By: Leo Tepper
Last Sunday I went to a concert by one of the choirs of a friend of mine. She is a devoted amateur soprano and whenever she has a concert, I attend it. This time the theme was: `Rise up my love.’ with various settings of the Song of Songs in Latin, German and English and by composers from Fransesco Guerrero (1528-1599) till still living composers like Sven Sandström and Paul Mealor. I bought a booklet containing information and the texts with translations. Often I frown upon translations of Latin texts in such booklets, but here the Vulgate text of Ego flos campi and a modern Dutch bible translation went wide apart. I always assumed that the Vulgate was a translation of the Hebrew Bible and not from the Septuagint, so where do the differences come from? Time to sort this out! That was less easy than I thought. Internet has terabytes and terabytes of information and some people, especially youngsters, think that books and libraries are completely out of fashion – unfortunately the managers of the academic library here at Groningen think that too – but the fact is that a simple question like: `Dear mister Internet, did Jerome translate the Canticus Canticorum from the Septuagint or from the Hebrew Bible?’ will give only a massive silence from the other side of the computer. So I went to the library of the theological faculty to sort this out. Very handy as 10 commentaries on the Song of Songs where there neatly put together on a shelf. From next year, all decentralized libraries of the university will be closed and all the books which are now easily accessible on shelves will be put in the central store of the university library, inaccessible and every single copy has to be asked for by pc. Why? Students don’t look for books anymore, so the librarians can be fired. And what about the empty libraries? Students can sit there with their Ipods and laptops, studying and looking for information on the internet…
Hieronymus (347 – 420), better known in English as St. Jerome was a troublemaker and a religious zealot, but a highly prolific writer. In 382 he was asked by Pope Damasius 1 to make a new translation in Latin of the Bible. There was already a translation, known as the Vetus Latina, but this was considered as a poor translation. Initially St. Jerome translated anew from the Septuagint and had already completed a number of books under which the Song of Songs, when he heard of the decision of the Rabbinical council at Jamnia to reject the Septuagint in favor of the Hebrew Bible. The Septuagint was a translation of the Hebrew Bible made in Alexandria, started around 200 BC and ended decades later. It was made because many Jews were unable to read their holy scriptures. Hebrew had already for a long time been replaced by Aramaic as the spoken language and apart from that, Greek was the first language of many Jews living in Egypt. However, the Hebrew text on which the Septuagint was based, differed from Hebrew text which was later seen as authoritative and known as the Masoretic text. It also contained more books, some of which written in Greek from start. With the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, the cultic center of the Jews shifted from the temple to the Hebrew holy scriptures. As there was no longer a physical place, a spiritual place had to be the focus of devotion. Jewish communities were living wide apart, and in the course of centuries there various texts of the Hebrew bible came into use. Out of these various versions a single text was adopted as constitutive for all Jews and the Septuagint was rejected as not inspired by God, because it was in Greek and not in God’s own language.
So St. Jerome started to translate from the Hebrew text. According to tradition he had to learn for this task Hebrew from rabbis. There might be some truth in this, but modern scholars believe that his Hebrew was not that good at all and that he made use of the Hexapla, a massive edition of the Old Testament containing the Hebrew text, a transliteration of the Hebrew in the Greek alphabet and four Greek translations of which one contained notes where the Greek differed from the Hebrew. The Hexapla was the work of Origen of Alexandria (184-253), one of the greatest minds Christianity ever had, but as religions find it difficult to cope with great minds, he was later condemned as a heretic – also by St. Jerome. The same fate happened to Averroes (1126-1198), the greatest scholar of the Islamic world and one of the best commentators on Aristotle’s philosophy.
If modern scholars are right, St. Jerome was translating in the way many people translate from a Loeb edition: looking at the English text with now and then a glance at the Greek or Latin. This is also evident from the new translation he made in 398 of the Song of Songs: often it agrees more with the Septuagint than with the Hebrew text, but there can be another reason to for this, namely the sheer difficulty of the text of the Song of Songs.
The Song of Songs is attributed to king Solomon but on linguistic grounds this is impossible as it contains many Aramaic forms and even a Persian word, so a date later than 500 BC and even the early Hellenistic period has been proposed. I must say that this is heretical to evangelical and orthodox protestant commentators. It contains many difficult words or words which only appear in this text and this may also have contributed to St.Jerome’s use of the Septuagint. The translators contributing to the Septuagint themselves had difficulty with the Hebrew of the Song of Songs too and many divergences between the Greek and the Hebrew masoretic text are mainly not due to a different Hebrew text, but to misunderstanding the words. The Song of Songs is not a unity, but consists of various love songs. These love songs are reminiscent of Egyptian and even Sumerian love songs, so they reflect a long history of a common Near Eastern literary heritage. Probably these songs were used for wedding festivities. They have the form of a dialogue between a man and a woman, with sometimes a choir too . It is unknown for what reasons these songs were put together and put to the canon of the Hebrew Bible, but it was not with the agreement of every rabbi. Only a spiritual interpretation could save it from being expelled and so it is now considered as a reflection of the love between God and Israel and for Christians as symbolizing the love between Jesus and the church. But whatever spiritual meaning can be attached to this work, it is first and foremost love poetry and that has been better understood by pop artists like Kate Bush and Sinéad O’Connor than by many theologians.
