John Lilburne's journal with Song of Songs commentary.



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2118 L Tue 13 Nov 2001

A day at home studying today, with two exams tomorrow.

A few days ago I did an assignment for biblical studies. It is "notes" rather than an "essay". Here is the start and commentary section, which may make more sense than the rest.

BS317 Tutorial notes of 1500 words, due 14 Nov 2001, by John Lilburne.

Exegesis of Song of Songs 2:8 - 3:5, based on tutorial by Ben Roberts.

RSV text:

The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle, or a young stag. Behold, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice.
My beloved speaks and says to me: "Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away;
for lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is comely.
Catch us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom."
My beloved is mine and I am his, he pastures his flock among the lilies.
Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle, or a young stag upon rugged mountains.

Upon my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he gave no answer.
"I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek him whom my soul loves." I sought him, but found him not.
The watchmen found me, as they went about in the city. "Have you seen him whom my soul loves?"
Scarcely had I passed them, when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go until I had brought him into my mother's house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me.
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the hinds of the field, that you stir not up nor awaken love until it please.


'my beloved...' Keel 64-5
Term originally meant uncle, then came to mean cousin, who was a common marriage partner. Naturally came to designate the lover or the beloved.
'leaping...' Pope 389
Verb dlg also used in Isa 35:6, 2 Sam 22:30, Ps 18:30, Zeph 1:9.
'bounding...' Pope 389
Usual meaning of qps is "draw together", "shut". Meaning "jump" is not used elsewhere in the Bible, but is attested in Aramaic.
'mountains ... hills' Pope 389
Standard poetic parralels both in the Bible and in Ugaritic.

'gazelle ... young stag...'
Murphy 139
same word for "gazelle" and "beauty".
Pope 390-391.
"non-homologous homophones" in Hebrew. Stag chosen, since clearly the animal, using parallelism.

Murphy 139
Hebrew word for "peering" usually means "blossom" but from context and parallelism the ancient versions understood it as "look".
Pope 391
Indicates "to stare, look intently". Peering verb sws a hapax legomenon.

Murphy 139
word for "lattices" a hapax legomenon
Pope 391-392
Plural - seems more likely to be indetermination, rather than "runs from window to window".

'my beloved speaks...' Pope 393 NRSV has "My beloved speaks and says...". Pope notes: "some critics suppress it, on metrical or other dubious grounds". The two verbs are frequently coordinated in Job and Daniel.

'Arise and come ...'
Murphy 139
Repeated as an inclusio at end of verse 13b.
Keel 100
The Hebrew words often used together and always mean "arise and go" (eg. 2 Sam 13:15, 1 Kgs 14:12, 2 Kgs 8:1, Mic 2:10). Translation "come" is not from Hebrew, but from context. The Hebrew suggests the urgency of the command.
Pope 393-4
Vulgate and some manuscripts of LXX add hasten. Some see as "raise herself from her stupor" others as "joyous appeal".

'winter .. the rains...'
Keel 100 Merely states a favorable time to go. Winter has flooding rains, over by the end of April.
Pope 394
Word for "winter" setaw a hapax legomenon in the Bible, but occurs elsewhere. Word gesem always designates heavy rain.

'on the earth...'
Keel 101
"obviously means the open country in contrast to the houses of the walled city (cf. Lev. 25:23-31)."
Pope 396-7
Repetition in 12a and 12d seems unnecessary and "it seems best to eliminate it" in 12d.

Keel 101
The Hebrew word for "flowers" includes flowery meadows, blossoming of bushes and trees, especially the grapevines.
Pope 395
Translates as "blossoms". "The spring flowers of Palestine are a striking spectacle".

Murphy 139
NRSV translates 12b as "the time of singing has come". Murphy translates as "the time for pruning has arrived". He writes that the word is a hapax and the commentators vary between the two.
Keel 101
Has to mean singing, since vines pruned between January and March (too early for other phenoma), grapes harvested August/September (too late for other phenoma).
Pope 395
Difficult to decide. Most moderns favour singing, since pruning supposedly comes too late in the year. Meek inclined to singing, noting this same word in Akkadian appears in the title of Tammuz ritual songs.

Keel 101
A migratory bird that shows up in Israel about the middle of April.
Pope 396
Mentioned in Jer 8:7 with other migratory birds that know and keep their proper times. There cooing is a sure sign of spring.

Murphy 139
A hapax, but occurs in Aramaic and Arabic, and designates the first, unripe fruit.
Pope 397-8
Budding of the fig tree a sure sign of spring and harbinger of summer, as in Mark 13:28.

'vines' Keel 101 May indicate the place where the young woman is supposed to go, because its mention closes the section of the man's speech that seeks to motivate her movement. According to "traditional Jewish literature fo the first centuries A.D." young women went to vineyards on 15th of Ab and on Yom Kippur (August and October). From Mishnah would "dance in the vineyards". Judges 21:19-21 refers to yearly festival at Shiloh. The Benjamites are instructed: "Go and lie in wait in the vineyards and watch; when the young women of Shiloh come out to dance in the dances, then come out of the vineyards and each of you carry off a wife for himself...". (NRSV). No date is given for this. Song 2:10-13 and 7:11-13 suggest a festival at the end of April, begging of May.

'in blossom...' Pope 398-9 The term semadar is used here as attributive accusative, "the vines (being) in bloom".

Keel 69, 103-6
Dove associated with goddess of love in ANE.
Pope 399

'let me see...' Keel 106 Reminiscent of request of Moses (Exod 33:18).

'sweet... comely...' Keel 107 The voice is just as infatuating as the face is ravishing. The usual translations "pleasent" , "lovely", etc. fail to do justice to the intensity that livens this song.

'Catch us...'
Keel 108-10,
Changes to a group addressing a group. The women, since the vineyards are in bloom, need to have the foxes caught.

Keel 108-110.
Foxes must be caught, since destroying the vineyard, but hunt not taken too seriously.

Keel 110
Can scarely mean anything other than women. Fits well in the context of the vineyard festival discussed.

Keel 8 Origen (185-253) saw as profane poetry, wedding song. In this literal way it was mere superficial babble. He advocated a typological meaning, that it was actually a model for a higher reality. However he warned that it be read only by those deaf to the entices of physical love and approved of the Jewish regulation that only allowed mature (over age 30) people read it.

Keel 30-37
Keel highlights the delicate balance required for a theological interpretation.
"It goes without saying that both synagogue and church have had trouble with the Song and with Ecclesiastes. Both little books contain a measure of anarchy. When our hearts condemn us for doing wrong (and rightly so, according to church and synagogue), these books give us a glimpse of a God who is greater than our hearts and who knows everything ...".

Murphy in NJBC (463) "Israel resisted the divinization of sexuality of the ancient Near East. ... Human sexual love was seen as intrinsically good; it could even be a symbol of divine love."

Christian Hodie
Presents us with a biblical model of intimacy - mutuality, fidelity, sensuousness, devotion. It is widely held that it was preserved and transmitted by sages of Israel who recognized it as a song expression of the values of human love. Christianity can be grateful for this, particularly in the light of early gnostic doctrines. (NJBC 463).

Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 13 November 2001.