Song of Songs III (5:2–7:11)

Summer’s simmering in this tar-topped town 🌞, and so’s the Song of Songs 🌶. The cases I’ve cracked and closed for you so far are pretty short and sweet. The rest of the cases in this book are long and rambling like a goat-path in Ein Gedi 🐐, with more sharp twists and sudden turns than a Jason Bourne car-chase through the so-called streets of Rome. And they roil you up and down like sea-swells by the seashore 🌊. There’s no way I’m keeping this yarn going that long and you’re hearing all I’m saying. If you’re like me, and I’m guessing you are, we only have about three pints worth of attention 🍺🍺🍺. So I’ll break up this next case into a few pieces and meet you over a few nights to sort the whole thing out.

So far, I’ve given you Case 2 (2:8–17) & Case 3 (3:1–5). Now I’ll lay out the facts and my theories of Case 5 (5:2–7:11). Just like in Cases 2 & 3, so too in Case 5 the lovers start apart, they get together, and the scene ends with an exclamation. But much happens until they get together, and how they do so is not how you think it would happen. Also, just like in Cases 2 & 3, there is one speaker, a woman, and she is presented as speaking now about what is happening now. Sometimes we get the perspective of her describing the scene outside it 🧐, and sometimes we get her speaking from within it 👀. This includes what others are doing with her and saying to her. What makes it so confusing is that she doesn’t always say that she is about to quote someone or address someone. In fact she almost never does. She just presents the speech directly and you have to figure it out. In Hebrew, lots of gender forms (m, f) and number forms (sg, pl) help out. Still, all this can be harder to keep track of than a sweaty rat 🐀 in a New York sewer 🕳.

One more comment. Case 5 (5:2–7:11) seems like a really long, drawn out version of Case 3 (3:1–5) specifically, and a more dramatic one. It has the same outline and elements, and takes them to the next level. In both, the young woman starts out talking about dreaming; she yearns hard for her beloved; she says, “I seek him but do not find him;” she goes outside where guards catch her; she adjures the young women of Jerusalem, her “sisterhood” (today: “friend group”); she meets her beloved and they enjoy their intimacy. Case 5 also deploys the elements somewhat differently, which I’ll get to last.


