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, 2019 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, 2019 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, 2019 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, 2019 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, 2019 at 13:40

2 Answers 2


"Return" is the best understanding

I get this from the word being used "שׁוּבִי" as well as the context of chapter 6. The word is the better evidence.

Hebrew has two ways of saying "return", these are: פָּנָה which like English is "turn" related. The other one is the more common one and the one used here: שׁוּבִי. שׁוּבִי simply isn't related to turning, "come again" might be a translation to clear up this confusion.

However, what about the context?

If you take the "multiple voice" model of Songs of Songs and use the NIV translation then "return" is clearly best. In the NIV, the chorus is flanked by two phrases of the he-beloved. It is implied that the she-beloved is absent (we assume a scene break after verse three), the chorus is expressing the wish that this was not so. However, if I use the ESV then suddenly the chorus is responding to something that the she-beloved has said, now she is very much not absent. But it is still the he-beloved that answers. If I look at the NKJV, it is now the she-beloved who answers. The "multiple voice" model can be of no help.

However, moving to the "one poet" model we are told in 6:13 that it is desired that she "שוב" so that she can be seen. Chapter Seven begins with what will be seen should she "שוב", and, putting her hair to one side, it is all front facing substances including the smell of her breath, nor do we see any thing that is suggestive of beauty in motion and ch 7:1-5 seem like a long evaluation as the description steadily migrates upwards. I think chapter seven would let us rule out "twirl" even if it was in the semantic range of "שוב" (Which it is not). "Turn" would require us to think of the she-beloved as being present, but previously turned away. That doesn't seem to be supported by the text which portrays a woman inquisitive and bold in her desire.

In conclusion, not only is turn an unreasonable translation of שוב just as a word, it also does not fit the context of the book as well as "return".

  • "Turn" would require us to think of the she-beloved as being present, but previously turned away. That doesn't seem to be supported by the text which portrays a woman inquisitive and bold in her desire." I'm having a hard time following your train of thought. Using your argument I could argue that the context doesn't suggest either that the Shulamith previously left her lover. Why do you insist then that return fits the context better than turn??
    – bach
    Mar 14, 2022 at 17:58
  • The two beloveds being apart is a constant theme in Songs of Song. 6:1, 8:1, 5:2, 5:6. 3: 1, 2:8. Mar 14, 2022 at 18:51
  • Kyle you might wanna include that in your answer. I still don't find that specific argument convincing. Suppose you would read a love poem that says "O turn around my beloved so that I may gaze at your beauty", would you think it's weird that the author didn't specify that the lover was facing the maiden's back? It is obvious from the context, and there's no need to spell that out. Whereas if I read "O return my beloved etc." I would find it interesting that the author didn't ever bother mentioning that the beloved had ever left him. Nevertheless thanks for your answer +1.
    – bach
    Mar 14, 2022 at 20:08
  • Additionally if we translate "twirl" then the above argument is moot.
    – bach
    Mar 14, 2022 at 20:11
  • Sure, because that argument is against "turn". The argument against "twirl" is that only front features are described. Yes, it would be obviously that she must be facing away if she is called to turn, but the implied idea that the she-beloved is to be in the presence of her beloved and not gazing upon him, not even facing him is simply incredible and not in keeping with her character as described in the poem. Mar 14, 2022 at 21:29

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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