Sunday, October 23, 2005

Shir HaShirim 5:2-6:3 And The Frustration Of Lovers Not In Harmony

Warning: The following post contains some adult themes and adult language. You may wish to skip over it, as the lover of Shir HaShirim 2:8 leaps upon the mountains and skips upon the hills.

Shir HaShirim 3:1-5 tells of the beloved seeking her lover finding him, and since they both desire each other and are ready for this step, realizing their love carnally:
א עַל-מִשְׁכָּבִי, בַּלֵּילוֹת, בִּקַּשְׁתִּי, אֵת שֶׁאָהֲבָה נַפְשִׁי; בִּקַּשְׁתִּיו, וְלֹא מְצָאתִיו. 1 By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth; I sought him, but I found him not.
ב אָקוּמָה נָּא וַאֲסוֹבְבָה בָעִיר, בַּשְּׁוָקִים וּבָרְחֹבוֹת--אֲבַקְשָׁה, אֵת שֶׁאָהֲבָה נַפְשִׁי; בִּקַּשְׁתִּיו, וְלֹא מְצָאתִיו. 2 'I will rise now, and go about the city, in the streets and in the broad ways, I will seek him whom my soul loveth.' I sought him, but I found him not.
ג מְצָאוּנִי, הַשֹּׁמְרִים, הַסֹּבְבִים, בָּעִיר: אֵת שֶׁאָהֲבָה נַפְשִׁי, רְאִיתֶם. 3 The watchmen that go about the city found me: 'Saw ye him whom my soul loveth?'
ד כִּמְעַט, שֶׁעָבַרְתִּי מֵהֶם, עַד שֶׁמָּצָאתִי, אֵת שֶׁאָהֲבָה נַפְשִׁי; אֲחַזְתִּיו, וְלֹא אַרְפֶּנּוּ--עַד-שֶׁהֲבֵיאתִיו אֶל-בֵּית אִמִּי, וְאֶל-חֶדֶר הוֹרָתִי. 4 Scarce had I passed from them, when I found him whom my soul loveth: 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.
ה הִשְׁבַּעְתִּי אֶתְכֶם בְּנוֹת יְרוּשָׁלִַם, בִּצְבָאוֹת, אוֹ, בְּאַיְלוֹת הַשָּׂדֶה: אִם-תָּעִירוּ וְאִם-תְּעוֹרְרוּ אֶת-הָאַהֲבָה, עַד שֶׁתֶּחְפָּץ
5 'I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles, and by the hinds of the field, that ye awaken not, nor stir up love, until it please.'
תָּעִירוּ and תְּעוֹרְרוּ is clear poetic duplication. Some moderns (e.g. Bettan) render here and the parallel in 2:7 as "stir up love," with the implication of stirring up love unnaturally and artificially,until it is time. Gordis dislikes it, for why should she adjure them not to stir up her love, when she is engaged in lovemaking at the moment. Instead, he explains תָּעִירוּ and תְּעוֹרְרוּ as disturb, such that they should not be disturbed in their lovemaking until it is satiatied (and so renders שֶׁתֶּחְפָּץ as satiated).

However, Gordis and others unfortunately have their eyes riveted to the scene of the lover and beloved's lovemaking, such that they read the adjuration to the daughters of Jerusalem into the story. (In 5:8, the adjuration becomes part of the narrative, such that the daughters of Jerusalem reply, but this is so atypical that Gordis remarks that anything is possible in a dream!) In fact, this is a moral attached to the story. Here (and in the earlier usage in chapter 2), she is teaching the lesson. In the story, both she and her lover are ready to engage in lovemaking, and she gives an adjuration that they not take such steps until they too are emotionally ready and truly desire to do so. Thus, "I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem ... that ye awaken not, nor stir up love, until you desire it." This is the meaning of עַד שֶׁתֶּחְפָּץ. The arousal is not via artificial means, but means even cia natural, gentle means (against Bettan). We may thus preserve the most straigtforward meaning of תְּעוֹרְרוּ אֶת-הָאַהֲבָה. That neither the lover nor the beloved are mentioned in this adjuration bolsters some the idea that it is not a part of the narrative.

