EARLY AND MEDIEVAL JEWISH
INTERPRETATION OF THE
SONG OF SONGS
WESTON W. FIELDS
The Song of Songs provides an excellent background for discuss-
ing various hermeneutical approaches to the Old Testament. This
grows out of the large number of different interpretations attached
through the ages to this enigmatic book. If one is to understand
Christian interpretation, especially the roots of allegorization, he
must first understand Jewish interpretation of the book before Chris-
tianity and afterward. Thus, in this article interpretation of the Song
is traced from the period of the Septuagint translation through the
Mishnah and Talmud to the medieval period in order to show when
and with what effect allegorization came to be the standard method
of interpreting the book.
* * *
IF the language of the Song of Songs is enigmatic, and the canon-
icity sometimes disputed, its interpretation is both of these com-
bined. As one surveys the vast array of differing interpretations of
this song over the centuries, he can certainly sympathize with the
rather secular perception of one interpreter who says that "it is one of
the pranks of history that a poem so obviously about hungry passion
has caused so much perplexity and has provoked such a plethora of
But it is the very obviousness of the sexual love of the Song that
is the root of this variety; for, to the Western Christian Mind explicit
statements about sexual love and detailed descriptions of the anat-
omy of the human body, all discussed under a number of unmistak-
able and rather graphic similes and metaphors, are most embar-
rassing to read in a book of the Bible. Even later Jewish writers,
l William E. Phipps, "The Plight of the Song of Songs," JAAR 42 (1974) 15.
222 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
apparently influenced by their Christian counterparts, found the
sexual descriptions of the Song rather too lucid.2
The history of the interpretation of the Song is thus largely the
history of Jewish and Christian interpreters' methods of dealing with
this embarrassment, and their commentaries are more often commen-
taries on themselves and their times than on the Song.
If one accepts the hermeneutical principle that the primary goal
of the interpreter is to discover the original meaning and intention of
the author of a biblical book, he must try as much as is possible to let
himself be controlled in his interpretations by the same cultural
norms which controlled the writers. In the case of the Song of
Solomon, the interpreter must be especially careful that he does not
judge the book on the basis of his Western culture, question its
canonicity, and allegorize its historical meaning away so completely
that its original intention, meaning, and use are entirely obscured. If a
great many of the interpreters over the centuries have been unable to
do that, let judgment not fall too harshly upon them: one must first
An important piece in the hermeneutical puzzle is the contribu-
tion of early Jewish scholars. The song is, after all, Jewish in origin
and use. And while ancient indications about its early interpretation
are neither authoritative nor binding, they are often instructive-even
essential-for understanding interpretations that came later, especially
during medieval, reformation, and modem times.
This article, therefore, explores Jewish interpretation of the Song
of Solomon from the earliest records of such endeavors through the
medieval period in order to demonstrate that (1) there is no record of
allegorization in the earliest period and (2) allegorization became the
predominant method of interpretation in the later periods. A subse-
quent study may trace Christian interpretation from the apostolic era
up until the Reformation in order to show similarities and contrasts
between the two groups in general.
Such a survey of past interpretations is useful not only because it
is never wise to ignore the work of those who have previously
struggled with these same questions, but also because seen in the
more distinct perspective of time, some interpretations condemn
themselves and others commend themselves, and the field of possibili-
ties becomes at once smaller and more comprehensible.
