Lesson 3 of 5
In Progress

Background of Song of Songs

The question of how the Song of Songs found a place in the biblical canon, for either Jews or Christians, is likely to occur almost immediately to any thoughtful reader. Read on its own terms as love poetry, rather than through the lenses of tradition, it stands as a frankly secular poem, depicting the deepening affections and passions between two very young lovers. There is no mention of God and there are no explicit theological themes.

Many interpreters have found in the Song elements of Egyptian love poetry or themes related to Canaanite fertility religion. Others see it as the product of a time and place where love poetry was written to be performed at banquets by professional singers.

The Song’s invocation of Solomon suggests a connection with Israel’s wisdom tradition, material that typically deals with issues of human life and conduct in this world.

Within the Christian church, the Song has often been read allegorically, on the conviction that its richest and fullest meaning cannot be found in its literal sense. By this reckoning, the book’s value and stature rest upon the fact that it poetically describes and points forward to Christ’s love for the church and for individual Christians. Early Christian writers, especially Origen (about 185-254 C.E.), read the Song in this way. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (twelfth century C.E.) composed eighty-six sermons on the Song of Songs along these lines.

Today, the Song is generally read, as it should be, on its own terms as a beautiful poetic love song; yet, we can also hear in it—properly, no doubt—ancient and medieval overtones of an erotic interpretation of the relationship between humans and God.