With this in mind, we may now turn to Shir HaShirim 5:2-6:3. Gordis cites Wittekind and Haller that הַחֹר in verse 5:4 is a crude term for the vagina. Regarding this, he states (Gordis, pg. 88), "This last view makes nonsense the preceding verses, which are a call to the lover to be admitted to the house." Rather, הַחֹר refers to some hole in the door, perhaps one through which the door may be opened from the outside.

In truth, both Wittekind and Gordis are correct. הַחֹר does refer to a hole in the door, and at the same time it is a reference to the vagina, though not a crude reference. Symbolism is at play here, and the entire song, not just this word, is to be read multivalently. Thus, the last view does not make nonsense of the preceding verses, as we shall see in short order.

Before proceeding, a relevant joke:
A man goes to a psychologist, and they decide to start with a Rorschach test. He's shown the first picture and sees a man and a woman making love at the beach. Gazing at the second picture he sees a man and a woman making love in a hot tub. The third has a man and a woman making love in a park. In all of the pictures, the man sees a couple making love. After the test, the psychologist looks over her notes and says, "You seem to have a preoccupation with sex. You have a dirty mind!" The man replies, "Me?! You're the one with the dirty pictures!"
I would put forth that Gordis, alas, does not have a dirty enough mind, such that he missed all of the sexual references in this chapter. It is also possible that it is my mind that is overly dirty. This is one problem with any interpretation of poetry - it truly can be an inkblot.

To proceed to the first verse (5:2):
ב אֲנִי יְשֵׁנָה, וְלִבִּי עֵר; קוֹל דּוֹדִי דוֹפֵק, פִּתְחִי-לִי אֲחֹתִי רַעְיָתִי יוֹנָתִי תַמָּתִי--שֶׁרֹּאשִׁי נִמְלָא-טָל, קְוֻצּוֹתַי רְסִיסֵי לָיְלָה. 2 I sleep, but my heart waketh; Hark! my beloved knocketh: 'Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled; for my head is filled with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.'
What is meant by אֲנִי יְשֵׁנָה וְלִבִּי עֵר? JPS, and Gordis, understand "I sleep, but my heart waketh." That is, the following is all a dream. This is indeed a plausible reading, and in fact on Level 1, the symbolic level, this is what it may mean.

At the same time, we might separate אֲנִי יְשֵׁנָה as referring to the beloved, and וְלִבִּי עֵר referring to her lover (heart = love). Indeed, Rashi, following Pesikta deRav Kehana, states that וְלִבִּי עֵר refers to God, and since God is represented by the lover in Rashi's historical interpretation, he also understands וְלִבִּי עֵר as referring to the lover rather than the beloved.

What does וְלִבִּי עֵר mean? If in contrast to her being asleep (Level 1), then he (or her heart, seat of thought) is awake. However, this is really all sexual (on Level 2), and so וְלִבִּי עֵר means "aroused," as it did in the earlier adjuration, אִם-תָּעִירוּ וְאִם-תְּעוֹרְרוּ אֶת-הָאַהֲבָה, עַד שֶׁתֶּחְפָּץ. If he is aroused, then her sleeping connotes that she is not aroused, but rather not at all in the mood for lovemaking. (Gordis perhaps misses this because he dismisses the meaning "aroused" in the adjuration.)

This song is then the contrast to the situation described in the adjuration. In the earlier songs, both lover and beloved wished to engage in lovemaking, and they did so. The adjuration attached to those songs contained a warning to the daughters of Jerusalem not to arouse their lovers until they themselves were desirous of lovemaking. Here, we have such a situation of lovers not in harmony, which will lead to frustration. He is aroused while she is not, or symbolically, he is awake while she is asleep.

The verse continues: קוֹל דּוֹדִי דוֹפֵק. JPS, and Gordis, renders: "Hark! my beloved knocketh." Thus, קוֹל stands alone. There are other Biblical examples of this. Hakham agrees with this interpretation, noting that the trup, with its munach legarmeih (a disjunctive accent) on the word קוֹל, also separates off the word קוֹל. Thus, her beloved knocks, presumably on the door.

