I've wondered for a while if the Jewish concept of Negiah (no physical affection with a non-relative of the opposite sex until you're married to them) was practiced in Bible times. One verse that may go against Negiah is Song 2:6, which in the New King James Version is rendered as a statement:

His left hand is under my head,

And his right hand embraces me.

From what I can tell, most understandings of the Song portray the couple as not yet being married here, with the wedding taking place sometime after the events of this verse. In other words, this would be physical affection before consummation. However, not all translations agree that this is a statement. Some portray it as a mere desire or wish. Here's the NASB1995 rendering, for example:

Let his left hand be under my head

And his right hand embrace me.

The CJB renders Song 2:6, "[I wish] his left arm [were] under my head, and his right arm around me." How should the verse be translated? Thanks!


Words of wishful thinking abound in Song of Solomon 8 (NASB):

1“Oh that you were like a brother to me
Who nursed at my mother’s breasts.
If I found you outdoors, I would kiss you;
No one would despise me, either.
2“I would lead you and bring you
Into the house of my mother, who used to instruct me; I would give you spiced wine to drink from the juice of my pomegranates.
3 “Let his left hand [H8040 שְׂמֹאלוֹ֙] be under my head, And his right hand embrace me.”

The same Hebrew expression in verse 3 is found in 2:6

Let his left hand [H8040 שְׂמֹאלוֹ֙] be under my head And his right hand embrace me.

What is the proper rendering of Song 2:6?

To be consistent with the prayer/wish in 8:3, 2:6 should also be expressed the same. I'm just talking about textual consistency. This is true regardless of the Jewish concept of Negiah.

  • Interesting thoughts. I like the parallel usage here. Granted, other translations also translate 8:3 as a statement, but the context of 8 favors wishful thinking.
    – The Editor
    Jul 31 at 21:21

It is true that some commentaries want to make the only verb in SS 2:6 into a wish or desire - almost a subjunctive mood, grammatically speaking. Some versions reflect this and the NASB 1977 and 1995 did also, but by the current version this had been correctly changed to active voice and mood. [The NASB 1977 put the "let" in italics suggesting it is an added word.]

However, the actual verb form of תְּחַבְּקֵֽנִי is Pi'el imperfect, meaning that it is an intensive form of active action.

The root form of תְּחַבְּקֵֽנִי is חָבַק (chabaq) means to embrace, hold or hug and occurs only 13 times in the OT (Gen 29:13, 33:4, 48:10, 2 Kings 4:16, Job 24:8, Prov 4:8, 5:20, Eccl 3:5, 4:5, SS 2:6, 8:3, Lam 4:5). Presumably because of the Pi'el form and the context, some versions translate the phrase as:

  • "caresses", GNT, GWT
  • "stimulates", NET

These have clear and obvious sexual connotations which may also be present in Prov 4:8 as well. The earlier context in the previous 5 verses also suggest, especially V3 & 5 have very strong sexual overtones. This is also consistent with the references in V7 and the first few verses of chapter 1.

  • The NASB1995 rendering is, "Let his left hand be under my head And his right hand embrace me" (emphasis mine), while the earlier NASB rendering was, "His left hand is under my head, And his right hand embraces me." For clarification, which version are you saying is superior here? Thanks!
    – The Editor
    Jul 31 at 21:19
  • @TheEditor - my apologies, I have now corrected and clarified those references.
    – Dottard
    Jul 31 at 21:42

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