I'm a Midwesterner with a background in writing and media. My articles are mainly about relationships, dating, and heartbreak.
Finding Deeper Meaning
In Song of Songs Chapter 6, it starts off with the friends of the beloved asking where her lover has gone. The beloved tells them he has gone down to his garden. The man then describes the beloved, who visits him.
- Song 6 may be a call back to song 5; however, the tone of the two is very different. Song 5 is full of grief, fear, and anguish. Song 6 is more hopeful -- it references back to other songs and has more pastoral or spring-palantine themes.
- This is the first chapter to use the word Shulammite. This was a person from Shulem. This is an unidentified place in the Bible. Shulammite could be synonymous with the word Shunammite. Shunem was a village in Issachar, north of Jezreel and south of Mount Gilboa. Other scholars have linked the woman to Jerusalem. Some also think the name might just be the bride's name and a feminine version of the name Solomon. Some have suggested she is of a different ethno-identity than Solomon and could be black.
- Shunamitism was the practice of an older man sleeping with a much younger woman in the hopes that it would recover his youth and strength. It was an esoteric-youth enhancing method. Before science caught up and disproved of this bizarre practice: people thought the heat and moisture from the youth would transfer to the old man and revitalize him. In the Bible, when King David was old he couldn't stay warm. His servants found Abishag to sleep with him in hopes that it would cure him -- she was from Shunem. King David was King Solomon's father... so perhaps why King Solomon had so many women in his harem was because he thought it would give him eternal life.
Personal Thoughts on Chapter 6
For my own sanity, I have to see song 5 and song 6 as separate unrelated chapters. In song 5, the lover went missing and the woman went into the streets in search of him. She was beat by watchmen for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time as a woman. It's gruesome and violent.
Now in song 6, the beloved is using pastoral images. Her tone is much more at peace; there doesn't seem to be a hint of anguish. I don't think all of Song of Songs is a unified narrative. I also think that it could be dangerous to assume that. I'm not entirely sold that each song is about the same couple. I think they're love songs and meant to convey what is love. I don't think it matters if the characters are the same in each song or if they're the same people in every song.
Friends and the Beloved Discuss Her Partner's Whereabouts
Song 6 starts with the friends asking the beloved where her lover has gone. They call her the most beautiful of women. Their lines are very similar to the one in song 5 after the woman has been beat.
In song 6, the friends appear to have more urgency to find the lover. In song 5, they questioned the woman as to why he was so special -- they didn't seem entirely sold on the person. The beloved gave an impressive description of him. She described his head with images of flora and fauna. She described his body as precious jewels and stones.
In song 5, the beloved doesn't know where her lover has gone, but in song 6, she has an answer.
She says he is in the garden, his own garden at that. He has gone somewhere to delight in his senses to be near alluring scents, to be surrounded by delicate and pretty flowers. This may be the beloved's way of saying she has found him -- and she is the loveliness that he seeks. The beloved doesn't really like to be concrete with her words -- it's almost always a poetic, deeply coded message. A dialogue starts with the man, so it appears he has been found.
Some of the language the woman uses is ambiguous even in the original language. It could be interpreted in several different ways.
What Did He Say?
The lover has a speaking part for the first time since the beginning of song 5!
I've broken down some of the intricacies of his speech below including phrases, terms, and other notes that might be helpful in understanding this ancient literature.
Tirzah: The lover compares the woman to Tirzah, an old Canaanite city in the middle of the land. It was chosen by Jehoboam as the first royal city of the northern kingdom. Tirzah is where Jehoboam's son Abijah died of illness. It is identified with the modern day site of Tell el-Far'ah. The ancient city may be where Tayasir is now. Some scholars suggest the city is Talluza. The word tirzah means pleasure or beauty, so it was likely a gorgeous destination in ancient times.
- Comparison of the beloved's beauty to cities might not have been unusual in the ancient near East. Cities were often described as women, like naval ships today.
