Friday, November 22, 2013

Which is the Dark Lover in the Song of Songs?

Note that the dark lover is the man and his queen is pale.

Alice C. Linsley

In the Song of Songs the ruler's sister bride is described as having been "made white" (8:5) while her beloved has skin as dark "as the tents of Kedar" because, as with David, he was made to work in the sun by his older brothers. Kedar was a son of Ishmael by his Egyptian wife (Gen. 25:13). The tents were woven of the wool of either black goats of North Sinai or red Nubian goats.

The dominate interpretation, however, presents the female lover as the dark one. Coming from the  perspective of anthropology, I doubt the dominant interpretation that the female is the dark lover because this is not consistent with the practices of the ancient rulers that this text describes. It was the practice for the male ruler to have his skin darkened by exposure to the Sun as the Sun was believed to instill divine power to rulers. The queens avoided the sun and appeared in public with pale skin and powdered faces (shown below). This suggests that the roles have been reversed by interpreters.

The Song of Songs is assumed to be the story of a pale King Solomon and his Dark Lover. However the evidence of anthropology suggests that the descriptions, and thus the roles, should be reversed. Solomon was the "dark" one and his sister was "made white" (Song of Songs 8:5). It was the practice for queens to appear in public with a whitened complexion.

Song of Songs 1:5: I am dark, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.

The term “dark” does not appear in verse 5, but scholars assume a parallelism between verses 5 and 6, so "I am dark" appears in verse 5. 

Song of Songs 1:6: Look not upon me, because I am dark, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother's sons were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.

The phrase "my mother's sons were angry with me" is a reference to the way the older brothers treated their younger brother. We see this in the story of Jacob being sold into slavery, and in the way that David was made to stay in the fields while his older brothers came to feast with their father and the prophet Samuel. David's skin tone was ruddy and he was said to be comely or handsome. This is the gist of verses 5 and 6.

Solomon was a ruler of the Horite ruler-priest lines. His ancestors originated in the Nile Valley and had a reddish brown skin tone. The rulers appeared with a dark tan as evidence that they had been overshadowed by the sun, the emblem of the Creator. Divine appointment came by this means and was indicated by the initial Y, or solar cradle, in their names: Yishmael, Yitzak, Yacob, Yisbak, Yaqtan, etc. So it appears that scholars have reversed the roles in the Song of Songs.

Some have argued that the sister has a dark tan, reflecting her poverty or low social rank as one who has to toiled in the sun. This interpretation fails in logic. As Solomon's sister, she would not have been a common laborer. She would be a royal daughter whose feet and hands show the benefits of ointments and beauty baths, as indicated in 7:1: "How beautiful are thy feet in sandals, O prince's daughter!"  It may be that this is a reference Solomon's wife who was a daughter of Pharaoh (1 Kings 3:1).

It is sometimes argued that the royal designation should not be taken literally because in Syrian love songs (wasfs) the bride and groom are called "king" and "queen." However this is a later custom which exists today in Eastern Orthodox ceremonies in the which the bride and groom are crowned. Given the fixed nature of the marriage and ascendancy pattern among the Horites it is far more likely that the sister bride is Solomon's half-sister. This is consistent with the practice of his Horite forefathers (Horim). Sarah was Abraham's half-sister, and Jochebed was Amram's half-sister.

The Horite rulers had a distinctive marriage and ascendancy pattern involving two wives. The first wife was a half-sister and taken at a relatively young age. The sexual frolics of the Song of Songs suggest a youthful coupling. The second wife was a patrilineal cousin taken shortly before the ruler ascended to the throne at around the age of 50. This more mature sex is not suggested.

Dark kings and pale queens

As Solomon royal sister, his bride would appear in public with a whitened complexion. Her paleness is the binary opposite of Solomon's darkness. The Horite ruler spent a great deal of time in the sun practicing martial arts, hunting, and boating.  He was expected to be darkened by the sun while his queen, whose rank was associated with the moon, was expected to be pale. The association of nobility with stars and planets was common in the ancient world, and especially among Abraham's people. The cultural context of the Horite Hebrew rulers was Nilotic.

In 8:5 the ruler's sister bride is described as having been "made white" while her beloved has skin as dark "as the tents of Kedar." Kedar was a son of Ishmael by his Egyptian wife (Gen. 25:13). The Hebrew that appears here means darker than his queen because he exposed himself to the sun.

It is generally assumed that the color of the Kedar tents was black, but some were made of the wool of red Nubian goats. The Egyptians and the Horites of Edom (Gen. 36) to whom David was related, had a reddish skin tone. The Greeks called the people of Petra, a Horite shrine city, Idumea which means "red people."

In the binary worldview of the Horite and Habiru (Hebrew) the sun and moon comprised a binary set. In the binary view one entity of the binary set is superior in some visible (objective) way to the other entity. Genesis 1:16 expresses the binary view in these words: "God made the two great lights; the greater to rule the day and the lesser to rule the night."

The sun represented masculine virtues because solar rays inseminate the earth over which the sun has dominion. The moon represented feminine virtues because it is the sun's companion and because it influences the woman's monthly cycle. This is why the male rulers of ancient Egypt appeared with darkened skin, but their queens appeared with whitened skin.

The Song of Songs weaves together various love stories, and it is a challenge to pull the threads apart. Even doing so destroys the beauty of the whole. That said, the book should be read with greater attention to the anthropological details that prompt the reader to imagine Solomon as the dark lover and his half-sister as the pale lover. That way of reading brings forward some different meanings and is well worth exploring.

Related reading: The Sun and Moon in Genesis; A Tent for the Sun; The Binary Worldview of the Horites; What Color Was Abraham?; Moses' Horite FamilyLevi-Strauss and Derrida on Binary Oppositions; Yael Cameron-Klangwisan's Treatise on the Song of Songs; The Edomites and the Color Red


  1. In Malay tradition also, bride-groom = queen-king for the day.

    Didn't Solomon marry an Ethiopean woman? Would her skin have been powdered with gypsum/plaster or red-yellow ochre powder?

    Arab skin tents are off-white, perhaps like tipis they darken with age & smoke.

    Possible: cedar/kedar/qaeda/Haida(NW US tribe w/ cedar plank houses)/HWT(Hebrew hide)/Haifa(Israel modern town)

    Sun is 400 times bigger than moon, and 400 times further, so they appear the same size to us. (incredible coindidence, another case of "seeing God")

    1. Solomon had numerous wives and concubines. IN doing so he broke the marriage pattern of his Horim (Horite ancestors). Likely, he felt justified to use marriage as a way to form political alliances since his father David had done so in order to unite Israel. Solomon was criticized by the prophets for his many wives. It was said that his foreign wives introduced their gods to the realm.


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