Song of Solomon

Song of Songs, Canticle of Canticles

General Information

A book in the Old Testament of the Bible, the Song of Solomon, also known as the Song of Songs or the Canticles, is a collection of lyric poetry celebrating human love. The tradition of Solomonic authorship does not stand scrutiny. The milieu of the poetry is heavily northern Israelite and the imagery rural, although it may have been among sophisticated urbanites. A reasonable hypothesis is that love lyrics from the period 950 - 750 BC were collected and supplemented in postexilic times and accepted among religious Jews as an allegory of the relationship of God and Israel. The early Christian church accepted this explanation, with the allegory becoming that of Christ and his church. Other scholars interpret the song as a collection of hymns to true love, sanctified by union. The poetry describes nature and the male and female bodies with an ardent and unjaded eroticism.

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Norman K Gottwald

G Carr and D J Wiseman, Song of Solomon (1984); R Gordis, The Song of Songs and Lamentations: A Study, Modern Translation, and Commentary (1974); J B White, A Study of the Language of Love in the Song of Songs (1978).

Song of Solomon, Canticle of Canticles

Brief Outline

  1. The mutual admiration of the lovers (1:2-2:7)
  2. Growth in love (2:8-3:5)
  3. The marriage (3:6-5:1)
  4. Longing of the wife for her absent husband (5:2-6:9)
  5. The beauty of the Shulammite bride (6:10-8:4)
  6. The wonder of love (8:5-14)

Different scholars have interpreted this book as:

Jews generally believe that the bridegroom is God and the bride is the Jewish people. Many Christians feel that the bridegroom is Christ and the bride is the Church.


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Solomon, peaceful, (Heb. Shelomoh), David's second son by Bathsheba, i.e., the first after their legal marriage (2 Sam. 12). He was probably born about B.C. 1035 (1 Chr. 22:5; 29:1). He succeeded his father on the throne in early manhood, probably about sixteen or eighteen years of age. Nathan, to whom his education was intrusted, called him Jedidiah, i.e., "beloved of the Lord" (2 Sam. 12:24, 25). He was the first king of Israel "born in the purple." His father chose him as his successor, passing over the claims of his elder sons: "Assuredly Solomon my son shall reign after me." His history is recorded in 1 Kings 1-11 and 2 Chr. 1-9. His elevation to the throne took place before his father's death, and was hastened on mainly by Nathan and Bathsheba, in consequence of the rebellion of Adonijah (1 Kings 1:5-40). During his long reign of forty years the Hebrew monarchy gained its highest splendour.

This period has well been called the "Augustan age" of the Jewish annals. The first half of his reign was, however, by far the brighter and more prosperous; the latter half was clouded by the idolatries into which he fell, mainly from his heathen intermarriages (1 Kings 11:1-8; 14:21, 31). Before his death David gave parting instructions to his son (1 Kings 2:1-9; 1 Chr. 22:7-16; 28). As soon as he had settled himself in his kingdom, and arranged the affairs of his extensive empire, he entered into an alliance with Egypt by the marriage of the daughter of Pharaoh (1 Kings 3:1), of whom, however, nothing further is recorded. He surrounded himself with all the luxuries and the external grandeur of an Eastern monarch, and his government prospered. He entered into an alliance with Hiram, king of Tyre, who in many ways greatly assisted him in his numerous undertakings.

For some years before his death David was engaged in the active work of collecting materials (1 Chr. 29:6-9; 2 Chr. 2:3-7) for building a temple in Jerusalem as a permanent abode for the ark of the covenant. He was not permitted to build the house of God (1 Chr. 22:8); that honour was reserved to his son Solomon. (See TEMPLE.) After the completion of the temple, Solomon engaged in the erection of many other buildings of importance in Jerusalem and in other parts of his kingdom. For the long space of thirteen years he was engaged in the erection of a royal palace on Ophel (1 Kings 7:1-12). It was 100 cubits long, 50 broad, and 30 high. Its lofty roof was supported by forty-five cedar pillars, so that the hall was like a forest of cedar wood, and hence probably it received the name of "The House of the Forest of Lebanon." In front of this "house" was another building, which was called the Porch of Pillars, and in front of this again was the "Hall of Judgment," or Throneroom (1 Kings 7:7; 10:18-20; 2 Chr. 9:17-19), "the King's Gate," where he administered justice and gave audience to his people.

