A. Hebrew: In MT the book is called <yr!yV!h^ ryv! from the first words of the book (“The song of Songs which is by Solomon” or “The Best of Songs ...”).
B. Greek: In The LXX the book is called ASMA (the Song) from the first words of the book (“The Song of songs, which is Solomon’s”).
C. In the Latin Vulgate the Book is Titled Canticum Canticorum which is “Song of Songs.” It is from the Latin that the title Canticles is derived.
A. Internal Evidence:
1. The book is ascribed to Solomon with the hm=)Ov=l! (as with the Davidic psalms)1 1:1
2. Six other verses in the book refer to Solomon by name (1;5; 3:7, 9, 11; 8:11-12)
3. The writer is referred to as the “king” in 1:4, 12; 3:9, 11; 7:5
4. There is considerable similarity between vocabulary and syntax between Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes which was also by Solomon (see introductory notes on Ecclesiastes2
5. The author’s correspondence with natural history corresponds to the report about him in 1 Kings 4:33 (cf. Song of Solomon 1:14; 2:1; twenty-one varieties of plant life, fifteen species of animals, his interest in cavalry [1:9; cf. 1 Ki 10:28])
6. The book speaks of royal luxury and abundance which Solomon would have enjoyed (1:12, 13; 3:6, 9; and imported goods such as cosmetic powders, silver, gold, purple, ivory, and beryl, his expensive carriage [3:7-10], his royal chariots [6:12])
7. The geographical references favor a date prior to 930 B.C.
Archer writes, “The author mentions quite indiscriminately localities to be found in both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms: Engedi, Hermon, Carmel, Lebanon, Heshbon, and Jerusalem. These are spoken of as if they all belonged to the same political realm. Note that Tirzah is mentioned as a city of particular glory and beauty, and that too in the same breath with Jerusalem itself (6:4). If this had been written after the time when Tirzah was chosen as the earliest capital of the Northern Kingdom in rejection of the authority of the dynasty of David, it is scarcely conceivable that it would have been referred to in such favorable terms. On the other hand, it is highly significant that Samaria, the city founded by Omri sometime between 885 and 874, is never mentioned in the Song of Solomon”
Judging from internal evidence, then, the author was totally unaware of any division of the Hebrew monarchy into North and South. This can only be reconciled with a date of composition in the tenth century, prior to 931 B.C. Even after the return from exile, no Jew of the province of Judea would have referred so indiscriminately to prominent localities in the non-Jewish areas of Palestine which were by this time under Gentile or Samaritan overlordship. It is true that this whole area was reunited under the rule of the Hasmonean kings, John Hyrcanus and Alexander Jamnaeus, but the evidence of the Qumran fragments from Cave IV indicates that Canticles was already in written form at least as early as the outbreak of the Maccabean revolt in 168 B.C.3
B. External Evidence:
1. Solomonic authorship has been the unified tradition of the Christian church until modern times
2. Recently Delitzsch, Raven, Steimmueller, and Young have all held to Solomonic authorship4
A. Because many scholars deny Solomonic authorship of the book, they date it considerably later than the tenth century B.C.
1. R. Smith
2. R. Driver
3. Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 300.
C. Some date it as postexilic or even Hellenistic
1. Kuenen, Cornill, Cheyne, Budde, Kautzsch, Eissfeldt
2. Baumgartner dates the book as late third century B.C.
D. Late dates are primarily supported for linguistic reasons:
1. The use of se- instead of aser as a relative pronoun. But this was also used in Ecclesiastes, the song of Deborah (Judges 5), elsewhere in Judges, Job 19:29; 2 Kings 6:11, once in Jonah, in Lamentations, and in various psalms.
It may have been an acceptable substitute for aser in poetic writings
2. The presence of Aramaisms is taken to support a postexilic authorship. But they may have been brought to the Hebrew language early (see Esther) or they may represent a Northern Israelite coloring
3. Although some words are said to have been derived from Greek, they could have come from Solomon’s trade contacts with India5
E. In view of the above arguments on authorship, and plausible answers to objections, it seems reasonable to affirm that Song of Songs was written in the tenth century B.C. during Solomon’s reign (between 971 and 931 B.C.)
