Book Summaries

Last of the 5 poetical books of the OT in the English canon, and one of the Megilloth, or Five Scrolls, of the Hebrew canon. The Five Scrolls constitute the 2nd section of the Ketubim, or Hagiographa, the 3rd division of the Hebrew canon. The Hebrew title, Shir Hashshirim, "the song of songs" (Song 1:1), may mean the greatest or sweetest of all songs in the same way that "King of kings" means "supreme king." The name Canticles, sometimes given to the book, is derived from the title in the Latin Vulgate, Canticum Canticorum. Its right to a place in the sacred canon was debated as late as NT times, and it is of interest to note that the NT never quotes from it or alludes to it. The book claims Solomon as its author, and in view of the fact that he is known to have composed 1,005 "songs" (1 Ki 4:32) there is no reason why he could not have written "the song of songs, which is Solomon's" (Song 1:1). The fluent vocabulary and graceful literary style of the poem are such as would be expected of a writer in the time of Solomon, the Hebrew golden age. The author was evidently familiar with the geography of Palestine in Solomon's time, and the glory and pomp of Israel's golden age are fresh in the writer's mind. The writer's obvious knowledge of plants, animals, products of the soil, and foreign imports accords with what is said about Solomon in 1 Ki 4:33; 9:26 ­28; 10:24 ­29; etc. The similarity of the Song with passages in the book of Proverbs is an additional indication of Solomonic authorship (Song 4:5; cf. Prov. 5:19; Song 4:11; cf. Prov. 5:3; Song 4:14; cf. Prov. 7:17; Song 4:15; cf. Prov. 5:15; Song 5:6; cf. Prov. 1:28; Song 6:9; cf. Prov. 31:28; Song 8:6, 7; cf. Prov. 6:34, 35). These observations tend to confirm the claim made by the book that it came from Solomon himself.

The writer implies that he had 60 queens and 80 concubines (Song 6:8), but the Shulammite maid, whose marriage the Song celebrates, surpasses them all (Song 6:9, 13). Solomon's harem later increased to 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Ki 11:1, 3); therefore, Solomon evidently composed the Song during the early part of his reign. "Shulammite" is probably equivalent to Shunammite, as suggested by the LXX (see 1 Ki 1:3). Shunem was a town in the territory of Issachar (Jos 19:17, 18), some 7 mi. (c. 11 km.) east of Megiddo (cf. 2 Ki 4:8 ­37). Several speakers appear in the Song, though where each enters is not always clear, especially in the English translation, which does not give the gender of the speakers as does the Hebrew. In view of the difficulty, even in the Hebrew text, of tracing the logical connection between the different parts of the poem, some have considered the Song to be an anthology of love songs, perhaps by different authors, rather than a single work by one author writing with a unified plan. However, the unity of the book seems indicated by the fact that Solomon's name is prominent throughout (Song 1:1, 5; 3:7, 9, 11; 8:11, 12), and by the recurrence of similar words, illustrations, and figures throughout (ch 2:16; cf. ch 6:3; ch 2:5; cf. ch 5:8). Furthermore, the bride's family--her mother and brothers--are consistently mentioned, but never her father (see chs 1:6; 3:4; 8:2).

In poetic form the Song is an idyll with a simple plot--Solomon's love for a country girl of northern Palestine, whom he married, not for political advantage, but out of genuine love. Most modern critics and commentators favour an outline that recognises 3 principal characters--Solomon, the Shulammite maid, and her shepherd lover. Various theories have been advanced as to the nature and sequence of the various parts of the poem. According to one view, the Shulammite maid successfully resists the king's attentions and remains true to her country lover. According to another and more probable view, the poem celebrates Solomon's marriage to the Shulammite maid after he had won her affections. Solomon brings the maid to Jerusalem to woo her, the wedding takes place, and is followed by mutual expressions of admiration and love, first by the bride and then by the groom (Song 1:2 to 2:7). Upon a later joyous occasion king and bride reminisce about their betrothal and marriage (chs 2:8 to 5:1). For some unexplained reason, perhaps an unhappy dream (ch 5:2), estrangement enters between the royal couple, but love is restored and the king again idolises his bride (chs 5:2 to 6:9). The supreme beauty of the Shulammite stands forth in contrast with that of the other young women of Jerusalem, and Solomon is enraptured by her (Song 7:6 ­9). Eventually, king and bride return to her home in the northern part of Palestine, and a dialogue takes place between the king, his bride, and her brothers (chs 7:10 to 8:14).

From a modern Occidental point of view it may be difficult to account for the Song of Songs' finding a place in the sacred canon. For centuries, apparently, even many Jews were not certain that it deserved a place alongside the other inspired works, though the Jews have generally interpreted it as a spiritual allegory of God's love for ancient Israel. The allegorical pattern of interpretation was followed by Hippolytus of Rome in the 3rd cent. a.d., and Origen, who lived in Palestine and is known as the father of the allegorical method of the interpretation of Scripture. According to Origen, the king represents Christ, and the Shulammite maid His church, or perhaps individuals within the church--a spiritual relationship that recurs frequently in the NT (Eph 5:25 ­33; Rev 19:7 ­9; 21:9; etc.). However, careful students of Scripture generally look upon the allegorical method of interpretation with caution, in view of the fact that this method almost inevitably lends itself to the fanciful opinions of the interpreter. A safe approach to the interpretation of the Song of Songs would seem to be to consider it simply as what it purports to be--a poetic narrative commemorating Solomon's love for a lovely country maid--and to consider that it found a place in the sacred canon by virtue of its exalted idealisation of marriage as ordained by the Creator, albeit with a rich Oriental fervour that tends to puzzle the Western reader. It is possible, however, to draw lessons of spiritual value from the book without necessarily considering these lessons as the intent of Inspiration in the composition and canonisation of the book.

Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.