On the Rose of Sharon & the Lily of the Valley

by Fr. ABSV—May 2006 e.v.

I have been researching the phrase “The Rose of Sharon & The Lily of the Valley,” which appears as an appellation in the Zelator Hall alongside the God-names of Malkuth. I really do love this phrase, and the book whence it comes–that is, the Song of Songs, Song of Solomon, or Shir ha-Shirim in the Tanakh–is among one of my favorite books in the Bible. Yes, this is Biblical imagery, but it is a particularly Pagan and Goddess-oriented piece of Biblical imagery, so much so that one may find many conservative Biblical scholars glossing the whole thing over as a metaphor for Yahweh’s relationship with Israel–and in my opinion fail miserably. Long story short: the Song of Songs is a set of beautiful poems directed between two lovers, as they describe in very flowery language their desire and lust for one another.

The verse in particular from which the above appellation comes is Song of Songs 2:1:
“I am a rose of Sharon, A lily of the valleys.”

That is from the JPS translation of the Tanakh (improperly, “The Old Testament”), and it comes from the mouth of the female figure, who is called the male’s “darling” in the Song of Songs. The passage continues with the male figure (called the female’s “beloved’) saying, “Like a lily among thorns, / So is my darling among the maidens.”

Now in the course of my research, I found a plethora of information on the Rose of Sharon. Afterwards, however, I managed to find a single web page that summed up all the important bits of what I discovered, and it would be remiss of me not to share a link to this web page, written by a wonderful soul named Paghat the Ratgirl: http://www.paghat.com/roseofsharonmyths.html

Key paragraphs are quoted here:
” ‘Sharon’ means ‘Fruitful,’ a word that Torah associates with good pasturage for sheep. In much of the ancient Semitic world Sharon was a Goddess epithet. When Isaiah says, ‘Sharon shall be a fold for sheep’ [Isa 65:10], ‘sheepfold’ is in this context a borrowed epithet ordinarily for the Semitic Goddess Anath (in Greek, Astarte) who gave birth to sheep, cattle, & other beasts, after bringing her brother Baal Hadad back from the dead, & laying with Her brother in connubial embrace. So too Solomon’s bride was his sister [Song 6:9; Proverbs 7:4; Zohar I:111b, 133a].” (N.B., Any connections between Astarte and Asherah would be appropriate for members of the OSOGD.)

“Much prophetic language plays misogynistic word-games against the Mother Goddess, but not in the Song of Songs, where erotic Goddess imagery is coopted wholesale from a much more ancient Semitic literature, joyfully illuminating the hieros gamos of God & Goddess, King & Queen. This was once a normal part of Judaism & not just ‘foreign’ cult nor even just the province of Jewish mystics. It represented, for millenia, an outright love for the Mother Goddess as fundamental even among Jews, as is made clear by Jeremiah, who was born in the City of Anath, & was castigated by Jewish women for his sorry-ass disdain for the Queen of Heaven [Jr 44:15-28].”

“Sharon the Rose among kabbalists preserves these most ancient associations, for according to the holy Zohar of Saphed, this very Rose is a symbol of Malkhuth the Lower Shekhinah [Zoh III:121a]. Indeed, the Rose of Sharon sits beside God in Heaven in a throne identical to His [Zoh III:107a]. Or the Rose & the Lily are twin sisters who rule seven mountains [2 Esdra 2:19] & are the source of all joy [Sirach 50:8]. Ah! These associations are so thrilling. The shocking thing is how many deeply religious people can read a work like the Song of Solomon, or the closing Proverbs addressed to the Perfect Woman (who is again the Shekhinah who brings treasures from afar), & yet fail to perceive what mystics so easily perceive, that when we are nearest to God, we are in the loving embrace of a very great Mother.”

“The Persian meaning of sus is ‘Origination’ because Shushan was the foundation of the universe, just as Malkhuth the Lower Shekhinah, aka the Rose of Sharon, is the foundation of the Sephiroth Tree of Kabbalah.”

The last two quotes are extremely important, and I would like to present two excerpts from the Zohar for comparison. (Go to Wikipedia’s article on the Zohar, and at the bottom there are numerous links to online versions of the Zohar: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zohar; I am using the first link.)