Song of Songs has several allusions to military might, discipline, and the emotions aroused by banners to express unity. Wars were aplenty in the past, so the comparisons to the military would be something people could understand and connect to. We often make similes and metaphors out of the practices, styles, and events of our times. Agrarian cultures will be more likely to write poetry pertaining to agriculture; technologically advanced civilizations will make more allusions to technology, etc.
The lover repeats several poetic phrases that were used in other songs.
- "Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from Gilead" -- he is comparing her hair to the dark color of goats who were popular in Gilead. He is telling us her hair is dark.
- "Your teeth are like a flock of sheep coming up from the washing each has its twin" -- her teeth are like clean and shorn sheep who are white. She also isn't missing teeth. Teeth hygiene isn't what it's like today, so having all your teeth was likely impressive.
- "Your temples behind your veil are like the halves of a pomegranate" -- her face is round, symmetrical, and flushed. Symmetry is often seen as desirable and a facet of beauty.
After this description that reflects back on other passages, the lover compares her to his sixty queens and eighty concubines and more. New flash to any men reading this: don't compare women to goats, sheep, and definitely not other women.
This description of these other women means we can safely assume the lover in this song is King Solomon. Legend has it he had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Logistically, this sounds like a nightmare. It's hard to know what exactly this would mean for all these women, how much attention they would get, where they would all live, or if this was some kind of seal of protection -- or if he just bought and traded for a lot of women. There are so many questions, and not enough answers are written in stone.
King Solomon compares the woman to the others but calls her the perfect one. She is unique. She is the only daughter of her mother. He says the maidens, queens, and concubines praise her. She is the one the others envy. She even has his name but the feminine version of it -- Shulammite.
News flash: ladies, if a man is calling you his favorite among a long list of women he still sees and gives lodging -- you should RUN and run fast. The only type of man to live a lifestyle even remotely like King Solomon in the present would be a cult leader.
Ancient literature is confusing, but for the modern day woman, don't get involved with men who are hosting a large harem. Be smart. Fall in love with someone who is exclusive. Share your life with someone cohesively.
Searching for Signs of Spring
The friends question at the beginning is a comment on the woman's beauty. They too are caught up in her image as are the women of King Solomon's realm -- the entirety of the United Kingdom of Israel.
The king goes into the valley to see if there are any signs of spring. The change in season is a symbol of new and fresh romantic love. (The nut trees might have been walnuts based on the geographical area.)
He is in search of finding love. He wants to know if the romance is alive, if it has awakened or if he'll have to wait.
The lover repeatedly uses pomegranates to symbolize the woman -- it's a prized fruit with a noticeable color. He describes his desire for her as a chariot -- luxurious, noticeable, grand, with momentum (wheels), and valuable. It would be likely comparing your interest for someone like you were a Ferrari in search of a place to go.
The friends call the woman to gaze upon him and accept him.
King Solomon replies and ends the song with: 'Why would you gaze on the Shulammite as on the dance of Mahanaim?"
*Mahanaim might refer to a town in Gilead.
- The man's waṣf or descriptive poem of her beauty demonstrates the heart of the Song: valuing the human body and even giving it praise as a work of art. According to the Bible, the body is an example of God's creation and should be enjoyed and celebrated whether in its initial creation in Genesis or in resurrection.
Learning More about Song of Songs
- Jewish rabbis have said a person shouldn't read Song of Songs until they're in their 30s. It's too romantic, erotic, and passionate. They don't want younger audiences to be confused.
- Gardens were prized in ancient Israel and would have been seen as romantic spaces and places for leisure.
- Some of the pronouns used to determine who was the lover and who was the beloved are debatable and unclear in the original language.
- The nice part of Song of Songs included in Jewish and Christian traditions is that it shows... God isn't a prude.
- Song of Songs teaches that lasting love is more important than being in love. Love hasn't been fully realized until it has stood against the test of time.