The verse continues: פִּתְחִי-לִי אֲחֹתִי רַעְיָתִי יוֹנָתִי תַמָּתִי--שֶׁרֹּאשִׁי נִמְלָא-טָל, קְוֻצּוֹתַי רְסִיסֵי לָיְלָה. 'Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled; for my head is filled with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.' He wants her to open the door so that he can enter the house. The fact that his head and hair are wet from rain and dew is a reason to open the door more hastily, or (as Hakham) part of his excuse for wanting to enter the house. Note all the terms of endearment he uses: "my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled."

Thus, on the symbolic level (Level 1), we have the lover standing outside the door of the beloved's house, requesting entrance. However, on the interpretive level (Level 2), he is in truth lying beside her in bed.

The door is a reference to her chastity. Thus, we see in Shir HaShirim 8:9, interpreted by many to refer to the unsuccessful suitors:
ח אָחוֹת לָנוּ קְטַנָּה, וְשָׁדַיִם אֵין לָהּ; מַה-נַּעֲשֶׂה לַאֲחֹתֵנוּ, בַּיּוֹם שֶׁיְּדֻבַּר-בָּהּ. 8 We have a little sister, and she hath no breasts; what shall we do for our sister in the day when she shall be spoken for?
ט אִם-חוֹמָה הִיא, נִבְנֶה עָלֶיהָ טִירַת כָּסֶף; וְאִם-דֶּלֶת הִיא, נָצוּר עָלֶיהָ לוּחַ אָרֶז 9 If she be a wall, we will build upon her a turret of silver; and if she be a door, we will enclose her {or beseige her} with boards of cedar.
He wishes for her to open her door to him. This is an anatomical reference - "Open to me." How does he knock on her door? He requests that they engage in lovemaking.

To return to קוֹל דּוֹדִי דוֹפֵק. While Gordis et. al., and the trup, take קוֹל to mean "Hark," such that it is the lover, rather than his voice, knocking on the door of her (literal) house, in truth there is a multivalent reading present in the verse, in which it is his voice that does the knocking. (Or, as Hakham notes, some say that the ancient meaning of דוֹפֵק is entreating.) Thus, later, נַפְשִׁי יָצְאָה בְדַבְּרוֹ.

How does his voice knock? Hakham noted the interesting collection of terms of endearment in the verse. These are in fact the knocks of her "door." אֲחֹתִי. (Knock.) רַעְיָתִי. (Knock.) יוֹנָתִי. (Knock.) תַמָּתִי. (Knock.)

Why does he wish for her to "open" to him? For as we read above, he is aroused -- וְלִבִּי עֵר. In the continuation, he explains his arousal: שֶׁרֹּאשִׁי נִמְלָא-טָל, קְוֻצּוֹתַי רְסִיסֵי לָיְלָה -- "for my head is filled with dew, my locks with the drops of the night." His "head" is a reference to his penis, which is filled with "dew," or sperm. קְוֻצּוֹתַי means "my extremity," in parallel to his head, and the רְסִיסֵי לָיְלָה, the "drops of the night," are those drops which often emerge in lovemaking, done at night, in parallel with "dew."

Thus, on the symbolic level, he stands outside his beloved's door, begging entrance, and for her to open the door to her house to him, and to explain his sense of urgency states that his head and hair are becoming wet from the rain and dew outside. On the interpretive level, he explains his sense of urgency on the basis of his arousal.

In the next verse (3), the beloved responds to him:
ג פָּשַׁטְתִּי, אֶת-כֻּתָּנְתִּי--אֵיכָכָה, אֶלְבָּשֶׁנָּה; רָחַצְתִּי אֶת-רַגְלַי, אֵיכָכָה אֲטַנְּפֵם. 3 I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?
On the symbolic level, she is explaining why she does not wish to emerge from bed to walk to the door and open it for him. On the interpretive, sexual level, פָּשַׁטְתִּי, אֶת-כֻּתָּנְתִּי--אֵיכָכָה, אֶלְבָּשֶׁנָּה, "I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on?" is difficult, for she is presumably naked in bed with him, and would have no cause to put on her clothes. The interpretation is simply to express reluctance to open her "door" for her beloved, for she is not in the mood and not to be troubled (,this deduced from the symbolic level, where the meaning obtains), yet, at the same time drawing attention to the fact that she is naked. This then sets up the highly suggestive sexual meaning of the remainder of the verse: רָחַצְתִּי אֶת-רַגְלַי, אֵיכָכָה אֲטַנְּפֵם, "I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them." רַגְלַי is standard Biblical terminology for the sexual equipment. She has cleaned herself and does not wish to engage in lovemaking, which would get her sullied there. Thus, on the symbolic level these are reasons for her not to arise and open the door, while on the interpretive, sexual level, she is given excuses not to make love.

