Breath – Song of Songs 7:8

The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s, is one of the most debated, profound, and poetic books of the Bible. Its meaning isn't always obvious, even to students like me who believe it to be a frank and straightforward look at healthy marital love. Gleaning from commentators like G. Lloyd Carr, Marvin H. Pope, Dennis F. Kinlaw, and others, I have learned that the Song contains more eroticism, suggestion, and romance than even my substantial assumptions. This is an example.
couple kissing

Song of Songs 7:8d

  • KJV: And the smell of thy nose like apples
  • NIV: the fragrance of your breath like apples
  • NASB: and the fragrance of your breath like apples

Bad breath is never romantic, really. Even rough morning breath is only romantic insofar as the sharing of morning breath indicates the presence of intimacy. Even then, it’s romantic because you’re waking up in bed together, not because the breath itself is appealing in any way whatsoever. Romance begins for my wife after I brush my teeth. Until that point, it’s willful love on her part.

So, it’s no surprise that pleasant breath would be listed among positive traits, right? Why wouldn’t the happy husband be made happier by a woman with fruity fresh breath? Admittedly, it’s a little awkward from a literary standpoint to go from spending several lines addressing the look of her breasts to suddenly talking about the smell of her breath, but it’s got to be valid, surely. I mean, it goes on to talk about her mouth, so it’s not a stretch, really.

Well, the Hebrew word ‘ap is normally used to indicate the nose or nostrils, which can flare in anger (hence the KJV’s “nose”). Yet the nose doesn’t necessarily fit with a comparison to apples. Nor does the occasional other translation, the face in general. Fragrance would only be pulled in by implication because a nose is mentioned. That’s definitely not what it’s saying. It’s an interpretive license.

Yet there may be a couple cognates (foreign words with similar spellings that might indicate borrowed, merged, or otherwise related words) of ‘ap that could offer another pair of options that could better fit not only the reference to apples but the prior verses visual focus. Such cognates often help interpreters in word selection, so Marvin H. Pope offers them as alternatives, indicating the word is likely a “more distinctly feminine zone than the nose or the mouth”.

Cognates often help interpreters in word selection, so Marvin H. Pope offers two as alternatives, indicating the word is likely a “more distinctly feminine zone than the nose or the mouth”.

In Ugaritic, ap means not only the mouth and nose as in Hebrew (as seen in Genesis 3:19) but also the nipple and the opening of a city gate.

This latter meaning is reinforced by another cognate, Akkadian’s apu, which also means “opening”. Rather suggestive, I’d say.

As G. Lloyd Carr summarizes in his commentary, “these parallels suggest ‘nipple’ as a possibility here, or even more intimately, the ‘opening’ or ‘entrance’ i.e. the vulva.”

Given the frequent ancient Near Eastern sexual symbolism of apples in literature (including elsewhere in the Song), these options seem to me to be more likely than merely sweet breath. I’m not convinced this is referring to the vulva (though it’s possible, and it certainly wouldn’t the Song’s only such reference, or even in the chapter’s), but mostly because of the context of four prior lines addressing the breasts.

Likely, he was summing up his address of her breasts with a comparison of her nipples with a clearly sexual symbol that might have also been visually descriptive. Perhaps their color, size, or texture was akin to the apple. Or perhaps he was just saying her nipples were sexual like apples.

A comment on her nipples seems far more fitting than introducing a new topic and a new sense for a single line and dropping it immediately. Though I’m sure her breath wasn’t too bad either.

At the very least, it’s likely a lot more erotic than it seems at first glance.

Originally posted 2015-10-16 08:00:47.

Photo credit: yayforsushi / Foter / CC BY-NC
About Phil (245 Articles)
Philip Osgood is a Christian husband, father, and writer who considers himself a passable video game player, fiction reader, camping and hiking enthusiast, welder, computer guy, and fitness aficionado, though real experts in each field might just die of laughter to hear him claim it. He has been called snarky, cynical, intelligent, eccentric, creative, logical, and Steve for some reason. Phil and his beautiful wife Clara live in Texas with their children in a house with a dog but no white picket fence. He does own a titanium spork from ThinkGeek, though, so he must be alright.

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