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Gleanings: Interpretation of the Song of Solomon According to its Targum ant other sources
The following Targum of some verses of the Song of Solomon has been translated from a work of Umberto Neri: Il Cantico dei Cantici, Antica Interpretazione Ebraica, Città Nuova, Rome 1976 and reproduced here with the kind permission of the author.
The Aramaic text is difficult to date, but was doubtless written between the fifth and eighth centuries of our era, while preserving elements which come from an earlier tradition. Neri has stated that a knowledge of the Targums is valuable for us, not only because they testify to time-honored traditions and to the teaching most universally known in post biblical Judaism, but because they can help us to better understand the revealed text both in the message itself and in the manner in which it has been transmitted to us.
The interpretation which the Targum gives of the biblical text may seem confusing to us. We will appreciate it better if we remember that a Targum, while being a translation, is also an explanation of the text, adapted to its original listeners in view of edifying them.
Taking as its basis the infinite riches of the inspired Word of God, the targumic method, while preserving a living tradition, allows its author a great liberty; it never hesitates to amplify a text by adding words or even whole sentences in order to give an allegorical interpretation or to give to particular words an uncommon or unusual meaning. Each detail of scriptural revelation, moreover, is linked with God's plan of salvation, because his love for his people is always demonstrated by concrete actions throughout the whole of history. Thus, in the Song of Solomon, the author of the Targum recapitulates the whole journey of the people of God from Egypt to the entrance into the Promised Land, right up to the coming of the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead. The passages quoted below — Song 2:10-14 — refer, according to the Targum, to the end of the slavery in Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea. The Targum is printed after the biblical text; we can see by comparing the two how the Targum takes up the biblical words and expands and explains them. In a few places a word of explanation has been added in order to illustrate the concordance with other biblical passages.
THE SONG OF SOLOMON 2:10-14 WITH ITS TARGUM
My beloved speaks and says to me: "Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away!"
And when the dawn broke my beloved began to speak and said to me: "Arise, go forth Congregation of Israel! My beloved and most beautiful Go forth from the slavery of Egypt."
("Come away... go forth..." In the Hebrew, the same expression is used in the call of Abraham, Gen. 12:1).
"For lo, winter is past, the rain is over and gone."
For to the time of slavery, like the winter, is past, and the years of which I spoke to Abraham over the divided victims is cut short, and the tyranny of the Egyptians, which may be likened to incessant rain, is over and gone, and for all eternity you will never again have to endure it.
("The divided victims" refers to the covenant of the pieces, Gen. 15:7-21).
"The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing is come, and the voice of the turtle dove is heard in our land.
And Moses and Aaron are like shoots of the palm tree, they were raised up to perform wonders in the land of Egypt. And the time for pruning the first-fruits has come. Already you have heard the voice of the Holy Spirit, concerned for the redemption of which I spoke to Abraham your father, when I said: "But I will bring judgment on the nation which they serve, and afterwards they shall come out with great possessions" (Gen. 15: 14). And now at the present time I am pleased to do that which I have promised and sworn to do.
(The "time for pruning" for the Targum, means the time for the Egyptians to be "pruned").
"The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away."
The Assembly of Israel, which resembles the first-fruits of the fig tree, opened its mouth and sang the Canticle of the Red Sea. Even the infants and those at the breast praised the King of the Universe with their tongues. And immediately the King of the Universe answered them: "Arise go forth, Assembly of Israel: my love, my fair one, come away, and go to the land that I promised to your fathers."
(The theme of the praise of the little children at the moment of the crossing of the Red Sea is a very ancient Jewish tradition. It is found in Wisdom 10:20-21 and in Psalm 8:3. See also Mekhilta Ex. 15:1, Targum Ex. 15:1, Talmud Jer. Sotah V,4. The theme is found also in Matt, 21:15-16).
"O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face comely."
And when the wicked Pharoah pursued the people of Israel, the Assembly of Israel was like a dove hidden in the clefts of the rock; and the serpent tries to strike it from within, and the vulture to strike it from without.
Thus it was with the Assembly of Israel: it was surrounded on all sides: before it lay the sea, from behind it was pursued by the enemy, and on either side lay a desert full of flaming serpents, which struck and killed with their venom the sons of men.
Then immediately the Assembly opened its mouth in prayer before the Lord and a voice from heaven was heard: "Assembly of Israel, you are like the spotless dove, hidden in the clefts of the rock and in the covert of the cliff, you constrain me to see your face and your righteous deeds and to hear your voice! For your voice is sweet when you pray in the little sanctuary (cf. Ez. 11: 15) and your face is comely in your good works.
In a homily on the Canticle of Canticles Origen (2-3 cent.) has taken six biblical canticles and likened them to six steps on a ladder leading to the highest step, the seventh, which is the Canticle of Canticles. We note the Exodus theme contained in this explanation.
You must come out from Egypt and, leaving the land of Egypt, cross the Red Sea, in order to sing the first song: "Let us sing to the Lord for he has triumphed gloriously..." (Ex. 15: 1ff.)