This is of course a very frustrating experience for the lover. He was aroused before she desired, and so his love was not satiated.

The next verse is rendered in two different ways by Gordis and Hakham. Accordingly, there are two different possible interpretations, on the symbolic as well as the sexual level.

The verse:
ד דּוֹדִי, שָׁלַח יָדוֹ מִן-הַחֹר, וּמֵעַי, הָמוּ עָלָיו. 4 My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my heart was moved for him.
According to Hakham, the lover inserts his hand into a hole in the door, still seeking her, and seeing this, her heart is moved for him. This inspires her to get up and walk to the door to open it for her lover.

On the sexual level, we would of course understand הַחֹר to refer to the vagina. Perhaps this represents foreplay, or perhaps the very beginning of the sexual act. Her innards stir for him, and now she, too, is aroused.

According to Gordis, the lover removes his hand from the hole in the door. Thus, at this point he has decided to leave. In response to his leaving, she realizes that she wanted his presence.

On the sexual level, we would once again understand הַחֹר to refer to the vagina. He "withdraws" his "hand" from the hole, or else he stops seeking for her to open her door. But now, her innards stir for him, and now she, too, is aroused.

The next verse:
ה קַמְתִּי אֲנִי, לִפְתֹּחַ לְדוֹדִי; וְיָדַי נָטְפוּ-מוֹר, וְאֶצְבְּעֹתַי מוֹר עֹבֵר, עַל, כַּפּוֹת הַמַּנְעוּל. 5 I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with flowing myrrh, upon the handles of the bar.
Based on the continuation that this verse represents on the sexual level, I believe that Hakham is more correct in his interpretation of the preceding verse, though both are still possible.

On the symbolic level, she rises to open the door to her lover. Hakham relates that before going to bed, she had put myrrh on her hands and fingers, such that they dripped on the handles of the bar.

On the sexual level, she has decided to "open her door" to her lover, and engage in sexual relations. Again, this is likely an anatomical reference. The myrrh and flowing myrrh are bodily fluids, sexual juices dripping and flowing from her, as signs of her physical arousal. The handles of the bar (of the door) is an anatomical reference once again, to indicate more clearly where this flowing myrrh is flowing. {Update: To be clear, the likely anatomical reference of עַל כַּפּוֹת הַמַּנְעוּל, "the handles of the bar (of the door)" is to the labia.}

Note the phrase נָטְפוּ-מוֹר, "dropped (=dripped) with myrrh." While נָטְפוּ means "dripped," it also represents a metathesis of a word in an earlier verse. When she did not wish to open for her lover, she excused herself, saying רָחַצְתִּי אֶת-רַגְלַי אֵיכָכָה אֲטַנְּפֵם, "I have washed my feet; how shall I sully them?" The נ and the ט have switched places, but the meaning is similar, at least multivalently. She had not wished to open herself to her lover because she did not wish to sully her private parts. Now, her private parts are sullied from her own myrrh, as it drips from her.

The next verse:
ו פָּתַחְתִּי אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי, וְדוֹדִי חָמַק עָבָר; נַפְשִׁי, יָצְאָה בְדַבְּרוֹ--בִּקַּשְׁתִּיהוּ וְלֹא מְצָאתִיהוּ, קְרָאתִיו וְלֹא עָנָנִי. 6 I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had turned away, and was gone. My soul failed me when he spoke. I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer.
On the symbolic level, she opens the door to her house to let her lover enter, but her lover, frustrated, had turned away and gone. On the sexual level, she was ready and opened herself to him, but his arousal had already subsided.

(Note in passing that חָמַק עָבָר, as a description of the lover, is meant to parallel מוֹר עֹבֵר in the previous verse as a description of the beloved.)

