Song of Songs

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A fragment of Song of Songs, c. 30 BCE - 30 CE.

Song of Songs, also referred to as Song of Solomon or Canticle of Canticles, is an ancient Jewish writing canonized into the Five Scrolls section of the Ketuvim. Christians later appropriated it into their old testament. The book is a song or songs written about sexual intimacy from an anonymous author or authors, around 300-200 BCE. The book is unique in the Torah as it has very little to do with matters of theology.

Title

The book doesn't have a title, but has been referred to as "Song of Songs" for thousands of year. Christians began referring to it as "Song of Solomon" and an attempt to strengthen their attribution to Solomon, but most modern translators do not use this convention.

Source Title Transliteration Translation
Hebrew שיר השירים‎ Šîr Hašîrîm Song of Songs
Greek Septuagint ᾎσμα ᾀσμάτων Âsma asmátōn Song of Songs
Latin Vulgate Canticum Canticorum Canticum Canticorum Song of Songs
Early Modern English The Song of Solomon
Modern English Song of Songs

Authorship and Dating

Traditionally, the book was attributed to King Solomon, although very few historians now accept that belief and attribute the book to an anonymous source, or multiple anonymous sources (due to the disjointed writing). The book doesn't have any useful historical passages, so the writing style is used to date it. Most historians date it to the 3rd century BCE, but arguments are made for as early as 1000 BCE to as recent as 100 BCE. Those scholars who argue in favor of Solomon as being the author have no choice but to ascribe it to the 10th century BCE in order to match up to his supposed life. There are no surviving original writings, the oldest known scrap is dated to around 50 BCE.

Content

Status

This book is in the public domain. I have several translations of this book from various bibles and have read the NIV translation.

Review

Good

  • There are some pretty juicy quotes that are a bit risque conservative readers:
    • "Take me away with you—let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers." (1:4)
    • "Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste." (2:3)
    • "Your two breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies." (4:5)
    • "Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb, my bride; milk and honey are under your tongue." (4:11)
    • "Let my lover come into his garden and taste its choice fruits." (4:16)
    • "Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit. I said, "I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit." (7:7-8)
  • The pastoral descriptions, even in a love poem, really hammer home just how dependent on shepherding the ancient Jews were. Numerous similes and comparisons are made to horses and sheep. For example, "Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn, coming up from the washing. Each has its twin; not one of them is alone." (4:2) Similarly, the similes about weapons and armor make it clear they were a warring tribal people. For example, "Your neck is like the tower of David, built with courses of stone; on it hang a thousand shields, all of them shields of warriors." (4:4)

Bad

  • The song frequently jumps between a male lover, female lover, and others, without clear distinctions in the text. In the native Hebrew, male and female words are used which makes it less of a problem, but even still, it's not always clear, and modern translators tend to note this.
  • I'm all for love poetry, but the authors feel the need to denigrate others as a compliment. For example, "Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the maidens." (2:2)

Ugly

  • The author thought it romantic to compare his lover to concubines and virgins. "Sixty queens there may be, and eighty concubines, and virgins beyond number; but my dove, my perfect one, is unique..." (6:8-9)

Links

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