Song of Songs III concluded

Hey, I’m on a roll, right? Pour ☕️☕️☕️ and let’s close the book 📒 on this Case. 6:11–7:11 coming right up:

In this section, the beloved continues talking (from 6:4–10). He switches back again, from talking about his lover and comparing her to others (which he did in 6:8–10) to talking to her and completing the picture of her body (like in 6:4–7). But before he does, he talks to her about their lovemaking 🏩. A couple of times, the lover interjects and speaks 🗣, once to the beloved and twice more about him.

This part of the beloved’s speech has some of the most memorable parts of the whole Song, but also some of the most confusing. Sure, I solved most of that in my plodding way. Hey, I’m no hare 🐇 and I’ve got no hairline 🧑‍🦲 to prove it. I’m the tortoise 🐢. I take my time and then I get there 🏁, see? By now you know, as sure as the WEEK is 7 days, that the clues I followed 🕵️ led me to a lot of different places from all your translations and most of your commentaries. If I couldn’t solve things my way, I wouldn’t be here telling you my tale. But I won’t deny it, there’s a nut or two in there 🥜🌰 I still have to crack. Like I tell my junior sleuthies, you can’t force everything open when you want to, but you also can’t settle for bad explanations. Sometimes you let the stew simmer 🥘 and file it under L for LATER⏲. I try not to give you head-scratching, face-scrunching renditions and call it expertise 🥴. Where there’s a❓I’ll leave it a❓, I’ll lay out the options for you, and — hey, who knows? — maybe you’ll solve it yourself one day, and I can quit the chase, ditch this rat race 🐀, and retire altogether 🏖.

Song 6:11–13

1   To a nut garden I go down

2      To see the valley growth

3      To see, has the vine bloomed?

4      Have the pomegranates blossomed?

5   I lose sense of my body (?)

6      It makes me a chariot of my noble people (?)

7   Turn, turn, O Besolomoned!

8      Turn, turn, and let’s look you over!

9   Why would you look over the Besolomoned

10     Like a troupe of twirlers?

1     אֶל־גִּנַּת אֱגוֹז יָרַדְתִּי

2        לִרְאוֹת בְּאִבֵּי הַנָּחַל

3        לִרְאוֹת הֲפָרְחָה הַגֶּפֶן

4        הֵנֵצוּ הָרִמֹּנִים

5     לֹא יָדַעְתִּי נַפְשִׁי

6        שָׂמַתְנִי מַרְכְּבוֹת עַמִּי־נָדִיב

7     שׁוּבִי שׁוּבִי הַשּׁוּלַמִּית

8        שׁוּבִי שׁוּבִי וְנֶחֱזֶה־בָּךְ

9     מַה־תֶּחֱזוּ בַּשּׁוּלַמִּית

10     כִּמְחֹלַת הַמַּחֲנָיִם

There’s much to work out here in this small segment, so perk up those ears of yours 🐇.

☝️ The verbs in lines 1, 5, 6. Look, we’ve talked about this (in Case 1 Song 3:1–5), but let me say it again, because that’s the only way I ever learn anything and my imagination is too narrow to think you learn any differently from me: The verbs here are not past tense. The beloved does not tell about something he did. The verbs here give the perfective aspect, which has the beloved describing the action from the outside, like someone looking in. (Confused? 🤷🏽 See here.) The tense we figure out from the context. In our case, what the beloved describes is happening now, something he is doing now. If you’ve been to the dentist lately 🧑‍⚕️, you know what this is like. They start telling you all about what they’re doing to your mouth as they’re doing it, the blow-by-blow, like they’re the radio announcer 🎙 and your mouth 😬 is a boxing match 🥊. In literature this can feel downright artificial, but in a good text and with a reader who gets it, it can be really potent.