She then must go searching for her lover, until she finds them mutually compatible and agreeable. She thus shifts to the metaphor of searching for her lover in the streets of the city at night, or continues the narrative by going out of the door of her house. (The interpretive, sexual level, does not seem to continue in the same way past this shift in metaphor.) We saw this metaphor of searching the streets for him earlier in Shir HaShirim 3:1-5. The reader knows this, and is attuned to differences between the usual story and this one.
ז מְצָאֻנִי הַשֹּׁמְרִים הַסֹּבְבִים בָּעִיר, הִכּוּנִי פְצָעוּנִי; נָשְׂאוּ אֶת-רְדִידִי מֵעָלַי, שֹׁמְרֵי הַחֹמוֹת. 7 The watchmen that go about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took away my mantle from me.
She now seeks him, rather than is sought, and them is vulnerable. She has left her sealed door, and thus opens herself to hurt. In Shir HaShirim 3:1-5, she asks the watchmen if they have seen her lover, as they would be helpful to her. Here, they injure her, reflecting her vulnerability to harm. Do they consider her a harlot and thus strike her (as Gordis)? They are the keepers of the wall, and her chastity is a wall. Remember Shir HaShirim 8:9?
ט אִם-חוֹמָה הִיא, נִבְנֶה עָלֶיהָ טִירַת כָּסֶף; וְאִם-דֶּלֶת הִיא, נָצוּר עָלֶיהָ לוּחַ אָרֶז 9 If she be a wall, we will build upon her a turret of silver; and if she be a door, we will enclose her with boards of cedar.
Thus, she is betrayed by her defenses, as she abandons them.

The next verses:
ח הִשְׁבַּעְתִּי אֶתְכֶם, בְּנוֹת יְרוּשָׁלִָם: אִם-תִּמְצְאוּ, אֶת-דּוֹדִי--מַה-תַּגִּידוּ לוֹ, שֶׁחוֹלַת אַהֲבָה אָנִי. 8 'I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, what will ye tell him? that I am love-sick.'
ט מַה-דּוֹדֵךְ מִדּוֹד, הַיָּפָה בַּנָּשִׁים: מַה-דּוֹדֵךְ מִדּוֹד, שֶׁכָּכָה הִשְׁבַּעְתָּנוּ. 9 'What is thy beloved more than another beloved, O thou fairest among women? What is thy beloved more than another beloved, that thou dost so adjure us?'

Her adjuration to the daughters of Jerusalem is changed, since they have both been frustrated in love. She now wants them to tell him she is love sick, so that he will know that she is ready for him whenever she is. Why this different attitude, they ask? She then enumerates the praises of her lover:
י דּוֹדִי צַח וְאָדוֹם, דָּגוּל מֵרְבָבָה. 10 'My beloved is white and ruddy, pre-eminent above ten thousand.
יא רֹאשׁוֹ, כֶּתֶם פָּז; קְוֻצּוֹתָיו, תַּלְתַּלִּים, שְׁחֹרוֹת, כָּעוֹרֵב. 11 His head is as the most fine gold, his locks are curled, and black as a raven.
יב עֵינָיו, כְּיוֹנִים עַל-אֲפִיקֵי מָיִם; רֹחֲצוֹת, בֶּחָלָב--יֹשְׁבוֹת, עַל-מִלֵּאת. 12 His eyes are like doves beside the water-brooks; washed with milk, and fitly set.
יג לְחָיָו כַּעֲרוּגַת הַבֹּשֶׂם, מִגְדְּלוֹת מֶרְקָחִים; שִׂפְתוֹתָיו, שׁוֹשַׁנִּים--נֹטְפוֹת, מוֹר עֹבֵר. 13 His cheeks are as a bed of spices, as banks of sweet herbs; his lips are as lilies, dropping with flowing myrrh.
יד יָדָיו גְּלִילֵי זָהָב, מְמֻלָּאִים בַּתַּרְשִׁישׁ; מֵעָיו עֶשֶׁת שֵׁן, מְעֻלֶּפֶת סַפִּירִים. 14 His hands are as rods of gold set with beryl; his body is as polished ivory overlaid with sapphires.
טו שׁוֹקָיו עַמּוּדֵי שֵׁשׁ, מְיֻסָּדִים עַל-אַדְנֵי-פָז; מַרְאֵהוּ, כַּלְּבָנוֹן--בָּחוּר, כָּאֲרָזִים. 15 His legs are as pillars of marble, set upon sockets of fine gold; his aspect is like Lebanon, excellent as the cedars.
טז חִכּוֹ, מַמְתַקִּים, וְכֻלּוֹ, מַחֲמַדִּים; זֶה דוֹדִי וְזֶה רֵעִי, בְּנוֹת יְרוּשָׁלִָם. 16 His mouth is most sweet; yea, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.
It all ends well, as we read (Shir HaShirim 6:1-3):
א אָנָה הָלַךְ דּוֹדֵךְ, הַיָּפָה בַּנָּשִׁים; אָנָה פָּנָה דוֹדֵךְ, וּנְבַקְשֶׁנּוּ עִמָּךְ. 1 'Whither is thy beloved gone, O thou fairest among women? Whither hath thy beloved turned him, that we may seek him with thee?'
ב דּוֹדִי יָרַד לְגַנּוֹ, לַעֲרֻגוֹת הַבֹּשֶׂם--לִרְעוֹת, בַּגַּנִּים, וְלִלְקֹט, שׁוֹשַׁנִּים. 2 'My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies.
ג אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי, הָרֹעֶה בַּשּׁוֹשַׁנִּים.
3 I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine, that feedeth among the lilies.'
as he finds her, and she gives herself over entirely to him, with no reservations, such that he descends to his garden, which symbolizes her. They are in harmony. She is his and he is her's.