2 On the subject of Jewish attitudes toward sex and related matters, including
adultery and divorce, see Louis M. Epstein, Sex Laws and Customs in Judaism (New
FIELDS: INTERPRETATION OF SONG OF SONGS 223
One might have expected to put the interpretation found in the
Targumim first in the line of Jewish interpretations, but for reasons
explained below, it is probably best to consider them later than some
Since all translations in some sense reflect the views of the
translators, it is not unreasonable to suppose that the LXX in some
ways reflects the views of the Jews who made it,3 however unortho-
dox these Alexandrian Jews are supposed to have been. If the Letter
of Aristeas is accepted substantially as it stands (as it was at least up
to and especially by Augustine, who placed it almost on the level of
the original text), then the translation of the LXX would be dated
about the middle of the third century B.C., during the reign of
Ptolemy 11.4 Scholars are not generally disposed to accept it as
entirely genuine, however, and so usually date the translation later, a
position most recently defended again by Wurthwein.5 But whatever
the decision on that matter, even Jellicoe suggests a terminus ante
quem of 170 B.C.6
It has been thought by some that an allegorical interpretation is
already evident in the LXX translation of the Song of Songs. The
main passage adduced to prove this alleged allegorism is 4:8, where
the LXX renders hnAmAxE wxrome by a]po> a]rxh?j pi<stewj, "from the top
of faith," for the Hebrew "from the top of Amana." But the weakness
of this argument is obvious to anyone familiar with the inconsistent,
sometimes almost capricious way that the LXX, Josephus, and others
transliterate and translate Hebrew proper names. It is further dis-
proved by the rendering of hcAr;Ti, "Tirzah," by eu]doki<a, "delight,"
(6:4), and of bydinA-tBa, "noble daughter," by qu<gater Nada<B "daughter
of Nadab," (7:2), "whence it is evident that the Septuagint frequently
3 Orlinsky cautions, however, that just because the LXX translators often rendered
the text literally word-for-word does not mean that they understood it that way (Harry
M. Orlinsky, "The Septuagint As Holy Writ and the Philosophy of the Translators,"
HUCA 46  106).
4 Augustine, The City .of God, , 43; Sidney Jellicoe, The Septuagint and
Modern Study (Oxford: Clarendon, 1968) 47. Cf. also the very excellent "History of
the Septuagint Text" in Alfred Rahlfs, ed., Septuaginta, Vol. I (
bergische Bibelanstalt, 1935) xxii-xxxi; and Ernst Wurthwein, The Text of the Old
Testament, trans. Erroll F. Rhodes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979) 49-68.
5 Wurthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 51-53. Cf. H. B. Swete, Introduction
to the Old Testament in Greek (2nd ed.;
and Paul Kahle,
introduction to and the full text of the letter, see Herbert Andrews, "The Letter of
Aristeas" in APOT, 2. 83-122.
6 Jellicoe, The Septuagint and Modern Study, 49.
224 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
mistook proper names for appellatives and adjectives, and vice versa.”7
There does not seem to be any indication otherwise that the early
Jews allegorized the Song, though such a practice would not have
been particularly surprising even in this early period.
Dated about the end of the fourth century B.C.. to the upper half
of the third century B.C.,8 Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus, Sirach, Ben
Sirach) is possibly older than the LXX translation.9 The author often
approaches an artistic level of Hebrew comparable to that of the OT,
so steeped was he in the classical tradition.10
The first of the passages which have been used to prove that Ben
Sira reflects allegorical interpretation of the Song of Solomon is
47:17. Speaking in an apostrophe to Solomon, 47:17 says: e]n &]dai?j
kai> paroi<miaij kai> parabolai?j kai> e]n e[rmnhei<aij a]peqau<masa<n se
sw?rai, "by your songs, proverbs,11 parables, and interpretations12 you
caused the people astonishment." This is the Greek translation of the
Hebrew words rywi, lwAmA, hyAd;Ha and hcAylim;.13 Ben Sira was referring
to all the works generally accorded him by the OT (Prov. 1:6 and
I Kgs ).14 By this reference to Solomon's parabolai?j ai]wigna<twn,
"riddles, dark sayings," in 47:15, some have concluded that he was
referring to hidden allegories in the Song of Solomon.15 It seems,
however, that since Solomon's songs are mentioned separately, Ben
Sira is not referring to inherent allegories in the Song of Solomon.
7 Christian David
Ginsburg, The Song of Songs and Coheleth
reprinted, 1970) 21.
