The Song of Songs: A Philological Analysis of the Hebrew Book by P. W. T. Stoop-van Paridon (Ancient Near Eastern Studies: Peeters) Since time immemorial the Song of Songs (SofS) has been a source of amazement and inspiration. The countless translations and interpretations of this book differ strongly from each other. Does the Hebrew text indeed justify this? To answer this question, an unprejudiced philological analysis is necessary that keeps strictly to the text, which does justice to the context, and approaches the book intrinsically as rationally as possible.
These methods followed by the author make clear that the SofS is a continuous story, which runs from SofS 1.2 to 8.14 with a cohesive structure, which is readily comprehensible and logical. That even applies to verses (e.g. 2.15; 6.12), which are seen by everyone as puzzling. Emendations are practically never necessary, eliminations not at all.
The analysis makes plausible that SofS 1.2-8.4 is set in the harem of Solomon. The female protagonist, who has earlier lost her heart to a shepherd, is held there against her will and prepared physically and mentally for a meeting with Solomon by a personal attendant, who first appears in SofS 1.9; she does not succeed in winning her for Solomon.
In the SofS a consistent use of language is employed, which means, for example, that the individual speakers are recognisable; this, together with the intrinsically cohesive structure of the work, is a strong argument for one author/editor. The use of veiled language for specific female or male parts of the body occurs more often than is recognised by others.
The SofS is the story of the love, which unites two people. It is unique and faithful, and encompasses the whole of the person. Full justice is done to the related erotic-sexual aspect in a satisfying and harmonious manner.
Great differences exist between commentators as regards the rendering and interpretation of the SofS. In individual cases often a difference in the choice of the starting-point for the study plays a role, a difference in the conception which one has formed of the book before or after studying it. One way or another that also has an influence on the choices which must be made again and again during the process of the analysis concerning word-form and meaning. It is for example evident that the point of departure is completely different if one holds the opinion that the number of speakers is limited to two (for instance, Delitzsch, Murphy) or consists of three people, as many think. One or more wedding songs by or for King Solomon demands another construction to be put on it than an expression of love between a shepherdess and a shepherd, not to speak of the influence of the allegorical interpretation intended.
I will therefore forego formulating hypotheses at the beginning of my study. According to their form these can give the impression of preconceptions, and I wish to avoid every appearance of subjectivity.
The author tries to guard against any bias and strives to let the word and the language tell its own story. Therefore the central question is always: What can this word mean here in the form in which it occurs and in the context in which it is placed? Questions are posed, as often as is possible, independently of the results of any prior research on the SofS or in connection with the SofS. Lexical and grammatical information, the context and logical common sense and linguistic sensitivity are the deciding factors.
There are good grounds for assuming that the vocalised consonantal text, which we know as the Masoretic Text (MT), is a faithful rendering of the original Hebrew consonantal text of the SofS. The fragments of text of the SofS found in Caves 4 and 6 at Qumran support this view. The MT as it is rendered in BHK (1937; 1973) is the starting-point for the study and is respected this as much as is ever possible. Revocalisation may be applied as necessary but emendation of the consonantal text was not be accepted other than as a great exception.
The process of research is conducted in consecutive phases: collecting the lexical and grammatical information, taking as a starting point the relevant information in the concordance of Lisowsky -4 filling in the philological details from commentaries on the SofS from 1778 onwards -32 --> analysis of the possible meanings on the basis of content and form within the given context —> making a choice also with a view to the context
interpretation. In this way I will make a judgement about every word on its own merit (form and content). In each phase the whole of the SofS is gone through, from 1.1 to 8.14; only when one phase has been rounded off is the following phase begun.
In specific cases where necessary use is made of an Intermezzo to study more closely the meaning of a vocable or its use, that is with the help of texts from other books in the Hebrew Bible which are able to clarify which meaning in the SofS in a particular instance can be under discussion. It is conceivable that in some instances it is not possible to establish with any certainty what is meant by a particular vocable; in such cases the author set a limit to transcribing it.
With regard to the cultural-historical background in the biblical-historical period a number of standard sources were consulted.
Many commentators demonstrate connections between the Hebrew vocables that occur in the SofS and in other languages which were spoken in the ancient Near East. It is well established that these languages influenced each other. It is striking how wide the difference of opinion is between commentators who involve other areas of philological scholarship in the analysis of the SofS. Some focus attention on the dangers attached to this approach and make it plain that an analysis of this nature should be based on what the Hebrew Bible itself has to offer (cf. e.g. SofS 1.5-2.7 n. 261, 262, 270, 296). I too will, practically without exception, limit myself to Biblical Hebrew (cf. n. 26).
