Song of Solomon 2:8-13

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Song of Solomon 2:8-13

Background to the Book of Song of Solomon

This book has caused a lot debate over the years, both within the Judaic and Christian community. The language is erotic and secular. There is no overt mention of God within it although for a number of centuries scholars wanted to interpret it as an allegory of the Church and Christ (Israel and Yahweh in Jewish exegesis). Apparently, 'During the later patristic period and the rest of the Middle Ages, Christian interpreters wrote more works on the Song of Songs than on any other individual book of the Old Testament'. (Murphy:21)

Murphy and others give detailed information about the way scholars have tried to interpret the Songs. They show something of the concerns of their time that we see in Luther who suggested it was 'a poetic ecomium on the political order' (Murphy: 34)

Unlike the interest of scholars in the Middle Ages it is almost ignored in the present church scene (3 of the books I borrowed from libraries hadn't been opened). The language is overtly sexual and for some the erotic nature is taboo, especially when you combine this with a lack of any revelatory message from God. On the other hand, from the middle of the 8th CE the SoS became part of the Liturgy for Passover. It is one of the 5 Scrolls within the Writings section of the Hebrew Scriptures.

The book has a long history of growth and appears to have reached its final form sometime in the fifth century. This is based on some Aramaic sayings and particular language constructions. Other indicators suggest that some of the love poems came from a northern province early in the monarchy. The ascription of a famous name to literature is quite usual in the Hebrew Scriptures, but does not mean the person wrote all or any of them. It may be based on 1 Kings 5:12 which says that Solomon authored more than thousand songs, but there is no mention of him in any of the songs.

The songs are quite disparate in structure and achieve their homogeneity by the clever device of dialogue between the primary male and female speakers. The speakers can be differentiated in the Hebrew text because it distinguishes the form of gender more so than English (Snaith: 6).

We can only guess at the people who wrote them: whether they were part of the folk culture or sophisticated elite. By the second century BCE, SoS is attested as part of the canon (Brenner: 25), but on what basis it was admitted would be interesting to know.

To speak of them as love poems gets us closest to their genre and purpose and rather than try to impose allegorical (allegory denies the historiography of the Old Testament and imposes a hidden meaning on text) or typological (typology accepts the historiography of the Old Testament and finds links in the New Testament which have been prefigured in the Old) interpretations. We will deal with them as love poems, which is called the natural approach by some modern scholars.

Michael Goulder has an unique interpretation in that the woman is a black Arabian princess (1:5) who has been brought to Solomon and we have the story of their courtship through to her acceptance as Queen. It looks a little contrived because it is poetic language and not a description of events.

Context of Song of Solomon 2:8-13 (What's happening in the Literature around Song of Solomon 2:8 - 13)

Song of Solomon 1:1 - 2:7 begins and ends with a request by the beloved and in between are extravagant overtures of love. Our unit in the lectionary (8 - 13) is cut short because we miss the intercession from the lover (vv.14 - 15) and response of the beloved (vv.16 - 17). Song of Solomon 3:1 - 5 is a soliloquy by the beloved. The role of the woman is unusual in that she initiates and speaks of what she wants in overt language of love.

Insights/Message of Song of Solomon 2:8-13 (What insights can we gain from the Text and literary structure?)

Song of Songs 2:8 - 13 looks as though it is part of a wider unit vv.8 - 17 which has a striking inclusio - vv.8 and 17 talk about mountains, gazelle and a stag.

vv.8 - 10a suggest a woman speaker and vv.10b - 13 a male voice. Verse 14 - 15 appears to be a conversation initiated by the man and a continuation of the reminiscence in v.8. A further inclusion in vv.10 and 13b using the phrase 'Arise my love, my fair one and come away' invites us to enter into the pathos of the situation.

The poem in 2:1 - 7 is a dialogue in which the lovers refer to each in the 3rd person.

This poem begins in response to a group referred to as 'the daughter of Jerusalem' in 2:7. They act as someone whom the woman can address and are similar in function to a Greek type chorus.