If this is indeed the literal level of this song, then see how explicit the literal level can get. Those who would have Artscroll give the literal level in its translation rather than a running explanation of the meaning of the allegory (as the relationship between God and Israel, as seen through Israelite history) might ponder this. (But that is another post!)

Update: One possible reaction to this post is to think that it is "midrash," or that some of the analyses are farfetched. In part, I put myself into a creative midrashic mood while writing this, but that does not mean that this is intended, or is in fact, midrashic. Shir HaShirim, as poetry, lends itself to such interpretations on a peshat level.

However, the case for this not being farfetched and not being midrashic would be bolstered by demonstrating some ancient parallels where the connection is made clearer, and also by demonstrating some biblical scholars who, at least in part, suggest the same.

In particular, some found that "head" = penis was farfetched. To explain my reasoning here: In English, head can refer to the penis head, the glans penis. In Hebrew, it is Rosh HaGid. And in fact, what it at the head but the Atara, the crown, which goes on the head.? "Nimla" also suggested something to me.

In terms of the door imagery, compare what I wrote with what Fox has, in his book on Shir haShirim and Ancient Egyptian Love Poetry for (Egyptian) poem 7 (on page 14): (emphasis via ** mine)

Boy:
(A) The mansion of (my sister)
Her entry is in the middle of her house
Her double-doors are *open*
her *latch-bolt* drawn back
And my sister incensed
(B) If only I were appointed doorkeeper
I'd get her angry at me!
Then I'd hear her voice when she was incensed -
(as) a child in fear of her.

Fox writes that "Fecht explains double-doors as an allusion to the vagina," but I really doubt we need Fecht for this. Fox also writes that "the repetition of the possessive "her" with the words "house," "bolt," "double-doors," and especially "entry" (r, lit., "opening") suggests that the poem bears a hidden meaning that tells just what the boy wants to do when he gets inside the house."

I think it odd that he did not mention the obvious "Her entry is in the middle of her house" with her house being her body, and thus the "door" being in the center (vertically and horizontally) of it.

The comparison with our poem is shir haShirim is, I think, obvious, and in fact many of the words are the same: house, doors, open.

More updates as I accumulate more data, which does in fact exist.

Update: Some more from Fox, and my comments on it:
Michael Fox also admits a sexual element to the song, though within bounds. This is apparent when considering to links to the preceding poem. He writes (pg 142):

"In addition to its internal bonds, this unit has links to the preceding and following ones. While 5:2 clearly begins a new dramatic sequence, with the lovers separated again and the girl lying in bed one night, the similarity between the motifs of this unit and those of the preceding one shows that the placement of the units is not random. In the preceding unit the girl was called a "locked garden" (4:12). Here too the boy's entry to the desired place is prevented by a "lock," and here too the girl is willing to "open" to him (5:5-6; cf; 4:16). At the end of this unit, as in the preceding, the youth "goes down" to enjoy the fruits of love (6:2; cf. 5:1), and the girl opens her "garden" for him because "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine" (6:3).