8 G. H. Box and W. O. E. Oesterley, "Sirach," APOT, 1. 294. For a short
introduction and more up-to-date bibliography, see Leonhard Rost, Judaism Outside
the Hebrew Canon, trans. David E. Green (Nashville: Abingdon, 1971) 64-69.
9 Box and Oesterley, "Sirach," 294.
10 Tadeuz Penar, Northwest Semitic Philology and the Hebrew Fragments of Ben
Sira (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1975) 2.
11 LSJ, 1342.
12 Ibid., 690.
13 For the usage of these and other words in Sirach, see D. Barthelemy and O.
Rickenbacher, eds., Konkordanz zum Hebraischen Sirach (
Ruprecht, 1973). For further comparison between the Hebrew text and the LXX, see
Elmar Camilo Dos
Ben Sira Scroll from
14 Box and Oesterley translate from the Hebrew: "By thy songs, parables, dark
speeches, and satires thou didst cause astonishment to the peoples ("Sirach," 498).
15 There is a textual variant here where the Hebrew text is mutilated. Box and
Oesterley translate" And didst gather parables like the sea," following another variant
FIELDS: INTERPRETATION OF SONG OF SONGS 225
THE BOOK OF WISDOM
The apocryphal book of Wisdom (of Solomon) has also been
supposed to support the allegorical interpretation of the Song of
Solomon. Dating from about the middle of the second century B.C.,16
the book states in 8:2, representing Solomon as speaking to Wisdom:
Tau<thn e]fi<lhsa kai> e]cezh<thsa e]k neo<thto<j mou kai> e]zh<thsa
nu<mfhn a]gage<sqai e]maout&? kai> e]rasthj e]geno<mhn tou? ka<llouj au]th?j
"Her I loved and sought since my youth to bring her (home) for my
own bride, and I became an admirer of her beauty." Because Solomon
is here made to speak of Wisdom as his bride, it has been supposed
that this is an explanation of the Song of Songs, as though the brides
were the same. But only a perusal of the two books will convince the
reader that there is no intentional resemblance whatever.17
Josephus (A.D. 37-95) is supposed to have understood the Song
in an allegorical sense, but it is never quoted by him. The ground of
this contention is his arrangement of the books of the OT. Of the
twenty-two books he mentions as canonical (ta> dikai<wj [qei?a]
pepisteu<mena),18 he describes five as Mosaic, ascribes thirteen to "the
prophets," and ai[ de> loipai> te<ssarej u!mnouj ei]j to>n teo>n kai> toi?j
a]nqrw<poij u[poqh<kaj tou? bi<ou perie<xousin, "the remaining four are
hymns to God and rules for the life of men" (Psalms, Job, Proverbs,
and Ecclesiastes).19 Thus, he would have placed the Song among the
prophets, and would have interpreted it allegorically.20 But since
Josephus also puts such historical books as Esther and Ruth among
the prophets, it cannot follow that all "prophetical" writings were
interpreted allegorically automatically, though it is true that both
of them, were sometimes interpreted allegorically as well.21 Further-
more, Leiman makes a good case for putting the Song in the last
16 Samuel Holmes, "Wisdom of Solomon," APOT, 1. 520; cf. Rost, Judaism
outside the Hebrew Canon, 56-60.
17 A conclusion reached as far back as Ginsburg (Song of Songs and Coheleth,
18 Josephus, Against Apion, 1: (in the Loeb Classical library edition).
19 Ibid., 1:.
20 See Johann Friedrich Kleuker, Samlung der Gedichte Salomons sonst der
Lied der Lieder (
and W. E. Henstenberg,
Das Hohelied Salomonis (
Dehmigre, 1853) 255.
21 Ginsburg prefers to place the book among the last four mentioned, though he
does not explain how the five are then added up by Josephus as four (Ginsburg, Song
of Songs and Coheleth, 23).
