Skip to main content

Full text of "The Plot of the Song of Songs"

See other formats


Early Journal Content on JSTOR, Free to Anyone in the World 

This article is one of nearly 500,000 scholarly works digitized and made freely available to everyone in 
the world by JSTOR. 

Known as the Early Journal Content, this set of works include research articles, news, letters, and other 
writings published in more than 200 of the oldest leading academic journals. The works date from the 
mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. 

We encourage people to read and share the Early Journal Content openly and to tell others that this 
resource exists. People may post this content online or redistribute in any way for non-commercial 

Read more about Early Journal Content at 
journal-content . 

JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary source objects. JSTOR helps people 
discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching 
platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit 
organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please 

648 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 


" Is not my word, saith the Lord, as a hammer that break - 
eth the rock in pieces ?" (Jer. xxiii. 29). " And produces," 
adds the Midrash, "numberless sparks of various forms and 
colours by one and the same stroke." For many lessons 
are taught from one text ; many interpretations are given 
of the same verse, all springing from the same source — the 
desire to understand the words of the Holy Scriptures. 
One such spark is the following attempt to describe the 
plot of the Song of Songs. This attempt does not stand 
isolated ; it has many fellow-sparks, which in some points 
it resembles and differs from in others. 

It is generally assumed that a shepherdess, who loves a 
shepherd friend, is taken against her will to the king's 
palace in Jerusalem, where the daughters of Jerusalem try 
to persuade her to give up the shepherd and to enter the 
king's harem. The attempts fail; the shepherd comes and 
rescues her from the prison. Her virtue finds ample 
reward in the fulfilment of her hopes. It is, however, 
most unlikely that an Israelitish woman should have been 
forcibly taken away from her home and detained in the royal 
palace against her will for the purpose of winning her for 
the harem. Such was not the custom in Israel; no instance 
of this kind is found in the Bible. The careful reading of 
the Song convinces us of the superior and dignified posi- 
tion of the woman in Israel. The poem contains nothing 
that could remind us of a king's palace or harem ; nothing 
that reminds us of Jerusalem with the Temple ; but from 
beginning to end we breathe the fresh air of the country, 
and find ourselves among the vineyards, between trees, 
flowers, flocks of sheep and goats, roes and hinds, hills and 
valleys. There is no mention, not the least indication, of a 

The Plot of the Song of Songs. 649 

forced detention, nor is there any account of a brave 

In order to form a correct idea with regard to the place 
and time of the dialogue in the Song we have to bear in 
mind that the maiden has been appointed by her brother 
" keeper of the vineyard" which did not belong to her ; 
there is no passage in the book that represents her in a 
different situation ; even in the end, when she discon- 
tinues keeping other people's vineyards, she still keeps her 
own, which till then she had to neglect. If, in addition to 
this, we consider that King Solomon offered to take her 
away from the Lebanon and the other mountains in the 
north of Palestine, the dangerous dens of lions and 
leopards, we arrive at the following result : — Shulamith 
had her home in the north of Palestine ; Bang Solomon, who 
had a summer palace in the Lebanon, probably had there 
also gardens and vineyards. One of these vineyards was 
entrusted to Shulamith to keep; it was perhaps not far from 
her own home and that of her shepherd friend. The king 
with his court, including some of the daughters of Jerusa- 
lem, has come to the royal vineyards, where they feasted in 
the splendid tents covered with the bright curtains of 
Solomon (j/erioth Shelomoh). It may have been the season 
of the annual rejoicings in the vineyards mentioned in the 
Mishnah (Taanith 4, 8) as having taken place in the month 
of Ab. The tents in the neighbouring vineyards, in that of 
Shulamith and her friends, were plain and simple. They 
were the common tents of Kedar. Shulamith is in 
love with a shepherd, her companion and friend from 
childhood, but is tempted by the daughters of Jerusalem, 
with whom she now comes in contact through her position 
as keeper of one of the king's vineyards, to forget the poor 
shepherd and to join the royal court, with the luxurious 
tents of Solomon, which in their view must be preferred 
by every one to the ordinary and plain tents of Kedar. It 
is morning time ; the maiden looks out for her friend, 
whom she expects to pass with his flock along the road, 

650 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

not far from the spot where the daughters of Jerusalem 
converse with her. At this moment the dialogue of our 
Song begins. Shulamith, heedless of what the court ladies 
said to her or advised her, joyfully exclaims, perhaps point- 
ing in the direction from which the shepherd was approach- 
ing, " He will kiss me with the kisses of his mouth " (i. 1); 
and addressing the shepherd, who meanwhile had come 
nearer, she assures him that his love was better than wine, 
than the wine of the banqueting parties in the king's 
tents ; that she preferred him to the king : if he were to 
call her to follow him she would run; but if she were 
brought into the king's palace, in the midst of all luxury, 
she would only think of the shepherd friend, and rejoice 
only in him (i. 4). 

