Easton's Bible Dictionary
Called also, after the Vulgate, the "Canticles." It is
the "song of songs" ( Song
of Solomon 1:1 ), as being the finest and most precious of its kind; the noblest
song, "das Hohelied," as Luther calls it. The Solomonic authorship of this book
has been called in question, but evidences, both internal and external, fairly
establish the traditional view that it is the product of Solomon's pen.
It is an allegorical poem setting forth the mutual love of Christ and the Church,
under the emblem of the bridegroom and the bride. (Compare Matthew 9:15 ; John
3:29 ; Ephesians 5:23 , 5:27 , 5:29 ; Revelation 19:7 - 9 ; 21:2 , 21:9 ; 22:17
. Compare also Psalms 45 ; Isaiah 54:4 - 6 ; 62:4 , 62:5 ; Jeremiah 2:2 ; 3:1
, 3:20 ; Ezekiel 16 ; Hosea 2:16 , 2:19 , 2:20 .)
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
Smith's Bible Dictionary
SEE FROM CANTICLES)
(Song of Songs), entitled in the Authorized Version THE SONG OF SOLOMON. It was
probably written by Solomon about B.C. 1012. It may be called a drama, as it contains
the dramatic evolution of a simple love-story.
The schools of interpretation may be divided into three: the mystical or typical,
the allegorical, and the literal.
(1) The mystical interpretation
owes its origin to the desire to find a literal basis of fact for the allegorical.
This basis is either the marriage of Solomon with Pharoahs daughter or his marriage
with an Israelitish woman, the Shulamite.
(2) The allegorical.
According to the Talmud the beloved is taken to be God; the loved one, or bride,
is the congregation of Israel . In the Christian Church the Talmudical interpretation,
imported by Origen, was all but universally received.
(3) The literal interpretation.
According to the most generally-received interpretation of the modern literalists,
the Song is intended to display the victory of humble and constant love over the
temptations of wealth and royalty.
The book has been rejected from the Canon by some critics; but in no case has
its rejection been defended on external grounds. It is found in the LXX. and in
the translations of Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion. It is contained in the catalog
given in the Talmud,a nd in the catalogue of Melito; and in short we have the
same evidence for its canonicity as that which is commonly adduced for the canonicity
of any book of the Old Testament.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
(shir hashirim; Septuagint Asma; Codices Sinaiticus,
Alexandrinus, Ephraemi, Asma asmaton; Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.)
The full title in Hebrew is "The Song of Songs, which is Solomon's." The book
is called by some Canticles, and by others Solomon's Song. The Hebrew title implies
that it is the choicest of all songs, in keeping with the dictum of Rabbi 'Aqiba
(90-135 AD) that "the entire world, from the beginning until now, does not outweigh
the day in which Canticles was given to Israel."
Early Jewish and Christian writers are silent as to the
Song of Songs. No use is made of it by Philo. There is no quotation from it in
the New Testament, nor is there any clear allusion to it on the part of our Lord
or the apostles. The earliest distinct references to the Song of Songs are found
in Jewish writings of the 1st and 2nd centuries AD (4 Esdras 5:24 , 26 ; 7:26
; Ta'anith 4:8). The question of the canonicity of the Song was debated as late
as the Synod of Jamnia (circa 90 AD), when it was decided that Canticles was rightly
reckoned to "defile the hands," i.e. was an inspired book. It should be borne
in mind that the Song of Songs was already esteemed by the Jews as a sacred book,
though prior to the Synod of Jamnia there was probably a goodly number of Jewish
teachers who did not accept it as canonical. Selections from Canticles were sung
at certain festivals in the temple at Jerusalem, prior to its destruction by Titus
in 70 AD (Ta'anith 4:8). The Mishna pronounces an anathema on all who treat Canticles
as a secular song (Sanhedhrin, 101a). The latest date for the composition of the
Song of Songs, according to critics of the advanced school, is toward the close
of the 3rd century BC. We may be sure that it was included in the Kethubhim before
the ministry of our Lord, and so was for Him a part of the Scriptures.
Most scholars regard the text of Canticles as comparatively free from corruption.
Gratz, Bickell, Budde and Cheyne have suggested a good many emendations of the
traditional text, a few of which commend themselves as probable corrections of
a faulty text, but most of which are mere guesses without sufficient confirmation
from either external or internal evidence. For details see Budde's able commentary,
and articles by Cheyne in JQR and Expository Times for 1898-99 and in the The
Expositor, February, 1899.