This palace was a building of great magnificence and beauty. A portion of it was set apart as the residence of the queen consort, the daughter of Pharaoh. From the palace there was a private staircase of red and scented sandal wood which led up to the temple. Solomon also constructed great works for the purpose of securing a plentiful supply of water for the city (Eccl. 2:4-6). He then built Millo (LXX., "Acra") for the defence of the city, completing a line of ramparts around it (1 Kings 9:15, 24; 11:27). He erected also many other fortifications for the defence of his kingdom at various points where it was exposed to the assault of enemies (1 Kings 9:15-19; 2 Chr. 8:2-6). Among his great undertakings must also be mentioned the building of Tadmor (q.v.) in the wilderness as a commercial depot, as well as a military outpost. During his reign Palestine enjoyed great commercial prosperity.

Extensive traffic was carried on by land with Tyre and Egypt and Arabia, and by sea with Spain and India and the coasts of Africa, by which Solomon accumulated vast stores of wealth and of the produce of all nations (1 Kings 9:26-28; 10:11, 12; 2 Chr. 8:17, 18; 9:21). This was the "golden age" of Israel. The royal magnificence and splendour of Solomon's court were unrivalled. He had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, an evidence at once of his pride, his wealth, and his sensuality. The maintenance of his household involved immense expenditure. The provision required for one day was "thirty measures of fine flour, and threescore measures of meal, ten fat oxen, and twenty oxen out of the pastures, and an hundred sheep, beside harts, and roebucks, and fallow-deer, and fatted fowl" (1 Kings 4:22, 23). Solomon's reign was not only a period of great material prosperity, but was equally remarkable for its intellectual activity. He was the leader of his people also in this uprising amongst them of new intellectual life.

"He spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five. And he spake of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes" (1 Kings 4: 32, 33). His fame was spread abroad through all lands, and men came from far and near "to hear the wisdom of Solomon." Among others thus attracted to Jerusalem was "the queen of the south" (Matt. 12:42), the queen of Sheba, a country in Arabia Felix. "Deep, indeed, must have been her yearning, and great his fame, which induced a secluded Arabian queen to break through the immemorial custom of her dreamy land, and to put forth the energy required for braving the burdens and perils of so long a journey across a wilderness.

Yet this she undertook, and carried it out with safety." (1 Kings 10:1-13; 2 Chr. 9: 1-12.) She was filled with amazement by all she saw and heard: "there was no more spirit in her." After an interchange of presents she returned to her native land. But that golden age of Jewish history passed away. The bright day of Solomon's glory ended in clouds and darkness. His decline and fall from his high estate is a sad record. Chief among the causes of his decline were his polygamy and his great wealth. "As he grew older he spent more of his time among his favourites. The idle king living among these idle women, for 1,000 women, with all their idle and mischievous attendants, filled the palaces and pleasure-houses which he had built (1 Kings 11:3), learned first to tolerate and then to imitate their heathenish ways. He did not, indeed, cease to believe in the God of Israel with his mind. He did not cease to offer the usual sacrifices in the temple at the great feasts.

But his heart was not right with God; his worship became merely formal; his soul, left empty by the dying out of true religious fervour, sought to be filled with any religious excitement which offered itself. Now for the first time a worship was publicly set up amongst the people of the Lord which was not simply irregular or forbidden, like that of Gideon (Judg. 8:27), or the Danites (Judg. 18: 30, 31), but was downright idolatrous." (1 Kings 11:7; 2 Kings 23:13.) This brought upon him the divine displeasure. His enemies prevailed against him (1 Kings 11:14-22, 23-25, 26-40), and one judgment after another fell upon the land. And now the end of all came, and he died, after a reign of forty years, and was buried in the city of David, and "with him was buried in the city of David, and "with him was buried the short-lived glory and unity of Israel." "He leaves behind him but one weak and worthless son, to dismember his kingdom and disgrace his name." "The kingdom of Solomon," says Rawlinson, "is one of the most striking facts in the Biblical history.

A petty nation, which for hundreds of years has with difficulty maintained a separate existence in the midst of warlike tribes, each of which has in turn exercised dominion over it and oppressed it, is suddenly raised by the genius of a soldier-monarch to glory and greatness. An empire is established which extends from the Euphrates to the borders of Egypt, a distance of 450 miles; and this empire, rapidly constructed, enters almost immediately on a period of peace which lasts for half a century. Wealth, grandeur, architectural magnificence, artistic excellence, commercial enterprise, a position of dignity among the great nations of the earth, are enjoyed during this space, at the end of which there is a sudden collapse. The ruling nation is split in twain, the subject-races fall off, the pre-eminence lately gained being wholly lost, the scene of struggle, strife, oppression, recovery, in-glorious submission, and desperate effort, re-commences.", Historical Illustrations.

