|SONG OF SOLOMON |
Collection of romantic poetry comprising the twenty-second book of the English Old Testament. The Hebrew title, “Solomon's Song of Songs,” means that this is the best of songs and that it in some way concerns Solomon.
Author and Date While the title appears to name Solomon as the author, the Hebrew phrase can also mean for or about Solomon. Solomon or “king” is mentioned in the book several times (Song of Solomon 1:1,Song of Solomon 1:4-5,Song of Solomon 1:12;
Song of Solomon 3:7,Song of Solomon 3:9,Song of Solomon 3:11;
Song of Solomon 7:5;
Song of Solomon 8:11-12), but scholars remain uncertain about its author. An ancient rabbinic tradition (Baba Bathra 15a) attributes the Song to Hezekiah and his scribes (compare
Similarly, it is hard to establish the date of the book from internal evidence. Some scholars argue on linguistic grounds for authorship much later than Solomon. Such grounds include the use of expressions akin to Aramaic and the presence of certain foreign loan-words (Persian: pardes “orchard,”
Song of Solomon 4:13; ‘appiryon from Greek phoreion “carriage” or [by way of Aramaic] “canopied bed,”
Song of Solomon 3:9). Others argue that such linguistic usages and borrowings can go back to the time of Solomon or merely reflect the date of the book's final editing.
Canon and Interpretation Because of its erotic language and the difficulty of its interpretation, the rabbis questioned the place of the Song of Solomon in the canon. The positive resolution of that debate is reflected in the famous declaration of Rabbi Akiva, “The whole world is not worth the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel; all the Writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is the holy of holies.”
The problems of the book's place in the canon and its interpretation are closely related. Under the influence of Greek views, which denigrated the body, and with the loss of a biblical view of the created goodness of the body and human love, many interpreters felt compelled to find in the Song an allegory of sacred love between God and Israel, Christ and the church, or Christ and the soul. With few exceptions, allegorical readings of the Song have prevailed for most of church history.
In the modern period, most scholars have returned to a literal reading of the Song. Conflict remains even about the literal sense of the text. Some compare Egyptian and Mesopotamian poems and see the Song as a mere collection of secular love ditties. Another view tries to see it as an adaptation of pagan fertility rituals. (This view is in reality a modern allegorical reading.) Others see the Song as a drama in which the pure love of the Shulammite maid and her shepherd prevails over Solomon's callous attempt to bring the girl into his harem. This view tries to do justice to the alteration of speakers in the Song in its various dialogues. (These shifts are indicated in Hebrew by shifts in grammatical person and number.)
A recent, promising approach is aware of parallels to Egyptian love poetry but shows that the Song itself gives expression to a uniquely biblical perspective on sexual love. While containing a number of smaller love poems, the Song is unified by patterns of dialogue, repetition, the use of catch words, and above all, a consistent vision of love. Like
Genesis 2:23-25, the Song celebrates God's gift of bodily love between man and woman. Here the Creator's wisdom and bounty are displayed. Thus, the Song is best taken as an example of Israel's wisdom poetry (compare
Proverbs 30:18-20). Like many Psalms which praise God and also teach, the Song's main purpose is to celebrate rather than to instruct. Like music, it tends to joy rather than learning. Yet one can overhear in it biblical wisdom on love. “Love is as strong as death.… Many waters cannot quench love.… If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned” (Song of Solomon 8:6-7 NIV). Moreover, there is a right time and place for love: “Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you… Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires” (Song of Solomon 3:5 NIV). In these poems love is portrayed in its power and splendor, its freshness and devotion to the beloved. Love in all its variety parades before us: moments of union and separation, ecstasy and anguish, longing and fulfillment.
Finally, a certain validity remains in the long history of interpretation, which saw in the pure love of the Song a reflection of divine-human love (compare
Song of Solomon 3:6-11; and the messianic typology of
Psalms 45:1.) Nonetheless, this parallel should not be pushed to the point of allegorizing details of the poem. See Allegory, Wisdom.
I. Longing Is a Part of Love (Song of Solomon 1:1-8).
II. Love Will Not Be Silent (Song of Solomon 1:9-2:7).
III. Spring and Love Go Together (Song of Solomon 2:8-17).
IV. Love Is Exclusive (Song of Solomon 3:1-5).
V. Love Is Enhanced by Friendship (Song of Solomon 3:6-11).
VI. Love Sees Only the Beautiful (Song of Solomon 4:1-7).
VII. Love Involves Giving and Receiving (Song of Solomon 4:8-5:1).
VIII. Love Means Risking the Possibility of Pain (Song of Solomon 5:2-6:3).
IX. Words Fail for Expressing Love (Song of Solomon 6:4-7:9).
X. Love Must Be Given Freely (Song of Solomon 7:10-13).
XI. True Love Is Priceless (Song of Solomon 8:1-14).
Raymond C. Van Leeuwen