The Message of the Song of Songs -- By: J. Paul Tanner

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 154:614 (Apr 1997)
Article: The Message of the Song of Songs
Author: J. Paul Tanner


The Message of the Song of Songs

J. Paul Tanner

[J. Paul Tanner is Lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament Studies, Singapore Bible College, Singapore.]

Bible students have long recognized that the Song of Songs is one of the most enigmatic books of the entire Bible. Compounding the problem are the erotic imagery and abundance of figurative language, characteristics that led to the allegorical interpretation of the Song that held sway for so much of church history. Though scholarly opinion has shifted from this view, there is still no consensus of opinion to replace the allegorical interpretation. In a previous article this writer surveyed a variety of views and suggested that the literal-didactic approach is better suited for a literal-grammatical-contextual hermeneutic.1 The literal-didactic view takes the book in an essentially literal way, describing the emotional and physical relationship between King Solomon and his Shulammite bride, while at the same time recognizing that there is a moral lesson to be gained that goes beyond the experience of physical consummation between the man and the woman. Laurin takes this approach in suggesting that the didactic lesson lies in the realm of fidelity and exclusiveness within the male-female relationship.2

This article suggests a fresh interpretation of the book along the lines of the literal-didactic approach. (This is a fresh interpretation only in the sense of making refinements on the trend established by Laurin.) Yet the suggested alternative yields a distinctive way in which the message of the book comes across and Solomon himself is viewed.

Reexamining the Literal Approach

A literal approach to the Song of Songs has become a popular alternative to the allegorical and typical interpretations. Nevertheless the expression “literal approach” is a large umbrella for a number of variant forms. For instance, one tendency is to regard the Song of Songs as an anthology of separate love songs that have been brought together into one collection.3 This position suffers for lack of solid evidence and also flies in the face of much evidence to the contrary.4 The Song reflects an attempt by a single author or editor to compose his literary piece with artistic skill and rhetorical unity (some of which this article will highlight).

The opening scene in chapter 1 is interlocked with the conclusion in chapter 8 by way of the vineyard motif an...

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