
I’m still exploring the intended meaning of the Song of Songs.
The next passage I’m considering is the bulk of the sixth chapter, ch6 vv4-13.
(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.

This poem has been describing the relationship between the Woman and her Loved One.
I’ve already proposed that this is the relationship between God and his people.

This couple have been alternating between “togetherness” and “separation”.
She was pursuing him in the opening verses, but they came together by the end of the chapter.
When she brought him back to her mother’s chamber, in the middle of the third chapter, that was the end of another cycle of movement.
There was then a celebration of their state of marriage.
The fifth chapter brought about a much more serious separation, which continues, in the Woman’s experience, to the end of the poem.
There is no complete return to the state of “togetherness”.

Nevertheless, the Loved One continues to speak to the Woman as to one standing before him.
He is conscious of her presence, even though she’s not conscious of his.
This was already true at the beginning of the fifth chapter, when he was calling to her and she could not see him.
This is the “asymmetrical relationship”, which I noticed when I was looking at the first chapter- a relationship which makes no sense except on the understanding that one of them is God.

vv4-7 This begins another poem of praise for the Woman.
He says she is as beautiful as Tirzah and Jerusalem.
This is a remarkable combination, because these were the two capitals (before the building of Samaria) of the two kingdoms into which Solomon’s realm divided.
Naming them both together offers a kind of forgiveness for the schism- though the writer is not quite forgiving enough to name Samaria.
It’s like the attempt in Zechariah ch11 to re-forge the bond of union between the two nations (who were destined, however, to remain separate as “the Jews” and “the Samaritans”).

We may be startled, at first, by the praise of the Woman as “terrible as an army with banners”.
But I don’t think this is much different from calling a woman “stunning” or “drop-dead gorgeous”.
The meaning would be that he feels overwhelmed by the Woman’s beauty, unable to stand in her presence.
For the same reason he asks her to turn her eyes away from him, to reduce their impact.
The next two and a half verses are taken from the praise which followed the praise of her eyes at the beginning of the fourth chapter.

v8 It is not easy to account for the number of queens and concubines. The historic King Solomon had many more of both .The explanation “This was the number he had at the time of writing” will not do, if the language of the poem suggests that it was written much later than Solomon’s reign.
Nor is there any obvious symbolism in the number, except that the number of queens is the same as the number of Solomon’s “mighty men” (ch3 v7).

v9 The Woman, the dove, stands out unique amongst them and they praise her themselves.
What, then, do these ladies represent?
It occurs to me that the multitude of Solomon’s wives was also the multitude of Solomon’s religions.
In which case, the uniqueness of the Woman among the queens and concubines might represent the uniqueness of the Biblical faith amongst the religions of the world.
There were “maidens” at the beginning of the first chapter, joining in the pursuit of the Loved One.
If they now call the Woman “happy”, it could be because she has been(more) successful in establishing the relationship.

v10 It may be best to take this as part of the praise given by the other ladies.
They compare her with everything that is most bright in the heavens- the son and the moon and the dawn.
They wind up this description by repeating that phrase from the beginning- “terrible as an army with banners”.

v11 The praises of the Woman continue in the next chapter, but are now briefly interrupted.
The Woman is checking the progress of the blossoms and vines and pomegranates, perhaps in advance of the invitation which will be offered in the next chapter.

v12 Everybody agrees on the difficulty of interpreting this verse.
The literal translation is that the NEPHESH, or “life” of the speaker, taking her unawares, put her in some relation with a chariot- either "like it” or “in it”.
To be “like a chariot” would imply speed, maybe in the sense that her thoughts were “taking wing”.
The normal understanding of “in a chariot” is that her “fancy” set her there.
As for the driver of the chariot, we are offered a choice between “my prince” or “prince of my people”, and “Amminadib”.
The only parallel I can offer in the latter case is the Amminadab who appears at the end of Ruth as the ultimate ancestor of the house of David, and thus the ancestor of Solomon.
If we take this verse together with the previous verse, it would seem that the Woman goes down to the orchards in the absence of the Loved One (though she thought, v2, that he might be there), and her thoughts place her in his presence.

v13 This verse brings in “the Shulammite”, a name which might be related (like “Solomon”) to the word for “peace”.
The name only occurs here, though people often apply it over the rest of the poem.