The eyes of Shulamith follow her friend as he is passing 
along with his flock, and she begs him to tell her where he 
would rest at noon (i. 7) ; but he seems already too far 
away to hear her or to be heard by her, and, instead of his 
answer, she must hear the taunts of the daughters of Jeru- 
salem, who laugh at her preference of the life of a poor 
shepherdess to the luxuries offered to her by the court. 
" If thou hast no knowledge," they say to her, " then con- 
tinue to feed thy flock by the dwellings of the shepherds " 
(i. 8). The taunts remain without effect, as also the 
tempting prospects of a Pharaoh's (Egyptian) carriage and 
horses, and gold and silver ornaments (i. 9, sq.). To all 
this Shulamith repeats the plain and simple answer : — 
" Before the king and his company appeared, my spikenard 
had already given forth the smell thereof (i. 12), my heart 
was already given to my friend." The shepherd, now out 
of sight, is the sole object of her thought and mind, and 
she entreats the daughters of Jerusalem to desist from 
further attempts to awaken in her the feeling of love for 
the king (ii. 7). She then turns to the daughters of Jeru- 
salem and tells them two simple and plain reasons, repeated 
several times in the course of the Song, why they should 
desist from attempting to win her for the king. " I am 

The Plot of the Song of Songs, 651 

black," she says, " and unfit for the position; and, secondly, 
I am desired by another, by my beloved ; and as to the 
splendour of the court, there is no difference to me between 
the tents of Solomon and those of Kedar " (i. 5, 6). 

Shulamith now relates (ii. 7, sq.) how the shepherd, her 
friend, once surprised her, and how pleasantly they con- 
versed with each other ; she repeats the very words which 
he then addressed to her; she then adds a renewed de- 
claration of her love, and expresses her hope to see him 
return over the mountains that at present separate them, 
even before the day cools, and before the shadows flee 
(ii. 17). 

In addition to this actual incident, she relates a dream (iii. 
1, sq.) she once had ; that she was for some time seeking 
her friend without finding him ; that in spite of failure and 
trouble she persevered in her attempts, till at last she suc- 
ceeded ; she found him and brought him home to the house 
her mother. Thus she makes it clear to the daughters 
of Jerusalem that her thoughts, even in her dream, are 
always with her friend, and entreats them a second 
time to desist from interfering with the affairs of her 

The daughters of Jerusalem, in order to combat the 
sentiments of true and sincere love to which Shulamith 
gave expression, picture to her (iii. 6, sq.) the grandeur of the 
position of one chosen by king Solomon to be his wife. 
They describe a splendid canopy which the king had 
made of the most costly material and adorned in most 
exquisite manner, to be occupied by his beloved (iii. 10) — 
pointing perhaps by looks and gestures to Shulamith. 
Shulamith, however, indignantly hastens to add : " by one 
of the daughters of Jerusalem," and ironically tells them 
to go and wonder at such display of splendour, as it 
would more gratify their desires than hers (iii. 11). 

The king having hitherto remained comparatively silent 
or at a distance, comes now forward, and, in a rather 
passionate manner, expresses his admiration of the beauty 

652 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

of Shulamith, praising her eyes, her hair, her teeth, her 
lips and speech as most perfect (iv. 1). But Shulamith, 
either out of modesty or because her mind is with her 
absent friend, takes no notice whatever of the fact 
that the king addresses her, and as if she never heard 
what he said, she suddenly exclaims (iv. 6), "Before 
the day cools and the shadows flee away, I shall go to 
the mount of myrrh and to the hill of frankincense " : 
soil, to meet my friend. 

The king by no means discouraged, invites Shulamith to 
come rather with him, away from Lebanon (iii. 8), away 
from the high mountains in the north, the rough and 
dangerous dwellings of lions and leopards, to the milder 
country in the south, to Jerusalem. She possesses, he 
assures her, all the charms of beauty ; all the loveliness 
of a garden filled with the choicest flowers and spices, 
he only wished that the north wind would come, and the 
south wind, and blow upon his garden that its fragrance 
may flow forth and spread about (iv. 16 a). 

Shulamith joins in the king's wish, and continues in the 
same figure, the seemingly ambiguous words (iv. 16 b) ," let 
my friend come into his garden and enjoy its delicious 

The king, who anticipated as a matter of course her 
consent, uses the term khallah, " bride ; " and " my garden." 
No wonder that he interprets her words in his own 
favour, applies the term dodi, " my friend, " employed 
by her, to himself and feels already the complete 
realisation of his hope ; his feeling is expressed in 
the words (v. 1) : "I have come into my garden ; I 
have gathered my myrrh with my spices; I have 
eaten my honeycomb with my honey. I have drunk 
my wine with my milk. Eat, friends, drink of love 
when your turn cometh, drink abundantly." His hap- 
piness he anticipates so vividly, that he already wishes 
equal happiness to his friends. 

Shulamith feels pangs of remorse that through any utter- 

The Plot of the Song of Songs. 653 

ance of hers the king should have been encouraged in his 
hopes. She relates a dream she once dreamt (v. 2, sq.) 
how she had to suffer for having neglected her friend though 
only for a moment. She therefore entreats the daughters 
of Jerusalem to tell her friend when meeting him, that her 
attachment to him is still as strong as ever (v. 8). They 
ask, Why dost thou entreat us thus ? What extraordinary 
merits has thy friend? (v. 9). This question gives Shula- 
mith an occasion to sing of the attractions of her beloved, 
and she concludes her song with the words, " His palate is 
sweetness, and he is altogether loveliness ; such is my be- 
loved, such is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem" (v. 16). 

The shepherd may have tarried longer than was expected. 
The daughters of Jerusalem sarcastically offer to go with 
her and seek her friend (vi. 1). Shulamith does not accept 
the offer ; she knows that he has gone to his garden to the 
bed of spices, to feed his flock by the gardens, and to gather 
roses, scil. for her (vi. 2). She is convinced that he con- 
tinues to be as faithful to her as she is to him (vi. 3). 

The king nevertheless, prompted by his passion, renews 
his attempts to win her heart. He repeats almost the same 
words of praise which he has been singing before, without 
being listened to by her, and adds to them new expressions 
of admiration (vi. 4, sqq.). " There are sixty fit for the rank 
of a queen, and eighty for that of a king's concubine, and 
numberless is the host of those fit to serve as court ladies 
(vi. 8). But only one is she who is my dove, my spotless 
one ; she, the only one to her mother, the spotless one to 
her who bare her, is extolled by all who see her as being 
bright as aurora, beautiful as the moon, spotless as the sun, 
powerful as whole hosts of women " (vi. 9, 10). 

Shulamith in her simplicity declares that her occupation 
has always been to go to the nut-garden to look at the 
produce of the valley, whether the vine budded, the 
pomegranates be in flower ; but it never occurred to her 
mind that she was tit for so high a position among her 
people as is now proposed to her (vi. 11, sqq.). 

654 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

Shulamith now turns away to look out for her friend ; it 
is now late in the afternoon, and she expects that he must 
pass again on his way home. The daughters of Jerusalem 
call her back : Return, return, Shulamith, we will look 
upon thee. She modestly replies, " What will you see in 
Shulamith that could be compared to the dance of the two 
camps (queens and concubines) ? " (vii. 1.) The king consider- 
ing her superior to all other women, is full of her praises 
also in this respect : he describes (vii. 2, sqq.) how perfect 
her figure must be in the dance, how exquisite her move- 
ments, how comely her whole appearance ; but just when he 
compares her palate or her words to the best wine (vii. 10), 
Shulamith, espying the shepherd, finishes the sentence by 
adding : " that flows rightly only for my friend, that causeth 
the lips of those that are asleep to speak. I am for my 
friend, and his longing is for me " (vii. 11). 

With those words she probably greeted the shepherd 
when he came nearer. Shulamith and her friend meet, 
and she invites him to join her in strolling through the 
fields and gardens that surround her mother's house, 
where many goodly things, old and new, are kept by her 
in store for him (vii. 12, sqq.). She wishes in that moment 
that he were her brother (viii. 1), that she could kiss him 
without exposing herself to reproach. Now she implores 
the daughters of Jerusalem to learn how futile must be all 
attempts to stir up a feeling of love where it does not come 
of itself "(viii. 4). 

The daughters of Jerusalem, as well as king Solomon, 
can now picture to themselves, in contrast to the grandeur 
and luxury of the royal court, the happiness that awaits 
Shulamith and her friend as the fruit of true and sincere 
love. They have now learnt the lesson, and they must 
Confess that many waters can not put out the flame of true 
love, and that such love cannot be acquired by any kind or 
amount of material wealth (viii. 7). 

Shulamith triumphantly relates (viii. 8), how her brothers 
were doubtful whether she was "an open door" or "a 

The Plot of the Song of Songs. 655 

fenced wall," and joyfully exclaims, I have proved a fenced 
wall (viii. 10). She is no longer keeper of another's vineyard, 
of one of those vineyards which king Solomon had in 
Baal-hamon, and the care of which he had to entrust to 
hired workers. " I keep now my own vineyard," she says, 
" and leave to the king both the thousand pieces of silver, 
given to him for the fruit, and the two hundred which the 
keeper received " (viii. 12). The king finally asks Shulamith 
to let her voice be heard in song, the friends being anxious 
to listen (viii. 13). Shulamith complies with his wish, but 
what does she sing ? " Flee, O my friend (the king), as 
quickly as a roe or gazelle, over the mountains of spices."