✌️ The fruit and all that stuff in lines 1–4. Nuts, vines, and pomegranates in gardens; valleys all leafy, bushy, and abloom with scent; going down to feast the eyes 🫣, inhale the aroma 🐽, and touch the goods🫰 — we’ve heard all this before. It’s all about love and lovemaking, and DAMN if it’s not potent every time 🧨. I explained this too before and I’ll explain it again: if you combine all the images into one, you get a picture that makes no sense. But take the images one at a time, and each one generates an association with aroused bodies. Put it all together and you get this: The beloved says he goes down to inspect whether his lover is aroused 🔎, but it doesn’t take a sleuth to know that it is inspection that brings arousal about. Now don’t get me wrong, because I’m nothing to look at or to listen to or be around much at all, but I’ve been in this grimy business a long time and I can tell you, people like to be looked at in a certain way, sniffed, touched, and tasted 🥰. A lot. Now get this: in Hebrew the root “to see” (r-ᵓ-h ר-א-ה) is used for many different senses, like to hear (Exod 20:14 thunder, “ooooh”), to smell (Gen 27:27 the outdoors, “aaaaaah”), and to experience (Qoh 9:9 life, “mmmm”), so when the beloved says he goes to “see,” he means that he goes to see first-hand, to experience. Ever see a toddler 🚼 roaming your den or your dirt yard with their hands, face, and mouth? Yeah, it’s like that. (How’s that for a cold shower 🛀? Admit it, you needed that, didn’t you?)

👌 The perplexing remark in lines 5–6. The Hebrew is difficult not because it is “high level” or “elite vocabulary” 🤦. It is using expressions and imagery that are simply unrecognizable to readers of the Hebrew Bible, and the grammar seems ungrammatical. So where does a sleuth even begin❓As far as I could make heads 🐲 or tails 🐉 of it, the whole thing comes down to the word for “self” (נַפְשִׁי, which can mean “throat,” “body,” “will,” “self,” “life,” but never the Western “soul”). This word shows up between the verb for “knowing” (לֹא יָדַעְתִּי “I don’t know”) and the verb for “putting, making into” (שָׂמַתְּנִי “it puts me (into), makes me (into)” ), and readers cannot decide which one it goes with. Well, as far as I can make out, both need it!

First the beloved says something that means something like this: I don’t know myself, I lose sense of myself, I lose sense of my body, I lose control, and so on 😵‍💫 (לֹא יָדַעְתִּי נַפְשִׁי). You get the point. Over a lifetime of seedy sleuthing I’ve heard people claim this over and over again, that lovemaking can be like this. Heck in days of yore they compared it with dying 🪦, which sounds like overkill if you ask me. Me? I take my food for thought 🍟 with a grain of salt🧂. What does my doctor know about me and my heart anyway, right?

Anyway, next the beloved says that something “made me a chariot” 🚙. That something could be the will, sense of self, etc. Before the self was lost; now, it carries the beloved off. This is clever, see? Let me put this in grammatical terms for you. First, the “self” is the object of the sentence, the thing lost; then, it becomes the subject, a separate thing that does something to the beloved, putting him into a chariot or making him like one, and off he goes. Both together, losing oneself and being swept away, are images for the sensations of lovemaking.

By the way, don’t go getting your undies 🩲 in a twist 🥨 about this, ok? Qohelet separates between himself and his heart 🗣💙 all the time, and talks about his heart watching and learning like it’s not actually him. It’s no big deal, see? You see all types in my line of work, and talking about yourself like there are two of you is as common as the gemini in the sky 👯‍♂️ and twin brothers fighting each other 🤼.

If you are reading the Hebrew, maybe you want to know about the plural “chariots.” That we’ve got figured out too. In the Song the plural is used to represent luxury and magnificence (like 1:4 “chambers,” 1:17 “houses”).

OK, last but not least here is the final phrase, which means something like “my noble people.” Wait! Does your translation say “Amminadib”? This is just representing all the syllables of the two words as if they were a one-word name. This is a trick as old as the Septuagint, which does it all over the Bible. Unsure about the Hebrew? Make up a person! Total cop-out 🤦. So, remember the part about lovemaking being compared to dying? Well, chariots are represented as carrying off the dying — Elijah, anyone? (2 Kings 2) — and the word for “people” (עָם) is also used for dead ancestors and ancient kin, like that expression you probably heard, “was gathered unto his kin.” So the beloved is saying that, in his rapture, he is like carried off by the chariot of the dead kin, who of course are not dead dead, just after-life dead.

