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The Song of Songs (Hebrew, שיר השירים, Shir ha-Shirim), is a book of the Hebrew Bible—one of the five megillot (scrolls). It is also known as the Song of Solomon, Solomon's Song of Songs, or as Canticles, the latter from the shortened and anglicized Vulgate title Canticum Canticorum (Latin, "Song of Songs").[1] It is known as Āisma in the Septuagint, which is short for Āisma āismatōn (Greek, ᾌσμα ᾀσμάτων, "Song of Songs").[2]

The protagonists of the Song of Songs are a woman (identified in one verse as "the Shulamite")[3] and a man, and the poem suggests movement from courtship to consummation. For instance, the man proclaims: "As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters." The woman answers: "As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste."[4][5] Additionally, the Song includes a chorus, the "daughters of Jerusalem."

With no explicitly religious content, the Song is often interpreted as an allegorical representation of the relationship of God and Israel, or for Christians, God and the Church or Christ and the human soul, as husband and wife.

It is one of the shortest books in the Bible, consisting of only 117 verses. According to Ashkenazi Jewish tradition, it is read on the Sabbath that falls during the intermediate days of Passover. In the Sephardi community it is recited every Friday night.



Depiction of the royal couple in a twelfth-century manuscript

The name of the book comes from the first verse, "The Song of songs, which is Solomon's."

"Song of songs" is a Hebrew grammatical construction denoting the superlative; that is, the title attests to the greatness of the song, similar to "the lord of lords", "the king of kings" or "holy of holies" (used of the inner sanctuary of the Jerusalem temple). Rabbi Akiba declared, "Heaven forbid that any man in Israel ever disputed that the Song of Songs is holy. For the whole world is not worth the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the Writings are holy and the Song of Songs is holy of holies." (Mishnah Yadayim 3:5). Similarly, Martin Luther called it das Hohelied (the high song). This is still its name in German, Danish, Swedish and in Dutch.



Solomon as author

Some people translate the first clause of the title as "which is of Solomon," meaning that the book is authored by Solomon. Rabbi Hiyya the Great said Solomon first wrote Book of Proverbs, then The Song of Songs, and afterward Ecclesiastes. Rabbi Jonathan said Solomon first wrote The Song of Songs, then Proverbs, then Ecclesiastes. The Talmud, however, states the order of the canon, listing Proverbs first, then Ecclesiastes, and then The Song of Songs.

Solomon as audience

Others translate the first clause as "which is for Solomon," meaning that the book is dedicated to Solomon. It was common practice in ancient times for an anonymous writer seeking recognition for his work to write eponymously in the name of someone more famous. Some read the book as contrasting the nobility of monogamous love with the debased nature of promiscuous love, and suggest that the book is actually a veiled criticism of Solomon, who, according to 1 Kings 11:3, had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines.


Another approach to the authorship is that offered by Rashi, consistent with allegorical interpretations, rendering the narrator "he to whom peace belongs", i.e: God. The Hebrew name of Solomon, Shlomo, can also be inflected to mean the constructed form of the noun shalom, peace, which through noun declension can be possessive. This means that the author is in fact Solomon, but he narrates the book from the perspective of God, who is conversing with the Jewish people, his allegorical bride.


Twenty first century linguistic work, including re-examining the dating of early Hebrew poetry, according to evidence of dialectic variation, has been applied to the Song by a number of scholars from different traditions. Noegel and Rendsburg, for example, conclude as follows.

"The Song of Songs was written circa 900 BC, in the northern dialect of ancient Hebrew, by an author of unsurpassed literary ability, adept at the techniques of alliteration and polyprosopon, able to create the most sensual and erotic poetry of his day, and all the while incorporating into his work a subtext criticial of the Judahite monarchy in general and Solomon in particular."[6]


The Song of Songs for the first time gives literary representation to the everyday post-exilic vernacular. It contains loan words from languages with which Hebrew had contact in post-exilic times, such as Persian, Greek, and Aramaic, and contains numerous items of vocabulary that are otherwise unknown in Biblical Hebrew but are known from Rabbinic Hebrew, and these expressions give the impression of being part of a living language and not the result of an archaic or artificial style. There are longer phrases that are typical of Rabbinic Hebrew in word order and are different from Biblical Hebrew. [7]

Interpretation and use

Although it is commonly held that an allegorical interpretation justified its inclusion in the Biblical canon, scholarly discussion hasn't reached any consensus yet on the Song of Songs and leaves other possibilities open.[8]

Jewish tradition

According to Jewish tradition in the Midrash and the Targum, the book is an allegory of God's love for the Children of Israel. In keeping with this understanding, it is read by Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews on Sabbath eve, to symbolize the love between the Jewish People and God that is also represented by Sabbath. Most traditional Jews also read the Song on the Sabbath of Chol HaMoed of Passover, or on the seventh day of the holiday, when the Song of the sea is also read.