The words of vv.8 - 13 are all set in the mouth of the beloved who describes her lover's arrival and then the song he sings (vv.10-14). Her response is in v.16.

The scene is set in a house with the beloved outside as indicted in v.9.

The Hebrew changes the tense at the beginning of v.10, which indicates it is a new happening.

Message/theology in Song of Solomon 2: 8 - 13

Michael Goulder wants to set the book into a historical setting by having a black princess arrive at the court of Solomon. The Poem describes her arrival, courtship through to enthronement as Queen. I think the poems have to be forced into this linear progression and I don't thing there are enough clues to make even reasonable suggestions about the historical period.

Our reading is part of a love poem in which the beloved is calling upon his love to come away. In the eight chapters of the book, the term "my beloved" is used twenty seven times by the young woman and five times by the "women of Jerusalem" (your beloved). This form of address is very personal and the mutuality of the relationship is apparent. When the beloved seeks her to come away, the Hebrew emphasises the urgency with imperatives, "arise", "come". They are repeated. Images of spring and nature both are used to describe the beloved and acknowledge it is the right time to be together. Desire and love are present in all the images and v.16 (not part of the lectionary) is the covenant of mutuality - My beloved is mine and I am his.

The extraordinary thing is the fact that the woman is saying these words; one would have expected from within the culture that it would be the declaration of the man. It is the only book in the Old Testament that has a woman's voice in such a prominent role.

This reading certainly could be used in a wedding where there is clear love and mutuality and the couple want to express the joy of the physical relationship. However, the poetic language would be an embarrassment to many and they would choose a modern song to express their love.

I wondered if one could thing about our relationship with Christ as love, but this would shock many people because of the overt physical desires and delight in each other.

The following comment about the Psalm is personal and not meant to dictate to anyone who sees it differently and wants to use it.
I don't think the Psalm, which is set for today is appropriate, and would on this occasion omit it. The New Testament readings appear to have little to do with lovers and mutual physical delight. Indeed, if one took them out of contest they could be used to condemn the sentiments of the Song of Solomon.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15,21-23, uses the judgement oracle in Isa 29:13 but changes the audience from the entire nation to the Jerusalemite authorities to show forth their hypocrisy in the way they demonstrate their devotion to God. This will disqualify them from any participation in the new era brought in by the life of Jesus Christ. Jesus will be the only authority and Mark uses Isa 29 to show that Jesus is the Messiah prophesied in Isa 6. The accusation by the Pharisees in relation to the disciples eating with unclean hands may remind the peolpe about the laws pertaining to ritual cleanliness for the priests but in fact the Old Testament does not have explicit commands for lay people about washing their hands before eating. James 1:17-27, begins with a direct reference to the twelve tribes of Israel in Dispersion which is a similar situation to the readers of James' Epistle who are probably scattered also because of persecution. Jewish Christians stand in a long line of their ancestors who suffered in the same way they are now. James likens rich people to grass invv.9-11, an image used frequently in the Old Testament (Job 14:2, Ps 37:2, 90:5-6, Isa 40:6-8).

Resources/Worship for Song of Solomon 2:8-13 (Worship and the Old Testament message; are there new ways to present the reading?)

It would be helpful to give some background to the Book

The reading lends itself to a male and female voice.

Music could be used to set the atmosphere.


Brenner, A. The Song of Songs: Old Testament Guides. JSOT Press: Sheffield, 1989.
Carr, G. Lloyd. The Song of Solomon. Inter-Varsity Press: Leicester, 1984
Falk, Marcia. Love Lyrics from the Bible: A Translation and Literary Study of The Song of Songs. Almond Press: Sheffield, 1982.
Goulder, Michael D. The Song of Fourteen Songs. JSOT Press: Sheffield, 1986.
Murphy, Roland E. The Song of Songs. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990.
Snaith, John G. The Song of Songs. Will. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1993.
Weems, Renita J. The Song of Solomon, Vol V, NIB. Abingdon Press:
Nashville, 1997

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: