By Professor George L. Robinson, Ph.D.,
McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago.
1. Its place in the canon of Scripture.—Five Megilloth, or Rolls, were read after the Law in the public service of the synagogue, on five specific festival occasions, viz.:
2. The name of the book.—In Hebrew it is called "The Song of Songs," שִׁירהַשִִּׁרִים in the Vulgate, Canticum Canticorum; in the LXX, Ἀισμα ᾀσμάτων. We often speak of it ourselves as "Canticles" or "Songs." The title is expressive of its superior excellence. It implies that it is the most precious of songs. Compare the parallel expressions denoting superlatively: "Holy of Holies" (Exod. 26:33), "King of kings" (Ezek. 26:7), "God of gods" and "Lord of lords" (Deut. 10:17), "Hebrew of the Hebrews" (Phil. 3:5).
3. Its theme and aim.—Its subject is obviously love; primarily not the love of Christ for his church, nor yet the love of God for Israel, but rather ethical love, the love which triumphs over sensual love. This is enough, surely, to render it "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16, R. V.). The poem glorifies true love (cf. 8:6, 7). 191
4. The story.—A simple but beautiful Israelitish maiden, named Shulamith, from the little hamlet of Shulem, or Shunem, in the tribe of Issachar (Josh. 19:18) in Galilee, is captured, while dancing in a nut orchard, by Solomon, who, in passing by his vineyard in his chariot, was captivated by her beauty. She is taken to his palace and placed in his harem. Solomon thus plans to appropriate her to himself. But she is already betrothed to a shepherd near her home (possibly her half-brother). The king, assisted by the ladies of the court, do all they can to inflame the lust of this pure maiden, but she persistently refuses to accept of the king's proposals. Four times the king tries to persuade her to become one of his many queens (of whom he had sixty, besides eighty concubines, cf. 6:8), but her heart is steadfastly set on her shepherd lover who is ever present in her fancy. The flatteries of Solomon and of his harem prove in vain, and she is finally allowed to return to her country home and lover. The poem is most oriental.
5. How best interpreted.—In form the book is a poem, or idyl, with dramatic unity; not, however, "a series of independent songs," as Siegfried imagines, for no one section is complete in itself. The song is a dramatic poem, without a plot, but oriental and in keeping with Hebrew antiquity. It has been divided into six acts with twelve scenes (as Delitzsch); or five acts with thirteen scenes (as Ewald); or twelve scenes simply (as Curtiss); it is best interpreted by making Solomon, Shulamith, and her (absent) shepherd lover do the most of the speaking. This is the literal method of interpretation, which commends itself to most modern scholars, and does not exclude its deeper spiritual, or typical, signification, as advocated by Zöckler and Green.
6. Analysis or scheme of the poem.
ACT 1 (1:2-2:7).—THE LOVERS' MEETING.
SCENE 1 (1:2-8).—Imprisoned in the king's harem, Shulamith longs for her absent lover.
SCENE 2 (1:9-2:7).—Solomon's first attempt to win Shulamith.
ACT II (2:8-3:5).—A MONOLOGUE AND A DREAM OF SHULAMITH.
SCENE 1 (2:8-17).—Shulamith's reminiscence of her shepherd lover.
SCENE 2 (3:1-5).—Shulamith's dream of her shepherd lover.
ACT III (3:6-5:8).—HER ROYAL AND SHEPHERD LOVERS IN CONTRAST.
SCENE 1 (3:6-11).—King Solomon returning in state from an afternoon's excursion.
SCENE 2 (4:1-7).—Solomon's "proposal" to Shulamith; his second visit.
SCENE 3 (4:8-5:1).—An ideal interview between Shulamith and her shepherd lover.
SCENE 4 (5:2-8).—Shulamith relates her second dream to the ladies.
ACT IV (5:9-8:4).—LOVE'S LABOR LOST.
SCENE 1 (5:9-6:3).—Contest between Shulamith and the ladies over their beloved ones.
SCENE 2 (6:4-13).—Solomon's third attempt to win Shulamith.
SCENE 3 (7:1-5).—Suhulamith having yielded to their solicitations to dance, the ladies of the harem compliment her beauty and grace of person.
SCENE 4 (7:6-8:4).—Solomon's final endeavor to woo Shulamith.
ACT V (8:5-14).—ALLOWED TO RETURN TO HER LOVER.
SCENE 1 (8:5-7).—Shulamith with her shepherd lover on the way to Shulem.
SCENE 2 (8:8-14).—With her brothers at home.
7. The key of the book is to be found in 8:6, 7, "Love is strong as death."
W. R. SMITH, art. "Canticles" in Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th edit.; DRIVER, Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament; DAVIDSON, in Book by Book (London, 1896); CHEYNE, art. "Canticles " in Encyclofcedia Biblica; BUDDE, art.'' "The Song of Solomon" in New World, March, 1894, pp. 56-77; ADENEY, Commentary on Canticles and Lamentations, in the "Expositor's Bible;" A. HARPER, Commentary on the Song of Songs, in the "Cambridge Bible" (soon to appear); BUDDE, in Die fünf Megillot, in the "Handkommentar zum Alten Testament " (1898); OETTLI, in Die poetischen Hagiographen, in "Kurzgefasster Kommentar;" ROTHSTEIN, art. "Song of Songs" in HASTINGS'S Bible Dictionary; HAUPT, art. " The Book of Canticles" in American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, July, 19o2.