An Admonition Against “Rousing Love”: The Meaning Of The Enigmatic Refrain In Song Of Songs -- By: Brian P. Gault

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 20:2 (NA 2010)
Article: An Admonition Against “Rousing Love”: The Meaning Of The Enigmatic Refrain In Song Of Songs
Author: Brian P. Gault

An Admonition Against “Rousing Love”: The Meaning Of The Enigmatic Refrain In Song Of Songs

Brian P. Gault

Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute Of Religion

This article examines and evaluates eight different interpretations put forward by modern scholars to explain the meaning of the adjuration refrain in Song of Songs (2:7, 3:5, 8:4). While most of these positions can be judged unlikely due to their unsupported presuppositions or their dissonance with the immediate context and general themes in the Song, reading the refrain as an admonition not to disturb lovers indulging their passions best aligns with the context, literary structure, genre themes, as well as the grammar and syntax in these verses. Indeed, this interpretation readjusts the theology of sexuality in American Christianity, counterbalancing the NT focus on husband-wife roles and responsibilities with a portrait of passion as God’s good gift to be celebrated and indulged in the proper context.

Key Words: Song of Songs 2:7, 3:5, 8:4; adjuration refrain; daughters of Jerusalem; undisturbed love

Author’s note: Thanks to Gordon H. Johnston, Robert B. Chisholm, Jason Kalman, Charles Halton, Carl Pace, Benjamin Noonan, Adam McCollum, and Ryan Korstange for their insights at various stages during the composition of this essay.


In the Hebrew Bible, there are verses, chapters, even entire books that remain an interpretive mystery for both scholar and layperson alike. However, few are more enigmatic than Song of Songs. These 117 verses are some of the most difficult in the Bible, far more obscure than an English reader might suppose.1 As a result, no other biblical book has suffered under so

many radically different interpretations.2 In fact, the Westminster Assembly concluded that despite prolific scholarly effort to remove the obscurity and darkness of this book, they had increased rather than removed the cloud.3 Although archaeological and textual advances in recent times have helped illuminate the Song, providing parallels from other ancient Near Eastern cultures, one passage over which this dark cloud of obscurity still hangs is the adjuration refrain spoken by the young maiden to the daughters of Jerusalem (

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