PS. I forgot to mention: the concert was beautiful!
Let us now turn to chapter two of the Song of Songs. I will consider this as a text in its own occasionally I will refer to the Hebrew in order to understand the modern translation of the New Standard Version to which I have a link below, but mostly I will refrain from that, partly because of my rusty Biblical Hebrew, partly to make the notes not too tedious.
Where the Latin widely diverges from the translation, it is due to the problems mentioned above. I have punctuated the text and put it in its poetic structure. I have given more text than what is usually set on music of the ego flos campi. It would be disappointing to read such a long introduction with only a few lines of Latin…
Canticus canticorum 2.
 Ego flos campi et lilium convallium.
 Sicut lilium inter spinas,
sic amica mea inter filias.
 sicut malum inter ligna silvarum,
sic dilectus meus inter filios,
sub umbra illius quam desideraveram sedi,
et fructus eius dulcis gutturi meo.
 Introduxit me in cellam vinariam,
ordinavit in me caritatem
 Fulcite me floribus,
stipate me malis quia amore langueo.
 Leva eius sub capite meo
et dextera illius amplexabitur me.
 Adiuro vos, filiae Hierusalem,
per capreas cervosque camporum,
ne suscitetis neque evigilare faciatis
dilectam quoadusque ipsa velit.
 Vox dilecti mei, ecce,
iste venit saliens in montibus,
 Similis est dilectus meus capreae
en ipse stat post parietem nostrum,
despiciens per fenestras,
prospiciens per cancellos
 et dilectus meus loquitur mihi:
surge, propera amica mea,
formonsa mea et veni.
 Iam enim hiemps transiit,
imber abiit et recessit.
 Flores apparuerunt in terra,
tempus putationis advenit,
vox turturis audita est in terra nostra.
 Ficus protulit grossos suos,
vineae florent, dederunt odorem.
Surge amica mea speciosa mea et veni.
 Columba mea in foraminibus petrae,
in caverna maceriae.
Ostende mihi faciem tuam.
Sonet vox tua in auribus meis,
vox enim tua dulcis et facies tua decora
 capite nobis vulpes,
vulpes parvulas quae demoliuntur vineas,
nam vinea nostra floruit.
 Dilectus meus mihi et ego illi,
qui pascitur inter lilia.
 Donec adspiret dies
et inclinentur umbrae revertere,
similis esto, dilecte mi,
capreae aut hinulo cervorum super montes Bether.
ego flos campi et lilium convallium: a so-called parallelismus membrorum. It is a feature of Hebrew poetry to say the same thing twice with a difference in phrasing.You will find lots of examples in this short text.
flos campi: not any flower of the field, but a specific flower, though it is unclear what. It is often considered as a rose. The word campus is a translation of Hebrew Sharonand is taken by Hebrew commentators as a geographical designation, hence the translation `I am a rose of Sharon’.
convallius: belonging to a valley
dilectus: lovely, beloved
desideraveram sedi: plusquam perfect and perfect. In Hebrew it is perfect, but modern translations take the Hebrew original as a present. Originally, Semitic languages had no tenses in the way Indo-European languages have and what is called the perfect tense also has a punctual aspect: I desire now to sit under the shadow, whom I love.
guttur, -uris (n): throat
ordino: to place
caritas, -atis (f): love, charity
fulcio fulsi fultum: to bolster. fulcite: directed to the filiae Hierusalem.
stipo (1): to surround
langueo (2): to be faint, be languid
leva: not from levare, but laevus: left (suppl. manus)
amplexor amplexatus sum: to embrace
adiuro (1): to swear to
caprea: a wild she goat
suscito (1): to raise
evigilo (1): to be awake
salio: (4): to leap
transilio: to jump over
hinulus: young deer (class. Latin: hinnuleus)
paries, –etis (m): wall
cancelli: a lattice of a window
propero (1): to hasten
formonsa = formosa, formosus: beautiful (probably the n was not strongly pronounced but a nasalisation like in French)
hiemps = hiems, -emis (f): winter
transeo: pass by
imber, imbris (m): heavy rain
putatio, -onis (f): a pruning or lopping of trees
turtur, -uris (m) turtle dove
ficus (f): fig tree
profero, -tuli, -latum: bring forth, produce
grossus (m): an unripe fig
foramen, –inis (n): hole
caverna: cave, hole
vulpes, es (f): fox
pasco pavi pastum: to feed, pasture
adspiro (1): to come: (litt: to breath forward)
inclinentur umbrae revertere: the shadows (= darkness of the night) are inclined to draw themself back.
esto: a formal form of the imperative `you must be’.
Bether: genitive. Hebrew names in Greek or Latin often have no declination.
About St. Jerome:
About Song of Songs, but when you can read German, go also to the German wiki:
Lovis Corinth, Das hohe Lied (1911)