Deer writes, “Some wonder how Solomon could be the author of a book that extols faithfulness in marriage when he was so unfaithful, having 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). Perhaps the answer is that the ‘beloved’ in the Song whom he married was his first wife. If so, then the book may have been written soon after his marriage, before he fell into the sin of polygamy”6
A. History of Development
1. The Hebrew Scriptures were probably originally canonized into a two-fold division: the Law and the Prophets7
a. The three-fold division included the same books as the two-fold division
b. There are several possible reasons for a three-fold division:10
1) A distinction was made between books which were written by men who held the prophetic office, and men who only had the prophetic gift>
2) Some at a later date may have felt that those books which were not written by “prophets” were not fully canonical>
3) A more practical purpose was served by the topical and festal11 significance rather than by the two-fold categories>
3. Within the category of the Sacred Writings, the books of Psalms, Proverbs and Job were regarded by the Jews as specifically poetical in nature, and were described by the mnemonic title “The Book of Truth”12
4. The Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (The Septuagint or LXX c. 280-150 B.C.) divided the Old Testament according to subject matter which is the basis of the modern four-fold classification of the: five books of Law, twelve books of History, five books of Poetry, and seventeen books of Prophecy13
B. Some think that Song of Songs was listed in the Hebrew Canon with the five Antilegomena (Ruth, Lamentations, Esther, Ecclesiastes) because it was considered to lack religious value, but this was not the case (see above).
C. Song of Songs is not mentioned by the Alexandrian Jew Philo nor in the New Testament
D. Song of Songs was first identified in 4 Esdras 5:24-26; 7:26 (70-130 A.D.)
E. In the Mishnah Ta’anith 4:8 affirms that certain portions of Song of Songs were used in festival that were celebrated in the temple before A.D. 70.
F. In A.D. 90 the scholars of Jamnia debated the place of Song of Songs in the Hebrew canon, but Rabbi Akiba upheld its divine inspiration using allegorical interpretation as a means to justify its spiritual value14
G. It is placed among the books of wisdom and poetry in the Septuagint and most English versions (see above)
A. “The same characters are seen throughout the book (the beloved maiden, the lover, and the daughters of Jerusalem).
B. Similar expressions and figures of speech are used throughout the book. Examples are love more delightful than wine (1:2; 4:10), fragrant perfumes (1:3, 12; 3:6; 4:10), the beloved’s cheeks (1:10; 5:13), her eyes like doves (1:15; 4:1), her teeth like sheep (4:2; 6:6), her charge to the daughters of Jerusalem (2:7; 3:5; 8:4), the lover like a gazelle (2:9, 17; 8:14), Lebanon (3:9; 4:8, 11, 15; 7:4), and numerous reference to nature.
C. Hebrew grammatical peculiarities found only in this book suggest a single author.
D. The progression in the subject matter points to a single work, not an anthology.16 As stated earlier, the book moves logically from the courtship (1:2--3:5) to the wedding night (3:6--5:1) to the maturation in marriage (5:2--8:4).”
1. The details of the book convey hidden meaning which has little or no connection with the normal meaning of the words; the interpretation is not connected with the author’s intended meaning (as found in the words of the text)
2. While Jewish scholars have interpreted the book as God’s love for Israel, Christian scholars have interpreted the book as God’s love for the church18
3. The allegorical interpretation requires a spiritual counterpart for every physical detail; it is objectionable to equate Solomon and his herem to Christ
4. Child’s writes, “Again, recognition of Song of Songs as wisdom runs counter to allegorical interpretation (cf. especially Audet). This traditional method seeks to transfer the Song into a different genre of biblical literature. By interpreting the Song’s imagery primarily within the framework of prophetic literature, the book is made to symbolize the prophetic themes of God’s love for his people, of the new exodus, etc. But these are precisely the themes which are missing in the wisdom corpus.”19
B. An Extended Type (where Solomon typifies Christ and the beloved typifies the church)20
1. Here Solomon is understood to be a historical person
2. Here one does not seek to discover a mystical meaning for every detail that does not coincide with the normal meaning of the words
3. However, there is no Scriptural reason for understanding Solomon to typify a relationship which God will have with his people21
