The Song of Songs: A Study, Modern Translation, and Commentary

The Song of Songs: A Study, Modern Translation, and Commentary

The Song of Songs: A Study, Modern Translation, and Commentary

The Song of Songs: A Study, Modern Translation, and Commentary

Excerpt

Books have their own peculiar destinies, a Latin proverb informs us. Every student of human nature knows how wide are the fluctuations in fashion and interest affecting men's attitudes toward works of literature, art and music.

In this regard, the Song of Songs is a shining exception. For over twenty centuries it has retained its appeal to men's hearts. To be sure, the book has been variously interpreted during its long career. Earlier ages, perhaps more devout than our own, read the Song of Songs as an allegory and saw in it an expression of the ideal relationship of love subsisting between God and man. However, as the full scope and character of Biblical literature became evident, this traditional view, in spite of its inherent charm and religious significance, became less and less popular and is today virtually abandoned. Within the last few decades, the allegorical theory has been revived in a very special form. Some scholars have sought to interpret the Song as the ritual of a pagan fertility-cult, but this effort cannot be pronounced a success, as this study seeks to demonstrate.

Today it is generally recognized that the book is to be understood literally, its theme being human love, a view which was, indeed, adumbrated in ancient times. Yet even now there is no unanimity with regard to the meaning and character of the book. Some scholars have maintained the position that the book is a drama, with either two or three characters. This theory is still frequently encountered in popular treatments of the Song, but it, too, I believe, cannot sustain critical examination.

As the results of archaeological and literary research continue to mount, it becomes increasingly clear that the Song cannot be understood in isolation, however splendid and exalted. The life and faith of ancient Israel is, on the one hand, part of the culture-pattern of the ancient Near East and, on the other, markedly distinct from it. Unless both elements of this ambivalent yet perfectly natural relationship are fully taken into account, we obtain a distorted picture of reality.

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