22 Sid Z. Leiman, The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture, vol. 47 of Transactions
226 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
The book of 4 Ezra, also dating from about the middle of the
second century B.C., is sometimes claimed as one of the earliest
indications of the allegorical interpretation of the Song of Solomon
by Jews.23 Concerning this Audet states: "En premier lieu, il est
inexact d'affirmer que 'les Juifs ont toujours entendu Ie Cantique au
sens allegorique.'”24 He contends that "le plus ancien temoignage
connu d'une telle interpretation est celui de IV Esdras, V, 24-26; VII,
26, et encore est-il loin d'etre decisif.”25 It would appear that the
passage is less than decisive indeed, but following are the verses that
have been used: "And I said: O Lord my Lord, out of all the woods
of the earth and all the trees thereof thou hast chosen thee one vine;
out of all the lands of the world thou hast chosen thee one planting
ground; out of all the flowers of the world thou hast chosen thee one
lily; out of all the depths of the sea thou hast replenished for thyself
one river; out of all the cities that have been built thou hast sanctified
Sion unto thyself" (4 Ezra -26a).26
The figures allegedly taken from the Song of Solomon and
interpreted allegorically are the lily (Cant 2:2); the dove (Cant );
and the stream (Cant ). Box accepts this as an indication that the
allegorical interpretation was in vogue,27 but the hesitancy of Audet
to draw this conclusion is commendable. Even if this would prove an
allegorical interpretation by the writer of 4 Ezra, it would not prove
such was normative for all Jews at that time.
The work known as the Talmud (completed ca. 5th-6th centuries
A.D.) consists primarily of two parts: the Mishnah, which constitutes
the text, and the Gemara, which constitutes the commentary by the
Amoraim or public lecturers on the Mishnah. The study of the
Mishnah was pursued in
two main geographical locations:
The Gemara from
Leiman puts Job among the prophetical books so that the last section of Josephus
contains Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. See also Leiman, ed.,
The Canon and Masorah of the Hebrew Bible (New York: Ktav, 1974).
23 G. H. Box, "4 Ezra," APOT, 2. 552-53; Rost, Judaism outside the Hebrew
24 "In the first place, it is inaccurate to conclude that 'the Jews always interpreted
the Song allegorically' . .(Jean-Paul Audet, "Le Sens du Cantique des Cantiques," RB
62 [f955] 200).
25 "The most ancient testimony known of such an interpretation is that of 4 Ezra
-26; , and yet it is far from being decisive" (ibid.).
26 Box, "4 Ezra," 571.
27 Ibid., n. on v 23.
FIELDS: INTERPRETATION OF SONG OF SONGS 227
Talmud, and that from Tiberias is called the Jerusalem Talmud, and
both of these together with the Mishnah are called the Talmud,
though the distinction is generally made between the Babylonian and
In the Mishnah, Yadaim 3:5, there are some interesting state-
ments about the Song of Songs. One is the assertion, quoted more
fully above, of its canonicity: "All the Holy Scriptures render the
hands unclean. The Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes render the hands
unclean.”29 It is further stated that Rabbi Akiba said: "God forbid!-
no man in
should say) that it does not render the hands unclean, for all the ages
are not worth the day on which the Song of Songs was given to
of Holies.”30 This is to some an indication that Rabbi Akiba inter-
preted the Song allegorically. It is true that it is difficult to understand
his hyperbolic language if he did not.
It is quite evident that by the time the Talmud was complete the
allegorical interpretation of the Song was accepted. From a gemara in
Tractate Sanhedrin comes this fascinating application of Cant 7:3 to
the Sanhedrin itself:
Gemara: Whence is this [i.e., the seating of the Sanhedrin] deduced?
