Blaz0ej S0trba, «hn#$w#$ of the Canticle», Vol. 85 (2004) 475-502
The term hn#$w#$ is revisited
primarily in the Canticle of Solomon. The most ancient translation –– "lily" ––
of this flower though questioned in recent decades is still widely used. The
LXX’s rendering kri/non is examined and found as the
best translation for the lexeme N#$w#$ –– meaning
"lotus" –– being an Egyptian loan word. This translation fits to the OT
references better than "lily". The textual employment of
hn#$w#$ in the poetry of the Canticle is a chief and commanding proof for
"lotus". The "lily" translation for both hn#$w#$
and kri/non for the majority of the OT cases is seen
as incorrect since it does not pay due attention to the literary and historical
context of the Canticle.
488 Blaâ„¦ej âˆtrba
with hlxbj and the flower hnvwv, v. 1. It is her beloved who confirms
this charming and unique identification, v. 2 (65).
1 (a) I am a rose of Sharon
Ë†wrvh tlxbj yna
(b) Ï€Ã´Ï€annah of the valleys.
2 (a) As Ï€Ã´Ï€annah among the thorns
Âµyjwjh Ë†yb hnvwvk
(b) so is my friend among the maidens.
twnbh Ë†yb yty[r Ë†k
Comparisons are often an effective way of expressing oneself.
What is the tertium comparationis between hnvwv and thorn? A
tempting one is the idea of beauty/ugliness. This idea is as misleading
as it is attractive, although many accept this interpretation. In my
opinion the term hnvwv in v. 2 does not show any reference to the
concept of beauty. In fact, the splendid form and well matched colours
of the thorns of Syro-Palestine regions are an equally good argument
against the â€œuglinessâ€ of this plant (66). Anyway, the perception of
beauty is more an impact on the person than a reliable argument for
In order to spare a lot of abstract thinking about the ugliness of
the thorn, the best way to understand what the thorn is about is to
check its occurrences in the Bible (67). Thorn appears in all these texts
as a superb, arrogant and malicious plant yet ignorant of its own
situation. Its image is negative and often a thorn is a sign of defeat
and or sterility, a seal of devastation or death. It grows where there is
The prompt answer of the beloved in 2,2 confirms that if his girl,
identified with hnvwv, possesses or can awaken in herself such strength,
she will grow and bloom even among the thorns which by contrast
convey the notion of death and of a deserted space. The girl identifies
herself in this first verse, most probably with the lotus, which was the
chief symbol of the Egyptian idea of new birth, re-birth, or regen-
(65) W.G.E. WATSON, â€œParallel Word Pairs in the Song of Songsâ€, â€œUnd Mose
schrieb dieses Lied aufâ€. Studien zum Alten Testament und zum Alten Orient.
Festschrift O. Loretz (Hrsg. M. DIETRICH â€“ I. KOTTSIEPER) (AOAT 250; MÃ¼nster
1998) 793, classifies hnvwv as a pair word only in 2,1.
(66) For the more detailed presentation of the subject with illustrations, see I.
LÃ–W, Die Flora der Juden (Wien 1926-1934); ZOHARY, Plants, 153-167; NIGEL
HEPPER, Encyclopedia, 35-39. It is questionable whether any creation â€“ in its
shape â€“ could be claimed to be â€œuglyâ€.
(67) Especially 2 Kgs 14,9//2 Chr 25,18; Job 31,40; Pr 26,9; Isa 34, 13;