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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

The Song of Songs - Introduction

THE SONG OF SONGS is the Tanakh's only extensive discourse on human, erotic love. The book consists of a series of poems in which the speech of two lovers is interspersed with occasional comments by other voices. Throughout the poems, the lovers describe themselves and each other, and their feelings of love, desire, and longing. While the book has no narrative plot, the relationship between the lovers is marked by cycles of absence and presence. Poems which celebrate the presence of a lover alternate with poems of longing and poems of invitation. While both lovers speak within the text, the woman is the more active and articulate character. Her experiences, feelings, and perceptions are the central content of the poem. This suggests to some that a woman may have authored (parts of) the Song.

The Song is characterized by a wide range of poetic techniques. The poets draw from the language of the natural, domestic, and urban spheres. They use techniques of word‐play, pun and soundplay, repetition, simile, metaphor, and double entendre to highlight the relationship between the two lovers. One of the most striking literary features of the Song is the oscillation among the different spheres and modes. The poetic voices shift repeatedly from praise to adjuration, from playfulness to violence, and from third‐person to second‐person address, creating dynamic movement. The poetic techniques, many of which have parallels in Egyptian and Mesopotamian love poetry, provide an apt vehicle and a literary mirror for the lushness, exuberance, and movement of the relationship which they describe.

The compositional history and origin of the Song of Songs remain matters of debate. Most commentators agree that the book is a collection of poetic units which are linked by theme, language, and style. There are disagreements, however, over the extent of each unit and the degree of coherence of the collection. Some scholars insist that the poem is the work of a single author who might have relied on earlier sources or traditions. Others insist that the canonical text is the product of a redactor who edited together preexistent poems and poetic fragments.

The date of composition of the Song is also unclear. With the exception of the few references to King Solomon, there is no mention of known historical figures or events. Nor do the references to human behavior correlate to the attitudes or situations of a particular historicalperiod. In addition, the book contains both archaic language and relatively late words, which makes it difficult to establish a date on linguistic grounds. Contemporary scholarly consensus hypothesizes that the poem probably has its roots in early folk and literary traditions but was composed or redacted in the 4th or 3rd century BCE.

The original genre and function of the text have also been the subject of much research and debate. Over the past century, three major theories have been adduced. The first is that the Song is the script of a drama which told the story of a love affair. This theory was quite popular in the 19th century, but has since been abandoned. The second theory holds that the Song evolved from a Mesopotamian liturgical context which described the sacred marriage of a god and goddess. This theory is based on perceived similarities between the Song and ancient Mesopotamian sacred marriage texts. Like the dramatic theory, this theory has become less popular in recent years, but it remains possible that some of the images of the poem originate in liturgical or mythological traditions. The third, most satisfactory theory maintains that the text is a collection of poems about human love, some of which may have originally been used in wedding celebrations.

The Song's positive focus on human, erotic love, its silence regarding the central theological and historical themes of the rest of the biblical text, and the centrality of its female character, make it unique within the biblical canon. Some scholars have argued that already by the time of its inclusion in the canon, the Song was understood not only as human love poetry but also, and perhaps primarily, as a description of the love relationship between God and Israel. This theory rests partly on the use of the human love relationship as a metaphor for the God‐Israel relationship in the prophetic literature (e.g., Isa. 54.4–8; Jer. 2.1–2; Ezek. chs 16, 23; Hos. chs 1–3 ). While it is possible that the allegorical understanding of the poem was already current at the time of the book's canonization, it is also possible that the poems were introduced into the canon because, as secular love songs, they occupied an important place in the culture of ancient Israel in biblical and Second Temple times. Once the book became part of the canon, the tendency to interpret it allegorically increased.

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