III. AUTHORSHIP AND DATE
The title in the Hebrew text ascribes the poem to Solomon.
That this superscription was prefixed by an editor of Canticles and not by the
original writer is evident from the fact that the relative pronoun employed in
the title is different from that employed throughout the poem. The beauty and
power of the book seemed to later students and editors to make the writing worthy
of the gifted king, whose fame as a composer of both proverbs and songs was handed
on to later times (1 Kings 4:32). Moreover, the name of Solomon is prominent in
the Song of Songs itself (Song of Solomon 1:5 ; 3:7 , 9 , 11 ; 8:11 f). If the
traditional view that Solomon wooed and won the Shulammite be true, the Solomonic
authorship may even yet be defended, though the linguistic argument for a later
date is quite strong.
The question in debate among recent critics is whether the Song was composed in
North Israel in preexilic days, or whether it is post-exilic. The author is at
home in Hebrew. His vocabulary is extensive, and the movement of the poem is graceful.
There is no suggestion of the use of lexicon and grammar by a writer living in
the period of the decadence of the Hebrew language. The author is familiar with
cities and mountains all over Palestine, especially in the northern section. He
speaks of the beauty of Tirzah, the capital of North Israel in the 10th century
BC, along with the glory of Jerusalem, the capital of Judah (Song of Solomon 6:4).
The recollection of Solomon's glory and pomp seems to be fresh in the mind of
the writer and his contemporaries. W.R. Smith regarded Canticles as a protest
against the luxury and the extensive harem of Solomon. True love could not exist
in such an environment. The fidelity of the Shulammite to her shepherd lover,
notwithstanding the blandishments of the wealthy and gifted king, stands as a
rebuke to the notion that every woman has her price. Driver seems inclined to
accept a preexilic date, though the arguments from vocabulary and philology cause
him to waver in his opinion (LOT, 8th edition, 450). An increasing number of critics
place the composition of Canticles in the post-exilic period, many bringing it
down into the Greek period. Among scholars who date Canticles in the 3rd century
BC we may name Gratz, Kuenen, Cornill, Budde, Kautzsch, Martineau and Cheyne.
The chief argument for bringing the Song into the time of the early Ptolemies
is drawn from the language of the poem. There are many Hebrew words that are employed
elsewhere only in later books of the Old Testament; the word pardec (Song of Solomon
4:13) is a Persian loan-word for "park"; the word for "palanquin" may be Indian,
or possibly Greek. Moreover, the form of the relative pronoun is uniformly that
which is found in some of the latest books of the Old Testament. The influence
of Aramaic is apparent, both in the vocabulary and in a few constructions. This
may be accounted for on theory of the northern origin of the Song, or on the hypothesis
of a post-exilic date. The question of date is still open.
IV. HISTORY OF INTERPRETATION
1. The Allegorical Interpretation:
All interpreters of all ages agree in saying that Canticles is a poem of love;
but who the lovers are is a subject of keen debate, especially in modern times.
First in point of time and in the number of adherents it has had is theory that
the Song is a pure allegory of the love of Yahweh and His people. The Jewish rabbis,
from the latter part of the 1st century AD down to our own day, taught that the
poem celebrates a spiritual love, Yahweh being the bridegroom and Israel the bride.
Canticles was supposed to be a vivid record of the loving intercourse between
Israel and her Lord from the exodus on to the glad Messianic time. The Song is
read by the Jews at Passover, which celebrates Yahweh's choice of Israel to be
His spouse. The Targum interprets Canticles as an allegory of the marital love
of Yahweh and Israel. Origen made the allegorical theory popular in the early
church. As a Christian he represented the bride as the church or the soul of the
believer. In more recent centuries the Christian allegorical interpreters have
favored the idea that the soul of the believer was the bride, though the other
type of the allegorical view has all along had its advocates.
Bernard of Clairvaux wrote 86 sermons on the first two chapters of Canticles;
and a host of writers in the Roman church and among Protestants have composed
similar mystical treatises on the Song. Devout souls have expressed their fervent
love to God in the sensuous imagery of Canticles. The imagery could not become
too fervid or ecstatic for some of these devout men and women in their highest
moments of beatific vision. Whatever may be the final verdict of sane criticism
as to the original purpose of the author of the Song, it is a fact that must not
be overlooked by the student of Canticles that some of the noblest religious souls,
both Hebrew and Christian, have fed the flame of devotion by interpreting the
Song as an allegory.