For the sake of objectivity in rendering the text the original word order was maintained as much as possible in the translation. In this way a poetic lyrical rendering is abandoned. If a choice has to be made between two alternatives and there are no decisive arguments for one of the two, both possibilities will be given. If 'hidden language' is being used the relevant word was placed between inverted commas.The method described above is time-consuming, laborious, perhaps monotonous and dull, and demands organisation and discipline. It is however worth the trouble to try to find in this manner, following a purely philological route, the key with which the locked door already spoken of can be opened, even if only by a chink. It is inevitable that the process is characterised, certainly at the beginning, by a degree of uncertainty. Hypotheses which were made at the beginning, however weak they have been at first sight, will indeed still have a rational, philological and literary foundation. However, as is the case with every scholarly investigation, a weak lead can sometimes be the key to finding out the truth. Obviously it is the responsibility of the researcher continuously to keep testing the hypothesis against the results as the study proceeds. Discrepancies are unacceptable. Compatibility strengthens the basis of a weak lead. That has been the author’s guiding principle.
The Targum of Canticles
by edited and translated from the Aramaic by Philip S.
Alexander (Aramaic Bible, Vol 17, Part A: Liturgical Press)
Written in the eighth century C.E., Targum Canticles offers one of the classic
interpretations of the Song of Songs. In the relationship between the bridegroom
and the bride in the Song, with its rhythm of communion, estrangement and
reconciliation, the Targumist discovers allegorical history of God’s
The Targum of Canticles was one of the most popular religious texts within Judaism, and it may have promoted the use of the Song of Songs as the special reading for Passover. It was adapted in the medieval and early modern periods by Christian scholars who saw in the Song a cryptic history of Christ’s relationship to the Church. Targum Canticles has played a central role in the interpretation of one of the most puzzling yet influential books of the Bible.
Excerpt: The present
volume in the Aramaic Bible series differs from its predecessors in a number of
ways, because the Targum it translates is somewhat different from the other
Targumim. Targum Canticles is clearly the work of a single author who has
imposed a consistent and closely argued reading on the biblical text. He treats
the text holistically: he has an overall exegetical schema which, once
established in his mind, determines how he understands the detail of any
individual verse. This contrasts with the generally atomistic approach of the
Targumim and Midrashim. These tend, at most, to have a thematic unity. That is
to say, they create coherence simply by discovering again and again in the
biblical text a limited repertory of theological themes. Targum Canticles, as
we shall see, also has a strong thematic unity, but it has more than that. It
has an overarching structure that results from the Targumist seeing the
biblical text as an orderly narrative from beginning to end, and not just as a
series of discrete theologoumena. The Targum on the face of it is wildly
exuberant. On closer inspection, however, it turns out to be derived with
painstaking care from the Hebrew text. The Targumist has, paradoxically, treated
the original with remarkable respect and reverence. Every single word of the
Hebrew is represented in his Targum, and usually in the right order. And within
the parameters of his presuppositions and methods there is a powerful
exegetical logic to his interpretation. Targum Canticles is a work of surprising
One of the
main aims of this edition is to lay bare the Targumist's reasoning. To do this
it proved necessary to present a translation of the Hebrew text of Canticles.
All the Targumim should be read in dialogue with the biblical text and not as
free-standing translations, but this is particularly important in the case of
Targum Canticles. Underlying our Targumist's allegory is a peshat reading of
Canticles: this I have attempted to express in my rendering of the biblical
text, which, though it differs sometimes sharply from the modern English
versions, nonetheless can claim to be a "literal" translation of the Hebrew.
With the aid of this, translation I then try to clarify in the Notes how our
Targumist has derived his Targum. The Notes also serve two other ends. They seek
to explain the meaning of the Targum itself (and not just its relationship to
the Hebrew), and they explore the Targum's relationship to the Midrashic
tradition, particularly on Canticles. Since our Targumist detects in Canticles a
hidden account of the history of Israel from the Exodus from Egypt to the
Messianic Age he embraces, in effect, almost the whole of Aggadah. He is a
formidable scholar, with a comprehensive knowledge of the Aggadah: his Targum
is, in a sense, an Aggadic encyclopedia. Yet he is not a servile compiler: he
cleverly molds the existing traditions to suit his own exegetical ends. The
Notes seek to show how he uses tradition. At the same time they exploit the
tradition to throw light on the Targum's darker places, since it is only in the
context of the tradition that the Targum's meaning can be fully understood.
tended to quote the Midrashic parallels at length for two reasons. The first is
practical. As Jacob Neusner is constantly reminding us, the study of Rabbinic
literature is hampered by the fact that many classic texts do not have a
satisfactory reference system. Using the standard references often directs the
reader to several closely printed folios of Hebrew, and he or she, having
painstakingly plowed through these, can still be left bemused as to what exactly
the cross-reference is supposed to be. The problem is solved by quoting,
wherever feasible, the precise words that constitute the parallel. But there is
a further advantage: the actual wording of the parallel usually illuminates the
Targum more brightly than any summary could do. These may well be the very words
that our Targumist knew, and that he expected his readers to know. By
juxtaposing them with his text we can often see what he meant, and how he has
nuanced and finessed the tradition. Intertextuality plays a major role in Targum
Canticles, but this can only be explored in the words of the tradition itself.
