3

Song of Songs 6:9b-10 presents the women of the royal court catching sight of the new bride before the wedding, and being so impressed that they declare her praise and blessedness with the following words (verse 10):

מִי זֹאת הַנִּשְׁקָפָה כְּמוֹ שָׁחַר יָפָה כַלְּבָנָה בָּרָה כַּחַמָּה אֲיֻמָּה כַּנִּדְגָּלוֹת

A word-by-word translation would be something like

Who now [or this (fem.)] the-gazing-down [fem. partic.] like the-morning, beautiful as-the-moon, pure as-the-Sun, awesome as-the-bannered-ones?

So they express their admiration in the form of a question that starts with "מִי זֹאת", which I guess carries the force of something like

Now look where I'm looking so that I can ask you about the identity of ... (not necessarily as a literal request for you to tell me the person's name, but more rhetorically as a way of expressing my curious wonder at this person).

My question is: Should the rest of the sentence (starting from "... הַנִּשְׁקָפָה") be grammatically understood more in the sense of a "nonrestrictive clause" or more in the sense of a "restrictive clause"? (Note the definite article here, which does not occur at similar places elsewhere, e.g. 3:6.)

To clarify, let me describe what I picture as being the approximate sense of this verse under the two interpretations of the grammar. [I use double parallel lines || ... || just to help separate out grammatical components of the complex sentences below, hopefully to slightly smoothen the ease of reading.]

Under the "nonrestrictive clause" interpretation, the sense of the words is something like

Look where I'm looking, so that I can express to you my curious wonder ||at the person who will be within your field of focus when you look where I'm looking|| arising from the wonderfulness of this person's morning-like downward gaze, moon-like beauty, Sun-like purity, and starry-host-like awesomeness.

(A crude translation might be "Lo who is this, who gazes down...")

Under the "restrictive clause" interpretation, the sense of the words is something like

Look where I'm looking, so that I can express to you my curious wonder at the person who can be identified ||from within what your field of focus will be when you look where I'm looking|| by the characteristic of her having a morning-like downward gaze, moon-like beauty, Sun-like purity, and starry-host-like awesomeness.

(A crude translation might be "Lo, who's the woman gazing down...")

I ask because, to me, the latter feels more poetic. (But I'm a modern Western reader, so perhaps that does not mean much.)

0
0

As the question indicates, there is a relative clause near the beginning of verse 10 which contains a Hebrew participle. We can examine carefully the grammar of this text with the help of an interlinear which includes the grammatical notations (shown below). Song of Solomon 6:10, Interlinear Hebrew/English

Looking at the Grammar

The initial (independent) clause begins with an interrogative and an implied verb of being. The third numbered word (H8259) is the participle. We know it is a participle because it is a verb but has the definite article attached to it. This addresses the action of the verb as a noun, in similar fashion to how English sometimes uses verb-style -ing words as gerund nouns.

Considering the participle, then, to be used as a noun, we can see that even though the Hebrew relative pronoun (dependent clause marker) is absent (it is optional), it rightfully belongs to the grammar of this expression--which means we indeed have a dependent clause with this participle. That clause marker (asher/אֲשֶׁר) is one of the most common words in the Hebrew Bible, even though it can be omitted sometimes, or just shortened to (שֶׁ). In Song of Solomon 6:10, the word is omitted.

Relative Pronouns

For the sake of readers who may be confused by this, compare the following English sentences, one with the relative pronoun and one without it.

  • There is the book they have read.
  • There is the book that they have read.

The relative pronoun "that" is not required, grammatically. It is optional, and the meaning and the grammar of the sentence is the same either way. Hebrew is like English in this sense.

In the interlinear grammatical notes for this verse, there is no reference to a relative pronoun with respect to the participle; but the gloss (in green text) renders "who" as part of the literal translation. This is because the relative pronoun, though omitted, is implied.

More about the Dependent Clause

With the participle, then, we have "who looks forth...." This "who" in Hebrew, from the implied "asher," begins the dependent clause.

Unfortunately, Hebrew seems less precise in terms of kinds of relative clauses, leaving much open to interpretation. Hebrew does not, for example, have a clear distinction between restrictive/essential and nonrestrictive/nonessential clauses as does English. English uses commas to do this, and Biblical Hebrew lacked such punctuation. The existence of these forms in Biblical Hebrew is a matter of debate among scholars.

However, the particular usage here paints a descriptive picture.

The sentence begins with the interrogative "who"; which is not defining, but rather querying.

An Example for Comparison

A similar text which uses this poetic style is found in Psalm 1.

אַ֥שְֽׁרֵי־הָאִ֗ישׁ אֲשֶׁ֤ר לֹ֥א הָלַךְ֮ בַּעֲצַ֪ת רְשָׁ֫עִ֥ים וּבְדֶ֣רֶךְ חַ֭טָּאִים לֹ֥א עָמָ֑ד וּבְמֹושַׁ֥ב לֵ֝צִ֗ים לֹ֣א יָשָֽׁב׃ (Psalm 1:1)

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. (Psalm 1:1, KJV)

In this psalm, the dependent clause is descriptive in nature, describing the kind of man who will be blessed and happy. If it were defining, one might presume to find happiness merely by going through the motions of the habits described.

Application

Due to the interrogative, the verse is styled as a question.

Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners? (Song of Solomon 6:10, KJV)

This most closely matches the descriptive usage for the clause because the person thus described is the answer to the question, as opposed to being the definition of a particular person or class of persons. If we were to think of it in terms of a definition, with its application being to "she," would it then apply to every woman?

Conclusion

For the foregoing reasons, I would submit that it is more reasonable to perceive this clause and passage as "describing."

6
  • Thank you for your great effort. But there's quite a lot of confusion in your answer regarding points of linguistics. Sep 24 '21 at 22:24
  • Firstly, a participle does not address the action of a verb as a noun [and adding the relative pronoun אֲשֶׁר would lead to an incoherent sentence]. A participle is an adjective communicating agency of a verb; but in languages like Hebrew and Greek, if the noun modified by an adjective is equivalent to the English word "one" (e.g. "O my beautiful one") then it is left implied. So הַנִּשְׁקָפָה can be translated literally as "the down-looking [one]" - there is no implied אֲשֶׁר! This construction of definite article + participle functions the same way as a relative clause in English. Sep 24 '21 at 22:26
  • I think you have also significantly misunderstood the distinction between describing and defining relative clauses - the example you gave from Psalm is defining, not describing. The following webpage contains quite a nice explanation of the difference [it uses the term "non-defining" instead of "describing"]: perfect-english-grammar.com/… Sep 24 '21 at 22:26
  • The example I gave from Psalm 1 is also given here, said to be a description: hebrew4christians.com/Grammar/Unit_Six/The%20Relative_Pronoun/…. But after looking at the website you gave, I think I misunderstood your question. If you are asking if the clause is defining in that sense, then you are asking if it is essential/restrictive. It's too bad there are so many terms for the same thing, it makes it rather confusing.
    – Polyhat
    Sep 24 '21 at 23:12
  • What you are asking appears difficult to ascertain based on the guidance of the average Hebrew grammar book. If you are willing to read, you may find the answers you are looking for in this doctoral dissertation written on the subject of these clauses in Hebrew: individual.utoronto.ca/holmstedt/HolmstedtDissertation.pdf
    – Polyhat
    Sep 24 '21 at 23:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.