Fox (pg 143) renders "kol" as "Listen," just as Gordis and Hakham. However, he agrees with Ibn Ezra and renders "dofek" as "is entreating." He notes that LXX, Peshitta, and Vulgate render "dofek" as knocking. Pope mentions that LXX and Latin both add "on the door." I would say that this seems an insertion, as it would spoil the meter.

Fox (144) explains "open to me" as referring to the door. He writes "the emphasis placed on the word "open" which occurs three times in vv. 2-6, always without the direct object being specified, implies that she will open not just the door, but herself - physically and emotionally - to her lover.

Yet Fox does not go so far as say, as I do, that the door symbolizes the vagina, even as he has that Egyptian love poem that makes the symbolism rather explicit.

Fox does *not* take the head drenched with dew as I do. He refers to Anacreon, ii, 10, where "personified love uses the same reasoning in begging admittance. "'Open!' he said. 'I am just a youth, do not fear. For I am drenched from wandering about in the moonlit night.'" Compare also to Propertius I xvi, 23f., and Ovid, Amores ii, 19, 21."

This is good cause not to take these specific words as symbolic. However, more investigation is necessary, so see how these themes play out there. Also, just because it is a common theme on an overt level does not eliminate the potential for it playing a symbolic role, especially when surrounded by verses which seem to beg to be interpreted thusly. (Though there is the Rambam about not all parts of a metaphor to be interpreted...)

On 5:4, on "My beloved stretched his hand in through (min) the hole," Fox writes that "the "hole" is probably one of the windows or lattices... Earlier he only spoke through the openings. Now he puts his hand through, perhaps to take hers, and she becomes extremely agitated.

I prefer the view mentioned in Daat Mikra better, that we know that the doors back then were constructed that one placed ones arm through a hole and inserts a key, opening the door from inside.

Fox dismisses Pope, who regards *this* verse as suggestive of "ciotal intromission." Fox writes, summarizing Pope: "the male inserts (shalach) his penis (yad, lit. hand) into (min) the girl's vagina (chor). (One wonders how the poet could have said "he put his hand in through the hole" in such a way as to prevent that reading.) "Stretched his hand in through the hole" admittedly makes one think of intercourse, even though "min" is not the appropriate preposition to indicate insertion. Still, I do not think this double entendre fits in with the course of the narrative. If we explain v. 4 as a euphemistic (but unambiguous) reference to an "account of coition" (Exum 1973l 50), the preceding and following verses lose their meaning. In vv. 2-3 the youth is standing outside his beloved's house, and in v. 5 she arises to open to him (after intercourse?). V. 6 makes it clear that he has not entered her house."

Here, Fox rejects the idea on the basis of it rendering the surrounding verses unintelligible, though he does try to be fair and see how the following verses might be understood sexually. My approach differs from his in that I do not take it as a "euphemistic (but *unambiguous*)" reference to coition, but rather to a deliberately ambiguous euphemism. On one level, the lover is standing outside the door and puts his hand in the door to open it. (Thus, there is no contradiction with that level of interpretation.) On another level, the lover desires intercourse and tries to get her to "open to him" via foreplay. I believe Fox takes the symbolism to mean more than it does in terms of sexual act, and thus he finds the narrative does not work out on the sexual level either.

Fox continues: "Beyond that, interpreting these verses as a euphemistic description of coition produces a rather ugly picture of a male who lies with a female and immediately abandons her for no particular reason."

My interpretation does not have that problem, as the narrative works on the surface level, and further, it reads this as both of them being frustrated. Also, he takes the lover's leaving as physically walking out the door after lying with her, whereas it can easily be taken as him not being sexually available, even as he lies beside her.

Fox (145) mentions an interesting opinion that he rejects, but that perhaps deserves some exploring: "We should certainly not reas this passage as an elaborate gynecological conceit, in which each part of the door lock represents a specific part of the female genitals (an approach Eslinger, 1981:276, carries to an extreme). A reading of that sort detracts not only from the interest an tension of the narrative, but also from its erotic intensity."

In other words, he rejects it for subjective reasons of what he would consider creating tension and erotic intensity in the narrative. At any rate, I believe that in my reading, there still is tension and erotic intensity, in part because the lovers' desires are not being fulfilled, as they miss (=are not in sync with) each other, and also because of it all being clothed in symbolism which works out on its own.