Song of Solomon

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Song of Solomon, called also, after the Vulgate, the "Canticles." It is the "song of songs" (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 Matt. 9:15; John 3:29; Eph. 5:23, 27, 29; Rev. 19:7-9; 21:2, 9; 22:17. Compare also Ps. 45; Isa. 54:4-6; 62:4, 5; Jer. 2:2; 3:1, 20; Ezek. 16; Hos. 2:16, 19, 20.)

(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)

Canticle of Canticles

Catholic Information

(Greek Aisma asmaton, Latin Canticum canticorum.)

One of three books of Solomon, contained in the Hebrew, the Greek, and the Christian Canon of the Scriptures. According to the general interpretation the name signifies "most excellent, best song". (Cf. the similar forms of expression in Exodus 26:33; Ezekiel 16:7; Daniel 8:25, used throughout the Bible to denote the highest and best of its kind.) Some commentators, because they have failed to grasp the homogeneousness of the book, regard it as a series or chain of songs.


The book describes the love for each other of Solomon and the Sulamitess in lyrico-dramatic scenes and reciprocal songs. One part of the composition (iii, 6 to v, 1) is clearly a description of the wedding-day. Here the two chief personages approach each other in stately processlon, and the day is expressly called the wedding-day. Moreover the bridal wreath and the bridal bed are referred to, and six times in this section of the song, although never before or after, the word spouse is used. All that has preceded is now seen to be preparatory to the marriage, while in what follows the Sulamitess is the queen and her garden is the garden of the king (v, 1-vi, 7 sq.), although such expressions as "friend", "beloved", and "dove", are common. Along with the assurances of love for each other, there is a continually progressive action that represents the development of the warm friendship and affection of the pair, then the bridal union and the married life of the royal couple. The bride, however, is exhibited as a simple shepherdess, consequently, when the king takes her, she has to undergo a training for the position of queen; in the course of this training occur various trials and sorrows (3:1; 5:5 sqq.; 6:11 -- Hebrews 12)

Various meanings have been attributed to the contents of the song. Before the sixteenth century tradition gave an allegorical or symbolical meaning to the love of Solomon for the Sulamitess. The view held by the Jewish Synagogue was expressed by Akiba and Aben Ezra; that held by the Church, by Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, and Jerome. An opinion opposed to these found only isolated expression. Akiba (first century after Christ) speaks severely of those who would strike the book from the Sacred Canon, while St. Philastrius (fourth century) refers to others who regarded it not as the work of the Holy Ghost but as the Composition of a purely sensuous poet. Theodore of Mopsuestia aroused such indignation by declaring the Canticle of Canticles to be a love-song of Solomon's, and his contemptuous treatment of it gave great offense (Mansi, Coll. Conc., IX, 244 sqq; Migne, P.G., LXVI, 699 sqq.). At the Œcumenical Council of Constantinople (553), Theodore's view was rejected as heretic and his own pupil Theoret, brought forward against him unanimous testimony of the Fathers (Migne, P. G., LXXXI, 62). Theodore's opinion was not revived until the sixteenth century, when the Calvinist Sebastien Castalion (Castalio), and also Johannes Clericus, made use of it. The Anabaptists became partisans of this view; later adherents of the same opinion were Michaelis, Teller, Herder, and Eichhorn. A middle position is taken by the "typical" exposition of the book. For the first and immediate sense the typical interpretation holds firmly to the historical and secular meaning, which has always been regarded by the Church as heretical; this interpretation gives, however, to the "Song of Love", a second and higher sense. As, namely, the figure of Solomon was a type of Christ, so is the actual love of Solomon for a shepherdess or for the daughter of Pharaoh, intended as a symbol of the love of Christ for His Church. Honorius of Autun and Luis of Leon (Aloysius Legionensis) did not actually teach this view, although their method of expression might be misleading (cf. Cornelius a Lapide, Prol. in Canticum, c. i). In earlier times reference was often made to a first and literal meaning of the words of a text, which meaning, however, was not the real sense of the context as intended by the author, but was held to be only its external covering or "husk". Entirely dissimilar to this method is the typical exposition of modern times, which accepts an actual double meaning of the text, the two senses being connected and intended by the author. Bossuet and Calmet may, perhaps, be regarded as holding this view; it is unmistakably held by the Protestant commentators Delitzsch and Zockler as also by Kingsbury (in The Speaker's Commentary) and Kossowicz. A few others hold to this view, but the number does not include Lowth (cf. De sacra poesi Hebr. prael., 31). Grotius makes it evident, not so much in words as in the method of exposition, that he is opposed to a higher interpretation. At the present day most non-Catholics are strongly opposed to such an exposition; on the other hand most Catholics accept the allegorical interpretation of the book.