What justification is there for theory that Canticles is an allegory of the love
between Yahweh and His people, or of the love of Christ and the church, or of
the love of the soul of the believer and Christ? It must be frankly confessed
that there is not a hint in the Song itself that it is an allegory. If the modern
reader of Canticles had never heard of the allegorical interpretation, nothing
in the beginning, middle or end of the poem would be likely to suggest to his
mind such a conception of the poet's meaning. How, then, did the early Jewish
interpreters come to make this the orthodox interpretation of the Song? The question
is not easy to answer. In the forefront of our answer we must recall the fact
that the great prophets frequently represent the mutual love of Yahweh and Israel
under the symbolism of marriage (Hosea 1-3; Jeremiah 3; Ezekiel 16; 23; Isaiah
50:1; 54:5,6). The Hebrew interpreter might naturally expect to find some echo
of this bold imagery in the poetry of the Kethubhim. In the Torah the frequent
command to love Yahweh might suggest the marital relation as well as that of the
father and son (Deuteronomy 6:5 ; 7:7 - 9 , 13 ; 10:12 , 15 ; 30:16 , 20), though
it must be said that the language of De suggests the high ethical and religious
teaching of Jesus in the matter of love to God, in which the sexual does not appear.
Cheyne suggests (EB, I, 683 f) that the Song was too joyous to be used, in its
natural sense, by the Jews after the destruction of Jerusalem, and hence, they
consecrated it by allegorical interpretation. The suggestion may contain an element
It is an interesting fact that the Psalter has so few expressions in which love
to Yahweh is expressed (Psalms 31:23 ; 97:10 ; 145:20 ; compare 18:1 ; 42:1 ;
63:1). In this manual of devotion one would not be suprised to find the expansion
of the image of wedlock as expressive of the soul's relation to God; but we look
in vain for such a poem, unless Psalms 45 be capable of allegorical interpretation.
Even that beautiful song of love and marriage contains no such highly sensuous
imagery as is found in Canticles.
Christian scholars found it easy to follow the Jewish allegorical interpreters;
for the figure of wedlock is employed in the New Testament by both Paul and John
to represent the intimate and vital union of Christ and His church (2 Corinthians
11:2 ; Ephesians 5:22 - 33 ; Revelation 19:7 - 9 ; 21:2 , 9).
The entire body of true believers is conceived of as the bride of Christ. Naturally
the purity of the church is sullied through the impure conduct of the individuals
of whom it is composed. Hence, the appeal to individuals and to local churches
to live pure lives (2 Corinthians 11:1). To the unmarried believer the Lord Jesus
takes the place of the husband or wife as the person whom one is most eager to
please (1 Corinthians 7:32). It is not difficult to understand how the fervid,
sensuous imagery of Canticles would appeal to the mind of a man like Origen as
a proper vehicle for the expression of his passionate love for Christ.
Sober inquiry discovers no sufficient justification of the allegorical interpretation
of the Song of Songs. The pages of the mystical commentators are filled with artificial
interpretations and conceits. Many of them practice a familiarity with Christ
that is without example in the Biblical devotional literature.
2. The Typical Interpretation:
The allegorical interpreters, for the most part, saw in the Song of Songs no historic
basis. Solomon and the Shulammite are introduced merely as figures through whom
God and His people, or Christ and the soul, can express their mutual love. In
modern times interpreters have arisen who regard the Song as primarily the expression
of strong and passionate human love between Solomon and a beautiful maiden, but
by virtue of the typical relation of the old dispensation, secondarily, the fitting
expression of the love of Christ and the church.
The way for this modern typical interpretation was prepared by Lowth (Sacred Poetry
of the Hebrews, Lectionaries XXX, XXXI) in his modified allegorical view, which
is thus described by Canon Driver: "Bishop Lowth, though not abandoning the allegorical
view, sought to free it from its extravagances; and while refusing to press details,
held that the poem, while describing the actual nuptials of Solomon with the daughter
of Pharaoh, contained also an allegoric reference to Christ espousing a church
chosen from among the Gentiles" (LOT, 451). Few interpreters have been found to
follow Theodore of Mopsuestia and Lowth in their view that the Song celebrates
the marriage of Solomon and an Egyptian princess; and Lowth's notion of a reference
to the espousal of a church chosen from among the Gentiles is one of the curiosities
of criticism. Of the typical interpreters Delitzsch is perhaps the ablest (Commentary
on Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs).
The typical commentators are superior to the allegorical in their recognition
of Canticles as the expression of the mutual love of two human beings. The further
application of the language to Yahweh and His people (Keil), or to Christ and
the church (Delitzsch), or to God and the soul (M. Stuart) becomes largely a matter
of individual taste, interpreters differing widely in details.
