tn The preposition ל in אֲשֶׁר לִשְׁלֹמֹה (’asher lishlomoh) has been taken as: (1) authorship: “which is written by Solomon.” The lamed of authorship (also known as lamed auctoris) is well attested in Hebrew (see GKC 421 §130.b), particularly in the psalms (e.g., Pss 18:1; 30:1; 34:1; 51:1; 52:1; 54:1; 56:1; 57:1; 59:1; 60:1; 63:1; 72:21); (2) dedication: “which is dedicated for Solomon.” The lamed of dedication is attested in Ugaritic psalms dedicated to Baal or about Baal (CTA 6.1.1 = UT 49.1); or (3) topic: “which is about/concerning Solomon.” The lamed of topic is attested in Hebrew (e.g., 1 Chr 24:20) and in Ugaritic, e.g., lb`l “About Baal” (CTA 6.1.1 = UT 49.1). The ל is most likely denoting authorship. The ל followed by a name in the superscription of a poetic composition in the OT, usually (if not always) denotes authorship. Just as the superscription לְדָוִד (l˙david) claims Davidic authorship within the Psalter, the heading claims Solomonic authorship. Whether or not this attribution is historically reliable or simply a matter of Jewish tradition is debated in scholarship, just as the Davidic superscriptions in the Psalter are debated (see study note on the word “Song” in the superscription).
tnHeb “the song of songs.” The genitive construct שִׁיר הַשִׁירִים (shir hashirim) is translated literally as “the song of songs” in the early versions: Greek LXX (ᾀσμα ᾀσμάτων, asma asmatwn), Latin Vulgate (canticum canticorum) and Syriac Peshitta (tesŒb˙hat tesŒb˙ha„ta„á). The phrase שִׁיר הַשִׁירִים may be understood in two ways: (1) The noun הַשִׁירִים is a plural of number (“songs”) and functions as a genitive of composition: “the song composed of several songs,” that is, the book is a unified collection (hence the singular שִׁיר “song”) composed of individual love songs (see note on the expression “Her Lover” in v. 1). (2) The expression may be a superlative genitive construction denoting par excellence (see IBHS 154 §9.5.3j; GKC 431 §133.i; R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 11, §44; 17-18, §80). For example, קֹדֶשׁ קָדָשִׁים (qodesh qadashim, “the holy of holies”) means the most holy place (Exod 29:37); אֱלֹהֵי הָאֱלֹהִים וַאֲדֹנֵי הָאֲדֹנִים (’elohe ha’elohim va’adone ha’adonim, “the God of Gods and Lord of Lords”) means the Highest God and the Supreme Lord (Deut 10:17); and עֶבֶד עֲבָדִים (’eved ’avadim,“a slave of slaves”) means an abject slave (Gen 9:25). The title “the Song of Songs” is an expression of great esteem for the composition. It has been translated variously: “The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s” (KJV, NKJV, RSV, NRSV, NASB), “Solomon’s Song of Songs” (NIV), “The most beautiful of songs, by Solomon” (TEV), “dedicated to,” or “about Solomon” (TEV margin), “Solomon’s most beautiful song” (CEV), “This is Solomon’s song of songs, more wonderful than any other” (NLT).
tnHeb “song.” The noun שִׁיר (shir) may refer to a musical song that was sung (Exod 15:1; Num 21:17; Ps 33:3; Isa 42:10) or a poetic composition that was simply read (Deut 31:19, 21, 22; 30; 32:44) (BDB 1010 s.v. שׁיר). Several factors suggest that the Song of Songs was poetry to be read and enjoyed rather than sung: (a) its sheer length, (b) absence of musical notations or instrumental instructions, (c) testimony of Jewish tradition and interpretation, (d) lack of evidence of its musical performance in the history of Israel, and (e) comparison with ancient Egyptian love poetry. The term שִׁיר here probably refers to love poetry (e.g., Isa 5:1) (BDB 1010 s.v. 1; W. L. Holladay, Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 368). The Song appears to be a collection of individual love songs rather than a single multistanza poem. For comparison of the Song of Songs with ancient Egyptian loves songs, see M. V. Fox, The Song of Songs and the Ancient Egyptian Love Songs, and J. B. White, Language of Love in the Song of Songs and Ancient Egyptian Poetry (SBLDS).
sn The superscription “Solomon’s Most Excellent Love Song” appears to be a late addition, just as many superscriptions in the Psalter appear to have been added to the psalms sometime after their original composition. R. E. Murphy (Song of Songs [Hermeneia], 119) notes that the use of the independent relative pronoun אֲשֶׁר (’asher) in 1:1 sharply distinguishes the superscription from the body of the Song as a whole where the short form -שֶׁ (she-) occurs thirty-two times (e.g., 1:6, 12; 6:5). The short form -שֶׁ also occurs frequently in Ecclesiastes which is traditionally attributed to Solomon. Therefore, it would appear that the superscription is a later addition to the Song. This, of course, raises the question whether or not the attribution of Solomonic authorship of the Song is historically reliable or simply a matter of later Jewish tradition.
The Desire for Love
The Beloved to Her Lover:4
tn The introductory headings that identify the speakers of the poems throughout the Song do not appear in the Hebrew text. They are supplied in the translation for the sake of clarity. These notations should not be misinterpreted as suggesting that the Song be interpreted as a drama. Throughout the Song, the notation “The Lover” refers to the young man, while “the Beloved” refers to the young woman. Since the Song of Songs appears to be a collection of individual love songs, the individual love poems within the collection might not have originally referred to the same young man and young woman in each case. Just as the Book of Proverbs contains proverbs composed by Solomon (10:1-22:16; 25:1-29:27) as well as proverbs composed by other wise men (22:17-24:34; 30:1-31:9), so the Song of Songs may contain love poems composed by Solomon or written about Solomon as well as love poems composed by or written about other young couples in love. Nevertheless, the final canonical form of this collection presents a unified picture of idyllic love between one man and one woman in each case. The young man in several of the individual love poems is explicitly identified as Solomon (1:5; 3:7; 8:11-12), King Solomon (3:9, 11) or the king (1:4; 7:6). Some statements in the Song are consistent with a royal figure such as Solomon: references to Tirzah and Jerusalem (6:4) and to multiple queens and concubines (6:8). It is not so clear, however, whether Solomon is the young man in every individual poem. Nor is it clear that the same young woman is in view in each love poem. In several poems the young woman is a country maiden working in a vineyard (1:5-6; 8:11-12); however, the young woman in another poem is addressed as “O prince’s daughter” (7:2). The historian notes, “Solomon loved many women, especially the daughter of Pharaoh” (1 Kgs 11:1). So it would be surprising if the Song devoted itself to only one of Solomon’s many liaisons. The Song may simply be a collection of love poems written at various moments in Solomon’s illustrious career as a lover of many women. It may also include love poems written about other young lovers that were collected into the final form of the book that presents a portrait of idyllic love of young lovers.