Fox continues: "There are indeed sexual allusions in 5:2-6:3, but they are delicate and indirect. The boy asks for admittance when his girl is in bed, and she wants him to come in, but for unclear reasons she hesitates. The audience is invited to imagine that the could *would* have had intercourse had the girl been quicker to open the door or the boy not fled so soon. But between his arrival (5:2) and his reappearance (6:2) they do not have intercourse. The boy's going down to his garden (6:2) is indeed an allusion to lovemaking, though not an unambiguous reference to coitus. In any case, whatever he will do in his garden he will do outside the framework of the dramatic action. The actions impled by "to graze in the garden" and "to gather lilies" are formulated as infinitives of intention, meaning that he will do them later."

It is interesting that he must spill so much ink to reject this idea. Others must be professing it, and so my reading of the poem does have precedent. Note also that I agree with him that between 5:2 and 6:2 they do not have intercourse, but I would still take these verses as anatomical allusions.

More later, from Marvin Pope.

Update:
Pope cites Stephan who find parallels to Shir HaShirim is contemporary Arabic poetry. There is one poem that involves opening a door, which most likely is not meant to be taken sexually (at least not as a direct sexual metaphor). But then, consider the repetion, with adverbs. On page 59:

1:
Your swaying stature, O my life,
O Willow bough, is like a palm branch.
You are the most beautiful one to me!
(May) your creator and maker (be exalted), O my life!

2:
He knocked at the door and I opened to him
And welcomed him.
I poured him a glass of sweet wine,
Saying: "Please take it, O my life."
3:
He knocked at the door with grace;
I opened for him gently,
A served him a dish with "knafe" {=a cheesy pastry with almonds or pine nuts}
The dessert being his rosy cheek...


In a poem from an Ishtar ritual in Babylon (pg 81), there is a poem about "genitals of my girlfriend," which ends
"Genitals with two finger(s?), why do
you constantly provoke quarrels?"

which would parallel the way I interpreted "fingers dripping with myrrh"

On to Pope's understanding of the song in Shir HaShirim. One pg 512, he takes "kol" as "Hark!" rather than "voice." He understands "dofek" as knock, referring to a door not explicitly mentioned (though LXX and Latin supply "on the door").

He mentions nothing relevant to this theory about the head drenched with dew, except for a parallel to a Ugaritic description of Baal, such that we might say that hair drenched with dew is a common image, and should not be interpreted otherwise.

Pope (pg 515) mentions a parallel to a Sumerian sacred marriage song, in which the woman shuts herself in a house, and in response to a query why, she answers that she has already soaped herself, dressed, etc. And yet she does not open the door. He promises her gifts and then she opens the door to him.

So this is another possible parallel.

On "shalach" (pg 517), Pope renders "thrust," and discusses the difficulty of ascertaining the meaning, especially together with "min." He claims that "hand" is a euphemism for the phallus, and that it was recognized as such by commentators of the last century on Isaiah 57:8-10, where it is used twice in that sense. "Ugaritic now shows this usage to be pre-Israelite" and gives examples. Also, at Qumran, there is a thirty day penalty for a man who puts out his "hand" from beneath his clothing. He claims (518) "min" can mean both "to" and "from," giving examples. He explains the "hole" as the keyhole in the door, "which could be opened from the inside by lifting the bolt that was provided with handles for that purpose." He concludes (519) that "Given the attested use of "hand" as a surrogate for phallus, there can be no question that, whatever the context, the statement "my love thrust his 'hand' into the hole" would be suggestive of coital intromission, even without the succeeding line descriptive of the emotional reaction of the female."

In explaning "my inwards," he claims here it represents erotic emotion, and details various uses of the word (in 5:14 as the external area above the thights and presumably below the waist, and elsewhere where it parallels "beten").

He renders "upon him" (pg 520) as "because of him/for him," and writes, "the Vulgate here takes the meaning to be "at his touch," ... presumably at his touching her body rather than the door hole," which led to various unchaste interpretations.

He takes "fingers" as parallel to hands (pg 521), and takes the dripping of myrrh only at its most literal level.

1 comment:

AARON said...

"On the sexual lever," shouls be level.

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