The MT version reads,

שׁוּבִי שׁוּבִי הַשּׁוּלַמִּית, שׁוּבִי שׁוּבִי וְנֶחֱזֶה-בָּךְ; מַה-תֶּחֱזוּ, בַּשּׁוּלַמִּית, כִּמְחֹלַת, הַמַּחֲנָיִם.

The Hebrew word שׁוּבִי is repeated several times in this verse. The conventional translation of this word is "return". Thus the KJV translates,

Return, return, O Shulamite; return, return, that we may look upon thee.

The NIV and ESV and most other translations concur with this. The problem with this translation is that it is not at all evident from the verse where the Shulamite is returning from. Furthermore, it was never mentioned that the Shulamite was fleeing or running away, it is sort of presupposed. It is like the text starts in the middle of a story, making it a bit awkward. The alternative reading is the NET,

Turn, turn, O Perfect One! Turn, turn, that I may stare at you!

I find this translation immensely appealing, as it fits the context like a glove. It is describing the irresistible beauty of the beloved girl. The boys yell, "turn, turn, O Perfect one! So we may gaze upon your beauty". Most importantly, there is no awkwardness in this verse and no fleeing is presupposed. Some even dare to translate into "dance", but this I think is going a bit too far.

My question is, how likely is the NET translation to be correct? After all, in most cases the word שוב is used to denote a return. Are we justified to change the meaning here because it fits better the context? Is there any evidence to support the NET that this word can sometimes denote a "twirl" or "dance" (perhaps 2:17)?

  • Excellent question!!
    – user25930
    Apr 4 '19 at 0:27
  • You’re still in SS @Bach? The way I read it, it’s a back and forth between the Sulamite bride, her beloved and the daughters of Jerusalem. In “The watchmen ...struck me and wounded me; ... I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, If you find my beloved, As to what you will tell him: For I am lovesick.”” ‭‭SS‬ ‭5:7-8‬ she asks the daughters of Jerusalem to find him and in 6:12 his response is made known to the daughters of Jerusalem. They tell Sulamite to return home, he has been located and now she will dance for joy in anticipation because she had to WAIT for interaction, no FaceTime. Apr 4 '19 at 3:52
  • If you like the daughters of Jerusalem are her cell phone but seeing that they are human unlike a cell phone they exhibit preferences and suggestions of their own. They make this long distance indirect conversation possible between the two lovers. Apr 4 '19 at 4:02
  • 1
    @Autodidact yes I have always been in love with SS (pun intended). It is full of poetry, mystery, rich language and romantic imagery, it is beautiful and enigmatic at the same time! I can't seem to put it down.
    – Bach
    Apr 4 '19 at 12:06
  • Do you find 6:9 to be curious considering she claims to have a younger sister 8:8 though it’s “we not I have” a younger sister? Is this intended to portray the length of the courtship over possibly a decade from chapter 6 to 8? Or is she speaking of a sister in a different sense? @Bach Apr 4 '19 at 13:40

The "If Noun Option"

Let's consider the suffix of the word שׁוּבִי. The Yodh Chirik together tells us that this word options as a singular noun and a pronominal suffix. Both "twirl" and "dance" are verbs. However lets identify this noun "my turn".

13 my turn my turn Shulammite my turn my turn and in you we gaze ...

The "If Imperfect Verb Option"

The Yodh Chirik together tells us that this word options as second person, feminine singular.

13 turning turning Shulammite turning turning and in you we gaze ...

The "Imperative Verb Option"

The Yodh Chirik together tells us that this word options as an imperative verb.

13 turn! turn! Shulammite turn! turn! and in you we gaze ...

English Comparison or Turn vs. Return

The prefix "re" indicates repetition, or with the meaning “back” or “backward". Therefore it "can mean" "turn again turn again" making it 'possible' that both translations KJV and NET give the same concept.

The Concept of Dance within the Verb Turn

The word כִּמְחֹלַ֖ת is in this same verse has been translated as dance, and turning twice while dancing someone could consider as "twirling".

13 twirl Shulammite twirl and in you we gaze ...


Anythings possible, both versions support the possibility, and both versions could be right.

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