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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.

* * *

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

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

bizarre interpretations.1

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

judge himself.

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

York: Ktav, 1967).

 


FIELDS: INTERPRETATION OF SONG OF SONGS 223

 

THE SEPTUAGINT

 

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

other interpretations.

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 [1975] 106).

4 Augustine, The City .of God, 18:42, 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 (Stuttgart: Wiirtem-

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.; Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1902) 1-28;

and Paul Kahle, The Cairo Geniza (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1959) 209-15. For an

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.

 

BEN SIRA

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 4:32).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 (New York: Ktav,

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 (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck &

Ruprecht, 1973). For further comparison between the Hebrew text and the LXX, see

Elmar Camilo Dos Santos, An Expanded Hebrew Index for the Harch- Redpath

Concordance to the Septuagint (Jerusalem: Dugith, n.d.). See also Yigael Yadin, The

Ben Sira Scroll from Masada (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1965).

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

(ibid., 497).

 


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

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

classification.22

 

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,

p.23).

18 Josephus, Against Apion, 1:8:39 (in the Loeb Classical library edition).

19 Ibid., 1:8:40.

20 See Johann Friedrich Kleuker, Samlung der Gedichte Salomons sonst der

Hohelied oder Lied der Lieder (Hamburg: ben Philipp Heinrich Perrenon, 1780) 54;

and W. E. Henstenberg, Das Hohelied Salomonis (Berlin: Verlag von Ludwig

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

qf the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences (Harnden, CT: Archon, 1976) 32-33.

226 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

4 EZRA

 

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 5:23-26a).26

The figures allegedly taken from the Song of Solomon and

interpreted allegorically are the lily (Cant 2:2); the dove (Cant 2: 14);

and the stream (Cant 4:15). 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 TALMUD

 

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: Babylon

and Tiberias. The Gemara from Babylon is called the Babylonian

 

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

Canon, 120-25.

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

5:24-26; 7:26, 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

Jerusalem or Palestinian.28

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 Israel ever disputed about the Song of Songs (that he

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

Israel; for all the Writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy

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,

Jerusalem was the middle of the world and the Temple was in the

centre of Jerusalem), and also protected the whole world. And why

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 (Philadelphia:

Jewish Publication Society of America, 1931) 5-6; cf. Curt Leviant, ed., Masterpieces

of Hebrew literature (New York: Ktav, 1969) 97-98; R. Travers Herford, Christianity

in Talmud and Midrash (reprinted; New York: Ktav, 1975); Alan Corre, Understand-

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 (Oxford: Oxford University,

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.

 

MIDRASH

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 Israel and say, 'What is your beloved more than

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

they hear Israel praise Him thus, they say to the Israelites, 'We will go

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 Israel: I am, to

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 (London:

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

TARGUM

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. 1:12 (2:4).

38 Ibid., citing Tosef Sanh. 12, 10.

39 Ibid., citing Sanh. 101a.

40 Yitzhak I. Broch, The "Song of Songs" As Echoed in Its Midrash (New York:

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;

New York: Ktav, 1979), the comments on Exod 19:10, p. 74.


 

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

On 2: I, "I am the narcissus of Sharon, the rose of the valleys,"

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

of Eden, my actions are comely as the rose in the plain of the

flower-garden of Eden.47

 

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

Hermeneutic in Palestine (SBLDS 22; Missoula: Scholars Press, 1975) 55-81, and for a

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.; New York: Ktav, 1972).

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 [London: Aaron Ward, 1728]).

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)

180.

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.

It takes the Song to be a representation of the history of Israel

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

Song.

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

Grossfeld, viii.

 

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