My understanding of the Song of Solomon

What a short romantic love poem! This Song of Solomon is a celebration of sexual love as two lovers recite poems to each other. These two lovers, male and female, spill out their love for each other, yet they seem to miss each other every time. The Song of Solomon, also known as the Song of Songs, the Canticle of Canticles, or simply the Canticles is in the Ketuvim, the Writings of the Hebrew Bible.  It is also the fifth wisdom book in the Christian Old Testament.

This Song of Solomon offers no clue as to its author or to the date, place or circumstances of its composition.  The title simply indicates a Song of Solomon. Even if this is meant to identify Solomon as the author, the most reliable evidence for its date comes from its language. The vocabulary, idiom, and syntax clearly point to a later date, centuries after King Solomon.

This Song has parallels with the pastorals of Theocritus, a Greek poet who wrote in the first half of the 3rd century BCE. However, it also shows the influence of earlier Mesopotamian and Egyptian love-poetry from the first half of the 1st millennium, rather than the later Greek parallels. Speculation ranges from the 10th to the 2nd century BCE, with the cumulative evidence supporting a later rather than an earlier date.

Is this an anthology, a collection of poems, or a single poem? The repetitions and similarities among its parts actually show its unity. This poem seems to be rooted in some kind of festive performance.  In modern Judaism, the Song of Solomon is read at Passover.  Fragments of the Song of Solomon were found among the first century CE Dead Sea Scrolls.

While the Jewish tradition sees it as an allegory of the relationship between God and Israel, Christian tradition sees this as an allegory of Christ (the bridegroom) and his Church (the bride).  This Book of Solomon was accepted into the Jewish Scriptural canon in the 2nd century CE, after a period of controversy in the 1st century. The symbolic interpretation of this book was, with some re-interpretation, carried over into Christianity, where it became part of the Christian biblical canon.

In modern times, this poem has attracted the attention of feminist Biblical critics with an emphasis on a positive representation of sexuality and egalitarian gender relations. Toni Morrison (1931- ) also wrote a novel in 1977 entitled Song of Solomon.

The introduction to this poem calls it ‘the song of songs.’ This use of the superlative means that it was the most beautiful song of all songs, just as the Holy of Holies was the holiest place on earth.

After the love prologue, there is the first love poem dialogue as the female lover goes looking for her male lover, who is a shepherd taking care of his flock. She has jewelry and sweet smells since she is beautiful. She describes herself as black because she had to work in the vineyards and got burned by the sun. She wants to meet her male lover. They complement each other before they embrace. They want a nice house. However, they show restraint by adding that love should not be stirred up until it is ready.

The second poem is about a springtime visit. The female lover uses the imagery of a pastoral life talking about flocks, lilies, and foxes. Her male lover is like a young stag. She loses him and then finds him. Then she brings him to her home. Once again, there is the idea of restraint about love not being ready. Then she addressed the daughters of Jerusalem.

The third poem is about a royal wedding procession with King Solomon. The male lover describes his beautiful lady, her hair, teeth, face, neck, and breasts. Then we have the beautiful garden poem, where he sends an invitation to her. He proclaims his love in this spice filled well watered garden. She wants to come from Lebanon as she responds to him.

The fourth poem has the female lover addressing the daughters of Jerusalem again. She was like a sleeping beauty when her lover knocked on the door. However, she was slow to open it. When she did, he was gone. She then went looking for her missing lover in the city. She searched through the streets again, but this time she failed to find him. In fact, the watchmen, who had helped her before, now beat her up. She asked the daughters of Jerusalem to help her find him. They wanted to know why she was seeking him. She then described his physical good looks. Eventually, she found her lover is in his garden as they committed to each other.

The final fifth poem has the male lover again describing his female lover and her uniqueness. They were back in the garden as he asked her to come back for a rendezvous. Again we have another description of the beautiful female lover. We see her effects as he wants to get together. He wanted to enjoy the fruits of her garden. She invited him to her mother’s house. She wanted his embrace, but we see the restrain refrain to the daughters of Jerusalem. The male lover compares the passion of love to death with its inevitability. Finally there is an appendix where there is talk about a little sister. In the end they have a final meeting in the wonderful garden.

 

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