I am dark but lovely,
you daughters of Jerusalem,
like the tents of Kedar, like Solomon’s curtains. Bible see other translations

“lovely.” The Hebrew word means “lovely,” but its verbal stem is “to desire” and that meaning may also be brought into play here. In his commentary on Song of Solomon, the Hebrew scholar Robert Alter translates it: “I am dark but desirable” (Strong As Death Is Love).

“the tents of Kedar.” Kedar was the name of an ancient Arabian Bedouin tribe. The Arabs traditionally lived in tents, and their tents were made of goat hair, and the goats in the ancient Near East were black, not white as many modern Western goats are. The goat hair tents started a beautiful dark black, but over time the sun bleached them somewhat so that many tents were “dark” but not strictly black. The Shulamite woman (Song 6:13) had worked in the sun and her skin was darker than it normally would have been.

The tents in the Bible Lands were made the same way out of black goat hair for millennia. In 1855 Horatio Hackett made a tour of Israel, and he wrote about the black tents. “The goats of the East are commonly black, and a species of cloth is made from their skins [actually, their “hair”] having the same color. [This cloth is] commonly used by the Arabs for covering their tents. In approaching Bethlehem from the direction of the desert, I passed an encampment of this people, whose tents were all made of this black cloth…. At Tekoa, Amos’s birth-place, six miles south of Bethlehem, I beheld a similar scene. The settlement there consisted of two small groups of tents, one larger than the other; they were covered with the black cloth before mentioned, supported on several poles, and turned up in part on one side, so that a person from without could look into the interior. The Arab tents which I saw on the Phoenician plain, between Tyre and Sidon, were covered with the same material” (Horatio B. Hackett, Illustrations of Scripture, Boston, Heath and Graves, 1855, Chapter 1, para “The Tents of Kedar,” accessed via Kindle).

Commentary for: Song of Songs 1:5