The Song of Songs is perhaps the most important Biblical text for the Kabbalah. Following the writing and dissemination of the Book of the Zohar in the 14th and 15th centuries, Jewish mysticism took on a strongly erotic element, and the Song of Songs came to be regarded as an example of sacred erotica. In Zoharic Kabbalah, God is represented by a system of ten sephirot, or spheres, each symbolizing a different aspect of God, who is perceived as both male and female. The Shechina was identified with the sephira Malchut, which is female in essence, and symbolizes both the Jewish people and the female sexual organs. Malchut was, in turn, identified with the woman in the Song of Songs. Her beloved was identified with the sephira Yesod, which represents God's foundation and the phallus or male essence. The text thus became a description of an act of divine eroticism, symbolizing—depending on the interpreter—the creation of the world, the passage of the Sabbath, the covenant with Israel, or the coming of the Messianic age. "Lecha Dodi" a 16th century liturgical song with strong Kabbalistic and messianic symbolism, contains many passages, including its opening words, taken directly from the Song of Songs.[citation needed]

Christian tradition

The Song of Songs is not directly quoted by New Testament writers, but is alluded to on a number of occasions. A few examples are Revelation 3:20, which quotes the Greek LXX of Song 5:2; John 12:2, 3, which is an allusion to Song 1:12; and John 7:38, which is a reference to the Greek LXX of Song 4:15.

The Song was regarded by Christian theologians either as a typological set of songs describing of the relationship of Christ and the Church or as an allegory of the soul's relationship to Christ and God, until late in the 19th century. Since that time Christian scholars have generally become more interested in the literal sense of the Song. The earliest attested Christian interpretation of the Song is found in a very substantial commentary by Hippolytus. This commentary covered only the first three chapters to 3:7. Hippolytus' Commentary on the Song of Songs interprets the Song as referring to a complicated relationship between Israel, Christ and the Gentile Church. The commentary returns often to the topic of the anointing of the Holy Spirit and was originally written as a mystagogy, an instruction for new Christians.[9] The commentary survives in two Georgian manuscripts, a Greek epitome, a Paleo-Slavonic florilegium, and fragments in Armenian and Syriac. Origen interpreted the Song largely as an allegory of the soul and Christ. He differed with Hippolytus and felt that the Song should be reserved for the spiritually mature and that studying it might be harmful for the novice. In this he followed third-century Jewish interpretive traditions. His commentary—apart from a few fragments of the original Greek—survives in a Latin translation due to Tyrannius Rufinus. A celebrated medieval series of commentaries was that composed by the Cistercians Bernard of Clairvaux, Gilbert of Hoilandia, and John of Ford over the course of several decades, each continuing the work of the previous.[10] Other prominent and accessible traditional commentaries are those of Apponius and Nilus of Ancyra (Sources Chrétiennes) and Gregory of Nyssa and Rupert of Deutz (Fontes Christiani).

Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love) of 2006 refers to the Song of Songs in both its literal and allegorical meaning, stating that erotic love (eros) and self-donating love (agape) is shown there as the two halves of true love, which is both giving and receiving.[11]

Messianic interpretation

It has been suggested that the book is a messianic text,[12] in that the lover can be interpreted as the Messiah. It could refer to the Messiah because it often speaks of the Davidic king Solomon. Nathan’s prophecy in 2 Samuel 7 showed that the promised Messiah would issue from the progeny of David. Each Davidic king was viewed as a potential Messiah, so the Song’s speaking of the Temple-builder Solomon would bring to readers’ minds their Messianic hopes.[13] When the Song references “mighty men” (3:7), it brings to mind David and his mighty men (2 Samuel 23). Describing the lover as “ruddy” (5:10) again brings to mind David (c.f. 1 Samuel 16:12). The Aramaic Jewish targums also interpreted the lover as the awaited Messiah.[14] All these references to kingship, to shepherding, to David, and to Solomon bring to mind the expected Messiah.