Said R. Aha b. Hanina: From (Solomon's Song, vii.3): "Thy navel is
like a round goblet which lacketh not the mixed wine." By "navel" is
meant the Sanhedrin. And why were they named navel? Because they
used to sit in the middle of the world (according to the Talmud,
were they named a "round goblet"? Because the Sanhedrin sat in a
circle: "Which lacketh not the mixed wine"-i.e., if one wished to
28 Hermann L. Strack,
Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (
Publication Society of
of Hebrew literature (New York: Ktav, 1969) 97-98; R. Travers Herford, Christianity
in Talmud and Midrash (reprinted;
ing the Talmud (New York: Ktav, 1975); Richard N. Soulen, Handbook of Biblical
Criticism (Atlanta: John Knox, 1976) 159; Irving A. Agus, review of Abraham I.
Katsh, Ginze Talmud Babli, JQR 68 (1977) 121-26; and David Weiss Halivni,
Contemporary Methods of the Study of Talmud, JJS 30 (1979) 192-201.
29 Herbert Danby,
ed. and trans., The Mishnah (
reprinted, 1974) 781. As background for the Mishnah, see Jacob Neusner, The Modern
Study of the Mishnah (Leiden: Brill, 1973) and J. Weingreen, From Bible to Mishnah
(New York: Holmes and Meier, 1976). On the relationship between Christian herme-
neutics and Rabbinics, see Raymond F. Surburg, "Rabbinical Writings of the Early
Christian Centuries and New Testament Interpretation," CTM 43 (1979) 273-85.
30 Danby, The Mishnah, 782. For the connection of the Song with the dances
performed on the 15th of Ab, as related in the Mishnah, cf. M. H. Segal, "The Song of
Songs," VT 12 (1962) 485-87.
228 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
leave, it must be seen that besides him twenty-three remained, and if
there were less, he must not.31
Thus, it is during the Christian era that one first encounters
indubitably allegorical interpretations of the Song of Solomon at the
hands of the Jews.
The Midrashim are biblical expositions coming from the Mish-
naic and Talmudic periods. They consist of Halakah,32 statements
about law, and Haggada, statements of a non-halakic character,
principally something devotional, or something which "transcends the
first impression conveyed by the scriptural expression.”33 Most of the
Midrashic statements on the Song would be Haggada.
A specimen of such allegory is found in Mekilta (Exodus),
Shirata, Beshallal:t, § 3:
R. Akiba said: I will speak of the beauty and praise of God before all
the nations. They ask
another beloved that "thou dost so charge us' (Cant. V, 9), 'that you die
for Him, and that you are slain for Him' as it says, 'Therefore till death
do they love Thee' (a pun on Cant. I, 3), and 'For thy sake are we slain
all the day' (Ps. XLIV, 22). 'Behold,' they say, 'You are beautiful, you
are mighty, come and mingle with us.' But the Israelites reply, 'Do you
know Him: We will tell you a portion of His renown; my beloved is
white and ruddy; the chiefest among ten thousand' (Cant. V, 10). When
with you,' as it is said, 'Whither has your beloved turned him that we
may seek him with you?' (Cant. VI, 1). But the Israelites say, 'You have
no part or lot in Him,' as it is said, 'My beloved is mine, and I am His'
(Cant. II, 16).34
There are other midrashim of another sort, such as the. one
which reports that "On the day on which Solomon married Necha,
Pharaoh's daughter, the foundation of Rome-Israel's persecutor and
oppressor-was laid by the angel Michael.”35 The Midrash on 1:5, "I
am black but comely," states:
"So says the house of
my knowlege, black, yet my God considers me comely.”36
31 Michael L. Rodkinson, ed. and trans., New Edition of the Babylonian Talmud,
vols. 7, 8: section Jurisprudence (Damages), Tract Sanhedrin, 110.
32 On which see Ze'ev W. Falk, Introduction to the Jewish Law of the Second
Commonwealth, 1 (Leiden: Brill, 1972).
33 Strack, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash, 6-7.
34 Cited in C. G. Montefiore and H. Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology (
Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1938) 101-2, §263.