Exposition of the Allegory

The reasons for this interpretation are to be found not only in tradition and the decision of the Church, but also in the song itself. As long as the effort is made to follow the thread of an ordinary love-song, so long will it be impossible to give a coherent exposition, and many despair of ever obtaining a successful interpretation. In the commentary of the present writer, "Comment. in Eccl. et Canticum Canticorum" (Paris, 1890), a number of examples are given of the typical and of the purely secular interpretations, and besides these, in treating of each of the larger divisions, the varying methods of exposition are carefully investigated. The proper connection of scenes and parts can only be found in the realm of the ideal, in allegory. In no other way can the dignity and sanctity befitting the Scriptures be preserved and the striking title, "Song of Songs", receive a satisfactory explanation. The allegory, however, can be shown as possible and obvious by means of numerous passages in the Old and the New Testament, in which the relation of God to the Synagogue and of Christ to the Church or to the adoring soul is represented under the symbol of marriage or betrothal (Jeremiah 2:2; Psalm 44 - Hebrew 45; Hosea 19 sqq., Ezekiel 16:8 sqq., Matthew 25:1 sqq; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:23 sqq.; Revelation 19:7 sq., etc.). A similar manner of speaking occurs frequently in Christian literature, nor does it appear forced or artificial. The testimony of Theodoret to the teaching of the Early Church is very important. He names Eusebius in Palestine, Origen in Egypt, Cyprian in Carthage, and "the Elders who stood close to the Apostles", consequently, Basil, the two Gregorys [of Nyssa and Nazianzen -- Ed.], Diodorus, and Chrysostom, "and all in agreement with one another". To these may be added Ambrose (Migne, P. L., XIII, 1855, 1911), Philastrius (Migne, P. L., XII, 1267), Jerome (Migne, P. L. XXII, 547, 395; XXIII, 263), and Augustine (Migne, P. L., XXXIV, 372, 925; XLI, 556). It follows from this, that the typical interpretation, also, contradicts tradition, even if it does not come within the decree pronounced against Theodore of Mopsuestia. This method of exposition has, moreover, very few adherents, because the typical can only be applied to separate individuals or things, and cannot be used for the interpretation of a connected text which contains only one genuine and proper meaning. The foundation of the typical interpretation is destroyed at once when the historical explanation is held to be indefensible.

In the allegorical interpretation of the song, it makes no essential difference whether the bride is taken as a symbol of the Synagogue, that is, of the congregation of the Old Covenant or of the Church of God of the New Covenant. In truth, the song turns aside from both; by the spouse should be understood human nature as elected (electa elevata, sc. natura humana) and received by God. This is embodied, above all, in the great Church of God upon earth, which God takes to Himself with the love of a bridegroom, makes the crowning point of all His external works, and adorns with the bridal ornament of supernatural grace. In the song the bride is not reproached with sins and guilt but, on the contrary, her good qualities and beauty receive high praise; consequently, the chosen community of God appears here under that form which is according to the Apostle, without spot or blemish (Ephesians 5:27). It is plain that the Canticle of Canticles finds its most evident application to the most holy Humanity of Jesus Christ, which is united in the most intimate bond of love with the Godhead, and is absolutely spotless and essentially sanctified; after this to the most holy Mother of God as the most beautiful flower of the Church of God. (In regard to a twofold sense of this kind of in the Scriptures, cf. "Zeitschrift fur katholische Theologie", 1903, p. 381.) The soul that has been purified by grace is also in a more remote yet real sense a worthly bride of Lord. The actual meaning of Canticles is not, however, to be limited to any one of these applications, but is to be appropriated to the elected "bride of God in her relation of devotion to God".

As a matter of fact, the spiritual interpretation of the song has proved a rich source for mystical theology and asceticism. It is only necessary to call to mind the best of the old commentaries and interpretations of the book. There are still in existence fifteen homilies by St. Gregory of Nyssa on the first six chapters (Migne, P. G., XLI, 755 sqq.). The commentary of Theodoret (Migne, P. G., LXXXI, 27 sqq.) is rich in suggestion. In the eleventh century Psellus compiled a "Catena" from the writings of Nilus, Gregory of Nyssa, and Maximus (Auctar. bibl. Patr., II, 681 sqq.). Among the Latins Ambrose made such frequent use of the Canticle of Canticles that a whole commentary may be developed from the many applications, rich in piety, that he made of it (Migne, P. L., XV, 1851 sqq.). Three commentaries are to be found in the works of Gregory the Great (Migne, P L., LXXIX, 471 sqq., 905; CLXXX, 441 sqq.). Apponius wrote a very comprehensive commentary which, even as late as 1843, was republished at Rome. The Venerable Bede prepared the matter for a number of smaller commentaries. The elaborate exposition by Honorius of Autun of the book in its historical, allegorical, tropological, and anagogical meanings deserves special mention. The eighty-six homilies left by St. Bernard are universally known. Gilbert of Hoyland added to this number forty-eight more. The greatest of the saints enkindled their love for God on the tender expressions of affection of Christ and His bride, the Church, in the Canticle of Canticles. Even in Old Testament times it must have greatly consoled the Hebrews to read of the eternal covenant of love between God and His faithful people.

