Song of Songs 4:13a
- KJV: Thy plants are an orchard
- NIV: Your plants are an orchard
- NASB: Your shoots are an orchard
At a glance, by itself, this verse and the following one (4:14) might be taken to mean the bride-to-be has a bit of a green thumb, and she has quite a variety of plants under her care. However, given what we know about the none-too-subtle symbolism of the locked garden in the previous verse, it shouldn’t surprise us that this delves deeper into the eroticism.
In fact, what was referred to symbolically and repeatedly in the previous verse might just be called out directly in this one. The word translated “plants” (or “shoots” in the NASB) is šelahayîk, which is only used in this form once in the whole Bible, leaving little other context to facilitate translation.
Given what we know about the none-too-subtle symbolism of the locked garden in the previous verse, it shouldn’t surprise us that this delves deeper into the eroticism.
Ancient Hebrews often wrote in only consonants (vowels in Hebrew are merely marks outside the main characters and can be easily skipped as a shorthand), and this directly affects how translators have to handle interpretation in cases like this, seeking the “root” of a word (its consonant-only form) to determine its meaning.
Typically, the root of šelahayîk _is tied to _šelah, a verb which means “to send” as one might do with a message (2 Samuel 17:16), an arrow (Psalm 144:6), or even a spouse in the case of divorce (Malachi 2:16). This word, when used in its noun form (šelah), usually indicates weapons, which is hardly appropriate imagery here. So commentators have usually tried to visualize a vine that has shoots that are sent out. Even that isn’t very solid.
Three other interpretations pointed out by Carr offer avenues that link _šelahayîk _more directly to the previous verse and the following one in a very rich way.
First, Shelah in Nehemiah 32:15 is taken to mean the conduit that _sends out _water from Gihon, which ties well to the aquatic imagery in Song of Songs 4:12. In such an application, _šelah _would mean a canal, which would make this verse a rather abrupt metaphor for the vagina.
Second, Pope offers a similar interpretation, suggesting instead “groove”, which also lends itself to a very… reproductive symbolism.
Third, Hirshberg suggests there’s no metaphor whatsoever, but that šelahayîk _is actually tied to a borrowed Arabic root word _šalk, which means simply “vagina”. No beating around the proverbial bush — unless I’m being coarsely euphemistic — there.
Any of these three approaches arrives at the same result: this is talking about her genitals. This interpretation makes the rest of this verse and the following one a continuation of the previous verse’s obvious reference to her nether regions, which actually makes the superabundance of sexual connotations in vv. 13-14 more coherent.
Originally posted 2016-11-14 08:00:07.