⚠️ Wrinkle! because I always show my cards 🃏. Elijah’s chariot takes him up to the sky. The dead kin go underground. Right? Well, mixing up who goes where shows up in Qohelet too, another late work (see 3:21). Ideas can change over time, ok? No need to be stiff like cement about it.

👊 What’s in the name “the Shulamite”? Lines 7–10. Many times in the Song the lover calls her beloved “Solomon.” It’s not his actual name. It’s like calling him her “Prince Charming.” She signals how princely he is to her, how exquisite, in legendary terms. (A few times she refers to Solomon the legendary figure too.) Now as far as I can tell, the name “the shulamite” is constructed to be a match to Solomon (Shlomo), with a twist. You see, to be a match to him, she ought to be Solomona (Shlomit). The form of Shulamit, with the vowel -u-, gives the name a passive meaning, as if her being matched to him doesn’t just exist, but is a process, a response, something dynamic. He produces her being a match to him. I did some of my legendary digging for an English equivalent and came up with “Besolomoned.” I know, it’s clunkier than two left feet in a dance competition🕺🏼, but I don’t dance and I don’t compete. I’m just interested in the facts, and that’s how the name works, ok? The form matters, ok? Ok.

🖐 Turn, turn, turn, in Lines 7–10. The beloved said he wants the lover to turn 💃🏼 so he can get a look at her (lines 7–8). She replies by asking teasingly what in the world he wants with looking at her (lines 9–10). So many think the Hebrew here means “return,” which makes this a break from the scene and raises the learned question as to where she went (and explains why the Medieval Christians who created the chapters marked a new one here). But the Hebrew word can mean “turn, turn back, turn over, turn around, turn again, etc.” See? So their love-talk just keeps on going. Anyway, in what follows, the beloved speaks again, and either he’s answering her and explaining why he wants to look at her, or else she is already doing whatever it is, twirling for him or turning over or towards him where they lay, and he is speaking out his looking at her.

Song 6:14–7:6

1    How beautiful your feet in sandals, noble girl,

2    Your smooth thighs are like jewels

3       The work of master hands

4    Your navel is a round bowl

5       May it never lack wines

6    Your belly is a heap of wheat

7       Fenced round with lilies

8    Your two breasts are like two fawns,

9       Twins of a doe

10   Your neck is like an ivory tower

11   Your eyes are pools of Heshbon

12      By the public gate

13   Your nose is like a tower of the Lebanon

14      Facing towards Damascus

15   Your head on you is like the Carmel

16      And your head’s weave is like purple (cloth)

17      A king is wrapped in its tresses

1    מַה־יָּפוּ פְעָמַיִךְ בַּנְּעָלִים בַּת־נָדִיב

2    חַמּוּקֵי יְרֵכַיִךְ כְּמוֹ חֲלָאִים

3       מַעֲשֵׂה יְדֵי אָמָּן

4    שָׁרְרֵךְ אַגַּן הַסַּהַר

5       אַל־יֶחְסַר הַמָּזֶג

6    בִּטְנֵךְ עֲרֵמַת חִטִּים

7       סוּגָה בַּשּׁוֹשַׁנִּים

8    שְׁנֵי שָׁדַיִךְ כִּשְׁנֵי עֳפָרִים

9       תָּאֳמֵי צְבִיָּה

10   צַוָּארֵךְ כְּמִגְדַּל הַשֵּׁן

11   עֵינַיִךְ בְּרֵכוֹת בְּחֶשְׁבּוֹן

12      עַל־שַׁעַר בַּת־רַבִּים

13   אַפֵּךְ כְּמִגְדַּל הַלְּבָנוֹן

14      צוֹפֶה פְּנֵי דַמָּשֶׂק

15   רֹאשֵׁךְ עָלַיִךְ כַּכַּרְמֶל

16      וְדַלַּת רֹאשֵׁךְ כָּאַרְגָּמָן

17      מֶלֶךְ אָסוּר בָּרְהָטִים

⚠️ Notice❗️It was the beloved who said his rapture is like being carried off in the chariot of the NOBLE KIN, and now, in Line 1, the beloved calls the lover a NOBLE GIRL. See, his own imagery leads him to produce a pet-name for her. A sleuth like me loves spotting that kind of link. By the way, the Hebrew word for “girl” (בָּת) is the same as “daughter,” which picks up the family sense of “kin” (עָם). But of course, the beloved wouldn’t be calling his lover his daughter. In the context, the word invokes “girl” and evokes “daughter.” That’s how these things usually work. Only rarely are two meanings present at the same level at the same time. Take it from me.

⚠️ Notice something else⁉️ The beloved here goes in the opposite direction of other body-descriptions in the Song. This one goes from feet to head: feet thighs navel & belly breasts neck eyes nose head ‘n’ hair.

⚠️ He compares each one to something, and the images draw on a few domains of life. Here’s how I chart it:

NATURAL PLACES: Lebanon, Carmel.

NATURAL LIFE: lilies, fawns, doe.

PROCESSED: wines, wheat. 

WORKED: sandals, jewels, bowl, ivory, purple cloth.

BUILT: tower, pools, public gate.

BUILT PLACES: Heshbon, Damascus.

The images cover the natural world outside, items people wear and use, foods groups produce and consume together, places where people are together, and places with a personality all their own. The beloved makes the lover’s body into a place of life and stimulation. For the 3rd time now, you cannot take the images all together and try to make a single thing out of them. It’d make no sense and ruin the poem. You take each body part and image on its own, as its own individual experience. Like the beloved is going inch by inch and making it its own thing. This forces you to slow the poetry down to a crawl, like when you’re blasting down the highway at 75MPH 🏎💨 and pass a cop just sitting there waiting 🚔 and they don’t come for you. You jam on the brakes 🛞🛞🛞🛞, and drive at 35 for the next 10 miles like you’ve got no deadlines to meet, heck, like you’ve got no cases at all even to solve.

⚠️ Some of the comparisons have led to some major barroom brawls, street-corner skirmishes, and back-alley ambushes. You know how sleuths can be. Anyway, how is a navel like a bowl 🥣, what does it have to with wine 🍷, and what does a belly have to do with wheat🌾 and lilies🌷? While we’re at it, what kind of beautiful is a nose 👃 like a tower 🗼 facing Damascus? Last but not least, what does it mean that her hair snares🥁🥁 a king🤴? Knotty hair strikes the wrong chord. We’ll start with the tummy troubles, then hit the big nose, and close with the king.

  • Some sleuths have made the case that the navel and the belly with bushy growth and ringed around and full of intoxicating juices may actually be a stand-in for another bowl-like or jug-like body part, one up from thighs. Yours truly thinks this a strong case.
  • Now the nose, well, this is literally a matter of perspective. What do I mean? Well, another sleuth pointed out that if the two of them are lying down together, it is not that her nose protrudes massively, it is that the beloved notices it from their position and how it is like a tower from which one can gaze over the lover’s entire body. Don’t get tripped up by Damascus. It’s no so much a reference to the actual place as a way to talk about the view that the tower gives of the lover’s body’s extremity. Here too, yours truly is convinced.
  • The lover has not caught a king in her hair like a cheap comb. Her hair is so luxuriant, so wonderful to touch, that even a king, who has luxurious things all the time, can’t let go of it. He’s got his hands and face in it and can’t stop. Like he’s lashed in her locks, but he’s not actually all locked up by it 🔒.

And now, for the pièce de résistance! What? No, I don’t know what that means, but I always wanted to say it, and this seems like the right time.😤 Anyway, if you’re reading the Hebrew, I wouldn’t break it up into so many lines. I did that to match the English. You don’t like it? Sue me.