3. The Literal Interpretation:
Jewish interpreters were deterred from the literal interpretation of Canticles
by the anathema in the Mishna upon all who should treat the poem as a secular
song (Sanhedhrin, 101a). Cheyne says of Ibn Ezra, a great medieval Jewish scholar,
he "is so thorough in his literal exegesis that it is doubtful whether he is serious
when he proceeds to allegorize." Among Christian scholars Theodore of Mopsuestia
interpreted Canticles as a song in celebration of the marriage of Solomon and
Pharaoh's daughter. This strictly literal interpretation of the Song was condemned
at the second council of Constantinople (553 AD). For the next thousand years
the allegorical theory reigned supreme among Christian interpreters. In 1544 Sebastian
Castellio revived the literal theory of the Song, though the allegorical view
remained dominant until the 19th century.
Herder in 1778 published a remarkable little treatise entitled Lieder der Liebe,
die altesten und schonsten aus dem Morgenlande, in which he advanced theory that
Canticles is a collection of independent erotic songs, about 21 in number, which
have been so arranged by a collector as to trace "the gradual growth of true love
in its various nuances and stages, till it finds its consummation in wedlock"
(Cheyne). But the greatest and most influential advocate of the literal interpretation
of Canticles was Heinrich Ewald, who published the 1st edition of his commentary
in 1826. It was Ewald who first developed and made popular theory that two suitors
compete for the hand of the Shulammite, the one a shepherd and poor, the other
a wise and wealthy king. In the Song he ascribes to Solomon 1:9 - 11 , 15 ; 2:2
; 4:1 - 7 ; 6:4 - 13 (quoting the dialogue between the Shulammite and the ladies
of the court in 6:10 - 13); 7:1 - 9. To the shepherd lover he assigns few verses,
and these are repeated by the Shulammite in her accounts of imaginary or real
interviews with her lover. In the following passages the lover described is supposed
to be the shepherd to whom the Shulammite had plighted her troth: 1:2 - 7 , 9
- 14 ; 1:16 - 2:1 ; 2:3 - 7 , 8 - 17 ; 3:1 - 5 ; 4:8 - 5:1 ; 5:2 - 8 ; 5:10 -
16 ; 6:2 ; 7:10 - 8:4 ; 8:5 - 14. The shepherd lover is thus supposed to be present
in the Shulammite's dreams, and in her waking moments she is ever thinking of
him and describing to herself and others his many charms. Not until the closing
scene (Song of Solomon 8:5 - 14) does Ewald introduce the shepherd as an actor
in the drama. Ewald had an imperial imagination and a certain strength of mind
and innate dignity of character which prevented him from dragging into the mud
any section of the Biblical literature. While rejecting entirely the allegorical
theory of Canticles, he yet attributed to it an ethical quality which made the
Song worthy of a place in the Old Testament. A drama in praise of fidelity between
human lovers may well hold a place beside Ecclesiastes and Proverbs in the Canon.
Many of the ablest Old Testament critics have followed Ewald in his general theory
that Canticles is a drama celebrating the loyalty of a lowly maiden to her shepherd
lover. Not even Solomon in all his glory could persuade her to become his queen.
Within the past quarter of a century the unity of Canticles has been again sharply
challenged. An account of the customs of the Syrian peasants in connection with
weddings was given by the Prussian consul at Damascus, J. G. Wetzstein, in 1873,
in an article in Bastian's Zeitschrift fur Ethnologie, 270, on "Die syrische Dreschtafel,"
in which he illustrated the Old Testament from modern Syrian customs. Driver thus
describes the customs that are supposed to throw light upon Canticles: "In modern
Syria, the first seven days after a wedding are called the 'king's week'; the
young pair play during this time king and queen; the 'threshing-board' is turned
into a mock-throne, on which they are seated, while songs are sung before them
by the villagers and others, celebrating them on their happiness, among which
the watsf, or poetical 'description' of the physical beauty of the bride and bridegroom,
holds a prominent place. The first of these watsfs is sung on the evening of the
wedding-day itself: brandishing a naked sword in her right hand, and with a handkerchief
in her left, the bride dances in her wedding array, lighted by fires, and surrounded
by a circle of guests, half men and half women, accompanying her dance with a
watsf in praise of her charms" (LOT, 452). Wetzstein suggested the view that Canticles
was composed of the wedding-songs sung during "the king's week." This theory has
been most fully elaborated by Budde in an article in the New World, March, 1894,
and in his commentary (1898). According to Budde, the bridegroom is called King
Solomon, and the bride Shulammith. The companions of the bridegroom are the 60
valiant men who form his escort (Song of Solomon 3:7). As a bride, the maiden
is called the most beautiful of women (Song of Solomon 1:8 ; 5:9 ; 6:1). The pictures
of wedded bliss are sung by the men and women present, the words being attributed
to the bride and the bridegroom. Thus the festivities continue throughout the
week. Budde's theory has some decided advantages over Ewald's view that the poem
is a drama; but the loss in moral quality is considerable; the book becomes a
collection of wedding-songs in praise of the joys of wedlock.
