Song of Solomon
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Song of Solomon

G. Lloyd Carr

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eBook - ePub

Song of Solomon

G. Lloyd Carr

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Title And Attribution (1:1)

The book takes its title, in English as in Hebrew, from the opening words šîr haššîrîm. The repetitive construction of the first two words is a Hebrew idiom that expresses the superlative. ‘Of all the songs, this is the song’, i.e. the best, or most beautiful one. More familiar uses of this same idiom are the common holy of holies, i.e. the most holy place (Exod. 26:33f.), the innermost part of the tabernacle and temple containing the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat, or the phrases King of kings, Lord of lords. The common abbreviation ‘Ct.’ comes from the Vulgate title, Canticum Canticorum.
There are numerous Hebrew words for the various types of songs. This one, šîr, is a general word for any sort of happy song, and is most frequently used of the music at celebrations (e.g. Isa. 24:9; 30:29). Simple, unaccompanied vocal music would be so identified (Eccl. 12:4), although there is usually mention of some sort of musical accompaniment (tambourines and harps, Gen. 31:27; Amos 6:5; Isa. 24:8). The frequent use of this word to describe the music associated with various cultic celebrations may lend support to the ritual interpretation discussed above.1
Whether or not the title is original, it conveys something of the beauty and depth of meaning in the Song. Rabbi Aqiba (d. AD 135) summed it up: ‘In the entire world there is nothing equal to the day on which the Song of Solomon was given to Israel. All the Writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is most holy.’2
The relative pronoun ’ǎšer occurs only here in the Song.3 NEB emends to read ’āšîrâh, I will sing, but there is no manuscript support for the change, nor does the content of the Song clearly suggest Solomon is the object of the Song. Delitzsch (p. 17) notes that the relative clause does not mean that this is ‘the Song’ from all the Songs of Solomon, but rather that it qualifies the whole first expression ‘The Song of Songs’ which is Solomon’s.
The possessive is indicated by the preposition which is used in a variety of ways in Hebrew and in the other ancient Near Eastern languages.4 The most common, popular understanding is that of authorship (e.g. Psalm 3 ‘of = ‘from’ David)5 so that this Song would be from the pen of Solomon himself. Another suggestion is that the person named is the collector of the material rather than the author. The Song of Songs which is Solomon’s could be, then, the Song which Solomon wrote, or which was dedicated to him, or one which was edited or published by Solomon. Other possibilities, however, are attested for the form . There are songs preserved in the Ugaritic materials which are one of the gods (Baal, etc.), and this motif is also represented in, e.g., Psalms 72 and 127, ‘to’ or ‘for’ the choirmaster. Psalm 4 uses the word twice in the title: ‘lĕ the music director … David’. The suggestion here is that of material produced for the individual specified (i.e. the music director), and either ‘dedicated to’ or ‘referring to’ the one named. This may indicate that Solomon is the object of the Song (i.e. the male protagonist), but see pp. 20–22.

1. Anticipation (1:2–2:7)

The overall structure of the Song displays a series of monologues, dialogues and reminiscences of the protagonists that revolve around the central pivot of 4:16–5:1. In this first section the happy, excited couple exchange expressions of desire, self-doubt, encouragement and expectation in their love-play. Whether the lovers are looking back on their first encounter as young marrieds or are actually still unmarried but anticipating wedlock is a moot point (see pp. 49f.), but the general progress towards fulfilment is unquestioned.

a. The beloved’s first request (1:2–4)

