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Other questions have addressed this verse but I am particularly interested in the hermeneutics involved in arriving at a translation of it, rather than Hebrew grammar, etc. Translations are all over the map on this. I do not want to rule out grammatical issues in the Hebrew or Greek versions since there is apparently a good deal of ambiguity, but I am also hoping to understand what leads translators to their various understandings. Examples:

  • KJ21 "I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up nor awake my love till he please."

  • AMP "That you do not rouse nor awaken my love Until she pleases."

  • CEB "Don’t rouse, don’t arouse love until it desires."

  • GNV "that ye stir not up, nor waken my love, until she please."

  • GNT "that you will not interrupt our love."

  • NABRE "Do not awaken, or stir up love until it is ready."

  • TLB "that you do not awaken my lover. Let him sleep!”

  • YLT "Stir not up nor wake the love till she please!"

I cannot think of another biblical verse in recent memory that has so many different interpretations. Please shed light on this if you can.

2 Answers 2

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I'm going to copy across what I wrote in my own book.

At least one translation gives the injunction as "Do not wake my beloved until she pleases", which suggests a romantic picture of sleeping maiden and watchful, protective male. The problem is that this verse is part of the continuing speech of the Girl. She addresses the daughters of Jerusalem on half a dozen other occasions, while her husband never does. Two of those occasins (ch3 v5, ch8 v4) are repetitions of this very verse, and in the latter case this verse and the previous verse are repeated as a unit. It is part of her speech pattern

The AV offers "till he please", which fits the scene better but gets the gender of the verb wrong. The RSV translates "until it please". The implication of this translation is that her state of love is enjoying a nostalgic dream of rest and mutual enjoyment from which she does not want to be awoken.

I may add that the brutal awakening happens in ch5, when she has apparently "lost" her husband.

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  • + 1 Would you like to share your views on authorship and date? Aug 26, 2023 at 13:47
  • I believe the Song is reacting, in allegory, to the crisis of the Fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian Exile. That's when Israel, the bride, feared (mistakenly) that she had "lost" her husband. That's my view on the date, but I have no thoughts on authorship. Aug 26, 2023 at 16:20
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There are two overriding considerations that have (historically) made the Song of Songs tricky to translate

  • it is Hebrew poetry which means that some of the phrases and words have deliberate double meanings
  • it is an erotic love poem about which Christian translators have had numerous "hangups" and often translated too hesitantly or too cautiously.

Despite this, SS 2:7 is rather simple to translate; here is my overly literal translation:

I abjure you daughters of Jerusalem by the gazelles or does of the field: "not awaken, and not awaken love until [she] pleases."

For the meaning of the metaphor, "does and gazelles", see the obvious reference in Prov 5:19 (also by Solomon).

The only real ambiguity here is whether the implied "she" refers to the lady or the abstract "love" (which is grammatically feminine), in which case, it might be more helpfully translated, "until it pleases". [I personally prefer this latter because the lady is grammatically absent.]

The only justification I can see for translating, "until he pleases" might be found in gender of the two verbs "awake" which are both masculine". But that would make the man the subject of both verbs which is not possible, because the "daughters of Jerusalem" is clearly the subject.

The repeated, "not awaken, and not awaken" is a VERY strong abjuration in quintessential Hebrew idiom. [I will not discuss the slight complication of Hiphil vs Piel forms of the verb here except to suggest that this is consistent with abjuration.]

Thus, we may now explain most of the variation in the versions listed by the OP:

  • KJ21 is grammatically incorrect - "he" should be "she" in the latter half. See Ellicott.
  • versions that render, "not stir nor awaken" are simply using two verbs for the same word in the Hebrew to avoid repetition in English
  • GNT, "interrupt" is just wrong
  • TLB is quite interpretive and grammatically wrong especially the genders
  • CEB is closest to the Hebrew
  • NABRE is correct but misses the Hebrew repetition to create abjuration.

... and so forth. The command is repeated in SS 3:5 & 8:4. Thus, the triple command is very good advice to (bluntly) avoid sexual arousal until the appropriate time when it should be enjoyed to the full.

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  • + 1 Do you accept the attribution of the poem to Solomon? Aug 26, 2023 at 13:47
  • @DanFefferman - yes, I accept the Jewish/rabbinical traditional view and the simple declaration in SS1:1, "The Song of Songs, that [is] of Solomon." Indeed, if that is untrue, then the Song of Songs is part of the pseudepigrapha; ie, a forgery.
    – Dottard
    Aug 26, 2023 at 21:49

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