The Song of Songs

Canonicity 1
Authorship and Dating 2
Allegorical 4
Literal 5
Wedding Cycle 5
Pastoral Drama 6


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. 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 editor(s) 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