The first words we hear are the girl’s urgent pleadings to her lover as she links her happiness and surprise with her desire to share her love with him.
2. The RSV O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth! For your love … has brought artificial consistency to the pronouns in this verse. The AV and NIV (Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—for your love) are more accurate here. Some commentators have argued that the first colon,1 which is in 3rd person forms, is a statement of the beloved to her friends (4b), and the second colon, in 2nd person masculine forms, is the response of those friends to the lover. This necessitates a shift of speakers again in v. 3 when the beloved addresses her lover directly. Such a series of shifts is possible, but very awkward, and with no compelling need. The shift from kiss me to his mouth to your love appears awkward to us, but such a sequence of shifting pronouns is a common phenomenon in biblical poetry (e.g. Amos 4:1; Mic. 7:19; cf. Song 4:2; 6:6), and is also known in Phoenician and Ugaritic. Similar shifts are evident in some of the Sumerian Sacred Marriage texts. The sense of this passage is correctly rendered by the RSV. Delitzsch takes the preposition as a partitive, ‘from his kisses’, i.e. the speaker in this verse is only one of the recipients of the lover’s kisses, but there is ample evidence for the common translation ‘with’.
The NEB smother me with kisses takes this as an intensive construction, and accurately reflects the sense of the Hebrew. Your love, in the second colon, is a plural form (AV mg.) that has caused considerable discussion in the commentaries. The LXX and Vg. read ‘your breasts’ here, as well as in 1:4; 4:10; and 7:12. In addition, the LXX adds the same clause in 6:11. The basis for this rendering is somewhat obscure, but both the Hebrew word ‘loves’ (dôdîm) and the Hebrew word ‘breasts’ (dadayîm) would be written simply as ddm in the old consonantal text.2 The plural form is found only in Numbers 36:11; Proverbs 7:18; Ezekiel 16:8; 23:17; and Song of Solomon 1:2, 4; 4:10; 5:1; and 7:12. 3 It is obvious from the context of the Proverbs and Ezekiel passages that the term means ‘love-making’ with physically erotic connotations, rather than ‘love’ in some abstract idea. The translation ‘love-making’ or ‘caresses’ fits best in the Song passages listed.
For, or ‘because’, is perfectly acceptable to introduce the second colon, but the particle can also be translated ‘truly’ or ‘how much’. Coupled with the adjective the construction can be read ‘How much better than …’4
Better is a straightforward rendering of the Hebrew, but the NIV more delightful fits better with the ‘love-making’. NEB more fragrant suits ‘wine’, but is unsatisfactory with ‘love-making’.
Wine. Although the Hebrew community was aware of the dangers of indiscriminate use of wine and other ‘strong drink’ (Prov. 20:1; 23:31; 31:4, 6), they played a significant role in times of celebration. The close relationship between wine and sex is well attested (see Subject study: Wine, pp. 71f.).
3. The use of olive oil as a base for various perfumed lotions was common in the ancient Near East.
The preposition which begins this verse causes trouble for all the translators. Possibly it should be taken in parallel with the last clause of v. 2, the ki doing double duty, so that the thought expressed there continues here ‘… better than the fragrance of your perfumes’. On the other hand, the force may be intensive: ‘Truly, the scent of your oils is delightful.’ Delitzsch suggests ‘to the smell thy ointments are sweet’, taking the noun rêḥa to mean ‘sense of smell’, but such a meaning for rêḥa is not attested in biblical Hebrew or the cognates.
The RSV your name is oil poured out follows the LXX and Vg., taking the middle word of the unit as a verb form with the meaning ‘poured out’ or ‘clarified’ (by pouring from container to container to remove the dregs, cf. Jer. 48:11). However, the meaning of the Hebrew word is uncertain. Pope suggests, on the basis of Ugaritic parallels, the term describes a kind of expensive and scarce cosmetic oil.5
Name occurs only this once in the Song, and in this context is used in the broader sense for the true being of the person.
The attractiveness of the whole personality of the lover is such that others beside the beloved are drawn to him. Maidens (AV, ASV virgins) are unmarried young women of marriageable age. The word itself does not necessarily mean ‘virgin’ (i.e. sexually inexperienced), but the common Old Testament position on pre-marital sexual purity is clear (cf. Deut. 22:13–29). Every ‘maiden’ (‘almāh) is assumed to be virgin and virtuous until she is proven not to be.6 In 6:8, the only other use of this word in the Song, the ‘maidens’ are distinguished as a separate group from the ‘queens and concubines’.
Love. The object of the passionate emotional feeling is a person rather than a thing (see Subject study: Love, pp. 65–69).
4. The opening colon resumes the urgent plea that opened the Song. Twice elsewhere in the Old Testament (Jer. 31:3; Hos. 11:4) this verb is used to describe the power of love to draw the beloved to the lover. But now the plea shifts to the cohortative, let us hurry (NIV).
The king has brought me into his chambers. The vocative of the NEB, bring me into your chamber, O king, follows the Syriac and the Greek translation of Symmachus. The MT and the other versions are declarative with 3rd person pronouns.
Chambers (note the plural here) usually refers to private rooms. In 3:4 the context demands ‘bedroom’ for this word, but that is not necessarily always the meaning (cf. 2 Sam. 13:10; Joel 2:16). The sense of privacy is an important element here—being away from the eyes of those who would look on the most sacred things.
We will exult and rejoice (NIV We rejoice and delight). Frequently the Old Testament writers link these two words in exclamations of praise to the Lord, for his deliverance either promised or actual. They are also attested individually and together in the cultic texts from Ugarit. They are used in situations where good news has been received and appropriate celebration is called for.7 Here in the Song the lover is the object of the rejoicing.
In you (masculine singular, referring to the lover) may be translated ‘with you’, i.e. his joy is also theirs (cf. Rom. 12:15).
This section is a key one in the various dramatic theories of interpretation of the Song (see Introduction, pp. 34–36, 53f). It is one of five places in the Song where the word king is used (1:4, 12; 3:9, 1...

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