How Should We Interpret Song of Solomon?

fffffffffffghbNo book in the biblical canon has arguably had greater diversity of interpretive strategies than the Song of Songs. It the book of Revelation for the Old Testament when it comes to how interpreters are varied in their approach to the book.  Today, four main schools remain for the book and the prevalence of each interpretive approach has varied over Church and Judean history.

Allegorical– It is well known that the dominant traditions of interpretation, in Judaism and Christianity alike, have understood the Song to portray the relationship between God and the people of Godmore specifically, the bond of mutual love between Israel and Yahweh in Jewish exegesis or between the Church as the bride and Christ as the bridegroom in Christian exposition.[1] This view is commonly called the allegorical interpretation. An allegory is a figurative sentence or discourse, in which the principal subject is described by another subject resembling it in its properties and circumstances.

dfhbfgLiteral– The second main view, and the most dominant view of Protestants today, is the Solomon-Shulammite interpretation or literal view. This interpretation views the Song of Solomon as a unified love poem with a two-character plot, the two primary characters being King Solomon (or someone else) and the Shulammite woman celebrating sexual intimacy within a monogamous marriage relationship .[2]

Anthology-The anthology interpretation views the Song of Solomon as a collection or anthology of interrelated love poems or lyrics arranged around a common theme of intimate love between a man and a woman in celebration of love’s longing, ecstasy, joy, beauty, and exclusivity.[3] The main difference between the allegorical and anthology interpretation is the acknowledgment of a narrative plot within the book.

dfbgfgbThe Shepherd Hypothesis-The last interpretation is called the Shepherd Hypothesis. Becoming quite popular in the nineteenth century, the Shepherd Hypothesis interprets the Song as a struggle between the young women and the shepherd boy as two simple country folk in love remaining true to each other as King Solomon attempts to seduce the young woman into his harem.[4]

Other viewpoints many exist for the book but these are the four predominant views on the subject.

[1] Roland E. Murphy. The Song of Songs. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1990), 11.

[2]   ESV Study Bible,1214.

[3]   Ibid., 1214.

[4]   J.A. Motyer. The Message of the Song of Songs (Bible Speaks Today), 24.


4 responses to “How Should We Interpret Song of Solomon?

  1. I want to propose a fifth reading that I think follows from a “literary” interpretation of the text. Disclaimer is that I haven’t studied this text in a while, so I’m not sure how convincing I would find this reading today compared to when I wrote a paper about it three years ago… But from what I remember of my studies of this text, here it is:

    There are two key pieces of information that motivate this reading. The first is the tradition that the poem has to do in some way with Solomon, who was anything but monogamous in his relationships with women. The second is the observation that a strong case can be made for almost all of the lines associated with the male character (until close to the end of the poem) being located within scenes that seem to be a recurring dream-state experienced by the female character. This suggests that the poem may actually be form the point of view of either one of Solomon’s many wives or a woman in the harem of his concubines (which certainly isn’t conclusive evidence but might raise the possibility of the book being written by a woman). There are two variants on this reading: the first suggests that this is the story of a woman who willingly entered the harem/became one of Solomon’s wives and is lamenting her love for Solomon (who she likely hasn’t seen since her fist night with him). The second reading is more in parallel with the Shepherd reading above and suggests that the woman was taken into Solomon’s harem unwillingly and is lamenting her love for another that she has been forced to leave behind. In either case, the poem is lamenting the mis-use/mis-appropriation of love, not celebrating the beauty of sex within marriage.

    • We toyed with this view back in Bible as literature with Dr. Snyder a few years back. Within the class, it was assumed that Solomon was the main love interest of the woman within the book which created this “jilted lover” interpretation. The woman desires solomon but he is “stretched” thin because of all his marital and adulterous relations. I think the book is extremely difficult to nail down in the end.

  2. I’m not convinced that Solomon is even the man in love within the book. I also wrote a paper on the book a few years back that for the most part, likely is not worth the paper it was printed off on. But, it did leave me doubting that Solomon was the key male figure within the book.

    Based on the opening line, the references to the actual person/king, and 1 Kings 4:32, the authorship of the work has traditionally been accredited to King Solomon, the son and successor of David. However, several reasons exist to question this assertion. First, the opening title or line of the song is grammatically ambiguous. The Hebrew verse (שׁיר השׁירים אשׁר לשׁלמה׃) literally translates “The Song of Songs which pertains to Solomon.” The book could have merely been composed in or for King Solomon’s honor. Second, the narrative of Solomon’s life found in 1 Kings generates obvious apprehensions with Solomonic authorship. 1 Kings 2 presents a concise synopsis of Solomon’s ascension to the throne that is followed in 3:1 with “ Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt.” Pharaoh’s daughter is probably not the Shulammite country girl that graces the pages of the book as the heroine. The existence of Solomon’s harem full of 700 wives and princesses as well as 300 concubines invalidates him as an ethical standard for married love in Israel. Third, the book references Solomon generally as a remote, even romanticized figure (Song 1:5,3:7,9,11,8:11-12).

  3. You guys you have done a very blessed job, as going through this now am confident for my exams on Wednesday of the course “the law and writings of OT”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s