Within certain limits the application to the relation between God and the individual soul adorned with supernatural grace is self-evident and an aid to virtuous living. The bride is first raised by the bridegroom to a relation of complete affection, afterwards betrothed or married (iii 6-v, 1), and, finally, after a successful activity (vii, 12 sq.; viii, 11 sq.); is received into the heavenly dwellings. A life of contemplation and activity bound up with painful trials is the way there. In the Breviary and Missal the Church has repeatedly applied the song to the Mother of God (see B. Schafer in Komment., p. 255 sqq.). In truth the bride adorned with the beauty of spotless purity and deep affection is a figure most appropriate to the Mother of God. This is the reason why St. Ambrose in his book "De virginibus", so repeatedly and especially quotes Canticles. Finally, the application of the song to the history of the life of Christ and of the Church offers pious thought rich material for contemplation. In doing thus the natural course of the song can, in some measure, be followed. At His entrance into life, and especially at the time of His public activity as a teachers the Saviour sought the Church, His bride and she came lovingly towards Him. He united Himself with her at the Cross (iii, 11), the Church itself makes use of this thought in a number of offices. The affectionate conversations with the bride (to ch. v, 1) take place after the Resurrection. What follows may be referred to the later history of the Church. A distinction should be made in such methods of interpretation, however, between what may be accepted as certain or probable in the context and what pious contemplation has, more or less arbitrarily, added. For this reason, it is important to ascertain more exactly than was done in earlier times the genuine and true sense of the text.


Both of the traditional poetic accentuation and language used to express the thoughts show the book to be a genuine poem. The attempt has been made in various ways to prove the existence of a definite metre in the Hebrew text. The opinion of the present writer is that a six-syllable trochaic metre may be applied to the original Hebrerw version (De re metrica Hebraeorum, Freiburg, Baden, 1880). e and true sense of the text. The essentially lyrical character of the song is unmistakable. But as various voices and scenes appear, neither should the dramatic character of the poem fail of recognition; it is, however, evident that the development of an external action is not so much the intention as the unfolding of the lyrical expression of feeling under varying circumstances. The cantata form of composition is suggested by the presence of a chorus of the "daughters of Jerusalem" though the text does not indicate clearly how the words are divided among the various characters. This accounts for the theory put forward at times that there are different personages who, as bride and bridegroom, or as lovers, talk with, or of, cach other. Stickel in his commentary assigns three different persons to the role of the bridegroom, and two to that of the bride. But such arbitrary treatment is the result of the attempt to make the Canticle of Canticles into a drama suitable for the stage.

Unity of the Canticle

The commentator just mentioned and other exegetes start from the natural conviction that the poem, simply called the Song of Songs and handed down to posterity as a book, must be regarded as a homogeneous whole. It is evident that the three clearly distinguished roles of bridegroom, bride, and chorus maintain their plainly defined characters from beginning to end; in the same way certain other designations, as "beloved", "friend", etc., and certain refrains keep recurring. Moreover, several parts apparently repeat one another, and a peculiar phraseology is found throughout the book. The attempt has, however, been made to resolve the poem into separate songs (some twenty in all); thus has been tried by Herder, Eichhorn, Goethe, Reuss, Stade, Budde, and Siegfried. But It has been found exceedingly difficult to separate these songs from one another, and to give to each lyric a meaning dlstinctly its own. Goethe believed this impossible, and it is necessary to resort to a working over of the songs by the person who collected them. But in this everything would depend on a vague personal impression. It is true that a mutual dependence of all the parts cannot be maintained in the secular (historical) interpretation. For, even in the historical hypothesis, the attempt to obtain a flawless drama is successful only when arbitrary additions are made which permit the transition from one scene to another, but these interpolations have no foundation in the text itself. Tradition also knows nothing of genuine dramatic poetry among the Hebrews, nor is the Semitic race more than slightly acquainted with this form of poetry. Driven by necessity, Kämpf and others even invent double roles, so that at times other personages appear along with Solomon and the Sulamitess; yet it cannot be said that any one of these hypotheses has produced a probable interpretation of the entire song.



