Song of Songs, Song of Solomon

SONG OF SONGS, SONG OF SOLOMON (Heb. shîr ha-shîrîm). This is unique among biblical books, for it centers in the joys and distresses of the love relationship between a man and a woman.

I. Name. The Hebrew name, “Song of Songs,” is taken from 1:1, which introduces the book as “the song of songs which is Solomon’s.” This use of the Hebrew superlative declares the book the best of the 1,005 songs of Solomon (1Kgs.4.32), or perhaps the greatest of all songs. It also provides the basis for the older title of the book in English versions, “Song of Solomon,” as well as for the title in the NIV, “Song of Songs.”

II. Authorship and Date. There is considerable range of opinion as to the authorship and date of the book. R. H. Pfeiffer concludes that the Song of Songs is “an anthology of erotic poems,” of about 250 b.c., using the language as the sole criterion for the date. The frequent use of Aramaic forms and words, the presence of names of foreign products, a Persian word, and a Greek word are taken as evidence for a late date. On the other hand, it has been pointed out that these usages are not inconsistent with authorship by Solomon. In view of the extensive commerce and widespread diplomatic relations of Solomon, the presence of foreign terms, especially for articles imparted or imitated from foreign sources, is to be expected. The use of Aramaic is not a valid indication of date and may be accounted for by the northern origin of the Shulammite (Song.6.13). The book ascribes its authorship to Solomon, and there are lines of evidence that agree with this ascription. The book has affinities with other writings attributed to Solomon. The author’s acquaintance with plants and animals is reminiscent of Solomon (1Kgs.4.33). The mention of “a mare harnessed to one of the chariots of Pharaoh” (Song.1.9) accords with Solomon’s involvement in horse trading with Egypt and with his being married to a daughter of the pharaoh. The lover is called “the king” (Song.1.4), and there are other indications of his royal interests, in addition to references to Solomon by name. The place-names range throughout Palestine and thus fit well with an origin predating the divided kingdom.

III. Content. Though the book is difficult to analyze, the divisions of Delitzsch are often followed: (1) the mutual admiration of the lovers (Song.1.2-Song.2.7); (2) growth in love (Song.2.8-Song.3.5); (3) the marriage (Song.3.6-Song.5.1); (4) longing of the wife for her absent husband (Song.5.2-Song.6.9); (5) the beauty of the Shulammite bride (Song.6.10-Song.8.4); (6) the wonder of love (Song.8.5-Song.8.14).

IV. Interpretation. There is great diversity and much overlapping among interpretations of the Song of Songs. Various views are: (1) allegorical, (2) typical, (3) literal, (4) dramatic, (5) erotic-literary, (6) liturgical, and (7) didactic-moral.

1. The allegorical view may be Jewish, Christian, or a combination of these. The first regards the Song as descriptive of the love of God and his people Israel; the second discerns the love of Christ and the church or the individual believer. Usually this view denies or ignores the historicity of the events described. Hippolytus and Origen introduced this interpretation into the church, and this has been the popular or prevailing position, along with the typical view. There are two major arguments in its favor: (1) It explains the inclusion of the book in the canon. (2) It harmonizes with the biblical use of marriage as an illustration of the Lord’s relationship to his people. Opposing arguments include the following: (1) Other reasons may be advanced for its presence among the canonical books. (2) Elsewhere the figure of the marriage relationship is made the basis for specific teaching. (3) Nothing in the book itself invalidates its historicity. (4) The necessity of interpreting details leads to fanciful and absurd interpretations.

2. The typical interpretation combines literal and allegorical views, maintaining both the historicity and the spiritualizing of the book. In support of this view: (1) The superlative of the title connotes spiritual meaning. (2) Solomon is a type of Christ. (3) Marriage also is a type (cf. above). Against this view: (1) Spiritual value does not demand typology. (2) The definition and application of “type” are debatable.

3. The literal view is that the book presents actual history and nothing more.

4. The dramatic interpretation regards the Song as a drama based on the marriage of Solomon to a Shulammite girl. Here may be included the Shepherd hypothesis (Jacobi, Ewald, et al.), which proposes a triangle of Solomon, the girl, and her shepherd-betrothed. On this hypothesis, the girl refuses the blandishments of the king and remains true to her shepherd. The book is not labeled drama, which was not a widely used Hebrew literary form. If the book were merely a drama, its presence in the canon is not explained.

5. The erotic-literary view (Eissfeldt, Pfeiffer) is that the book is simply a collection of love songs.

6. The liturgical view regards the Song as borrowed pagan liturgy associated with fertility cults. It is inconceivable that a work of such an origin should be in the canon.

7. The didactic-moral interpretation holds that the book presents the purity and wonder of true love. It regards the book as history and also agrees that the love portrayed does direct us to the greater love of Christ, in accordance with the history of Christian interpretation. The purpose of the Song of Songs, therefore, is to teach the holiness and beauty of the marriage-love relationship that God ordained.

Bibliography: L. Waterman, The Song of Songs, 1948; R. Gordis, The Song of Songs, 1954; W. J. Fuerst, Ruth, Esther, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Songs, Lamentations, 1975; D. F. Kinlaw, “Song of Solomon,” EBC, vol. 5, 1985.——CEDV