Song 5:2–8

1     I am asleep and my mind is racing

אֲנִי יְשֵׁנָה וְלִבִּי עֵר

2     A sound! My beloved pounding!

קוֹל דּוֹדִי דוֹפֵק

3          Open up for me, my sister, my love, my perfect dove

פִּתְחִי־לִי אֲחֹתִי רַעְיָתִי יוֹנָתִי תַמָּתִי

4          For my head is full of dew, the tips of my hair the drips of night!

שֶׁרֹּאשִׁי נִמְלָא־טָל קְוֻּצּוֹתַי רְסִיסֵי לָיְלָה

5          I stripped off my clothing, how shall I put it on again?

פָּשַׁטְתִּי אֶת־כֻּתָּנְתִּי אֵיכָכָה אֶלְבָּשֶׁנָּה

6          I rubbed down my legs, how shall I dirty them again?

רָחַצְתִּי אֶת־רַגְלַי אֵיכָכָה אֲטַנְּפֵם

7     My beloved reaches through the hole, and my insides moan over him

דּוֹדִי שָׁלַח יָדוֹ מִן־הַחֹר וּמֵעַי הָמוּ עָלָיו

8     I rise to open up for my beloved

קַמְתִּי אֲנִי לִפְתֹּחַ לְדוֹדִי

9     And my hands drip with myrrh and my fingers with running myrrh on the sockets of the lock

וְיָדַי נָטְפוּ־מוֹר וְאֶצְבְּעֹתַי מוֹר עֹבֵר עַל כַּפּוֹת הַמַּנְעוּל

10   I open up for my beloved, but my beloved slipped away, ran off

פָּתַחְתִּי אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי חָמַק עָבָר

11   I lost my senses at his speaking,

נַפְשִׁי יָצְאָה בְדַבְּרוֹ

12   I seek him but do not find him

בִּקַּשְׁתִּיהוּ וְלֹא מְצָאתִיהוּ

13   I call him but he does not answer me

קְרָאתִיו וְלֹא עָנָנִי

14   They find me, the guards roaming the city

מְצָאֻנִי הַשֹּׁמְרִים הַסֹּבְבִים בָּעִיר

15   They beat me, they bruise me, they take off me my veil, the guards of the walls

הִכּוּנִי פְצָעוּנִי נָשְׂאוּ אֶת־רְדִידִי מֵעָלַי שֹׁמְרֵי הַחֹמוֹת

16   I adjure you, sisters in Jerusalem, if you find my beloved

הִשְׁבַּעְתִּי אֶתְכֶם בְּנוֹת יְרוּשָׁלִָם אִם־תִּמְצְאוּ אֶת־דּוֹדִי

17   How you must tell him that I am lovesick!

מַה־תַּגִּידוּ לוֹ שֶׁחוֹלַת אַהֲבָה אָנִי


Now let me just say this. If you’re uncomfortable 🤭 by some of the language here, the images, the double entendres (yeah, I know that word 🤨) and you think I’m being provocative 😈, this is exactly what the Hebrew says and exactly how it sounds. I’m just giving you the hard-nosed facts 👺. And I’ll tell you this, if you read Hebrew and you don’t hear it that way, that’s because you’ve been gaslit — for a long long time, I’ll bet. I see this a lot in my line of work. I feel for you 🎻 I do. But sleuthing’s all about facts. Face them and embrace them if you want to get to the bottom of things.

Now, right off the bat 🏏 you know this case is trouble. Because as soon you start, there’s something important you can’t decide. The Hebrew of line 1 (אֲנִי יְשֵׁנָה וְלִבִּי עֵר) actually allows two choices:

(1) “I am asleep and my mind is racing”

(2) “I am trying to sleep but my mind is racing”

Is the speaker saying that she sleeps and has a rollicking dream (ooooo!), or that she is too wired to sleep at all (awwww!)? Is all of what comes next one long dream, or is it something that happens instead of sleep? Ready for the answer? OK, here goes: It never gets resolved. Nothing in the scene, all the way to 7:11, discloses the situation. You don’t like that, right? Feels squishy? Well, neither do I. But I’ve said it before. A sleuth has to know their limitations. Language can be slipperier than an eel 𐃌, have more gaps than an atom ⚛️, and be more enigmatic than a philosopher 🧐. This is no rolling O, silent E, or capital T. LETTERMAN (superhero of all text-critical sleuths) cannot solve this one by fixing the text with a switcheroo or two.









Know what? Let’s just go with hypothesis 1, that the speaker says she’s asleep and having an intense dream. Here it is:

In lines 2–6, the woman registers what is happening. She hears a sound; she knows what it is; her beloved speaks; she responds. In these lines, she has moved from describing herself like an observer of events (in line 1) to sharing her perceptions as a participant in them.

In lines 7–15, the woman goes back to observing and commenting on what is happening, to narrating it. After she teases him 🥱, she goes to open the door, but he’s gone. Is he insulted? Dejected? I never did figure that one out. Considering the state he was in, coming out at night, dripping wet, pounding on the door, he gave up kind of easily. Maybe he heard city guards and rushed off 🤷🏽. Anyway, desperate for him, she goes out into the night to find him, but city guards catch her and make it a punishing choice.

Here are some fun facts and some more ambiguities, a part of the job I don’t always share. Well, ever wonder what kind of room a young woman would have in ancient Judah-Judea, when this poetry was written? Her own bedroom 🛌 ? With a door 🚪 and some kind of a lock 🔓 ? With a hole that a young man can put his arm through 🤳 ? And facing the street ? Well, quite a bit of digging turns up that people lived in extended-family or multi-family compounds with walls and gates. Rooms with doors to the outside opened into the shared open space of the compound, not to open areas outside the compound. Doors to the compound were bolted from the inside, and had a hole for someone outside to put their arm through with a sickle-key that would fit into a socket and unbolt the door. Maybe doors to rooms were like that too; evidence wasn’t found about that. Rooms were multi-purpose, and when people slept in them, they didn’t sleep alone.

OK, if we play out the scenario, we get a few possibilities.

☝️ the beloved was at the gate of the compound and the young woman was sleeping within sight of it, either in the compound’s open space or on a rooftop — both of which are likely in the warm season;

✌️the beloved passed through the compound gate and was at her room, which had the same kind of door as the compound gate;

🤟 the beloved was standing outside the compound, outside her room, and the “hole” was her room’s window, which he could fit his arm through to get her attention (people fit through them in stories in Joshua and Samuel); after she teased him, she went to the compound gate to let him in and found that he went there (she found his body-lotion on its socket) but left before she arrived;

✊ she had a door her beloved could access directly, and that’s part of the dream-fantasy.

Realistically, wherever she was sleeping, the young woman would have been sleeping with others. So again, we have to hypothesize how to round out the scenario:

☝️the sleep-mates are not a factor because, living a group-life, they are used to each other’s intimacies and whatnot, and there’s no need to make it a part of the dream;

✌️the young woman was sleeping alone and that’s part of the dream-fantasy.

