“The Song of Songs is one of the most famous books of the Old Testament and has become a household name. This book is enjoyed by believers and unbelievers alike, for its characters are a young man and a young woman who are tormented by ardent love, as well as their peers and friends who sympathize with their torment. Legend has it that its author was King Solomon of Israel, famous for his wisdom and womanizing. It was the Song of Songs that inspired Alexander Kuprin almost a hundred years ago to write the romantic story Sulamith. It has also inspired famous poets of different eras, including Pushkin and Anna Akhmatova, the caustic satirist Heinrich Heine and his Russian colleague Sasha the Black. However, the Catholic and Orthodox churches claim that the Song of Songs is an allegorical account of the relationship between Christ and the Church, referring not to a building of worship but to a community of believers.
What “Song of Songs” is about
In keeping with its title, “Song of Songs” consists of unrhymed verses that resemble expressive rhythmic prose. The narrative is mostly in the person of a young girl who is searching for her missing lover. She leaves her native village and wanders the city streets, unafraid of the guards who are ready to mock the reckless wanderer. The search ends in success – the girl finds her sweetheart and they indulge in hot caresses. These adventures are accompanied by a chorus of chums and friends wishing the young couple good luck.
The Song of Songs ends, as it should in a happily married story, with the bride and groom being compared to King Solomon and his bridesmaid, much as the newlyweds are called “prince” and “princess” in old Russian weddings. The structure of the Song of Songs suggests that it was originally a collection of wedding songs, which was later given a pious significance.
So, this work hardly mentions the wise Solomon, who, if legend is to be believed, had hundreds of wives and countless concubines. Moreover, the girl calls herself a poor shepherdess and repeatedly confesses that she would not trade her lover for any of the nobles, including the king. So the tradition linking the Song of Songs with Solomon’s amorous adventures is pure speculation. Moreover, there is no evidence to suggest that the Song of Songs was composed in King Solomon’s court or even by his contemporaries.
Scholars find that the Song of Songs has much in common with love songs written by peoples all over the world, including the ancient Egyptians, who are mentioned here and there in the Bible. It was the custom in ancient Egypt to call the lover “brother” and the sister “bride,” with absolutely no thought of incest. But the Song of Songs is a very special literary work. Because of the Bible’s great prominence as the holy scripture of several religions, the Song of Songs is known to millions of people and has spread into aphorisms and quotations that are used time and again even by atheists. Romantics of different eras have sung and written repeatedly about love that is stronger than blazing fire, stormy waters and death itself, without thinking that they are quoting the Bible.
But what do theologians say?
A very different interpretation of the Song of Songs is offered by ministers of the Church, who for hundreds of years have rejected secular speculation about its secular content. According to tradition, this book of the Old Testament is full of allegories, for by the young bride and groom are meant God and the Church as communities of faith. God loves people as faithfully and fervently as the bridegroom loves his bride, and ideally they should respond to him with the same devoted love.Also, the young bride is compared to the Mother of God, the most pious of all human beings on earth and the only one of Adam and Eve’s great granddaughters who was not touched by the corrupting seal of sin. That is why verses from the Song of Songs are read during Christian worship, and quotations from it are found again and again in writings of a religious nature.
But today even theologians recognize that the Song of Songs, which is read during Jewish marriage rites, may have complementary meanings. Especially since marital love, as well as the love between the bride and groom that precedes it, is considered sinful only by the most frenetic zealots.
“Song of Songs and Science.
In addition, the Song of Songs is studied with interest by scholars of all kinds, from archaeologists to linguists to biologists. For it mentions cities and famous architectural structures that existed in biblical times, as well as animals and plants that inhabited Palestine, with which the characters of the narrative are repeatedly compared. The bridegroom, for example, is likened to a slender cedar, and his ardent lover to a date palm that is used to enduring the harshest heat. A separate topic is the translations of the Song of Songs into different languages of the world, in which inaccuracies as well as new, unexpected meanings are inevitable, like those that appeared when the Gospel was translated into Eskimo language, when the Lamb of God was transformed into a similarly innocent, defenseless, and touching creature: the seal of God.
Why is it called that?
Readers of the Song of Songs have repeatedly asked the legitimate question, “What does the name mean?” The answer is simple: in the Eastern tradition, to which the Bible belongs, such phrases mean superlatives. Thus, “Song of Songs” is like “The Book of Books,” the most important of all hymns on earth.