There is no substitute for illuminating tradition by tradition.
Apparatus serves two purposes. It gives a selection of variant readings from the
manuscripts; basically any variant that would show up in translation has been
recorded. And it indicates how I have solved the linguistic problems of the
Aramaic. These are numerous. Though learned, our Targumist does not seem totally
at home in Aramaic, and sometimes he does not express himself with complete
clarity. The format of the present series does not lend itself to discussing
these problems at length but I have tried to say enough for colleagues expert
in these matters to see how I have resolved the linguistic and textual cruces. I
hope to return to the text and language of Targum Canticles some time in the
Introduction seeks to set Targum Canticles in its historical context, but once
again the format of the series does not permit the expansiveness that may be
required. Targum Canticles belongs to the apocalyptic revival in Palestinian
Judaism in the seventh and eighth centuries of the current era. This early
Gaonic era in Palestine is not well understood, despite the valiant labors of
Jacob Mann, Moshe Gil, and others. The literature produced then needs to be
isolated, studied in its own right (not simply as an appendix to the classic
Talmudic period texts), and placed in a proper historical setting. It
illuminates a troubled and turbulent world in transition from Byzantine to
Islamic rule. I hope to return also to this subject in due course. Meanwhile I
would offer this study of Targum Canticles as a window into that little-known
The Song of Songs (Berit Olam:Liturgical Press) by Dianne Bergant Among all of the books of the First Testament, the Song of Songs is one of the most intriguing. On the one hand, its unabashed sensuality has captured the imagination and has endeared it to those who appreciate passionate human love. On the other hand, more demure readers have frequently been chagrined by their own fascination with its erotic character and have cloaked their interest under the guise of metaphorical reading. Both interpretations of the Song of Songs have been endorsed. Down through the ages, both Jewish and Christian interpreters have delighted in the exquisite imagery of the book's songs, but they have also frequently reverted to allegory in their interpretations.
This commentary views the Song as a collection of love poems and carefully examines features of Hebrew poetry in order to uncover the delicacy of their expression. It is unique not only in the attention that it gives to the obvious feminine perspective of the poems but in their ecosensitive character. Although it is a tribute to mutual love, the principal frame of reference is the amorous disposition of the woman. Her words open and close the Song and her voice is dominant throughout.
The imagery that the lovers use is drawn from nature. Whether it is the woman in awe of the strength and splendor of her lover or the man glorifying her physical charms, the descriptions all call on elements from the natural world to characterize the feature being described. Whatever they experience or know or even desire is somehow rooted in the natural world.
Chapters are Introduction, Canonicity, Authorship, and
Interpretation; Hebrew Poetry, Commentary; Superscription (1:1) Mutual Yearning
(1:2-2:7) Love Better Than Wine: 1:2-6 A Beloved beyond Compare: 1:7-2:7 An
Opportunity Lost, Then Found (2:8-3:5) The Springtime of Love: 2:8-17 Whom My
Soul Loves: 3:1-5 Ravished By Beauty (3:6-5:1) Solomon's Procession: 3:6-11 An
Ode to Her Body: 4:1-7 My Garden, My Bride: 4:8-5:1 One of a Kind (5:2-6:3) A
Search at Night: 5:2-8 An Ode to His Body: 5:9-6:3 The Admiration of a Lover
(6:4-8:4) A Woman of Singular Beauty: 6:4-10 Signs of Spring: 6:11-12 An Ode to
the Dancer: 6:13ñ7:5 [MT 7:1-6] The Desires of Love: 7:6-9a [MT 7:7-10a] Desire
Realized: 7:9b-13 [MT 7:10b-14] A Secret Rendezvous: 8:1-4 Love Affirmed
(8:5-8:14) Out of the Wilderness: 8:5a The Power of Love: 8:5b-7 The Little
Sister Matured: 8:8-10 Solomon's Vineyard: 8:11-12 The Final Exchange: 8:13-14
Works Cited Index
Interpretive Images in the Songs of Songs: From Wedding Chariots to Bridal Chambers by Steven C. Horine (Studies in the Humanities, Vol. 55: Peter Lang) The present work began as an attempt to better understand the Song and its poetry by applying a literary analysis. In the process, it was discovered that the Song evidences a paradigm of nuptial images which functions both as an interpretative framework for understanding its erotic love lyrics, and as a reference point for interpreting other of its important images. In particular, this study demonstrates that the Song of Songs contains several metaphorical expressions, or images, representing an important architectural structure essential to ancient Near Eastern weddingsthe bridal chamber. Two of these images form an inclusion that, along with other bridal chamber images, constitutes literary repetition. Finally, in lieu of structure, the inclusion and repetition of images yields an imagery paradigm, or interpretive matrix, for assessing other imagery and motifs in the Song.
