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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

The Song of Solomon

Athalya Brenner

A. Introduction.

1.

The Song of Songs, as the first two words of its superscription ( 1:1 ) imply, is lyrical poetry (Heb. sing. šir: song, poem; pl. haššîrîm: of songs, of poems), originally intended to be performed, i.e. sung to music, on suitable occasions. The meaning of the name is variously explained further as ‘the most sublime’, the ‘best’ song (a superlative construction) or collection of songs (one song or poem constructed of a plurality of poems). On the rest of the superscription, ‘of’, ‘by’, ‘for’, or ‘[dedicated] to’ Solomon, see below (B.2).

2.

The second verse ( 1:2 ) conveys the subject-matter: ‘Let him kiss me from the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine.’ (‘From’ is the literal meaning of the Heb. text, rather than NRSV ‘with’.) The songs/poems are secular love poems about heterosexual, erotic, passionate relationships. Indeed, the songs celebrate love between unmarried, seemingly young, female and male lovers. The form is, mostly, that of monologues, dialogues, and chorus rejoinders delivered in the first person mode: the voice of the narrator(s) per se is not directly heard. The predominant speaking voice is female. There are no direct references to religious, ethical, or national values. YHWH is never mentioned (although some interpreters find a reference to him in the component -, added to the Heb. word for ‘flame’, in 8:6 ). The geographical settings vary, as do the implied economic and social settings. Urban, sophisticated backgrounds interchange with nature and natural and rural settings. Imagery of food, drink, flora and fauna interchanges with metaphors of fortifications and military phenomena. In short, and in spite of the mention of place-names (such as Jerusalem, Tirzah, Gilead, Lebanon, Hermon), the universal phenomenon of erotic love is communicated in a largely universal manner, hence its appeal.

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