C. A Drama (involving two or three characters)22
1. This view has been part of church tradition since the third century A.D.
2. This view is based largely on the Greek tragic drama which developed in the sixth century B.C.
3. The play is usually outlined in six acts with two scenes each
4. The literary genre of a fully developed “drama” was not yet known among the Hebrews or the Ancient Near East
5. The book cannot be analyzed into acts and scenes as a drama can
6. The three character view is often a part of this interpretive theory (see below for further discussion)23
D. A Collection of Syrian Weddings Songs (where the groom played the role of the King and the bride played the role of the Queen)24
E. A Collection of Pagan Fertility Cult Liturgies25
1. This is a Hebrew adaptation of the Mesopotamian fertility cult liturgy
2. The word for “beloved” is thought to be a reference to the god Dod (in 5:9 at least), they Syro-Palestinian expression of Tammuz in the Sumero-Akkadian Tammuz-Ishtar cult
3. Hill and Walton write, “The annual ritual was a reenactment of the ancient myth recounting the goddess Ishtar’s search for her dead lover in the netherworld, finally restoring him to life through sexual union and thus ensuring the continued fertility of the creation. It is assumed that the cultic associations of the Song were forgotten or consciously changed to make the book acceptable to the Israelite faith”26
4. But the motif of a dying and rising god is missing in the Song of Songs
5. It would be unlikely that such a piece would have been allowed to enter the canon
6. “The subtle use of erotic imagery in the biblical poem is far removed from the crass ‘explanations’ of the books’ alleged original meaning”27
7. Child’s writes, “to seek to understand the Song of Songs as cultic moves the book from its place within wisdom into the context of ancient Near Eastern mythology and disregards the function which the canon has assigned it”28
F. An Anthology of Disconnected Songs (promoting human love)29
1. These were a series of nuptial poems much like the Arabic wasf for wedding ceremonies
2. The songs were formalized into a single cycle that were incorporated into the Hebrew wedding ceremony
3. Child’s writes, “By ordering the Song within wisdom literature certain other alternative contexts for interpreting it are ruled out. Thus, for example, the Song is not to be understood simply as secular songs which have only superficially been offered as sacred meaning. Rowley’s naturalistic interpretation badly misses the point. The polarity of ‘secular versus sacred’ is alien from the start to the categories of Hebrew wisdom. Rather, reflection on human experience without resort to the religious language of Israel’s traditional institutions of law, cult, and prophecy is characteristic of wisdom, and is by no means a sign of secular origin”30
G. A Poetic Song of Wisdom (which provides skill for resolving conflict in the ultimate relationship of marriage)31
1. The book’s superscription as “The most excellent song of Solomon” places it in the category of wisdom literature32
2. Within this view there are two other views: a three-character love story (Woman, Shepherd-Lover, King) and a two-character love story (Woman and King).
b. There is no problem in viewing Solomon as a shepherd since he owned many flocks (Eccl 2:7)
A. To extol sexual love between a man and a woman united in marriage35
B. Hill and Walton affirm that “The book is likely a northern kingdom satire on the reign of Solomon and his exploitation of women (ironically to his own demise) and a memorializing of the exemplary character of the Shulammite maiden who rejected the wooing of the king out of faithfulness to her common-lover”36
C. To affirm God’s design for sexuality between a man and a woman37
D. To unfold the maturing of a relationship between a man and a woman before, at, and after marriage
1 Hill and Walton think otherwise (Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 299).
2 Archer writes, Liberal scholars have usually classes these two works together as representing approximately the same period of Hebrew literature. Certainly this relationship is favored by the standard Hebrew lexicons, which tend to group the two together lexically. It is a striking fact that neither of them refers to God as Yahweh; the Tetragrammaton does not appear in either of them. There is a significant number of words which occur only in these two books, so far as the Hebrew Scriptures are concerned. There would seem to be, therefore, a basic inconsistency in denying authenticity to Ecclesiastes on linguistic grounds and yet affirming it for the Song of Solomon despite linguistic factors (Gleason L. Archer, Jr. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 497).
3 Gleason L. Archer, Jr. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 499.
4 Gleason L. Archer, Jr. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 497.
5 See Gleason L. Archer, Jr. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 498 for further discussion.
6 Jack S Deere, Song of Songs, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary I:1010.
7 The two-fold division is argued upon (1) the way in which Moses' Law is referred to as a unit throughout the Scriptures, (2) the way in which the historical books are linked together as a unit, (3) the reference in Daniel to the Law and the books [9:2], and (4) the recognition of the Former prophetic books by the Latter (See Geisler and Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, pp. 148-161).
9 The Writings include: (1) Poetical Books--Psalms, Proverbs, Job, (2) Five Rolls (Megilloth)--Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Esther, Ecclesiastes, (3) Historical Books--Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles
Sometimes Ruth was attached to Judges, and Lamentations was attached to Jeremiah thereby making the Hebrew canon comprised of 22 books rather than the more usual 24 books (see Geisler and Nix, General, pp. 18-19).
10 Critical scholars assume that the three-fold division reflects dates of canonization in accordance with their dates of compositions--Law (400 B.C.), Prophets (c. 200 B.C.), Writings (c. A.D. 100). However, this thesis is untenable in light of early reports of a three-fold division (c. 132 B.C.; see above). See Geisler and Nix, General, p. 151.
This critical approach is suggested by La Sor et al as an explanation for the placement of Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles, Esther, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes when they write, Essentially, the purpose of the Writings as a whole was to collect those sacred books whose purpose, character, or date excluded them form the collections of law and prophecy (Old, p. 508-509).