All the hypotheses of the above-mentioned kind owe their origin to the prevalent dislike of allegory and symbolism. It is well known how extremely distasteful poetic allegory is to our age. Nevertheless allegory has been employed at times by the greatest poets of all ages. Its use was widespread in the Middle Ages, and it was always a preliminary condition in the interpretation of the Scriptures by the Fathers. There are many passages in the Old and New Testaments which it is simply impossible to understand without allegory. It is true that the allegorical method of Interpretation has been greatly misused. Yet the Canticle of Canticles can be proved to be a flawlessly consecutive poem by the employment of rules for poetical allegory and its interpretation which are fixed and according to the canons of art. The proof of the correctness of the interpretation lies in such a combination of all the parts of the song into a homogeneous whole. The dramatic form, as far as it can be plainly seen in the traditional text, is not destroyed by this method of elucidation; indeed a number (four to seven) of more or less independent scenes must be recognized. In separating these scenes from one another the Jewish or Syrian bridal customs may be taken into consideration, as has been done, especially by Budde and Siegfried, if the result is the simplifying of the explanation and not the distortion of the scenes, or other acts of caprice. An attempt has been made in the commentary (p. 388 sqq.) of the present writer to give in detail the determinative rules for a sound allegorical interpretation.


According to Wetzstein, whom Budde and others follow, the book should be regarded as a collection of short songs such as are still used by the bedouins of Syria in the "threshing-board". The features of similarity are the appearance of the bridal pair for seven days as king and queen the immoderate praise of the two, and the dance of the queen, during which she swings a sword to the accompaniment of a song by the chorus. Bruston and Rothstein have, however, expressed doubts as to this theory. In Solomon's song the bride, in reality, does not appear as a queen and does not swing a sword; the other traces of similarity are of so general a character that they probably belong to the wedding festivities of many nations. But the worst is that the essential songs avowedly do not stand in the proper order. Consequently it is presupposed that the order. Consequently it is presupposed that the order of succession is accidental. This opens wide once more the door to caprice. Thus, as what is said does not fit this theory it is claimed that a collector, or later redactor who misunderstood various matters, must have made small additions with which it is impossible now to do anything. Others, as Rothstein in Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible, presuppose that the collector, or rather the redactor, or even the author, had a dramatic end in view, as life and motion and action are, taken all together, unmistakable.

It is accepted (at least for the present form of the poem) that the book presents a pastoral poem that the book presents a pastoral poem in dramatis or, at least, melodramatic form. The poem, according to this theory, shows how a beautiful shepherdess keeps her betrothal vow to her lover of the same rank in fife notwithstanding the allurements and acts of violence of a king. But this shepherd has to be interpolated into the text and not much can be said for the imaginary faith kept with the distant lover, as the Sulamitess, in the middle section of the Song of Solomon, gives herself willingly to the king, and no reason is apparent in the text why her boundless praise should not be intended for the present king and not for an absent lover. Stickel overcomes the great difficulties which still remain in a very arbitrary manner. He allows a second pair of lovers to come suddenly forward, these know nothing of the chief personages and are employed by the poet merely as an interlude. Stickel gives this pair three short passages, namely: i, 7 sq.; i, 15-ii, 4; iv, 7-v, 1. Moreover in these hypotheses appears the difficulty which is ever connected with the historical interpretation, that is, the lowering of the song which is so highly prized by the Church. The historical interpretation transforms it into ordinary love-scenes, in various moments of which, moreover, a fiery, sensuous love breaks forth. For the same expressions which, when referred allegoricallly to Christ and the Church, announce the strength of the love of God, are under ordinary conditions the utterances of a repellent passion.


Tradition, in harmony with the superscription, attributes the song to Solomon. Even in modern times quite a number of exegetes have held this opinion: among Protestants, for example, Hengstenberg, Delitzsch, Zöckler, and Keil. De Wette says: "The entire series of pictures and relationships and the freshness of the life connect these songs with the age of Solomon." The song evidences the love of Solomon for nature (it contains twenty-one names of plants and fifteen of animals), for beauty and art, and for regal splendour; bound up with this latter is an ideal simplicity suitable to the type of character of the royal poet. There is also evident a strain of the most tender feeling and a love of peace which are well in keeping with the reputation of Solomon. The somewhat unusual language in connection with the skilful and brilliant style point to a well-practised writer. If some Aramaic or foreign expressions are to be found in the song, in relation to Solomon, such cannot cause surprise. It is remarkable that in Proverbs the fuller form of the relative is always used, while in Canticles the shorter form is employed, the one used earlier in the song of Debbora. But in the same way Jeremias used the ordinary form in his prophecies, while in the Lamentations he repeatedly employed the shorter. The point is raised that Tirzah (vi, 4 - Heb.) is mentioned along with Jerusalem as the capital of the Kingdom of the Ten Tribes. The comparison, though, is made only as to beauty, and Tirzah had, above all, a reputation for loveliness. Many other commentators, as Bottcher, Ewald, Hitzig, and Kämpf, put the composition of the book in the time directly after Solomon. They assert that the action of the poem takes place in the northern part of Palestine, that the author is especially well acquainted with this section of the country, and writes in the form of the language used there. It is further said that Tirzah could only be compared with Jerusalem at the time when if was the capital of the Kingdom of the Ten Tribes that is after the age of Solomon but before the time when Samaria was the capital of the Northern Kingdom. All these reasons however, have more subjective than objective value. No more convincing, finally, are the reasons that cause others to place the book in post-Exilic times; among such exegetes may be mentioned: Stade, Kautzsch, Cornill, Grätz, Budde, and Siegfried. They support their theory by reference to many peculiarities of language and believe they even find traces of Greek influence in the song; but for all this there is a lack of clear proof.

