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Song of Songs (or "Song of Solomon") 1:5 begins as follows in the Hebrew:

... שְׁחוֹרָ֤ה אֲנִי֙ וְֽנָאוָ֔ה בְּנ֖וֹת יְרוּשָׁלִָ֑ם
šĕḥôrâ ʾănî nāʾwâ bĕnôt yĕrûšālāyim ...

And is often translated something like this example from the NASB:

I am black but lovely,
  O daughters of Jerusalem...

There are some translations that do not imply that "loveliness" is being contrasted with blackness (or "darkness"), like the International Standard Version ("...I'm dark and lovely..."), or in the title of an article on patristic exegesis of this verse: "black and beautiful".1

So is the conjunction here joining two like things (thus "and")? or forming a contrast (thus "but")? And how do you know?


  1. M.S.M. Scott, "Shades of Grace: Origen and Gregory of Nyssa's Soteriological Exegesis of the “Black and Beautiful” Bride in Song of Songs 1: 5", Harvard Theological Review 99 (2006): 65-83.

As part of the Meta Call for questions related to the Five Scrolls.

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The context (see verse 6) justifies translating the v' as "but." Furthermore, it clearly demonstrates that she is not actually black but simply very darkly tanned.

Do not stare at me because I am swarthy [i.e. dark], For the sun has burned me. My mother’s sons were angry with me; They made me caretaker of the vineyards, But I have not taken care of my own vineyard. (Verse 6 NASB)

She has a dark tan from being out in the sun keeping the vineyards. The two verses together ("daughters of Jerusalem"; "Do not stare at me because I am swarthy") clearly demonstrate that the view of beauty which the author assumes the "daughters of Jerusalem" to hold is one that views lighter skin as more attractive. This is a good proof against the Hebrew Israelite hypothesis that claims the Jews as we know them today are not the real Jews and black people are the real Jews. This passage clearly shows the Jews had light skin, except when they got a tan. It also shows that the women at least (the "daughters of Jerusalem") didn't view tans as attractive generally. Solomon apparently didn't agree.

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    Worth noting: I would point out that this is all relative. Different regions of the world, and different eras, all have different standards of what is dark or light, or attractive or not. Middle Eastern countries are historically darker complexion than Europeans. Israel is lighter now simply because of the nearly 2000 year diaspora.
    – ironfist
    Aug 6 '14 at 13:36
  • @david brainerd - have you ever seen a very dark complexioned Jewish or Arab person? they are sooooo dark that it stops looking like a tan, it actually is their permanent skin colour. The woman above in text describes herself as 'burned by the sun', sun-burned, not red as we might think, but sun burned black, - if you've ever been to Miami, you can recall this colour, it is 'black' and you wouldn't describe it as a tan,..it is the colour of the skin of the person, going forward, it won't change back.
    – Hello
    Dec 11 '14 at 6:26
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    @david brainerd This passage doesn't show that the Jews had light skin. The woman here was obviously a darker skin woman, whose skin had became even darker i.e. black, from working in the sun. I've never seen the sun tan a light skinned person black. It's also interesting and comical how modern translations translate 'shĕcharchoreth' in verse 6 to 'dark'. This word means 'black'.
    – brewpixels
    Dec 30 '16 at 4:59
  • Can anyone comment on the Hebrew? Would it be "more normal" to translate this as "and" or "but"?
    – Ruminator
    Apr 6 '18 at 0:17
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    @Ruminator The practical translators' answer would be that for -ו either "and" or "but" is possible — the context decides. Exactly what it meant to Biblical Hebrew speakers is thornier. On the one hand, everyone agrees that -ו can be conjunctive whereas not all agree that it can be contrastive (e.g. Steiner 2000). On the other hand, every mainstream translation sometimes renders -ו contrastively when the context seems to oppose two things, e.g. 1 Sam 29:9. (Steiner says that argument hastily assumes that what's illogical in English was illogical in BH.) May 12 '18 at 21:58
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Blacker than the tents of Kedar sets the standard and comparison!

