The Song of Songs

Shir haShirim (the Song of Songs)

While there are other books of the Bible that do not deal directly with Israel or God, only the Song of Songs deals with neither.
– Ariel Sevi-Levi

·       How does it fit in?
o   Placement, history, authorship, and controversy
·       What does it consist of?
o   Content and structure
·       What is the Song of Songs about?
o   Themes and Theology

How Does the Song of Songs ‘Fit In’?

Ketuvim Structure:
1.     Wisdom Literature/Poetry (Psalms, Proverbs, Job)
2.     The 5 Megillot (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther)
3.     Chronology (Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles)

Who Wrote the Song of Songs?

Shir haShirim 1:1
שִׁ֥יר הַשִּׁירִ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר לִשְׁלֹמֹֽה׃
The Song of Songs, which is for/of Solomon.
1.     If the author is Solomon:
a.     Shir haShirim (the Song of Songs)
b.     Kohelet (Ecclesiastes)
c.     Mishlei (Proverbs)
2.     If the author is not Solomon:
a.     Monogamy (/monotheism)
b.     Anonymity and hiddenness

Academic Approach:

1.     When was it written?
a.     As late as the 4th Century BCE? Persian and Greek vocabulary/grammatical forms imply a post-exile authorship.
b.     Solomon’s time? The Hebrew poetic forms imply an early authorship.

2.     Relationship to foreign literature:
a.     Common themes and words from Egyptian love poetry of roughly 1292 to 1150 BCE, and Mesopotamian love poetry of a similar era.

The Controversy!

Mishnah Yadayim 3:5

כָּל כִּתְבֵי הַקֹּדֶשׁ מְטַמְּאִין אֶת הַיָּדַיִם... 
אָמַר רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא, חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, לֹא נֶחֱלַק אָדָם מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל עַל שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים שֶׁלֹּא תְטַמֵּא אֶת הַיָּדַיִם, שֶׁאֵין כָּל הָעוֹלָם כֻּלּוֹ כְדַאי כַּיּוֹם שֶׁנִּתַּן בּוֹ שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, שֶׁכָּל הַכְּתוּבִים קֹדֶשׁ, וְשִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים קֹדֶשׁ קָדָשִׁים

All the Holy Scriptures defile the hands. … Rabbi Akiba said: Far be it! No man in Israel disputed that the Song of Songs [saying] that it does not defile the hands. For the whole world is not as worthy as the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel; for all the writings are holy but the Song of Songs is the holy of holies. ... 

How Does the Song of Songs ‘Go’?

 As above – possibly a title added later

Dialogue between lovers
          Begins in feminine voice – she pines for him, and describes her own (apparently unusual) beauty

          Immediately begins with natural and geographical metaphors

          Back and forth between voices, without indications


        1:2; 1:14

        1:8 man; 1:12 woman. 2:1 is woman; 2:2 man; 2:3 woman.
The woman awaits her lover
          Natural metaphors – he is like a deer leaping over the hills, etc
         Hide and seek – flirtation


Woman addresses the daughters of Zion
         She recounts a dream, or possibly wandering restlessly at night, looking for him.
         Warning not to rouse love until it pleases!


A royal wedding processional

Man describes his lover’s beauty
          Geographical metaphors
          Garden metaphor
         4:1; 4:4; 4:8
Woman addresses the daughters of Jerusalem
        She recounts another dream or period of wandering restlessly at night, looking for him.
        The men who helped her previously beat her
         She describes his beauty to the daughters of J’lem

Man describes his lover’s beauty
         Begins with brief dialogue
        More natural and geographical metaphors
        Back to the garden metaphor (virginity, innocence)
         More natural and geographical metaphors

Woman addresses the daughters of Jerusalem
        Warning not to rouse love until it pleases!

Conclusion: Love is beautiful and dangerous
         Love is as strong as death
         Concern for young sister – what will happen to her?
         Ending in the garden


What is the Song of Songs About?

Flirtation: Hiding, Seeking, Revealing
·       The flirtation as ‘hide and seek’ with God
·       The woman’s dreams of connecting with the man – longing for unity
·       Passover to Shavuot

Sexual Love is Beautiful and Dangerous
·       Being prepared for God and revelation
·       Relationship with the Divine can be too intense!

The Garden: Sex, Innocence, and Eden
·       The woman’s chastity and/or body is a garden
·       She is unsafe in the city, but safe in the ‘garden’ with him – love untainted by the complications of reality?

Geography: The Woman as Israel
·       Density of place names, especially when describing the woman – the woman is Israel, and the man is God
·       Traditionally understood to be an allegory for 1) the parting of the sea; 2) arriving at Sinai, or 3) the Tent of Meeting.


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