Condition of the Hebrew Text

Gratz, Bickell, Budde, and Cheyne believe that they have been able to prove the existence of various mistakes and changes in the text. The passages referred to are: vi, 12; vii, 1; iii, 6-11; for alterations of the text see chapters vi and vii.

Publication information Written by G. Gietmann. Transcribed by Joseph P. Thomas. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume III. Published 1908. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York

Song of Songs

Jewish Perspective Information


Interpretation: Solomon as Bridegroom.

Rustic Wedding.


One of the Five Megillot. The Hebrew title, , is commonly understood to mean "the most excellent of songs, composed by Solomon" (not "one of the songs composed by Solomon"); the title, however, is later than the poem, in which the relative pronoun is always , never . The ancient versions follow the Hebrew; from the rendering in the Latin Vulgate, "Canticum Canticorum," comes the title "Canticles."

Interpretation: Solomon as Bridegroom.

The oldest known interpretation of the Song (induced by the demand for an ethical and religious element in its content) is allegorical: the Midrash and the Targum represent it as depicting the relations between God and Israel. The allegorical conception of it passed over into the Christian Church, and has been elaborated by a long line of writers from Origen down to the present time, the deeper meaning being assumed to be the relation between God or Jesus and the Church or the individual soul. The literal interpretation of the poem as simply a eulogy of married love had its representatives in early times (Theodore of Mopsuestia, and, to some extent, Abraham ibn Ezra), and, in the renaissance of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, was maintained by Grotius, Clericus, and others; but it is only in the last hundred years that this interpretation has practically ousted the allegorical. The Song is now taken, almost universally, to be the celebration of a marriage, there being, in fact, no hint of allegory in the text. Obviously there are two principal personages, a bridegroom and a bride; but opinions differ as to who the bridegroom is. If the title be accepted as genuine, it is a natural conclusion that the poem describes the nuptials of Solomon and a princess (the daughter of Pharaoh) or a country maiden (so Delitzsch and others). But, apart from the question of date, this construction is proved impossible by the fact that the bridegroom is distinguished from Solomon in viii. 11, 12, and probably, by revision, in vi. 8, 9. To meet this difficulty it is assumed (by Ewald, Driver, and many others) that the bridegroom or fiancé is a young shepherd, and that Solomon is his would-be rival; that the king has carried off a beautiful rustic maiden (vi. 10-12) and has brought her to his palace in Jerusalem (i. 4), where he endeavors to win her affections; but that she, resisting the allurements of the court, remains true to her country lover, and is finally united to him (viii. 5-14). This theory, however, rests on unwarranted interpretations of particular passages. The alleged rivalry between a king and a shepherd appears nowhere in the text: there is only one lover, as there is only one maiden; Solomon is introduced as an actor in only one place (iii. 6-11), and here he is represented as the shepherd bridegroom himself. Both the views described above (and the various modifications of them) regard the poem as a drama: it is divided by expositors into acts and scenes. It is, in fact, dramatically conceived (like the Job poem, for instance), since it consists not of narratives, but of lyric utterances put into the mouths of certain characters; but it is not a drama. Not only is there no definite indication of time or place, all being vaguely rhapsodical; but there is no movement, no culmination or catastrophe. The marriage is already consummated in i. 6 (and so in ii. 6, iv. 16-v. 1, vii. 9 [A. V. 8]); and the story is no farther advanced in viii.

Rustic Wedding.

