The book of Song of Songs (Song of Solomon 1)

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Song of Solomon 1:1 tells us that the Song was written by, compiled by or belonged to Solomon. This indicates either that Solomon wrote it or that it was composed for his court and that he was the patron behind its composition. Today most scholars reject this premise, considering the Song to be a post-exilic work from the Persian period. There is actually nothing in the Song itself, however, suggesting such a late date, except for a few words of debated origin. This is weak evidence, whereas internal indications in favour of composition during the Solomonic era are strong (see Authorship of Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs under Ecclesiastes 5).

If Song of Songs is indeed from the age of Solomon, it dates to approximately 950 B.C.

Song of Songs is a love poem or compilation of love poems written to God’s people to honour and celebrate His gift of romantic, sexual love within the context of a marital relationship.

The Song’s purpose has been debated. For most of the history of its interpretation, it was treated as an allegory. Jewish reviewers, for the most part, saw it as a symbolic recounting of the history of Israel, with the male singer representing God and the female singer symbolizing Israel. Some medieval Jewish interpreters saw it as an allegory of philosophy, while Christians have taken it as an analogy of the love of Christ for the church or as symbolic of the love relationship between the human soul and God. Some Roman Catholic interpreters claimed that Mary was the central figure of the allegory. Since each of these conjectures was guided only by the theological presuppositions and imagination of the interpreter (and no two allegorical interpretations were alike), and since nothing in the text suggests that it is to be understood as an allegory, very few hold to this explanation today.

Most recently, some have claimed that the Song is a drama about the mutual love between Solomon and a young woman, a variation being that it concerns Solomon’s failed attempt to woo a woman who was in love with a shepherd. These interpretations, however, are now widely viewed to be forced upon the text. For such explanations to work, readers must supply an enormous amount of detail not included in the Song. Also, there is no analogy for such literature in the ancient Near East.

Today, many view the Song as simple love poetry. This work in fact has close analogies with Egyptian love poetry written during the centuries prior to the age of Solomon (see Ancient love poetry also under Song of Solomon 1). It seems clear that the Song was meant specifically to celebrate the love between a husband and a wife. It is “love poetry”, but it has a far more sublime message than that of Egypt or of any other particular land or area.

Try not to dwell on the interpretation of the book’s story line or on possible, beneath-the-surface meanings. Taken as a given that the Song celebrates marital love, glean what you can from its message – avoiding the temptation to read too much into the sometimes awkward imagery, at least from our twenty-first century perspective. If you are married or contemplating marriage, what principled from the Song are applicable to your situation?

Did you know that dark skin was considered unattractive by privileged women of the time (1:5)? Did you know that “sister” was a common term of endearment in the love poetry of the ancient Near East (4:9)? Did you know that the mandrake plant was associated with the ability to arouse sexual desires and increase fertility (7:13)?


 

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