11 Song of Solomon (eighth day of Passover), Ruth (second day of Weeks, or Pentecost), Lamentations (ninth day of Ab, in mourning for the destruction of Solomon's temple), Ecclesiastes (third day of Tabernacles), Esther (Purim).
12 The word truth ( tma) was composed of the initial letters of each book--a (boya, Job), m ( ylvm, Proverbs), and t ( mylht, Praises or Psalms) see R. K. Harrison, Introduction, p. 965.
13 Law = Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
History = Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings, II Kings, I Chronicles, II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther
Poetry = Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon
Prophets/Major = Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel
Prophets/Minor = Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.
For a more extensive overview see Geisler and Nix, General, pp. 17-25.
14 Gleason L. Archer, Jr. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 500. But Child's counters by affirming that, It has become a common place for Old Testament Introductions to assert that the Song of Songs entered the canon because it had already been allegorized. In the light of the evidence of its canonical shaping [as wisdom literature], this statement appears highly questionable. There is no sign that the canonical shape of the book ever received an allegorical shaping. Rather, its place within wisdom literature resisted attempts to replace its message with prophetic themes. Nor did the attempts to replace its message with prophetic themes. Nor did the Song of Songs enter the anon as a 'secular' love poem in need of being made sacred. Instead, the Song entered the canon in essentially the same role as it had played in Israel's institutional life. It celebrated the mysteries of human love expressed in the marriage festival (Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 578).
15 Jack S Deere, Song of Songs, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary I:1010. Continuing Deer writes The title Song of Songs offers a clue to the interpretation of the work. It is one song out of many songs. The reader therefore is not to view the work as a collection of songs but rather as one unified song. The words Song of Songs suggest the superlative, as in most holy (Ex 29:37) which is literally, 'holy of holies.' As a superlative the title may mean that this is the best of Solomon's 1,005 songs or, more likely, that this is the best of all songs. In either case the Song sets before its readers a paradigm for romantic love in courtship and marriage (Ibid., 1011).
Hill and Walton seem to be saying too much when they affirm, The interpretive stance adopted by the individual translator-commentator determines in large measure how one outlines the text, understands the poetry in respect to plot development and the number of characters in the story, and ultimately colors the way one arranges and evaluates the various strands of evidence bearing on the question of authorship and date (Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 300). It is the particulars of the text and the history of interpretation which contribute to one's understanding of genre, and not the inverse.
16 Contra Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 576.
17 Gleason L. Archer, Jr. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 500-502; Jack S Deere, Song of Songs, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary I:1009-10; Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 302-303.
18 Deer writes, Origen, for example, wrote that the beloved's reference to her being dark (Song 1:5-6) means the church is ugly with sin, but that her loveliness ()1:5) refers to spiritual beauty after conversion. Others said the cooing of the doves (2:12) speaks of the preaching of the apostles, and some have suggested that 5:1 refers to the Lord's Supper. These examples show that the allegorical approach is subjective with no way to verify that any of the interpretations are correct. The Song of Songs nowhere gives an interpreter that suggestion that it should be understood as an allegory (Jack S Deere, Song of Songs, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary I:1009).
19 Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 574-75.
20 Gleason L. Archer, Jr. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 502. Perhaps this is why it was read during the Passover Feast.
21 Archer is correct when he writes, There is no question that the marriage relationship was viewed by the prophets as bearing an analogy to Jehovah's position toward Israel (cf. Is 54:6; 61:10). Correspondingly, they regarded apostasy as constituting adultery or whoredom (cf. Jer 3:1; Eze 16; 23; Ho 1--3). Compare in the Torah, Exodus 34:14-16, which refers to idolatry as whoredom; and likewise Leviticus 20:5-6.
It must be admitted that these passages establish at least a typical relationship between human love and marriage and the covenant relationship between God and His people (Gleason L. Archer, Jr. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 500; cf. also 502).
But why would Solomon be the typological expression of this relationship? Why not David? Or why not Yahweh himself as in the above passages? It seems that the understanding of Song of Songs needs to fall more in the realm of Wisdom literature as guidance through the horizontal effects of the fall rather than through the vertical effects of the fall.
22 Franz Deiltzsch, H. Ewald, S.R. Driver.
23 Child's writes, The fact that no structure is clearly indicated in its canonical form speaks against the dramatic theory of interpretation which rests everything upon the reader's ability to reconstruct the variety of different actors and a plot (Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 576).
24 E. Renan, J. Wetzstein, Umberto Cassuto.
25 Theophile Meek.
26 Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 302.
27 Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 573.