The very first sentence in the Prologue of the Zohar (I:1) says (and, in fact, the first section of the first volume of the Zohar is dedicated to discussion on “The Lily,” and thus the community of Israel):

“Rabbi Chizkiyah opened the discussion with the verse, ‘As the lily amongst the thorns’ (Shir Hashirim 2:2). HE ASKS: What is the lily? AND HE REPLIES: It is the Community of Yisrael (Israel), WHICH IS MALCHUT. Because there is a lily; and there is a lily. Just as the lily among the thorns is tinged with red and white, so is the Community of Yisrael affected by the qualities of judgment and mercy. Just as the lily has thirteen petals, so the Community of Yisrael is surrounded by the thirteen attributes of Mercy. Thus, between the first mention of the name Elohim, WHICH APPEARS IN THE PASSAGE, ‘IN THE BEGINNING ELOHIM CREATED’ (BERESHEET [that is, Genesis] 1:1) TO THE SECOND MENTION OF ELOHIM, THERE ARE THIRTEEN WORDS IN THE VERSE, WHICH TRANSLATE AS ‘THE, HEAVEN, AND THE, EARTH, AND THE EARTH, WAS, WITHOUT FORM, AND VOID, AND DARKNESS, WAS UPON, THE FACE, OF THE DEEP, AND THE SPIRIT’ (IBID. 2). These words surround and guard the Community of Yisrael.”

Thus, Rabbi Chizkiyah already in this first verse of the Zohar tells us two key things: 1. That the Lily of the Valley refers to Malkuth (MALCHUT). 2. That this Lily of the Valley is affected by the qualities of Judgment (Geburah) and Mercy (Gedulah). Indeed, in the Zelator Hall of our Order, our Hierophant declares the names: “Adonai ha-Aretz, Adonai Melekh. Unto thee be the kingdom [Malkuth] and the Power [Geburah] and the Glory [Gedulah]. Malkuth, Geburah, Gedulah. The Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley. Amen.”

Clear enough? This theme appears more than once in the Zohar. (Search for “lily” or “Sharon.”)

One other quote from the Zohar before I finish my discussion, from Volume 7 (Vayechi):

“Another explanation is that ‘I am the tulip of the Sharon’ in need of watering from the deep river, the source of all springs; NAMELY BINAH, as it says, ‘And the parched ground (Heb. sharav) shall become a pool’ (Yeshayah [that is, Isaiah] 35:7). HENCE THE NUKVA IS CALLED SHARON, DERIVED FROM SHARAV, FOR IT IS THIRSTY FOR THE WATER OF BINAH. She is called ‘the lily of the valley (also: “the deeps”)’ since she is to be found very deep. The deeps are those in the verse, ‘Out of the depths I have cried to you, O Hashem’ (Tehilim [that is, Psalms] 130:1). ‘The tulip of the Sharon’ comes from the place where the waters of the springs come and never stop flowing. ‘The lily of the valley’ is from the place called the depth of all, closed on all sides.”

This commentary is by Rabbi Shimon, and references to the “tulip” should be understood as the “rose.” The idea of Malkuth (the rose of Sharon, or the Nukvah) deriving from the deep water of Binah (the Sharav) is emphasized in our own Zelator Hall, wherein the Hierophant tells the new Zelator:

“The Tenth Path of the Sepher Yetzirah which answers to Malkuth is called ‘The Resplendent Intelligence.’ REMEMBER THIS, because it exalts above every head and sits upon the Throne of Binah. It illuminates the Splendour of all the Lights, the Zohar me-ourouth and causes the current of Divine Influx to descend.”

The key phrase here is “the Throne of Binah.” Indeed, it is said that as Malkuth is the bride to Kether (and Malkah the Bride to Zauir Anpin, the Microprosopus, to use the Partzufim model of the Lurianists), and Binah is the bride to Wisdom/Chokmah, so Malkuth is a representation of Binah on a lower plane. They are the two primary feminine Sephiroth in the Tree of Life (both colored in the traditional GD Queen Scale by deep black), and so this should come as no surprise. Malkuth the Bride derives its energy from the Binah, the terrestrial yin from the celestial yin, and so Malkuth sits on the Throne of Binah. Indeed, the angelic choir of Binah are called the Aralim, or “The Thrones.”

In further redactions to our Zelator Hall script, I recommend keeping the line, “The Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley.” It is one of the few places in the Bible where the misogynistic aspects of the Yahwistic tradition are firmly if underhandedly challenged.

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