See what kind of a case a Bible sleuth is up against? When it’s literature, you can’t be sure what is realistic and what is artistic license. When it comes to dreams, you can’t tell what’s realistic and what’s fantasy. And when it’s literature with a dream, and on top of that there’s so little evidence about people’s regular lives in the middle of the Second Temple period when this poetry is from, well, just get the next round of drinks, will you? Neat with extra peat, please 🥃.

This brings me to the next aspect of the case. The speaker’s description is laced with suggestive turns of phrase and imagery. Opening up, a dewy head, drippy hair, stripping, rubbing legs, hands in a hole, moaning insides, opening again, running myrrh, and opening a third time — from beginning to end in lines 3–9, there is barely a clause that has not got some reader thinking about more intimate parts of lovemaking and considering the scene to be coded 🆘. The scene is already a dream and about yearning for love, so many readers think that the images being evoked reveal what is really going on.

But if there’s one thing a sleuth ought to know, it’s how coded language works. The thing with suggestive language — double-entendres — is that it only conjures discrete images; the images do not make up together a complete sequence and an alternative scene that is meant to replace the one being rendered. Instead, each clause prompts an explicit image, and the series of clauses prompts a set of flashing images. But these are fragmentary and discontinuous. Together, they layer the scene with erotic flashes and create an atmosphere of erotic possibility and urgency. Charging the dream with an undercurrent, they communicate what might be at stake for the dreamer.

Now get ready for this set of thoughts. By conjuring these images in the audience’s mind, the text also makes the audience complicit in the experience. The audience sees images and is affected by them no less than the dreamer. And this is anyway what is already happening because it’s only a verbal text to begin with! The entire process of reading (or of hearing a text read aloud, as they did in ancient times), is one of allowing words to conjure images and to experience those images as a visual scene unfolding. The text draws a comparison between speech (text) and dream (scene); the verbal arts work the same as a bodily process: they both turn on the mind’s capacity to render life as a sensible stream of images — on the imagination. OK, you don’t look impressed but this kind of thing blows a sleuth’s mind every time 🤯. So let’s just move to the next aspect.

In what comes next, lines 10–15, why would the woman dream that when she goes out to chase her beloved, guards catch her and beat her? That seems odd.

Well, ☝️. Dreams can always take a turn for the worse, and there’s no reason a poem couldn’t represent that. Plus, the effect delays her finding him and clasping him, which maintains the audience’s interest. It also expresses the high and lows — the stakes — of love.

✌️ Ever since Freud, who got completely into our heads, it’s really hard to resist the idea that such a punishing motif is a response: she teased her beloved so that he left; being so available is self-exposure and makes you vulnerable to shame and pain; being so available is disapproved of by social mores. I know, in ancient times they didn’t have Freud. But they did have young love, they did have dreaming, and they knew dreams can be about what you care about in waking life.

Last, for now, but not least, lines 16–17. At this point the woman conjures up her sisterhood and adjures them (makes them swear) to tell her beloved how painfully she is pining for him. Notice the patterns at work here. A group of men, whose job to protect boundaries, to keep things separate, beat her for looking for her beloved; right then she invokes a sympathetic group of women, her “sisterhood,” to relay a message to her beloved to come find her. The pain of her beating aligns with the pain of her love-sickness. Two kinds of groups, hostile men and sympathetic women, and two kinds of pain, bodily blows and that sweet ache.

This scene makes for quite a sharp contrast with Case 3. That scene ends with the young woman adjuring her group after she finds her beloved, grasps him tight, and secludes with him; and what she adjures them is: “don’t try this at home!” (meaning exactly the opposite: “you should all be so lucky!”). Here in Case 5 she adjures them before she finds him, when they are further apart than ever; the oath stresses just how far apart they are; and it prompts a transition to the next part of the scene.

Other aspects have slight changes too. Case 3 starts with nightly pining; the remark “I seek him but do not find him” represents a general state of yearning; and it is repeated so many times that it serves as a thread that holds the scene together. By contrast, Case 5 starts with a particular night; right away the beloved shows up and she squanders the opportunity; and the remark “I seek him but do not find him” plays a sharper role: She says it only once, after she goes outside to search, and she follows it with the moving remark, “I call him but he does not answer me.” The guards in Case 3 don’t really play much of a role at all. She bumps into them, queries them, and immediately moves on — and finds her beloved. Here, it’s like Case 5 plays out the potential embedded in that tame scene. They find her and punish her, and she’s farther from her beloved than ever.

OK, I’m on the edge of my seat with this and eager to keep going. That’s how it is with sleuthing. But your eyes are glazed and drooping. Get some shuteye and we’ll pick up the rest of the scene next time.

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