The verse appears to be a dialogue;
The onlookers want her to “return”- that is, perhaps, to continue the dancing movement.
But her response seems to come from her lack of assurance- “Why should you look at her?”.

She’s called a dancer “before two armies”. But “two armies” is a translation of Mahanaim, which is also a place-name, and it may be better to leave it as a place-name.
This is another reference to the long-lost territories on the eastern side of the Jordan.
In the story of Jacob, he gave this name to the place where he saw a vision of God’s armies.
When David was driven out of Jerusalem by Absolom’s rebellion , Mahanaim was the place where he found refuge.
Both stories have something to say about temporary exile, and about the power of God in those circumstances, which may encourage a Woman who feels exiled from her Loved One.

The implication of the origin-story In Genesis is that Mahanaim was an important cultic centre in ancient Israel.
And therefore a place where sacred festivals would have been held.
And therefore a place where there would have been dancing in worship.
Which makes “dancer at Mahanaim” a very plausible comparison.

The latter part of the Song of Songs has two themes, and this passage combines them both.
The Woman’s thoughts, on the one hand, are focussed on the Loved One, and she regrets his absence
But there’s the assurance, at the same time, that his love towards her remains undiminished.

posted on Aug, 4 2013 @ 05:45 PM
I just wanted to point out to you that you are trying to do what Rahsi, Onkelos and various other commentators have already mastered.
Whether you agree/disagree with those commentaries is another question entirely. But the commentaries are there!

So why are you trying to figure out the meaning? Maybe you should go to a Yeshiva.

posted on Aug, 4 2013 @ 05:52 PM
reply to post by combatmaster

I like trying to figure it out for myself first.
I might come up with a variant.
I think my approach to the first part of ch5 (in an earlier thread in the series) may be a variant.
I regard that episode as the key to the whole poem.
I'm not a Jew, by the way, so a yeshiva is not an option.

posted on Aug, 4 2013 @ 06:07 PM
reply to post by DISRAELI

Interesting... I am going to take a look at that work of yours. I'm always interested in this kinda stuff. :-)

posted on Aug, 4 2013 @ 06:10 PM
reply to post by combatmaster

I'm going to do an Index thread when I finish the series, but until then they're all the most recent threads in my profile.
The key, to me, is relating the poem to the period after the Return from Babylon.

posted on Aug, 7 2013 @ 05:28 PM
It occurs to me that dance is something of a running theme in this poem.
In the second chapter, the gazelle is expressing his exuberant enjoyment of creation, in running around, "turning" among the mountains (ch2 v17).
The same enjoyment of creation can be found in ch4 v8.
There's also an element of verbal dance in the repetition of a number of frequently occurring phrases, as a kind of chorus (e.g."feeding among the liles", "do not stir up my love until it please")

posted on Aug, 8 2013 @ 04:56 PM
My interest in the Song of Songs was originally inspired by the reading of the sermons of Bernard of Clairvaux.
Especially by his comments on the words “I am black, but beautiful”, as applied to the spiritual state of the church or the individual soul. The idea of being sinful and imperfect, but still beloved by God.
Knowing the history of the church, I was very conscious of its imperfections, so it all rang very true.
However, my own interpretation obviously strikes out a very different line from Bernard, in all sorts of different ways.
Nor is there space for me to take the devotional approach.
But I would argue that gaining a good sense of the writer’s conscious intentions would provide the most sure foundation of any approach, including the devotional.

posted on Aug, 9 2013 @ 05:18 PM
For information;
The next thread in this series will cover most of the seventh chapter.

posted on Sep, 12 2013 @ 03:17 PM
This whole series is now indexed at the following location;

The Unseen Husband

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