In the New Testament, Jesus later claimed his identity as Messiah when he presented himself as greater than Solomon (Matthew 12:42) because, as the builder of the Temple, Solomon was an “obvious messianic model.”[15]

The king's garden (for example 5:1) can be viewed in the light of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8-25),[16] bringing to mind the Messiah who was expected to restore Israel to an Edenic state. The lovers are portrayed as having overcome the alienation produced by the Fall. The state of woman whose “desire shall be for your husband” (Genesis 3:16) has even been reversed: “his desire is for me” (7:10).[17]

Other considerations

Scholars have noted that the Song of Songs shows similarities of various kinds with other ancient near eastern love poetry in general,[18] but particularly some Sumerian erotic passages,[19] and the Ramesside Egyptian love poetry.[20] Discussion of similarities with Tamil love poetry was also of interest in scholastic discussion in the late 20th century.[21]

Feminist scholars of biblical literature have offered a range of different responses to the Song. The feminist companion to the Bible series, edited by Athalya Brenner, has two volumes (1993, 2001) devoted to the Song, the first of which was actually the first volume of the whole series. Phyllis Trible, however, published "Depatriarchalizing in Biblical Interpretation" in 1973, offering a reading of the Song with a positive representation of sexuality and egalitarian gender relations, which was widely discussed, notably (and favourably) in Marvin Pope's major commentary for the Anchor Bible. Cheryl Exum, whose work on the Song is also widely known and highly regarded, considers, however, that "The subjectivity conferred upon the woman by the poet inevitably reflects a patriarchal worldview; how could it not?" (2005:82).

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the largest denomination in the Latter Day Saint movement, does not recognize the book as inspired,[22] although it is included in the Church's canon and printed in Church-published copies of the Bible.

