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Delving Deeper into the Bible Book: Song of Songs
Song of Songs chapter 7 is fairly short. It contains a conversation between the lover and the beloved. Unlike other songs, #7 starts with a description of the woman's... feet.
The male speaker describes her feet and legs and slowly goes up to her face. The spring imagery, yet again, continues in this passage. The conversation is of course intimate again. The narrative in this song isn't as complicated as some of the others: it's a straightforward romantic conversation. He speaks, she speaks, it ends.
What Did He Say?
Most of the songs start with physical descriptions of the face, not the feet. Starting the song with the feet might be a way to change the format and give the song some difference compared to the others. This might also be a narrative strategy to develop some tension and excitement before describing the face.
The beginning of this song is meant to note the woman's nobility and beauty. The Hebrew word for graceful suggests she is curvaceous. Her feet and legs are like precious jewels, showing value and desire. She catches people's attention just by the appearance of her sandaled feet. The feet are considered an emotional sphere, their direction indicates a person's desires, and feet planted on the ground is meant to signal steadiness. So maybe there is something more here than a man's obsession with... feet.
A goblet is a large, two-handled, ring-based bowl. I've always been under the impression the description of the goblet means she can suck in her belly and get a nice pool from it. I think the writer ultimately was mentioning that her stomach was nicely shaped. She may have worn a garland of flowers around her waist to accentuate her curves.
There are a lot of buildings and geographical descriptions in the next part of the song. Buildings in the Near East were often described as women, somewhat like naval ships are compared to women today.
- Ivory Tower: her neck is long, lovely, sturdy, smooth, and noticeable. Ivory was prized in ancient times as it is today.
- Pools of Heshbon: the beloved's eyes reflect like the surface of a pool. Heshbon was once the royal city of Sihon, it had an abundant supply of spring water.
- Bath Rabbim: means daughter of many, perhaps a popular name for Heshbon.
- Tower of Lebanon: perhaps a military tower, many of the allusions in Song of Songs, especially from the male speaker, have to do with military or war symbols. The Tower of Lebanon may have been a tower on the northern frontier of Solomon's kingdom. It could also be referring to the beautiful, towering Lebanon mountain range. The mountains are mentioned in other songs.
- Mount Carmel: a promontory midway along the western coast of the kingdom, with a wooded top and known for its beauty. Also known in Arabic as Mount Mar Elias. It was also the scene of Elijah's confrontation with the false prophets of Baal.
Orchards, Vineyards, and Gardens: Significant for Luxury and Romance
The royal imagery continues in the song. He refers to her hair as like a royal tapestry -- it's a reference to a purple, royal cloth. The woman's hair is elegance itself. It's long, clean, and fashionable.
Her stature is also noticeable, like a palm tree. She is tall, has lovely posture, and appears confident. He describes her like fruits and vines that he wants to approach. The imagery is similar to the other songs that put a lot of spotlight on orchards, vineyards, and gardens. These spaces would have been considered highly valuable, wanted by nobles, luxurious for leisure, and royal back in ancient Israel. The male speaker describes the woman's fragrance like an alluring apple and her mouth is like the best wine.
Orchards, vineyards, and gardens are used to express intimacy between two people throughout Song of Songs. These are secret gardens meant only to be shared between two people. It makes it easier to describe passion without it getting too lurid by using metaphors and symbols -- hence all the comparisons to fruits, flora, and spices.
Think of it like a shampoo commercial that's supposed to be irresistible. By focusing so much on fragrances, good feelings, and allure Song of Songs becomes one of the more compelling books of the Bible. Not only does the book teach us about ancient peoples and the way couples shared their love, it also gives us ideas on how to write strong poetry, how to come up with strong advertisements, and it gives us an appreciation for the beautiful geography that is in Israel and Lebanon. Song of Songs has a high appreciation for nature and landscapes. We can learn a lot about the region and its naturally occurring crops and even popular trades.
The beloved (the woman) responds to the lover by using similar language. She mirrors his words in a way that shows she is reciprocating his feelings.
