A Parabolic View of The Song of Solomon -- By: Thomas E. Fountain

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 09:2 (Spring 1966)
Article: A Parabolic View of The Song of Solomon
Author: Thomas E. Fountain


A Parabolic View of The Song of Solomon

Thomas E. Fountain, M.A.

No book in the Old Testament, and perhaps in the entire Bible, has been interpreted in so many different ways as the Song of Solomon. More than two hundred commentaries or extensive treatments of it have been published during the long history of its interpretation. For all the ingenious attention it has received, the book has never been widely accepted for public or private reading, or for detailed exposition in the pulpit.

The most obvious reason for this studied inattention is its apparent emphasis on the physical aspects of human love. Expositors have always found it difficult or awkward to explain to a mixed audience that many of its expressions did not mean what they seemed to say. Mere reference to such texts as “he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts,” or “our bed is green,” or mention of the Shulammite’s breasts or navel, was not permissible out of respect for the dignity of public sacred discourse.

A no less important reason for ignoring the Song is its genuine obscurity in many places. Simple reading of the book does not yield any obvious meaning, and accepted commentaries present widely differing views even within the broad limits of the accepted allegorical approach. Insight gained by some of the naturalistic interpreters might have gained wider acceptance except for their frequent disregard for its claim to canonicity and inspiration, and their irreverent handling of the text.

From the beginning the allegorical view of the book has easily dominated the field of interpretation. First among the Jews, and occasionally until the nineteenth century, there were those who asserted that the book was to be understood as a song or songs of merely human love. But as early as the Synod of Jamnia in A.D. 90 the Jews condemned the literal view of the Song. In the Reformation period Castellio’s literal view met with similar rejection among both Protestants and Catholics, and Luis de Leon’s commentary with its tendency in the same direction, earned him a place in the Inquisition prison for nearly five years.

Reaction took place in nineteenth-century Germany among the literary critics of the Tubingen school, and Gratz in particular declared that the Song was that of human, physical love and had no rightful place in the Scriptures. Critics claimed that it had been received into the canon on the false supposition that it was an allegory. In the same era (1853) the conservative scholar Hengstenberg wrote his allegorical commentary on the Song and thereby provided the basis for the treatment given it in the popular Jamieson, Fausset and Brown commentary on the whole Bible. In 1850 Soltz had advanced the typical approach to the Song, but reverted in h...

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