35 Samuel Rapaport, A Treasury of the Midrash (New York: Ktav, 1968) 172.
36 Ibid., 167.
FIELDS: INTERPRETATION OF SONG OF SONGS 229
But even within the framework of midrashic interpretation, the
use of the book was limited. "It was prohibited to use a text of
Canticles from which one would develop a homily having a shameful
or odious implication.”37 As noted above, Akiba, for example warns
that "anyone who would dare treat this book as a secular love poem
forfeits his share in the World to Come.”38 Another passage carried
the consequence even further: "the penalty would not be restricted to
the individual but would jeopardize the welfare of all mankind.”39
There is a considerable difference between the Commentaries and
Midrashim on the "Song of Songs" and those on the other books of
T'nach. The principle (Shabbath 63a) vFvwp ydym xcOy xrqm Nyx,
that no verse of the Torah may be divorced from its plain meaning,
does not apply to Myrywh ryw [the Song of Songs]. On the contrary,
our sages explain (Sanhedrin 10la) "Those who recite a verse of
Myrywh ryw as they would a common song, or who read its verses in
inappropriate circumstances, bring evil to the world, because the Torah
wraps itself in sackcloth, and standing before the Holy One, blessed be
He, complains: "Master of the World, Your children have made me a
harp on which mockers play. . . .”40
One final sample will suffice to demonstrate midrashic interpre-
tation. On Cant 1:2, "For your love is better than wine," the midrash says:
Here the words of the Torah are compared to wine. Just as wine makes
the heart of man rejoice, as written in Psalms 104:15 bbl Hmwy Nyyv
wvnx "and wine makes glad the heart of man," so does the Torah,
Psalms 19:9 bl yHmwm Myrwy yh ydvqp "the ordinances of the Lord
are right, making the heart rejoice."--Just as wine brings joy to the
body, so do the words of the Lord comfort the soul: Ps. 94: 19 ywpn
vfwfwy jymvHnt "Thy comforts delight my soul."--Furthermore, the
older the wine, the better it becomes, and with the hrvy yrbd the
words of the Torah, the longer they are instilled in man the more
effective they become.41
Because the legends in it seem to be rather late, and because it
makes mention of the Gemara (the last part of the Talmud, com-
pleted ca. A.D. 450-500), the Targum on the Song of Solomon is
37 Samue1 Tobias Lachs, "Prolegomena to Canticles Rabba," JQR 55 (1965) 237,
citing Cant. R. (2:4).
38 Ibid., citing Tosef Sanh. 12, 10.
39 Ibid., citing Sanh. 101a.
Philipp Fe1dheim, n.d.) 8-9.
41 Ibid., 12. A further instance of such midrashic interpretation of the Song may be
seen in Menahem M. Kasher, ed., Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation, 9 (reprinted;
230 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
usually dated considerably later than much of the other targumic
material. Ginsburg argues for a date about the middle of the sixth
century, when the Talmuds would have been already complete,42 but
Loewe would date it even later yet.43
As an aid to the interpretation of the Song the Targum is almost
useless, because it allegorizes it beyond recognition.44 It is, in fact,
considered by some to be primarily an anti-Christian (pro-Jewish)
apologetic.45 But as a hermeneutical warning, the Targum is priceless:
it shows where the unbridled allegorization of the Song may lead.