The Beloved Speaks
The lover ends with: "Your mouth like the best wine." The beloved responds: "May the wine go straight to my lover." This is pretty obvious, but they're talking about kissing. She accepts his invitation for passion with a kiss. She also accepts his compliment of her mouth with a kiss. There is a sense of belonging from both people. They love each other in totality and only for each other, at least in the song.
The beloved invites the lover to go with him to somewhere else that's beautiful and in the countryside -- away from the hectic urban lifestyle that is the heart of Israel. She wants to go to the quiet and secretive countryside. Vineyards are mentioned again. She refers to vines having budded and pomegranates. Song of Songs mentions pomegranates several times -- it is a symbol for beauty, color, and symmetry.
The beloved also mentions mandrakes. The item was associated with fertility. Mandrakes are short-stemmed herbs. The odor of its blossom is pungent. They're popular in the Mediterranean region. People today take mandrakes to cure a range of ailments from stomach problems, arthritis, and coughing. It's also been used to cause sleepiness, reduce pain, and as an aphrodisiac.
The beloved invites the lover to come closer so they can share in both new and old memories.
This song is fairly short, sweet, and simple. Notes from my other Hubpages on the other chapters might prove helpful for understanding song 7.
A Closer Look at Ancient Jewish Wedding Practices
Weddings and Marriage Traditions in Ancient Israel
Since Song of Songs is a collection of wedding songs and love poetry, it might help to understand the text by looking at ancient Israel traditions on marriage.
Marriage has evolved over thousands of years. The traditions of the past have morphed as the institution has changed.
- Men had more control of who they married than women did.
- Marriage unions were often based on economic or social circumstances and not romantic ones.
- A man would give the bride's father a mohar, a gift to seal the betrothal between the bride and the groom. This was seen as a gift. It started off as a way to purchase the bride. It was an agreement between two families, not just the couple.
- People married young. The brides were generally younger than the grooms -- around the age of 13 or 14, right around puberty.
- Fathers were more concerned about the marriages of their sons. No expense was involved in marrying off a daughter. The father would receive a dowry. The son and his family had to pay the bridewealth.
- Mattan was the gifts given to the bride from the groom in addition to the mohar.
- The couple would generally live with the groom's family in a nook. The dowry was paid to the bride's family in part because the family was losing a household member, the daughter. This was significant. The daughters often did a fair share of house work and responsibility.
- A rich father sometimes gave his daughter land or other property as part of the deal.
- Marriages were marked with two ceremonies. A betrothal and a wedding. This didn't really change until the Middle Ages.
- During the betrothal, the woman was legally married but she still lived in her father's house.
- The wedding ceremony meant the woman was moving into her groom family's house.
- Women were not recognized as persons but were bought in marriage.
- Betrothal was considered more important in ancient times. As women gained more rights, and respect, the betrothal faded and weddings became more significant.
- The ordinary Jewish man typically only married one woman, but it was permissible in ancient times to marry more women. Kings and more prominent people were more likely to have more wive and concubines.
- There was a ban on polygamy for Ashkenazic Jews in about the 10th century by Rabbenu Gershom.
- Sephardic communities haven't outlawed polygamy.
- The oldest marriage contract from Jewish history dates back to after the exile from Babylon.
- A wedding in Hebrew is called a simcha (a joyous occasion).
- Marriages were often considered alliances between families.
- In preparation of the betrothal, the bride and groom were separately immersed in water as part of a purification ceremony called the mikvah.
- After the immersion, the couple enters the huppah -- a canopy symbolizing the new marriage. It's meant as a representation of their new household that's underway and actualized with the wedding.
- The betrothal usually lasted about a year.
- Divorce had to be initiated with the man.
- The father gave final approval for the man to collect his bride. The woman often didn't know the day nor the hour that the groom would arrive -- this knowledge might help to make some of Song of Songs a little more clear, especially chapter 3 and 5.
© 2020 Andrea Lawrence