I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon. 6 Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother’s children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept

I have seen where gentiles have tried to say the Shulamite woman was actually"white with a suntan BS! And if all else fails, they will try to degrade her as just being some woman Solomon had sex with , or just some concubine and not his wife, although the poem makes it clear that she is his wife, just as it also makes it clear that she is black!

Okay, we " black people" come in all kinds of brown and yellow colors. This is something" white" people can't seem to get through their head.. Our colors aren't always from mixing with " white " people either! Gentiles act as if we only come in the color BLACK.lol..anyway..

In the case of the Shulamite woman, the sun had blackened her skin to the color comparable to the tents of Kedar which are made of black goat's hair.

Now let us use a tiny bit of common sense PLEASE! The sun turned her the literal, or. comparably black! This means in order for the sun to turn her BLACK, she had to be dark brown already!

If she started out as a white woman, or even a light skinned black woman as myself, she could not turn the COLOR BLACK and still be comely, if she even survived it!

The daughters of Jerusalem were not white either! The reason they would have hated her for being very black, is not because they were white, but because they themselves weren't the literal COLOR BLACK! They were any where from light brown to reddish brown (ruddy) to dark brown ( Just look at the pictures of Hebrew slaves making bricks in Egypt). This is why the Shulamite woman was explaining to them how she had become SO DARK in comparison to their brown coloring.

Had the daughters of Jerusalem been white, explaining to them why she was any shade of brown, even a medium brown would have been a moot point!

The problem was, in Jerusalem there still dwell many Hammites who were of a darker complexion than the Israelites, and Israelites were supposed to marry within their own tribes. And here was Solomon again with another HAMMITE woman is what it would look like to the daughters of Jerusalem. For Solomon had many strange wives and was attracted to many women, all of which were either Hebrew, or Hammitic btw!

BTW AGAIN, lets put to rest the lie that Solomon himself was "white".. Most will tell you the word in Hebrew for WHITE is LABAN, and that is true! And yes, in the KJV, the word white was chosen to be used to describe Solomon, but the original word to describe Solomon wasn't Labam meaning white! The original word to describe Solomon was TSACHmeaning DAZZLING!

Greek/Hebrew Definitions

Strong's #6703: tsach (pronounced tsakh) from 6705; dazzling, i.e. sunny, bright, (figuratively) evident:--clear, dry, plainly, white.

Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon:

tsach 1) dazzling, glowing, clear, bright Part of Speech: adjective Relation: from H6705

Usage:

This word is used 4 times:

Song of Solomon 5:10: "My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand." Isaiah 18:4: "me, I will take my rest, and I will consider in my dwelling place like a clear heat upon herbs, and like a cloud" Isaiah 32:4: "of the stammerers shall be ready to speak plainly." Jeremiah 4:11: "to this people and to Jerusalem, A dry wind of the high places in the wilderness toward the daughter"

Why they chose to describe Solomon as white smells of an agenda..But we also know he isn't white because later his other body parts are later described as golden..Also, his mother was Bathsheba , the wife of Uriah THE HITTITE( A HAMMITE)..Now I know that Uriah her husband being black doesn't automatically make Bathsheba black, but think about it this way, King David had an affair with Bathsheba and got her pregnant..and then he tried to pass the baby off as being Uriah's baby. He wanted Uriah to have sex with Bathsheba so he could think he had gotten her pregnant, but when he refused, David set him up to be killed..Had David's plan worked, and had Uriah went ahead and had sex with Bathsheba his wife, Uriah wouldn't catch on to the affair

So here's my question, if Bathsheba were white and David were white, how were they going to pass a white baby off as being a "BLACK MAN'S" child?? Either Bathsheba would have to be black, or David would have to be black, or all of them would have to be black in order for the switch- a - roo to work! But I'm either case, Solomon would not have been white!