28 Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 575. Or we might say which the author assigns it.
29 Robert Gordis. Deere writes, Scholars differ widely on the structure of the Song, its unity or lack of it, the nature of its metaphors, and the nature of the love extolled by the Song. In short, almost every verse has been the subject of lively debate by the Song's interpreters. Probably no other book of the Bible has such a variegated tapestry of interpretation (Jack S Deere, Song of Songs, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary I:1009).
30 Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 574.
31 This view would include Hill and Walton's categories of didactic and literal.
32 This is true if one believes that the superscription is historical or if one only believes that it is a canonical device that guides the reader in interpreting the work. Childs writes, Audet ... has pointed out with great insight the differing approach of authorship. Whereas the modern reader considers a book to be the property of its individual author, the Old Testament viewed the book as traditional, communal, and developing. By ascribing the Song to Solomon the collector did not rule out other later voices adding to the poem, as is evident from 8.1f. in which Solomon is himself the Addressee. Nevertheless, some important claims are being made by the title which determine the context from which the book is to be interpreted.
The book, along with the book of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, is ascribed to Solomon as the source of Israel's wisdom literature. As Moses is the source of the Law, and David of the Psalms, so is Solomon the father of sapiential writing. Solomon's role as Israel's wise man par excellence is further reflected in the prose tradition of Kings (1 Kings 3.1ff.; 5.1ff., EVV 4.29ff.). The ascription of the Song of Songs to Solomon by the Hebrew canon sets these writings within the context of wisdom literature. Indeed this song is the 'pearl' of the collection (Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 573-74).
33 Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton hold to this view (A Survey of the Old Testament, 300-301).
34 Gleason L. Archer, Jr writes, Thus in chapter 4 verses 1-7 are assigned to Solomon, and verses 8-15 to the shepherd, even though there is absolutely nothing in the text to indicate that the speaker has changed. Some passages highly inappropriate to a bucolic lover are interpreted as referring to the shepherd, such as: 'My beloved has gone down to his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies' (6:3). It is at least unlikely that Israelite shepherds would have had the means, the time, or the inclination for such luxuries as spice gardens or the gatherings of lilies (A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 501).
35 Deere writes, This at first this seems strange, on reflection it is not surprising for God to have included in the biblical canon a book endorsing the beauty and purity of marital love. God created man and woman (Gen. 1:27; 2:20-23) and established and sanctioned marriage (Gen. 2:24). Since the world views sex so sordidly and perverts and exploits it so persistently and since so many marriages are crumbling because of lack of love, commitment, and devotion, it is advantageous to have a book in the Bible that gives God's endorsement of marital love as wholesome and pure (Jack S Deere, Song of Songs, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary I:1010; see also Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 304).
Child's says, The designation of the Song as a wisdom book of Solomon also affects how one describes its content. The role of Solomon is extended into the Song itself 3.11 pictures the arrival of Solomon's royal entourage for 'the day of his wedding' (cf. Ps. 45.12ff.). The 'king' is introduced as the lover (1.4, 12; 7.5) who seeks his 'bride' (4.8). The Song is wisdom's reflection on the joyful and mysterious nature of love between a man and a woman within the institution of marriage. The frequent assertion that the Song is a celebration of human love per se fails utterly to reckon with the canonical context (cf. Audet, 214ff.). Nowhere is human love in itself celebrated in wisdom literature, nor in the whole Old Testament for that matter. Wisdom, not love, is divine, yet love between a man and his wife is an inextinguishable force within human experience, 'strong as death', which the sage seeks to understand (cf. Prov. 5.15ff.). The writer simply assumes the Hebrew order of the family as a part of the given order of his society, and seeks to explore and unravel its mysteries from within (Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 575).
36 Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 303, 304-305. This assumes a three person characterization, a late date, and in this writer's opinion runs against the clear grain of the book.
37 Hill and Walton write, The poet affirms the virtue of chastity in the young lovers (4:12; 6:3; 7:10-13; 8:10) which makes a striking contrast with the self-destructive bent of sexual mores in many societies historically. The Bible gives no place to premarital or extramarital behavior, whether heterosexual or homosexual (Exod. 20:14; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Matt. 5:27-28; Rom. 1:24-27; 1 Cor. 6:13, 18; Eph. 5:3). Scriptural warnings are plain enough: God will judge all who are sexually immoral (1 Cor. 6:9, 18-20; Heb 13:4b). Recent studies disclosing the harmful emotional, psychological, and lethal physical side effects of sexual license within and outside marriage only confirm the wisdom of biblical teaching.
The positive dimensions of human love portrayed in the Song are important as cues for molding strong male-female relationships (Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 305).