The Song of Songs, or Song of Solomon, is a unique book in the Old Testament canon. The book contains exquisitely beautiful lyric poetry, full of sensuous symbolism. Because of the sexual nature of Song of Songs, the message of this book has been debated for the past eighteen-hundred years. The erotic content of this book has lead it into canonicity problems and authorship problems. These issues have become central to the interpretation of the Song of Songs.
The issue of the canonicity of Song of Songs was a major subject of debate at the 90 A.D. Council of Jamnia. Jewish Rabbis from across the spectrum of Judaism assembled in order to close in Jewish Canon. At that time, many rabbis who opposed the Song of Songs and other works toke the opportunity to argue against their inclusion in Jewish Canon. It was the Palestinian rabbinical school of Shammai that stood in the fore of the opposition for canonization of Song of Songs.Order now
They argued that nothing could be considered scripture that was being employed in lewd, barroom songs. Fortunately the cause of Song of Songs was championed by the less stringent Babylonian rabbinical school of Hillel. “The entire universe is not as worthy as the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the Writings are holy, but the Song of Songs are the Holy of Hollies.” Lead by the defense of Rabbi Aqiba, the Hillal school succeeded in maintaining the canonicity of Song of Songs! .
Authorship and Dating
While the different schools represented at the Council of Jamnia may have held opposing views of the canonicity and interpretation, both held to the belief that King Solomon was the author of the work. It was not until the advent of modern textual criticism that questions began to arise over the authorship of Song of Solomon. The view now held by the majority of biblical scholars is that Song of Solomon, in reality, may have nothing more to do with Solomon than use of his name. Instead, scholars believe that Song of Songs represents a conglomeration of smaller love poems or songs. These poems, 20 to 30 in all, were collected by an unknown editors for their consistent themes, and placed in the anthology which is found today.
Unfortunately, the nature of Song of Songs as an anthological work precludes precise dating of the material. However, there are several textual clues within the work which allow for citing a general range of years. The naming of the city of Tirzah in 6:4 is evidence that the compilation must have occurred sometime before 876 B.C. This is because Tirzah, compared to Jerusalem in the verse, ceased to be the capital of Israel in 876 B.C. when Omri moved the Northern capital to Samaria. Further evidence used to limit the possible span of years is found in the presence of Aramaic, Persian, and Greek words in the text. The presence of these words means that the work antedates the sixth century B.C. All internal evidence considered, the best dating available places the compilation of Song of Songs between 400 and 300 B.C.
First among the four primary, modern approaches to the interpretation of Song of Songs is the Allegorical approach. This view of Song of Songs is one of the two oldest interpretations, and was forwarded by the Midrash, Targum, and Medieval Jewish commentators. This interpretation states that the intended message of Song of Songs is an allegory of God and Israel. The succession of events flows from the Sinai Covenant through subsequent events. Later, the early church fathers adapted this view to Christianity by changing the role of Israel to that of the Church.
The second of the two oldest interpretations of Song of Songs is the literal approach. At one time held by a few Jewish rabbis, this view fell out of acceptance in leu of the allegorical interpretation. Among the Christian fathers who accepted this approach were Theodore of Mopsuestia and Sebastian Castellio, both of whom were criticized for their opinion. The literal view saw Song of Songs as nothing more than a collection of love poems. Useful for exemplifying the nature of Godly love, but otherwise only poems.
Among the more recent interpretations proposed by Christians is the wedding cycle. This interpretation is basically a revised,and more specific form of the literal interpretation. First presented by Herder in 1778, the view of Song of Solomon as a group of songs used in palestinian and syrian weddings has reopened the consideration of the work. Herder contends that Song of Songs represents a wedding anthology. There is a surprising amount of evidence to corroborate this conclusion. Throughout the book one can find rituals and customs followed in palestinian and syrian wedding celebrations.
The final major interpretation is the pastoral drama approach. Supported by Ewald and Delitzsch, this position claims that Song of Songs was originally intended to be a dramatic presentation. The entire book is a play with either two Delitzsch, or three Ewald characters. Delitzsch”s version held that Solomon and some rustic maiden were the two characters. Ewald”s three character version assumed a third person, the maiden”s shepherd lover. Both of these views suggested that the work was meant to either be read aloud, or acted out.
Today, the majority of Christians belief in the Allegorical interpretation of Song of Songs, with a large number holding to the literal interpretation. However,it is not because of informed scholarship that most Christians hold to their particular view, but rather they are responding to what they have been taught from their youth. This is evidenced in the fact that a large percentage of Christians still adamantly believe that Song of Solomon was in fact written by Solomon. Whether or not the general Christian populace will ever come to understand why they believe, what they believe concerning the Song of Songs is indeterminate.