Skip navigation

Search

The Core Curriculum

Unknown

900 BCE – 400 BCE
Dates are approximate

Song of Songs by Gustave Moreau, 1893 (Wikimedia Commons) Song of Songs by Gustave Moreau, 1893 (Wikimedia Commons) "Song of Songs, the book of the Hebrew Bible which normally follows Job in the Hagiographa and precedes the Book of Ruth. It thus stands first among the Five Scrolls. In Protestant and Roman Catholic Bibles, the book follows Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, in accord with Jewish (then later Christian) tradition that Solomon was the author of all three, for the arrangement of the books in the Septuagint has continued to exert its influence on the Christian canon into modern times. The title is derived from the superscription, shir ha-shirim asher li-shelomo, usually understood as 'the best of Solomon's songs,' although Hebrew normally does not form superlatives this way. … The book is also called the Song of Solomon or Canticles, the latter name being derived from the Latin translation of the Hebrew title. 

"The Song of Songs is composed entirely of a series of lyric (Septuagint: asma) love songs which vary in length, often consisting of brief stanzas, in which two lovers express to one another, and occasionally to others, the delights and anguish of their mutual love. Bold imagery and striking hyperbole characterize the songs, producing extravagant expressions and incongruous comparisons. …

"Because such poems belong to the same literary genre as a similar type of Arabic love poetry, they are called waṣfs, after the Arabic technical term meaning 'description.' Such lyrical imagery and forthright expression are admittedly sensual and suggestive, but the poems are never coarse or vulgar. (Similar seductive language is employed by the married seductress of Prov. 7:16–17, but there it leads to a bitter end.) The composer has employed vivid imagery to set a mood and create an aura of emotion, which invites the hearers to participate and share his joy and delight. Such poetic finesse in part accounts for the timeless appeal and lasting popularity of these songs. The flickering flames of love that rise and fall throughout the book leap to a final crescendo in 8:6–7:

Set me as the seal upon thy heart,
As the seal upon thine arm;
For love is strong as death,
Jealousy is cruel as the grave;
The flashes thereof are flashes of fire;
A very flame of the Lord [or 'mighty flame'],
Many waters cannot quench love,
Neither can the floods drown it. 

"The Bible, because of its primary concern with religious themes, contains poetry which deals principally with sacred topics in hymns, laments, songs of praise and thanksgiving, etc. There are also a number of songs with a secular flavor and dealing with the more mundane affairs of life scattered through its pages, but the Song of Songs is unique in the Bible, for nowhere else within it can be found such a sustained paean to the warmth of love between man and woman. It is completely occupied with that one theme. No morals are drawn; no prophetic preachments are made. Perhaps more than any other biblical book, the Song presents a picture of 'gender mutuality' …. The female lover is given more lines to speak than the male, and the presence of the "daughters of Jerusalem" is most prominent. It is likely that several of the poems originated among women bards.

"A remarkable feature of the book is that God receives no mention, and theological concerns are never discussed. While the Book of Esther also fails to mention God, an unmistakable spirit of nationalism permeates its pages; but the Song lacks even this theme. Another unique feature of the book is the extended description of the woman's dreams (3:1–5; 5:1–6:3). These are the only biblical examples of dreams not followed by interpretation.

"While the Song of Songs appears unique in the Bible, it is quite at home in the literature of the Ancient Near East. Numerous texts recovered from both Egypt and Mesopotamia have brought to light the long history of love poetry in the ancient world. Even the earliest civilization of ancient Mesopotamia, that of Sumer, produced passionate love songs that reflect a remarkable similarity of expressions, implications, situations, and allusions to parts of the Song of Songs. …"

 

Excerpted From:

Schoville, Keith N., et al. "Song of Songs." Encyclopaedia Judaica, edited by Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik, 2nd ed., vol. 19, Macmillan Reference USA, 2007, pp. 14-20.