The Five Scrolls

Then there are the five scrolls that includes the poetic love story the Song of Solomon, or the Song of Songs from the 6th century BCE.  The Book of Ruth was about the story of Ruth, a Moabite foreigner who came to Israel, from the 9th to the 6th century BCE.  Lamentations has usually been ascribed to Jeremiah the prophet from the 6th century BCE.  Ecclesiastes is like a book of wisdom proverbs from the 4th century BCE.  The story of Esther is about a Jewish lady who becomes a Persian queen also from the 4th century BCE.

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Seek God (Wis 1:1-1:5)

“Love righteousness!

You rulers of the earth!

Think of the Lord in goodness!

Seek him with sincerity of heart!

Because he is found

By those who do not put him to the test.

He manifests himself

To those who do not distrust him.

Perverse thoughts separate people from God.

When his power is tested,

It exposes the foolish.

Wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul.

Wisdom will not dwell in a body enslaved to sin.

A Holy Spirit will flee from deceit.

A disciplined spirit will flee from deceit.

The Spirit will leave foolish thoughts behind.

The Spirit will be ashamed

At the approach of unrighteousness.”

This book is set in poetic verses just like Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and The Song of Solomon. This author wants the rulers of the earth to seek God with a sincere heart. Only those who are not testing him will find him. God will manifest himself to those who do not distrust him. Perverse thoughts will separate them from God. If they test his power, he will expose their foolishness. Wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul nor dwell in a body enslaved in sin. The Holy Spirit, who is disciplined, will flee from deceit. He will leave foolish thoughts behind because he is ashamed of the approach of the unrighteousness ones. Here we have a more developed theology of God. He is no longer Yahweh since this is a Greek Septuagint work. He is the Greek Lord (τοῦ Κυρίου). Wisdom (σοφία) is almost equivalent to God (Θεοῦ). Notice also the use of the Holy Spirit (ἅγιον γὰρ πνεῦμα), even if not too specific. The Spirit of God will not stay with the deceitful and unrighteous. The concept of soul (ψυχὴν) also fits in nicely. I will be using the Greek Septuagint to highlight certain words and concepts in this Greek work.

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.

 

The final garden meeting (Song 8:13-8:14)

Female lover

“O you!

Who dwell in the gardens!

My companions are listening

For your voice.

Let me hear it!

Make haste!

My beloved!

Be like a gazelle!

Be like a young stag

Upon the mountains of spices!”

This female lover wanted to hear her lover’s voice. Her companions were listening for his voice with her, as she wanted to hear it. She wanted her lover to make haste. She wanted him to be like a young gazelle or stag in a mountain of spices.   So ends this great romantic love story.

Solomon’s vineyard (Song 8:11-8:12)

Female lover

“Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon.

He entrusted the vineyard to keepers.

Each one was to bring for its fruit

A thousand pieces of silver.

My vineyard,

My very own,

Is for myself.

You!

O Solomon!

May have the thousand.

The keepers of the fruit

May have two hundred.”

Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon. This is the only mention of Baal-hamon, but it may have been an ancient worship place of Baal with that name. He obviously had vineyard workers. Each of the keepers of the vineyard had to bring 1,000 pieces of silver to get the fruit of the vine. This female lover said that she had a vineyard of her own also. She was going to let Solomon keep his 1,000 pieces of silver. However, she was going to give the keepers of the vineyard 200 pieces of silver. This vineyard might have been part of a dowry for the bride.

Little sister (Song 8:8-8:10)

Female lover

“We have a little sister.

She has no breasts.

What shall we do for our sister?

What shall we do

On the day when she is spoken for?

If she is a wall,

We will build

Upon her

A battlement of silver.

But if she is a door,

We will enclose her

With boards of cedar.

I was a wall,

My breasts were like towers.

Then I was in his eyes

As one who brings peace.”

Somehow, there is a problem about a little sister. Probably she was not yet ready for marriage since she had no breasts. She was not spoken for or engaged. What were they to do? They were going to protect her. She either was a wall or a door. If she was a wall, they would add a silver fortification. If she was a door, they would enclose her with cedar boards. This female lover says that she was a wall with large breasts that had brought peace to everyone. It could also be future child, as interpretations abound.

The power of love (Song 8:5-8:7)

Male lover

“Under the apple tree I awakened you.

There your mother was in labor with you.

There she who bore you was in labor.

Set me as a seal upon your heart.

Set me as a seal upon your arm.

Love is as strong as death.

Passion is as fierce as the grave.

Its flashes are flashes of fire.

It is a raging flame.

Many waters cannot quench love.

Neither can floods drown it.

If one offered for love

All the wealth of one’s house,

It would be utterly scorned.”

The male lover woke his lover up under the apple tree. He maintains that it was there that she was born from the labor of her mother. Now he wants his lover to bear his seal on her heart and on her arm. The seal was a sense of ownership. Then he went on to talk about the power of love. Love is just as strong as death. Passion is just as fierce as the grave. The love flashes of fire become a raging flame that no water can quench. Not even a flood can drown out love. If someone offers all the wealth they had, the lover would scorn it for his true love.