Although you have sung the first canticle, you are still a long way off from the Canticle of Canticles. Journey spiritually through the desert until you reach the wells which the kings dug, in order to sing the second canticle:
"Spring up, O well! Sing to it! — the well which the princes dug, which the nobles of the people delved, with the sceptre and with their staves." (Num. 21:17,18.)
Continue on then to the borders of the holy land where you will be able, standing on Jordan's banks, to intone the canticle of Moses:
"Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth..." (Deut. 31:1ff.)
You should then fight under orders from Joshua son of Nun and take possession of the holy land; the prophetess Deborah (Bee) will prophesy for you and lead you so that you can sing the canticle:
"That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the Lord!" (Judges 5:2ff.)
After that, go to the books of Samuel where you will come to the canticle which David sang when escaping from Saul:
"The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer..." (2 Sam. 22:2ff.)
Then turn over to Isaiah:
"Let me sing for my beloved a love song concerning his vineyard..." (Is. 5:1ff.)
When you have climbed each of these steps, you will come to the highest one so that, radiantly beautiful, you will be able to sing with the bride the Canticle of Canticles...
The bridegroom is Christ, the spotless bride, the Church. (Origène: Homélies sur le Cantique des Cantiques. Sources Chrétiens no. 37, Ed. du Cerf 1965, pp. 67-69.)
JOHN OF THE CROSS:
SONGS BETWEEN THE SOUL AND THE BRIDEGROOM
Where can your hiding be,
Beloved, that you left me thus to moan While like the stag you flee
Leaving the wound with me?
O shepherds, you that, yonder,
Go through the sheepfolds of the slope on high, If you, as there you wander, Should chance my love to spy, Then tell him that I suffer, grieve, and die.
My loves to search for there,
Amongst these mountains and ravines I'll stray, Nor pluck flowers, nor for fear Of prowling beasts delay,
But pass through forts and frontiers on my way.
QUESTION TO ALL CREATURES
O thickets, densely-trammelled,
Which my love's hand has sown along the height:
O field of green, enamelled
With blossoms, tell me right
If he has passed across you in his flight.
REPLY OF THE CREATURES
Diffusing showers of grace
In haste among these groves his path he took, And only with his face,
Glancing around the place,
Has clothed them in his beauty with a look.
Tracking your sandal-mark,
The maidens search the roadway for your sign,
Yearning to catch the spark
And taste the scented wine
Which emanates a balm that is divine. Deep-cellared is the cavern
Of my love's heart, I drank of him alive: Now, stumbling from the tavern,
No thoughts of mine survive,
And I have lost the flock I used to drive. One hair (upon my nape
You loved to watch it flutter, fall, and rise) Preventing your escape,
Has snared you for a prize
And held you, to be wounded from my eyes.
Now, as she long aspired,
Into the garden comes the bride, a guest: And in its shade retired
Has leant her neck to rest
Against the gentle arm of the Desired?
ZOHAR - THE BOOK OF SPLENDOR
A SEAL UPON THY HEART
On a certain occasion, wishing to get away from the heat of the sun, Rabbi Eleazar and Rabbi Abba turned into a cave at Lydda. Rabbi Abba spoke: Let us now compass this cave about with the words of the Torah. Rabbi Eleazar then began, quoting the verse:
"Set me as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal upon thine arm... the flashes thereof are flashes of fire, a very flame of the Lord." (Cant. 8:6).
He said: This verse has provoked a great discussion. One night I was in attendance on my father, and I heard him say that it is the souls of the righteous, they alone, which effect the true devotion of the community of Israel to God, and her longing for him, for these souls make possible the flow of the lower waters toward the upper, and this brings about perfect friendship and the yearning for mutual embrace in order to bring forth fruit. When they cleave one to the other, then says the community of Israel in the largeness of her affection: "Set me as a seal upon thy heart." For, as the imprint of the seal is to be discerned even after the seal is withdrawn, so I shall cling to you, even after I am taken from you and enter into captivity: thus says the community of Israel.
Thus, "Set me as a seal upon thy heart" so that I may remain upon you in semblance, as the imprint of a seal.
THE ROSE OF SHARON
Discoursing on the verse: "I am the rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys" Cant. 2:1), Rabbi Simeon said: The Holy One, blessed be He, bears great love to the community of Israel, wherefore He constantly praises her, and she, from the store of chants and hymns she keeps for the King, constantly sings His praises.
Because she flowers spendidly in the Garden of Eden, the community of Israel is called rose of Sharon; because her desire is to be watered from the deep stream which is the source of all spiritual rivers, she is called lily of the valleys.
Also, because she is found at the deepest place is she designated lily of the valleys. At first, she is a rose with yellowish petals, and then a lily of two colors, white and red, a lily of six petals, changing from one hue to another. She is named "rose" when she is about to join with the King, and after she has come together with him in her kisses, she is named "lily."