Song 7:7–11

1    How beautiful you are,

2       And how adorable you are

3       Love in utter pleasure!

4    Stretched out like this

5       You resemble the palm

6       And your breasts — bunches (of fruit)

7    I gasp: I’ll mount the palm

8       I’ll grasp its trunk

9    And your breasts will be — oh! —

10     Like bunches of grapes

11   And the scent of your nose

12      Like fruit

13   And your cheek is like the strongest wine

14      (It’s) going powerfully for my beloved!

15      Dripping over the mouths of the sleeping!

16   I am my beloved’s

17      And over me is his passion!

1    מַה־יָּפִית

2       וּמַה־נָּעַמְתְּ

3       אַהֲבָה בַּתַּעֲנוּגִים

4    זֹאת קוֹמָתֵךְ

5       דָּמְתָה לְתָמָר

6       וְשָׁדַיִךְ לְאַשְׁכֹּלוֹת

7    אָמַרְתִּי אֶעֱלֶה בְתָמָר

8       אֹחֲזָה בְּסַנְסִנָּיו

9    וְיִהְיוּ־נָא שָׁדַיִךְ

10     כְּאֶשְׁכְּלוֹת הַגֶּפֶן

11   וְרֵיחַ אַפֵּךְ

12     כַּתַּפּוּחִים

13   וְחִכֵּךְ כְּיֵין הַטּוֹב

14     הוֹלֵךְ לְדוֹדִי לְמֵישָׁרִים

15     דּוֹבֵב שִׂפְתֵי יְשֵׁנִים

16   אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי

17     וְעָלַי תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ

OK, in Lines 1–3, let’s look at some TRANSITIONS. I found two. ☝️ Before, the beloved was going “inch by inch,” image by image. One of those “inches” was the lover’s nose which gives him a view of her whole body, well, sort of, obviously. Anyway, now he takes that view and expands on it. He takes in the lover’s whole body, stretched out “the length of you.” See the cleverness? A point in one frame becomes its own entire frame.

✌️ The beloved started off his “inch-by-inch” description with the lover’s feet and described them as “beautiful.” Having gone the length of her body from feet to hair, the beloved talks about the whole of her and describes her as “beautiful” again.

  • “How beautiful your feet
  • “How beautiful you are”

He also makes this an opportunity to expand with a second line and to sum up pleasure in the same totalizing way:

How beautiful you are

And how adorable you are

Love in utter pleasure

Now we can see how he shifts gears in Lines 4–13. Once he is talking about the whole of her he describes the length of her all in one single image, a palm tree, and describes its parts like he wants them all at once, stretched out with her, hands everywhere, face to face. The one-image-at-a-time has become an urgent all-at-once scramble 🤪. You know exactly what I’m talking about.

Lines 14–15 are another bit that drives readers mad. The speech suddenly flips and talks about the beloved, so the LOVER must be talking. Why is she suddenly talking and what is she saying? There’s a word that typically means “righteousness” (מֵישָׁרִים), which has nothing to do with the situation. Who are the sleeping people and what is happening to their lips? There’s a word there that seems related to “arguing, speaking ill” (דֹּבֵב), which again has nothing to do with situation. Sleuths of all different stripes bust a nut🔩 trying to force the text into making some kind of sense. They consider it a bunch of fragments 😨, or come up with tortured meanings 😱, or just rewrite it 🤯.

Let’s do this one thing at a time. It’s how I go. First, we remember that all this is part of the very long reverie that the lover started about her beloved when her friends asked where he went (6:1–3, which we talked about here). At that point, she said that he goes down to graze his lilies, that the two of them engage in loving each other, and then shifted into what that looks like and sounds like; here at this point she’s bringing that long reverie to a close, and like we’ve seen in other Cases, she’s busting into her own reverie to comment on him. Perfectly normal, ok? 

