Probably no portion of Scripture, except the Book of Revelation, has seen more weird exegesis than the Song of Songs. Commentators have conjured up all sorts of visions out of the sensuous, direct, love language of the book. And this is understandable, for the Song of Songs is a puzzle. How should we classify its literary form? Is it history, allegory, parable, prophecy, drama? The history of scholarship has shown consistent disagreement.

The translators of the King James Version, clearly thinking it to be allegory, as the page tides indicate, were following centuries of tradition in Judaism and Christianity. The Jews saw the whole Song as God in his dealings with Israel. Thus the Shulammite’s words in 1:5: “I am very dark, but comely,” were made to mean that Israel was black with sin because of making the golden calf at Mt. Sinai, but had become “comely” by receiving the Ten Commandments. The Christian Church took over this approach but saw it in terms of Christ and his relationship with the Church. Thus 1:5 was interpreted by some to mean “black” with sin, but “comely” through conversion to Jesus Christ. It is this approach that has prevailed in large sections of the Christian Church, and most devotional commentaries on the Song of Songs are illustrations of this practice. However, the allegorical interpretation has been rather consistently abandoned in contemporary scholarship, partly because of the artificiality and extravagance of its exegesis, and also because of further understanding of the role of such poetry in the ancient Near East.

What, then, is the Song of Songs? Various points of view clamor for acceptance. Some think it is drama with two main characters—Solomon and a Shulammite shepherd girl. As Solomon comes ...

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