The Messianic Music of the Song of Songs: A Non-Allegorical Interpretation -- By: James M. Hamilton Jr.

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 68:2 (Fall 2006)
Article: The Messianic Music of the Song of Songs: A Non-Allegorical Interpretation
Author: James M. Hamilton Jr.


The Messianic Music of the Song of Songs:
A Non-Allegorical Interpretation

James M. Hamilton Jr.

James Hamilton is Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Houston, Tex. An earlier draft of this article was presented to the “Christian Theology and the Bible” group at the national meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, San Antonio, Tex., November 2004.

In academic discussions of the Song of Songs, the nearest thing to a discussion of the Messiah in the Song is a nod to the Christian, allegorical reading of the Song which interprets the poetry with reference to Christ and the church.1 I have yet to find a discussion of the Song of Songs which highlights the interlocking messianic themes of the Song’s music: the Song is about Israel’s shepherd king, a descendent of David, who is treated as an ideal Israelite enjoying an ideal bride in a lush garden2 where the effects of the fall are reversed.3 The thesis of this

study is that when the Song is heard in the context of the three-movement symphony of Torah, Neviim, and Ketuvim, this lyrical theme, the sublime Song, proves to be an exposition of the messianic motif of the OT.4 I am suggesting that the Song of Songs, read in the context of the OT, is messianic music that we do not need allegorically imaginative ears to hear.5

An allegorical approach to the Song would be characterized by the abstraction of the text from its historical meaning followed by the pursuit of an edifying, and perhaps fanciful, interpretation. As Tremper Longman notes, the two errors of the allegorists were the suppression of the emphasis on human love in the Song and the imposition of arbitrary meanings.6 While an interpretation of the Song that reads into it either the relationship between Yahweh and Israel or the relationship between Christ and the church may indeed have its rightful place, it is not sought here.7

Rather, this study pursues an interpretation that sees the Song in the light of the messianic expectations evident in the OT canon. A recent article by W. H. Rose provides a helpful working definition: “The phrase ‘messianic expectations’ will be used to refer to expectations focusing on a future royal figure sent by God who will bring salvation to God’s people and the w...

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