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    Tiffany, thumbs up for your effort here, but in this thread we are attempting to answer the wuestion which concerns the interpretation of "black but beautiful" vs. "black AND beautiful" in Cant. 1:5. Could you clarify you're point on this hermeneutical point, or If you have a question or answer to the question "is the Bride black?", post in it the Ask question section. I value your interpretation you posited here, but I think this question assumes the Bride is 'dark' or 'black.' Let me know if you have any questions. -Jacob
    – Jacob
    May 13 '18 at 6:09
  • I follow your reasoning about the children of David and Bathsheba. But how do we know that Uriah was black? As you mention, he was a Hittite. Some researchers think that the Hittites came from Anatolia (what's now Turkey), whereas others think they came from Canaan. Particularly in the latter case, Uriah certainly could have had very dark skin...but he would more likely have had lighter brown skin (like many modern-day ethnic Egyptians or Palestians), as might have Solomon - while still not being "white" by modern standards.
    – Obie 2.0
    Jan 1 '19 at 5:47
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The Septuagint (biblehub Song 1) has "μέλαινα ειμί και καλή." Here, the conjunction και is "and" which (according to HELPS Word Study):

"(kaí) is never adversative, i.e. it never means "however" ("but") – unlike the principal conjunction (waw) in OT Hebrew"

So this ancient author in the LXX clearly views the woman as "black AND beautiful"

It is interesting to note that the KJV in which we have "black but beautiful" was written in 1611, which is just a handful of years before the first african slaves would land in Virginia. We can see the racist undertones that the author would likely have had.

Much of this depends on when you think the Song was written (there is not much academic consensus on this). If it is written late, then it may be influenced by Persian zoroastrian dualism of light = good, dark = bad, and "but" would be appropriate.

If early, which I think is more likely, then dark is more like the principle of the feminine and the earth and the night. And in Numbers 28, the worship of the LORD is prescribed at dawn and dusk when the light and dark are comingled. This, in contrast to the zoroastrian, is similar to a taoist yin-yang balance and polar interpretation. Jews today sing "lecha dodi" on friday nights to welcome the sabbath at dusk (identifying the masculine, dodi, from the song of songs with the day).

If we see the Song of Songs as a song of the divine marriage of the male and female aspects of God then we can read Song 1:5 as the union of the dark feminine and the light sun that has caught his gaze on her. In Numbers 28, this is symbolized in the balance of light (masculine) and dark (feminine) at dawn and dusk as it was in Day 1 of creation before God separated the day and night parallel to the separation of Eve from Adam in Genesis 2 who are to reunify in one flesh (as happens at dawn and dusk). In this case, she is certainly "black and beautiful" as the Greek relates.

I think that the KJV and John and a variety of other texts are struggling with a semantic shift under the concept of dark/black which makes it mean ignorance and evil when this was not at all the case, mythologically, before Persian influence. You can see much of this in Isaiah 45, where there is a strong statement of monotheism agains Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1) of persia, their liberator, who brought the polytheistic dichotomy of light/dark = good/bad, but then see in Isaiah 45:7 where the author clearly claims light and dark as creations of YHWH. But unfortunately, the semantic shift has already happened and Isaiah 45:7 has already associated the light with peace (shalom) and the dark with evil (ra).

This contrasts with Genesis 1, where the totality of creation is very good.

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  • The "HELPS" info isn't helpful, I'm afraid. :( Smyth, § 2871: "kai often has an adversative force"; Robertson, Grammar of NT Greek..., pp. 1182-3: “It is common to find kai where it has to bear the content ‘and yet.’” “In Lu. 12 : 24 kai is almost equal to alla, that is, the context makes contrast.” ... cont'd /2
    – Dɑvïd
    Jan 30 at 16:19
  • [Cont'd] ... Blass, Grammar of NT Greek, § 77.6: "Kai may be used even where a contrast actually exists...". Each of those (large) grammars provides examples. (HELPS' source seems to be reliant on Gleason Archer, who ought to have known better.) The rest of the post doesn't really address the lingustic question, of course, but I can see how it attempts to fill out contextual considerations for interpretation.
    – Dɑvïd
    Jan 30 at 16:20

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