A few examples from this Targum will suffice to demonstrate its
character. On 1:2, "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for
thy love is better than wine," the Targum says: "Solomon, the
prophet said: Blessed be the Name of the Lord, who hath given us the
Law by the hand of Moses, the great Scribe-a Law inscribed upon
the two tablets of stone, and hath given us the six orders of the
Mishnah and the Gemarah by oral tradition, and communed with us
face to face, as a man that kisses his fellow out of the abundance of
his affection, loving us, as He does, more than the seventy nations.”46
2: I, "I am the narcissus of
the Targum comments: "The Assembly of Israel speaketh: As long
as the Sovereign of the Universe suffers His Divine Presence to
dwell in my midst, I am like the narcissus fresh from the Garden
42 Ginsburg, Song of Songs and Coheleth, 28.
43 Raphael Loewe, "Apologetic Motifs in the Targum to the Song of Songs," in
Biblical Motifs, ed. by Alexander Altmann (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1966)
163-69. For the hermeneutics of the targumim, see Daniel Patte, Early Jewish
bibliography of literature up to 1966, see R. Le Deaut, Introduction a la Litterature
Targumique (Rome: lnstitut Biblique Pontifical, 1966); and up to 1972 in Bernard
Grossfeld, A Bibliography of Targum
Literature (2 vols.;
44 Still, John Gill considered it valuable enough to append to his commentary,
possibly because he, too, allegorized the Song (John Gill, An Exposition of the Book
of Solomons Song, Commonly Called Canticles [
45 Loewe, "Apologetic Motifs in the Targum to the Song of Songs," 173-84.
46 Herman Gollancz, trans., "The Targum to 'The Song of Songs,'" in The Targum
to the Five Megil/oth, edited by Bernard Grossfeld (New York: Hermon Press, 1973)
47 For the text of the Targum, cf. bvlvdg tvxrqm, v, " ad loco Texts with
Babylonian pointing can be found in Alexander Sperber, tymrxb wdqh ybtk, x-
d jrk (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1968); and Raphael Hai Melamed, "The Targum to
Canticles According to Six Yemen MSS, compared with the 'Textus Receptus' (ed. De
Lagarde)," JQR 10 (1920) 377-410 and 12 (1921) 57-117. He notes (10, p. 380) that an
official Targum to the Hagiographa never existed, but that all the books except Ezra,
Nehemiah, and Daniel had Targumim, of which this one is a part. For a further
interesting' description of this Targum, and a comparison of the midrash with the
FIELDS: INTERPRETATION OF SONG OF SONGS 231
The Targum, as Jouon notes,48 apparently developed its allegor-
ical interpretation from the kinds of statements found in the Midrash.
takes the Song to be a representation of the history of
beginning with the Exodus through the building of the third temple,
and the coming of the Messiah, of which there are two mentioned:
Messiah ben David and Messiah ben Ephraim.49
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
The article set out to demonstrate that (1) there is no record of
allegorization in the earliest period of Jewish history; and (2) that
allegorization became the predominant method of interpretation
among the Jews in the later periods. It was shown that no allegoriza-
tion can be discovered in the LXX (Hebrew canon), Ben Sira, the
book of Wisdom (of Solomon), Josephus, or 4 Ezra. But beginning
with the Talmud, and continuing with the Midrashim and Targumim,
allegorization took over as the accepted method for interpreting the
Though the history given here is only partial, and needs to be
complemented by a study of concurrent Christian interpretation,
as well as an investigation of both Christian and Jewish interpretation
in subsequent centuries, it does serve to point out that once one has
loosed himself from the moorings of literal interpretation (in the best
and widest sense of that term) he has precluded any assurance that
the composer of the Song has communicated to him what he intended
to communicate. Through allegorization the reader of the Song will
no doubt receive some kind of communication; but it is highly
doubtful that it will be what the author intended to say. And here is
the problem: if the Song can say anything, then it says nothing. And
that is why it is important to establish that as far as the evidence now
available is concerned, the allegorization of the Song of Songs was
not the original or even the earliest method of interpretation; it was a
later development. There is, therefore, no compelling historical rea-
son from early Jewish and early medieval interpretation for contin-
uing allegorization of the Song today.
Targum, cr. Leon J. Liebreich, "The Benedictory Formula in the Targum to the Song
of Songs," HUCA 18 (1944) 177-97.
48 P. Jouon, Le Cantique des Cantiques (Paris: Gabriel Beauchesne & Cle, 1909) 28.
49 Bernard Grossfeld, --Introduction," in The Targum to the Five Megilloth, ed. by
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