But what’s she saying? This is where things get tricky. One sleuth had the big idea that in some cases the Hebrew word behind “righteousness” (מֵישָׁרִים) has another meaning, “power, strength.” I thumbed down my list to check — hey, no lists 🔖 no sleuth — and damn straight, that meaning actually works better in a lot of cases, and here the formulation is perfect for an adverb. Put it together and in the throes of his passion you get her saying, “It’s going powerfully for my beloved now.” 👌

Line 15 looks like her continuing to talk about her beloved’s aroused state. In some way he affects the lips of the sleeping. Given the situation, where his face is close to hers, inhaling the scent from her nose and tasting her cheek, all that’s left is a kiss and the lips, her lips 💋! By the situation, he’s awakening and stimulating inert, languishing lips. (That’s how one of my favorite sleuths explains it, the dictionary-dandy Eliezer Ben Yehuda 📚. Now he’s a story to tell…) But what exactly does that other pesky word mean, d-b-b? The devil’s in the details, I always say 😈. And there are actually some faded and fragmented clues that it means “drip” 💧 and refers to wetness, lushness, and the like. If I’m right about that, then she is saying, as his face is so close to her, kissing her, that —there’s no sexy way to say this, folks — his mouth is dripping over her sleeping lips. The image of the sleeping lips could refer to his kiss stimulating a response, kissing back; by comparison to active kissing back, they were like sleeping before. Or it could capture the pliant nature of a kiss received, the receptiveness. I don’t see how to decide that one.

OK. One more option. Because I’m always scanning for options 👀, see🔬? It is possible — are you listening? — it is POSSIBLE that at Line 15 we go back to the beloved. He is the one talking. Crazy? 😝 I know. Worse things have been said about me! Hey, if you don’t have thick skin in this business, you won’t get anywhere but nowhere. But what if, once he mentioned the wine 🍷 he continues that image and says that the wine is dripping over the lips of the sleeping. This would mean that she, whose cheek is like wine, stimulates his lips. If this is the situation, it also means that the lover has slipped her comment into the middle of his speech. He’s talking (“cheek like wine”), she comments on his state now mid-sentence (“going powerfully”), and he continues (her wine-like cheek arouses him as if he was dormant before).

So is the line hers or his? Here, too, I don’t see the clues to decide. And there are a few other cases in the Song where you just can’t tell who’s talking (4:16; 5:1b). Heck I can’t even tell if all these cases are meant to be ambiguous or it’s just a case of being too far from the facts. That’s a real difference, you know, and a sleuth has to learn to live with it❗️

Either way, the lover ends in Lines 16–17 by talking about her beloved and summing up the moment: We are insanely passionate for each other. This, as I said already but I love to repeat myself, is how she began it, her beloved grazing in the lilies and the two of them loving each other (6:2–3). This also concludes the complete case, which began way back at 5:2.

And that, my friend, is the end of Case 5 (5:2–7:11) 🥳, our biggest yet 🗄. We’ve seen how, like a Modernist poem, the scene keeps triggering its own dissolution and transformation. An element in one segment prompts a new segment to take shape. It’s the most complex of the scenes in the Song, and you deserve a drink. Or two. On me. 🍾

Oh, if you want a few extra notes, because you know better than to trust me, here:

At 7:1 the beloved tells the lover to turn, “so we can look you over” — “we” in the plural! (וְנֶחֱזֶה) — and she replies in kind, “Now why would you (pl.) look over the Besolomoned one!” — “you” in the plural (תֶּחֱזוּ) again. But this is no group moment or team sport, see❓ They are both talking about the beloved alone. He wants to look at her.  Sleuths of languages call this, using the plural instead of the singular, “agent defocusing,” which means exactly how it sounds (🤣). Like the speaker is deflecting attention away from themselves. There are lots of motives to do this, and lots of consequences when it is done, like every choice in life, no matter the poetic crime. Consider your doctor at the last appointment, who says, “Let’s have a look at you, shall we?” but has never ever given me a mirror 🪞, which is just as well because that’s the last thing I’d want to look at.

7:10 דֹּבֵב “drip”: (a) In later Hebrew, the root d-b-b refers to ripe fruit whose juice is starting to ooze and to a juicy kind of fruit (דָּבְדְּבָן). (b) People typically trip over the root because related terms in Hebrew and other languages, the root d-b-b has to do with speech. But there is another word that has the base meaning of “drip” and gets used for “speech” (n-ṭ-p נטף, להטיף), which shows there’s a logic and a pattern afoot! Sleuths, gird and go figure it out!

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