The Enigmatic Genre and Structure of the Song of Songs, Part 2 -- By: Gordon H. Johnston

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 166:662 (Apr 2009)
Article: The Enigmatic Genre and Structure of the Song of Songs, Part 2
Author: Gordon H. Johnston

The Enigmatic Genre and Structure of the Song of Songs, Part 2

Gordon H. Johnston

Gordon H. Johnston is Associate Professor of Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.

This article continues a three-part series on the genre and literary structure of the Song of Songs. Along with the first in the series, this article surveys various approaches in an attempt to determine the most promising directions, highlighting classic representatives, and offering brief evaluations. The third article will examine important features of the Song itself in an effort to ascertain its genre and literary structure.

Canticles as Historical Allegory


Although individual passages in the Song had been construed in allegorical fashion since the days of Akiba (ca. A.D. 135), the first full-fledged treatment of Canticles as historical allegory was introduced by the Aramaic Targum (ca. A.D. 650).1 It traced the history

of salvation in chronological order from the Exodus in the past to the future eschatological kingdom.2 Although the Targum did not present a formal schematization of Israel’s history in distinct eras, its treatment may be divided into seven eras bracketed between prologue and epilogue.

  1. Prologue: Opening Praise (1:2-4)
  2. Exodus, Sinai, Conquest (1:5-3:6)
  3. Early Monarchy and Building of the Temple (3:7-5:1)
  4. Israel’s Apostasy, Babylonian Exile, Repentance (5:2-6:1)
  5. Second Temple Period up to the Diaspora (6:2-7:14)
  6. Eschatological Events and Messianic Kingdom (8:1-10)
  7. Epilogue: Concluding Prayer (8:11-14)

The Targum exercised profound influence on subsequent interpretations of Canticles. Its approach was adopted by medieval Jewish commentators,3 many Reformation and Post-Reformation

era Protestant interpreters,4 and several recent European Roman Catholic scholars.5 Yet from the medieval period to the...

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