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I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. (Proverbs 7:17 NRSVCE)

Forgive my over-literalness, but this seems like it's describing something really stupid: the impudent woman is pouring cinnamon and other cooking ingredients on her bed. Was it a standard practice in the Ancient Near East to ruin your bed linings with cooking ingredients when you wanted to share it with someone, or is this metaphorical for something else and not meant to be taken literally? (e.g. the fires of lust being analogous to "cooking" sin?)

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    Isn't the answer in the word "perfume"? Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 7:54
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    "Myrrh is a sweet-smelling gum produced from small trees in Arabia. Aloes are plants which grew on an island in the Red Sea. When these decayed, they emitted a pleasant fragrance. Cinnamon comes from the bark of a tall tree and was used as a perfume. ". - bibleref.com/Proverbs/7/Proverbs-7-17.html There still are perfumes made of cinnamon.
    – Leonard
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 8:44
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    @Leonard that should be an answer.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 16:05
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    @HolyKnowledge You might be surprised to find how many perfumes actually use cinnamon in the recipe. But, those companies rarely share the ingredients of their mix. Here are ten where the scent is obvious enough to market: bestmenscolognes.com/7-best-cinnamon-scented-perfumes
    – Jesse
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 16:25
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    @Jesse Thank you for the great read.
    – Fomalhaut
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 17:32

2 Answers 2

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Context can be said to start earlier on, where the young man is being exhorted to pursue wisdom, and to walk in God's ways. For example:

"It will save you also from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words, who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God. For her house leads down to death, and her paths to the spirits of the dead. None who go to her return or attain the paths of life.. Thus you will walk in the ways of good men and keep to the paths of the righteous." Proverbs 2:16-20 NIV

"My son... the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave... May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer - may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love. Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress?" Proverbs 5:18-20 NIV

Chapter 6 continues with warnings against adultery, chapter 7 runs with the same theme. It depicts an imagined scene, where a foolish youth walked by the house of a prostitute, who came out to seduce him, luring him in with descriptions of how attractive her bed is, which is detailed in the verse in question. The myrrh, aloes and cinnamon made fragrant perfumes that (in those days and in that culture) were linked with making love. See Psalm 45:8; S of S 4:14 & 5:5.

The imagined scenario has the foolish youth charging after her. The analogies of an arrow piercing his liver, and of a bird caught in a snare are used to drive home, yet again, that adultery leads to death. It's not about 'cooking' anything, but it certainly is the sternest possible warning against committing the sin of adultery. It's not about spoiling bed-linen with oily or fatty substances, but it certainly is a vivid description of how easily a foolish youth could be tempted to seek to lie in the bed of a wanton woman. That is the context, leading to the repeated warning not to let adultery appear attractive or sensuous, because the end of it is death.

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  • What a winsome explanation you wrote! You deserve the green checkmark!
    – Fomalhaut
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 17:48
  • a larger context is the juxtaposition of Wisdom, whom the young man should embrace as his sister, with the figure of the alluring woman. This theme - both Wisdom and folly as feminine figures - is repeated several times in Proverbs. Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 21:11
  • @Dan Fefferman appreciated that point, but some people interpret Wisdom in Proverbs as what they call "the first of God's creation" - their idea of the Word of God, the Son of God. This makes me somewhat wary of going down such routes! Forgive me.
    – Anne
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 13:12
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    I was just adding my two cents. Nothing to forgive. Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 2:27
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Bathing was much less frequent in the ancient middle east and people often wore and used large amounts of various perfumes to disguise personal odour.

This became especially important when people became intimate. Thus, it was common for prostitutes and some married couples (who could afford it) to perfume the bed and/or bed-chamber with a mixture of perfume (ie, fragrant oil) and incense (ie, smoke).

Gill remarks as follows:

I have perfumed my bed,.... As she had made it entertaining to the senses of seeing and feeling, it being showy and gaudy, soft and easy; so to the sense of smelling; and all to provoke lust, and draw into her embraces; by censing it with incense, as Donesh in Jarchi; or by sprinkling (s) a liquor, made of the following spices, on the head, posts, and sides of the bed, to remove all ill scents, and make it more acceptable; so the Targum, Vulgate Latin, Septuagint, and all the Oriental versions, render it, "I sprinkled my bed": or, it may be, by suffumigation, which women are said to use with their garments and bed clothes (t). Even this the harlot did, with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon; all odorous, and of a sweet smell: Horace (u) speaks of the anointed beds of such persons; and of the above spices ointments were made, with which the harlot's bed might be perfumed.

Similarly, the Pulpit commentary has these remarks

Verse 17. - I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. The substances mentioned were dissolved in or mixed with water, and then sprinkled on the couch. The love of such things is reckoned as a sign of luxury and vice (Isaiah 3:20, etc.). The three perfumes are mentioned together in Song of Solomon 4:14; "myrrh, aloes, and cassia," in Psalm 45:8. Septuagint, "I have sprinkled my couch with saffron, and my house with cinnamon."

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