V. CLOSING HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Having given a good deal of attention to Canticles during the past 15 years, the
author of this article wishes to record a few of his views and impressions.
|(1) Canticles is lyric poetry touched with the dramatic
spirit. It is not properly classed as drama, for the Hebrews had no stage, though
much of the Old Testament is dramatic in spirit. The descriptions of the charms
of the lovers were to be sung or chanted.
(2) The amount that has to be read between the lines by the advocates of the various
dramatic theories is so great that, in the absence of any hints in the body of
the book itself, reasonable certitude can never be attained.
(3) The correct translation of the refrain in Song of Solomon 2:7 and 3:5 (compare
8:4) is important for an understanding of the purpose of Canticles. It should
be rendered as follows:
'I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
By the gazelles, or by the hinds of the field,
That ye stir not up, nor awaken love,
Until it please.'
Love between man and woman should not be excited by unnatural stimulants, but
should be free and spontaneous. In Song of Solomon 8:4 it seems to be implied
that the women of the capital are guilty of employing artifices to awaken love:
'I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
Why do ye stir up, or awaken love,
Until it please?'
That this refrain is in keeping with the purpose of the writer is clear from the
striking words toward the close of the book:
"Set me as a seal upon thy heart,
As a seal upon thine arm:
For love is strong as death;
Jealousy is cruel as Sheol;
The flashes thereof are flashes of fire,
A very flame of Yahweh.
Many waters cannot quench love,
Neither can floods drown it:
If a man would give all the substance of his house for love,
He would utterly be contemned" (Song of Solomon 8:6).
(4) Canticles discloses all the secret intimacies of wedded life without becoming
obscene. The imagery is too sensuous for our taste in western lands, so that words
of caution are often timely, lest the sensuous degenerate into the sensual; but
I have been told by several Syrian and Palestinian students whom I have had the
privilege of teaching, that Canticles is considered quite chaste among their people,
the wedding-songs now in use among them being more minute in their description
of the physical charms of the lovers.
(5) Canticles is by no means excluded from the Canon by the acceptance of the
literal interpretation. Ewald's theory makes it an ethical treatise of great and
permanent value. Even if Canticles is merely a collection of songs describing
the bliss of true lovers in wedlock, it is not thereby rendered unworthy of a
place in the Bible, unless marriage is to be regarded as a fall from a state of
innocency. If Canticles should be rejected because of its sensuous imagery in
describing the joys of passionate lovers, portions of Proverbs would also have
to be excised (Proverbs 5:15 - 20). Perhaps most persons need to enlarge their
conception of the Bible as a repository for all things that minister to the welfare
of men. The entire range of man's legitimate joys finds sympathetic and appreciative
description in the Bible. Two young lovers in Paradise need not fear to rise and
meet their Creator, should He visit them in the cool of the day.
C. D. Ginsburg, The Song of Songs, with a Commentary, Historical and Critical,
1857; H. Ewald, Dichter des Alten Bundes, III, 333-426, 1867; F. C. Cook, in Biblical
Commentary, 1874; Franz Delitzsch, Hoheslied u. Koheleth, 1875 (also translation);
O. Zockler, in Lange's Comm., 1875; S. Oettli, Kurzgefasster Kommentar, 1889;
W. E. Griffis, The Lily among Thorns, 1890; J. W. Rothstein, Das Hohe Lied, 1893;
K. Budde, article in New World, March, 1894. and Kommentar, 1898; C. Siegfried,
Prediger u. Hoheslied, 1898; A. Harper, in Cambridge Bible, 1902; G. C. Martin,
in Century Bible, 1908; article on "Canticles" by Cheyne in EB, 1899.
John Richard Sampey
bible commentary, bible reference, bible study, bride, canticles, das hohelied, history, interpretation, love, old testament, poem, shulammite, solomon's song, song of solomon, song of songs (which is solomon's), wedding