Still another view regards the book as picturing the popular festivities held in Palestine in connection with the wedding-week. Of such festivities there are hints in the Old Testament (Judges xiv. 10-12; Jer. xvi. 9; Ps. xix. 6 [5]; comp. Matt. xxv. 1 et seq.); and Wetzstein (in his article "Die Syrische Dreschtafel," in Bastian's "Zeitschrift für Ethnologie," 1873, pp. 270 et seq., and in the appendix to Delitzsch's commentary on the Song) has given the details of the modern Syrian marriage celebration, in which he finds parallels to those of the poem. In the week succeeding the marriage the villagers assemble; the thrashing-board is set up as a throne, on which the newly married pair take their seats as "king" and "queen"; there are songs in praise of the physical charms of the pair, and dances, in which bridegroom and bride take part; especially noteworthy is the "sword-dance," performed by the bride with a naked sword in one hand (see vii. 1 [R. V. vi. 13]). In accordance with this view the "king" of the poem, sometimes called "Solomon" (an imaginative designation of a person of ideal beauty), is the bridegroom; the "daughters of Jerusalem" are the village maidens in attendance on the bride; the royal procession of iii. 6-11 is that of the bridegroom (comp. Ps. xix. 6 [5]); the dialogues, descriptions of bodily charms, and other pieces are folk-songs; according to Budde, the name "Shulamite," given to the bride once (vii. 1 [vi. 13]), is equivalent to "Shunemmite," and isan imaginative reminiscence of the fair Abishag (I Kings i. 3). Some explanation such as this is required by the character of the book. It is a collection of pieces in praise of the physical delights of wedded love. The freeness of expression (especially in vii. 2-10 [1-9]), offensive to modern taste, is in accord with ancient custom (comp. Ezek. xvi., xxiii.; Prov. v. 16-20): it may be due in part also to the license of popular festivities. It is not necessary, however, to suppose that the author has merely reproduced the songs of the rustic celebrations of his time; rather, a poet of high ability here sings of married love, following the lines of the festive customs, but giving free play to his imagination: such charm of style as the book shows is not to be looked for in rustic songs. The unity of the poem is one of emotion-all the situations reflect the same circumstances and the same sentiments.


The date of the Song is indicated by its literary form: the idyl is foreign to the Hebrew genius, and points to the time when the Jews imitated Greek models (Theocritus and Bion). The word (= "palanquin" [iii. 9]) appears to be the Greek φορεῖον; (iv. 13) was not introduced earlier than the later Persian period (for other late words see Driver, "Introduction"). The date of the book can hardly be determined precisely: it was probably composed in the period 200-100 B.C.; but some of the material may be older.

The discussions at the Synod of Jabneh (Jamnia) show that toward the end of the first Christian century the canonical authority of the Song was disputed in certain quarters (see Bible Canon, § 11). Probably the ground of opposition was its non-religious character: it does not contain the Divine Name (except "Yah" in viii. 6, Hebr., as an expression of intensity); its love is sensuous; and its only ethical element is the devotion of one man to one woman in marriage. It is quoted neither by Philo nor in the New Testament. But it appears to have gained popularity; and the probability is that at an early day it was interpreted allegorically by the sages, and that it was on the basis of such an interpretation that its canonicity was finally established. On its ritual use at Passover see Megillot, The Five.

Emil G. Hirsch, Crawford Howell Toy

Jewish Encyclopedia, published between 1901-1906.

Bibliography: On the history of the interpretation: S. Salfeld, Das Hohelied Salomo's bei den Jüdischen Erklärern des Mittelalters, 1879; W. Riegel, Die Auslegung des Hohenliedes in der Jüdischen Gemeinde und der Griechischen Kirche, 1898; E. Reuss, La Bible (gives a conspectus of various schemes); C. D. Ginsburg, Song of Songs, 1857; Cheyne, in Encyc. Bibl. s.v. Canticles. The traditional interpretation (Solomon as bridegroom) is given in Delitzsch's commentary, 1875; and the fuller dramatic interpretation (the shepherd lover) in: Ewald, Dichter, 1867; W. R. Smith, Canticles, in Encyc. Brit. 9th ed.; Rothstein, Das Hohe Lied, 1893; idem, Song of Songs, in Hastings' Dict. Bible; Driver, Introduction (which gives a full outline of the schemes of Delitzsch and Ewald); Wetzstein, in Budde, The Song of Solomon, in The New World, 1894, vol. iii.; idem, Commentary, in K. H. C.; Siegfried, Commentary, in Nowack's Handkommentar; and Cheyne, l.c. On the relation between the Song and Theocritus: W. M. Fullerton, in Unitarian Review (Boston), July, 1886; D. S. Margoliouth, Lines of Defense of the Biblical Revelation, London, 1900. On the meter: Budde's commentary; and on the Hebrew text: this and the commentaries of Graetz and Siegfried.E. G. H. T.

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