References in art, literature and music

  • The title of Philadelphia-based experimental rock band, mewithoutYou's 2004 album, Catch for Us the Foxes is taken from Chapter 2, verse 15 of the Song of Songs. Also borrowing from the same verse, the lyrics to the 7th track off the album, "The Soviet". They read: "Please, catch for us the foxes in the vineyard... the little foxes."
  • The title of Lillian Hellman's 1939 play, The Little Foxes, comes from Chapter 2, verse 15 of the Song of Songs.
  • The Spiritual Canticle by St. John of the Cross is heavily influenced by the Song of Songs
  • Song of Solomon - 1977 novel by Toni Morrison, published 1978.
  • Black Madonnas illustrate a line in the Song of Songs 1:5: "I am black, but beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem ..." This is inscribed in Latin on some: Nigra sum sed formosa.
  • J.S. Bach's Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140, while mainly based on the Parable of the Ten Virgins, also uses words and imagery from the Song of Songs.[23]
  • La Sulamite by Emmanuel Chabrier, with words by Jean Richepin is based on the Song of Songs.
  • Karen Young made an album, with the Latin title of this book, Canticum Canticorum (also known as Oratorio), with twenty songs drawn from the whole book. The choreography from Canadian dancer Gioconda Barbuto based on this album was captured on film by Pepita Ferrari.
  • In the Jehovah's Witness song book, song number eleven is entitled "The Shullamite Remnant" and is based on the Song of Songs, quoting some of the verses verbatim, including Song of Songs 8:6, 7.
  • Israeli pop superstar Ofra Haza recorded the song entitled "שיר אהבה" (Love Song) on her 1988 album "Shaday". The song, sung a cappella, is a direct quotation of Song of Songs 8:6-7.
  • Kate Bush wrote a song called The Song Of Solomon, containing lines from the book, which appears on her 1993 album The Red Shoes.
  • Gothic rock band Christian Death on their 1987 LP "The Scriptures" featured a track entitled "Song of Songs" which is almost a literal translation of the book in modern English.
  • British electric folk band Steeleye Span on their 1977 album Storm Force Ten featured a track entitled "Awake, Awake" which is based on the Song of Songs.
  • Israeli musician Idan Raichel recorded the song "הינך יפה" (Thou Art Beautiful) for his 2002 debut album The Idan Raichel Project. The song is largely based on a cross-section of verses assembled from the Song of Songs.
  • Flos Campi by the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams is based on the book.
  • Sinéad O'Connor’s ”Dark I Am Yet Lovely” on Theology (2007) is a treatment of the Song.
  • Madeleine l'Engle’s novel, Many Waters' title comes from Song of Solomon 8:7: "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it. If a man were to give all his wealth for love, it would be utterly scorned."
  • The text of Daniel Pinkham's Wedding Cantata is taken from the Song of Songs.
  • Hard rock band called HIM (His Infernal Majesty) used some part of Song Of Solomon in song called Dark secret love
  • Leeds band Pale Saints recorded a song called Song of Solomon on their 1994 album Slow Buildings.
  • Birmingham singer Stephen Duffy had a hit song Kiss Me whose refrain was a rewording of lines from the first chapter of the Song of Songs ("Kiss me with your mouth/your love is better than wine").
  • Brion Gysin used the King James translation of the Songs of Songs in the cut-up poem The Poem of Poems (1958-1961)
  • The song of Solomon and how she sang it to me is sung by David Tibet on his Current 93 1996 untitled split EP, commonly known as the Seven Seals album.
  • In Geoffrey Chaucer's, 'The Canterbury Tales', there are numerous references. The most notable of these is in The Miller's Tale in Absolon's attempted wooing of Alisoun.
  • Eliza Gilkyson has set lines from chapter 2 to original music and recorded it as "Rose of Sharon" on her Redemption Road CD (1996).
  • Robert Burns's poem "The Bonniest Lass" from the collection The Merry Muses of Caledonia refers to it as "the smuttiest sang that e'er was sung".
  • John Zorn's "Shir Ha-Shirim" premiered in February 2008.[24] The piece is inspired by the Song of Songs and is performed by an amplified quintet of female singers with female and male narrators performing the "Song of Solomon". A performance at the Guggenheim Museum in November 2008 featured choreography for paired dancers from the Khmer Arts Ensemble by Sophiline Cheam Shapiro.[25]
  • John Steinbeck named one of the main characters in The Grapes of Wrath "Rose of Sharon," a reference to "Song of Solomon" 2:1: "I am a rose of Sharon."
  • The Residents' song I Hate Heaven from the album Wormwood: Curious Stories from the Bible is based on the Song of Songs.
  • Craig Thompson's graphic novel Blankets' quotes the Song of Solomon 4:7,9.
  • Varda Kotler in English Melodies album by Charles Gounod: "My Beloved Spake" Song of Songs – chapter 2, verse 10.
  • Natasha Khan founder of the UK music group Bat for Lashes refers to the song in both the tracks "Glass" and "Two Planets" from the album Two Suns (2009).
  • A reference to the Song of Songs is made by Neil Diamond in the gospel-influenced song Holly Holy.
  • In 2009, Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church authored a book, "Have You Seen the One I Love" on the Song of Songs.
  • In 1975, the German Krautrock band Popol Vuh released the album Das Hohelied Salomos
  • Singer Inbar Bakal used the text of Song of Songs in her album of the same name.

References in film

  • Nammukku paarkkaan munthiri thoppukal, a Malayalam (from Kerala, India) movie, has its title based on the Song of Songs; Chapter 7:12.
  • In Carl Th. Dreyer's Day of Wrath, a film about sexual repression in a puritanical protestant family, the first few verses of Song of Songs chapter 2 are read aloud by the daughter Anne, but soon after her father forbids her to continue. The chapter's verse paraphrases Anne's own amorous adventures and desires. [2]
  • The Wisdom of Crocodiles, (a.k.a. Immortality), paraphrases Song of Songs 3:6 & 4:3,5,7.
  • The Woman in the Window (1944), Professor Richard Wanley pulls this book off a shelf in the gentleman's club and sits to read it after his friends leave early in the film.
  • Keeping Mum (2005) features selected phrases.
  • In Miller's Crossing (1990), Tom Reagen mentioned it sarcastically to Verna Bernbaum.
  • In El crimen del Padre Amaro (The Crime of Father Amaro) (2002), a Mexican film (script by Vicente Leñero, based on the homonymus novel written in 1875 by José Maria de Eça de Queiroz) about a love relationship between a priest and a woman, father Amaro recites it to his secret lover.
  • In Once Upon a Time in America (1984), a Sergio Leone film, the young Deborah Gelly (Jennifer Connelly) recites it to 'Noodles' (Robert DeNiro).
  • In "The Librarian: Return to King Solomon's Mines" (2006), a made for TV film starring Noah Wyle