This study makes the following contributions to the Song's history of interpretation. First, it serves as a corrective to recent interpretations which view the couple's love relationship as existing apart from the theme of marriage, a view which, with few exceptions, tends to be antipathetic to the worldview of ancient Israel as represented in the biblical canon, as well as to marriage as an important socioeconomic institution within the ANE, in general. Second, it avoids the necessity of scholars to appeal to the canonical context alone as adequate justification for sanctifying the erotic love in the Song as spousal love. And third, the present study serves as a corrective to recent claims that the female protagonist of the Song represents the only unmediated voice in the Bible, a claim which has recently been stated even more emphatically by Walsh: the woman's voice constitutes a "dissonant affront to the dominant male voices of the canon", her voice "is truly subversive, offering a dissonant voice of the canon".
On the other hand, the idea that the Song represents, to some degree, a song of protest against patriarchy is not without merit, but it is a protest that operates within prevailing social constructs, not outside them. Indeed, it is the existence of such constructs that grants the Song's heroine protection against certain abuses within the patriarchal system, especially since here father, along with her guardian brothers, had failed to arrange for her marriage, putting economic concerns ahead of a vital social responsibility. Happily, essential provisions within rabbinic law provided the necessary sanction for the Song's heroine to pursue her lover so that she could arrange her own marriage free of outside interference, especially from her family.
The present study indicates that the Song's lyrics are about young married love, an idea that has its basis in the identification of the central interpretive image of the Song, the bridal chamber. The analysis of the Song and its interpretive imagery is accomplished in the following four chapters. Chapter one establishes a chronological literary context by reviewing the Song's history of interpretation, which is assessed in light of the present proposition. Due to the variety of views and scope of this history, several restrictions are employed which are consistent with the present purpose. First, the survey of the Song's interpretive history is representative in nature, especially since others have set forth comprehensive treatments. At the same time, this chapter focuses on the treatment of the Song's metaphorical imagery within this history. It is particularly significant that one recent study, that of Munro, has already highlighted this aspect within the Song's interpretive history. She has noted that the imagery of nearly every interpretive theory, until the relatively recent anthropological or verbal approach, has been that of marriage. Building upon this, Horine ‘scontribution consists primarily of identifying places where earlier interpreters have identified bridal chamber images in the Song. Finally, since the present study is concerned with literary analysis, chapter one assesses previous literary approaches to the Song of Songs.
Chapter two investigates various literary methodologies, such as the traditional literary and contemporary conceptualmetaphorical approaches. After assessing the various strengths and weaknesses of each of these methods in light of the nature of the Song's dominant poetic mode, metaphorical imagery, Horine proposes an integrative, or hybrid, approach based upon certain aspects of each method which are appropriate to the literary nature of the Song. Chapter three is the heart of this study. It is the literary analysis proper in which Horine demonstrates that the Song's primary thematic/interpretive image is the bridal chamber, which is labeled primary imagery. The analysis begins with a basic literary principle, that the essence of a piece of literature may be ascertained by how it begins and ends. It appears that the Song's opening lines (1:2‑4) serve as a proleptic, or introductory, summary to the work as a whole. Further analysis suggests that a bridal chamber image, as represented by the term "chambers" (1:4), forms an inclusio with the term "gardens" (8:13), another image commonly associated with the bridal chamber in ancient Near Eastern literatures. In addition, several literary allusions suggest that the bridal chamber may be represented by other metaphorical expressions within the body of the Song, constituting repetition of this image.Chapter four represents a continuation, or part two, of the literary analysis with particular emphasis on what is termed secondary imagery. This consists of either transitional, or transportational, imagery as well as counterpoint, or negative, imagery. Transitional imagery represents nuptial imagery, as does the bridal chamber, but it is distinguished from the latter by the fact that it refers to a type of vehicle, such as a wedding chariot. On the other hand, tension (or counterpoint) imagery consists of anything that would impede the woman's longed for desire‑that is, union with her lover‑spouse. Horine also shows that the extended introduction to the Song (1:5‑6), in summary fashion, anticipates such obstacles. The purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate the importance of the primary image established in chapter three for understanding essential literary relationships‑that is, the relationship between the positive and negative imagery in the Song. Included in this chapter is a synthesis, or summary, of the literary analysis as a whole.
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