The village of Sulam viewed from the Hill of Moreh

Where was Shulam, home of the Shulammite?

Where was Shulam, home of the beautiful Shulammite (Shulamite) maiden of the Song of Solomon?  Some have suggested that since the word Shulammite is similar to the Hebrew name Solomon, that the designation is simply an indication that she was married to Solomon. In this theory, the title Shulammite was in fact the maiden’s married name. But this would contradict the account which indicates that she never married Solomon but was returned to her true love the handsome shepherd.

Most scholars think it likely that the term “Shulammite” indicates that she was a person from Shulam, which they believe to be synonymous with Shunem, a small town in northern Israel. Supporting this view is the fact that the ancient Greek Septuagint (Vatican Manuscript No. 1209) translation of the Hebrew scriptures calls the girl the “Sunamite.” Also, the fourth century church historian and writer Eusebius referred to Shunem as Shulem.

Shunem is sufficiently ancient. It is listed as “Shunama” in the Amarna tablets which date back to 14th century B.C.E. Discovered in Egypt, these tablets are diplomatic correspondence between Egypt and Canaanite warlords. Shunem is also listed on the “Bubasite Portal” in the Temple of Amun-Re, in Egypt. This temple wall lists cities subjugated by Pharoah “Shoshenq”, almost certainly the Pharoah Shishak of the Bible account. (1 Kings 14:25) This list dates to circa 925 B.C.E, shortly after the life of Solomon and presumably, the Shulammite.

sulam

Sulam before 1914

In modern times, the village of Shulam is called Sulam. Sulam is about 16 km south of Jesus’s hometown of Nazareth. Sulam is an Israeli-Arab town which in recent centuries was entirely Muslim, although in recent years a small Jewish population has moved in. Sulam is in the Jezreel Valley in Lower Galilee (see map). The town sits at the base of a  large hill called in Hebrew, Giv’at ha-Moreh. This is generally believed to be the hill of Moreh (Mount Moreh) from the Bible. It was here that the Midianites were camped (Judges 7:1) when Gideon and his brave 300 men surprised them in the night and defeated them utterly crying out, “The sword of Jehovah and of Gideon!” (Judges 7:20)  It was also in Shunem/Shulam that the Philistines encamped the night before the battle that resulted in the death of King Saul and his son Jonathan. On the other side of the hill is the town of Nin, called Nain in the Gospel of Luke. Here Jesus resurrected from the dead the only son of a widow (Luke 7: 11-17 ).

stepmap-karte-shulam-shunem-1676751

Shulam is most famous for the remarkable women that called it home. In addition to the Shulammite maiden of Solomon’s song of songs, there was Abishag, who served as nurse to King David in his old age. She is described as being, “extremely beautiful” (1 Kings 1:4). Although David did not have sexual relations with Abishag, she was viewed as a wife or concubine. Shortly before David’s death, his son Adonijah (by his wife Haggith) tried to usurp the throne. His plot was foiled and David’s son Solomon (by his wife Bathsheba) was made king as David had promised. Solomon magnanimously pardoned his half-brother

Sulam in modern times.

The modern village of Sulam (Shulam)

Adonijah saying, “If he behaves in a worthy manner, not a single hair of his will fall to the ground; but if what is bad is found in him, he will have to die.” (1 Kings 1: 53) Yet Adonijah was not finished scheming, later asking Solomon’s mother to ask the king that Abishag be given him as a wife. As Abishag was considered David’s consort, she could only belong to the one that was his legal heir, namely Solomon. By asking for her in marriage, he was craftily trying to establish a legitimate claim for the throne. Solomon’s saw through the scheme and revoked the pardon. Adonijah was put to death.

No other mention of Abishag appears in the Bible though some have suggested that Abishag and the Shulammite of the Song of Solomon are one and the same woman. This seems unlikely because as mentioned, she could only belong to the legal heir of David. Abishag likely became a wife or concubine of King Solomon. In addition, in Solomon’s account, the Shulammite came directly from working the fields near her home, not from the palace of King David in Jerusalem.

Another famous female resident of Shunem/Shulam was renowned for her hospitality. Elisha the prophet regularly ate at the home of a couple in Shunem at the urging of the wife, a “prominent woman“. She later went so far as set up a room specifically for the prophet for whenever he was passing through. Much later when her son died unexpectedly, Elisha performed a miracle bringing him back to life (2 Kings 4: 17-37).

One final question regarding the lovely Shulammite of the Song of Solomon concerns her expression in the poem, “I am black, but comely“. (Song of Solomon 1:5 – King James Version) From this verse, many have wondered whether the Shulammite was of African extraction. It is certainly possible that she was. Dark skinned people would have made up part of the “vast mixed company” that joined Israel as it left bondage in Egypt. (Exodus 12: 38) In addition, people of African ancestry had voluntarily converted becoming Jewish proselytes who legally became part the nation. An example would be the Ethiopian man Ebed-melech, loyal friend and rescuer of the prophet Jeremiah. (Jeremiah 38: 7 – 13) Moses wife is called a “Cushite” (Ethiopian) at Numbers 12:1 and King Solomon married one of the daughters of Pharoah (1 Kings 3:1).

However, the suggestion from the song is that the Shulammite’s skin color may not be as a result of her ancestry but simply a result of long hours under the sun, “Do not stare at me because I am swarthy, Because the sun has gazed upon me. The sons of my mother were angry with me; They appointed me the keeper of the vineyards, But my own vineyard I did not keep.” (Song of Solomon 1:6)

Image Credits:

Sulam from the Hill of Moreh. Image by Ori~Source: Wikimedia Commons

Sulam before 1914. {{PD}} Source: Wikimedia Commons

Map by author. Created on StepMap

Modern Sulam. Image by NaVisitor (CCO 1.0) Source: Wikimedia Commons 

 

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