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Rahlfs (ed.), Septuaginta, Volume 2, (Stuttgart: de:Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1979), p. 260.
  3. ^ Song of Songs 6:13
  4. ^ Song of Songs 2:2-3 (KJV)]
  5. ^ Song of Songs 2:2-3 (NIV)]
  6. ^ Noegel and Rendsburg, Solomon's Vinyard: literary and lignuistic studies in the Song of Songs, (Society of Biblical Literature, 2009), p. 184.
  7. ^ Sáenz-Badillos, Angel (1993). A History of the Hebrew Language. Great Britain: Cambridge University Press. pp. 123–4. ISBN 0 521 43157 3. 
  8. ^ Garrett, Duane A. Song of Songs. Word Biblical Commentary 23B. Nashville: Nelson, 2004, 15.
  9. ^ Yancy W. Smith, "Hippolytus'Commentary On the Song of Songs in Social and Critical Context" (unpublished PhD dissertation; Brite Divinity School, 2008).
  10. ^ C. J. Holdsworth, "John of Ford and English Cistercian Writing, 1167–1214," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Fifth Series, 11 (1961), 117–36.
  11. ^ Pope Benedict XVI. (2005). Encyclical Letter: Deus Caritas Est (Part 1, Section 6). Libreria Editrice Vaticana. [1]
  12. ^ James Hamilton, “The Messianic Music of the Song of Songs”, Westminster Theological Journal 68 (2006): 333.
  13. ^ Ibid., 336.
  14. ^ Sigmund Mowinckel, He That Cometh, (New York: Abingdon Press, 1954), 283.
  15. ^ N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 535.
  16. ^ Francis Landy, “The Song of Songs and the Garden of Eden” Journal of Biblical Literature 98:4 (December 1979): 524.
  17. ^ James Hamilton, op. cit., 344.
  18. ^ Gwendolyn Leick, Sex and eroticism in Mesopotamian literature, 1994.
  19. ^ Cheryl Exum, Song of Songs, 2005.
  20. ^ Fox, M.V. The Song of Songs and Ancient Egyptian Love Songs. University of Wisconsin Press, 1985
  21. ^ Chaim Rabin (1973), Abraham Mariaselvam (1987).
  22. ^ Bible Dictionary: Song of Solomon
  23. ^ Herz, Gerhard (1972). Bach: Cantata No. 140. W.W. Norton and Company. 
  24. ^ Allan, J. Reviews: Live - John Zorn Abron Arts Centre Amplifier Magazine, February 22, 2008.
  25. ^ Smith, S. An Unlikely Pairing on Common Ground NY Times, November 27, 2008.

External links

Jewish translations and commentary:

Christian translations and commentary:


  • Garrett, Duane A. Song of Songs. Word Biblical Commentary 23B. Nashville: Nelson, 2004.
  • Linafelt, Tod. "Biblical Love Poetry (...and God)". Journal of the American Academy of Religion 70 (2) 2002.
  • Pope, Marvin H. Song of Songs: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Bible 7C. 2 volumes. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1977.
  • Theo Kobusch, Metaphysik, C. Metaphysik als Exegese des Hohenliedes, in Der Neue Pauly, Band 15, La-Ot, Stuttgart Weimar 2001.
  • Ariel Bloch and Chana Bloch, translators. The Song of Songs: A New Translation, With an Introduction and Commentary. Afterword by Robert Alter, Random House, 1995, ISBN 978-0520213302.


Canticum Canticorum. Eloge De L'amour. La Cantique Des Cantiques à la Renaissance, Capilla Flamenca, 2004 (Eufoda 1359).

This article incorporates text from Easton's Bible Dictionary (1897), a publication now in the public domain.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

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Proper noun

Canticle of Canticles


Canticle of Canticles

  1. (Biblical) Also known as Canticles, an alternative name for the Song of Solomon, a book of the Bible in the Old Testament.


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