What Does the Song of Songs Tell Us About Hebrew Love?

Did romantic love exist in ancient Hebrew times?

It appears that the Bible does not mention romantic love, neither in the Old nor in the New Testament.

Conjugal love was frequently mentioned and encouraged. Other types of family ties were also repeatedly praised and supported. Yet, in the remaining passages, the word “love” was always used to mean religious reverence or respect for a neighbor or an enemy. And this is consistent throughout all of the passages.

Was the Song of Songs About Love?

But what about the Song of Songs, which is also known as the Song of Solomon? Isn’t that a love song? Is it an exception?

Johann Herder, a German theologian, philosopher, poet, and literary critic of the 18th century, analyzed the text in detail and declared that it depicts love “from its first origin, from its tenderest bud, through all stages and conditions of its growth, its flowering, its maturing, to the ripe fruit and new offshoot.” (cited in Finck, 1887/2019, p. 71).

However, Henry Finck asserted that the love which is referred to in the Song of Solomon is more likely conjugal affection. He noted that it is an intriguing fact that none of the great theologians from Germany, England, or France who have produced comments on the Song of Songs seem to agree with one another on their interpretation of the story’s meaning and the role it plays in the Bible.

Was the Song of Songs Really Written by Solomon? Additionally, it is now generally accepted that the Song was not written by Solomon but rather was composed a while after his death. Indeed, it’s hard to believe that a king who had a thousand wives and whose feelings must have been broken up into a thousand pieces and was not very strong could have written these beautiful lines:

“For love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man should give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.”

This passage sounds remarkably modern and romantic—so modern and romantic, in fact, that it could have been written by Shakespeare. Readers need little knowledge of Hebrew to recognize that the English translators are responsible for this current tone. Throughout the Song of Solomon, English translators idealized the language of passion in accordance with modern ideas on the subject.

The more literal version by Luther appeared to be much more traditional. When one reads Luther’s translation, one begins to comprehend why the Talmudists of the past forbade Jews before their thirtieth year to read this book.

What the Song of Songs Actually Tells Us About Love

Henry Finck (1887/2019) remarked that the explanation of the Song of Solomon provided by M. Chas. Bruston in the Encyclopaedia des Sciences Religieuses was perhaps the most clever and consistent of the many interpretations (ii. 610-612).

He provides an explanation for the repeated flattery that occurs throughout the poem. Bruston demonstrated that the second time they allude to a princess of Lebanon, whom Solomon married, rather than Sulamite. Therefore, he asserted that the repetition is less of a literary flaw and more of an indication that “combien est vil et méprisable l’amour sensuel et polygame, qui prodigue indifférement les mêmes flatteries a des femmes différentes.” The imaginative and poetic language used to describe feminine charms in the Song of Songs demonstrates that at least the sensual facet of the personal admiration overtone was well developed among ancient Hebrews. However, it was not strong enough to led them to sculpt their ideals of feminine and masculine beauty in marble like other ancient civilizations (Finck, 1887/2019).