Cultic Clues In Canticles? -- By: Edwin M. Yamauchi
BETS 4:3 (Nov 1961) p. 80
Cultic Clues In Canticles?
The book of Canticles, or the Song of Solomon, is a most fascinating book. As Morris Jastrow has said:
The Song of Songs is one of the smallest books of the Old Testament. It consists in the conventional subdivision of the text of eight chapters with a total of only 117 verses. And yet this little book has been the subject of more controversy than perhaps any other production of similar size.1
Canticles is not only an intriguing and controversial book, it is also a difficult book to interpret. The first dominant school of interpretation was the allegorical. This view represented the book as picturing the love of God for mankind, and justified its representation from explicit references, such as in Hosea, where Jehovah’s love for Israel is plainly stated in terms of marital affection. The allegorical view was for many centuries the “orthodox” view of Jews, Roman Catholics, and Protestants.
Opposed to any spiritualizing of the text, the literal schools of interpretation take Canticles as a description of love on the human plane, between man and maid rather than between God and man. The earliest proponent of such a view was Theodore of Mopsuestia (d. 429 A.D.), who was condemned a century after his death by the Second Council of Constantinople for proposing such a view. In modern times literal interpretations began with Chatellon in 1544.
There are two major schools of literal interpreters, which are each in turn further subdivided into two sub-groups. The first group of interpreters views Canticles as a single dramatic piece, with either two major characters (Delitzsch, 1875), or three major characters (Ibn Ezra; Jacobi, 1771; Ewald, 1826), depending on whether Solomon is identified with the shepherd lover or distinguished from him. This view of Canticles as a single drama prevailed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The second and later group of literal interpreters denies the unity of the book and regards it as a collection of love songs. The view of those who held Canticles to be a collection of wedding songs (Wetzstein, 1873; Budde, 1894) prevailed for the first twenty-five years of this century. Others (Theodore of Mopsuestia; Herder, 1778; Jastrow; Gordis; Haupt; Baumgartner) have regarded it as a collection of secular or popular love songs.
A more novel attempt to unravel the meaning of the Song as non-unified is the liturgical (Tammuz-cult) school of interpretation.2 The liturgical view sees Canticles as the Yahwistic modification of the liturgies of a pre-Israelite fertility cult, similar...
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