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In Song of Songs 6, verses 4 and 10, the woman is described as כַּנִּדְגָּלֽוֹת אֲיֻמָּ֖ה, "awesome as the banner-exalting [ones]", with the participle "banner-exalting" being feminine plural. I think this word is usually interpreted as something like "an army bearing banners" - but why is it feminine?

[Forgive me if this is a basic question, I haven't studied Hebrew.]

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The word נִדְגָּל is an adjective which means to be bannered, it comes from the same root as the word דֶּגֶל which means flag. In Hebrew almost every adjective can also be used as a noun. Thus, as this word is also an adjective, it can be conjugated to any grammatical case. The word כַּנִּדְגָּלוֹת just means like נִדְגָּלוֹת. Thus, the word means something roughly like "like bannered ones."

We have to remember that Song of Songs is written in poetry, so it is often missing some words. The word דגל (flag/banner) is often used in the context of war in the Bible, such as how the Israelites would go to war or camp such as in Numbers 1:52. The use of the female plural form is used to indicate a deeper meaning. One possible explanation is that it refers to some ancient practice of woman carrying banners. This is possible, as it would seem to fit someone like Deborah; however, it does not have much evidence to support it. Another, more plausible, explanation which is of Ibn Ezra, is that this word is conjugated in female plural to refer to מחנות which means camps. Thus this phrase would mean "the bannered camps." Another word which also could be used similarly is צבאות which means "armies" or "hosts." Both these words are grammatically female and plural. Almost every commentator agrees that in context, this word has something to do with armies and camps, which is also hinted at by the previous word אימה which means "awesome". Thus, the use of the feminine word is most likely due to these other words which it is based on.


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  • Thank you. The point about my question is: if the "bannered ones" refers to an army (as seems to be the usual interpretation), then why would it be feminine, seeing as an army does not normally consist entirely of women? Or does "bannered ones" here actually mean something else? – Julian Newman Nov 17 '20 at 0:20
  • There are two parts of this question, the first is what the word means, and the second is why does it use the female plural. I will update my answer to reflect this. – aefrrs Nov 17 '20 at 1:43
  • I updated the answer to add many more details. – aefrrs Nov 17 '20 at 1:58
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I would suggest an approach to meaning and context based on parallelism. Here are the 4 parallel parts of the verse

  • dawn
  • moon
  • sun
  • the flags/banners = constellations

In the context of astral objects, I would interpret the-flags as meaning the constellations which take on various shapes and help navigation at night. [I don't have any further evidence except the parallel structure itself]

The verse describes a woman; military matters, although justified as stand-alone items, linguistically would not fit into context. I would then loosely translate (preserving idiom) as follows:

  • gazed at like a dawn
  • attractive and soft like the moon
  • clear (commanding respect) as the sun
  • able to guide in dark situations

The emphasis would be not only on a good lover but on a helpmate.

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  • Thanks for the thoughts - but wouldn't your very approach lead to a different conclusion when applied to verse 4? – Julian Newman Feb 22 at 0:32
  • Thank you for you follow up question searching for consistency. I agree that the translations should be consistent but see no problem. Verse 4 states a) You are beautiful , b) you are pleasant (to be with), c) your advice is awesome (guide in a dark situations). Here the lover is portrayed as someone who does give good advice (awesome) but is nevertheless very pleasant to be with (Perhaps the English word persuasive comes to mind: guiding but in a pleasant manner) – Russell Jay Hendel Feb 23 at 1:24

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