Jewish and Christian interpreters alike have understood the Song of Songs to be a book that is to be interpreted allegorically. It is worth mentioning that in the Septuagint, there seems to be only one passage that might indicate that the translators were moving towards an allegorical understanding of the text. This passage is Song of Songs 4:8c., "ἐλεύσῃ καὶ διελεύσῃ ἀπὸ ἀρχῆς πίστεως"(LXX). It states, "You, yourself, come and go through from the beginning of faith." This shows a clear diversion from the original in the Hebrew which states, "Depart from the peak of Amana" (ESV). The problem with this argument is that the translators like "Josephus and others" transliterated and translated "Hebrew proper names" very inconsistently and poorly. According to Fields,
It is further disproved by the rendering of[תִרְצָ֔ה], "Tirzah," by [εὐδοκία], "delight," (6:4), and of [בַּת־נָדִ֑יב], "noble daughter," by [θύγατερ Ναδαβ] "daughter of Nadab," (7:2), "whence it is evident that the Septuagint frequently mistook proper names for appellatives and adjectives, and vice versa."
How wise you were when you were young! You overflowed like the Nile with understanding. 15 Your influence spread throughout the earth, and you filled it with proverbs having deep meaning. 16 Your fame reached to far-off islands, and you were loved for your peaceful reign. 17 Your songs, proverbs, and parables, and the answers you gave astounded the nations. (Bold Added)
14 How wise wast thou in thy youth and, as a flood, filled with understanding! 15 Thy soul covered the whole earth, and thou filledst it with dark parables. 16 Thy name went far unto the islands; and for thy peace thou wast beloved. 17 The countries marveled at thee for thy songs, and proverbs, and parables, and interpretations. (Bold Added)
Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind. Every one of them brought his present, articles of silver and gold, garments, myrrh, spices, horses, and mules, so much year by year. (ESV)
Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:"You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (ESV: Bold added)
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.(ESV, Bold added)
And what must we say about the prophecies, which we all know are filled with riddles and dark sayings? Or if we come to the gospels, the accurate interpretation even of these, since it is an interpretation of the mind of Christ... freely given to us by God.
Paul the apostle teaches us that the invisible things of God are understood by means of things that are visible, and that the things that are not seen are beheld through their own relationship and likeness to the things seen. He thus shows that the visible world teaches us about that which is invisible, and that this earthly scene contains certain patterns of things heavenly. Thus it is possible for us to mount up from things below to things above and to perceive and understand from the things we see on earth the things that belong to heaven.
|Gregory of Nyssa|
There are some people who make it their business to pervert the meaning of the divine Scriptures and thwart whatever is to be found there. They invent foolish tales of their own and give to their nonsense the name of 'allegory.' by using the apostle's word, they imagine that they have found a way to undermine the meaning of everything scripture-they keep on using the apostle's expression "allegorical.'
Clearly, Mopsuestia has a valid criticism of allegorical interpretation. He understands that the problem with allegorical interpretations is that they are very subjective. As Othmar Keel states, "If two allegorizers ever agree on the interpretation of a verse it is only because one has copied from another." Keel makes the point that the discovered "deeper meaning... is only there because one has first inserted it." This reiterates exactly the argument made by Mopsuestia about the danger of inventing tales and imagining new meaning to a text in the name of "allegory."
4:1Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead. 2 Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing, all of which bear twins, and not one among them has lost its young. 3 Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely. Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil. 4 Your neck is like the tower of David, built in rows of stone; on it hang a thousand shields, all of them shields of warriors. 5 Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that graze among the lilies. 6 Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, I will go away to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense. 7 You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.
- Declaration of beauty, for "my love" (4:1a).
- Describes her body parts (4:1b-5).
- Day/shadow refrain shows desire or intent to be with his love(4:6).
- Restating the beauty. (4:7)
These dependent clauses warn against a static understanding of the comparisons. Contrary to many interpretations, the issue here is not geometric shapes (shape of the eyes, shape of the neck, etc.); in Hebrew the meaning conveyed by these descriptions of the body is generally more dynamic, not static or geometric....the inherent powers of the beloved are the issue: the mystery of the attractive force of her beauty.
As the apostle says, there are many members, and all the members do not have the same function (cf. 1 Cor 12:12-26), but forms one as an eye for the body and another was implanted as an ear, and some become hands on account of what they are able to do, and some that carry our weight are called feet, but there will also have to be a job of tasting and smelling, not to mention all the individual parts which the human body is composed....It is possible to find the common body of the church lips as well as teeth and tongue, breasts and womb and neck and, as Paul says, also those members of the body that appear unseemly.
I have not yet been able to grasp what we are meant, by our careful efforts, to see about them. My guess is, however, that just as the king constructed his palanquin after he had changed the wood of Lebanon into gold and silver and purple and precious stones, so the good shepherd knows how to take herds of goats to himself and turn the herds on mount Gilead into sheep.
When it comes to literally understanding this passage, one must come to the simple realization that the Song of Songs is a book about human love - a love between Solomon and Shulamith. When one realizes this, one can better understand and appreciate the symbolism intertwined within the text. For example, when the word dove is used in verse 1, this is significant for doves are considered to be "messengers of love." Thus, when Shulamith's eyes were compared to doves, it could mean that her glances were relaying her love back to Solomon because communication goes both ways. Moreover, the flock of goats that Nyssa struggled with identifying is a simile that possibly alludes to the fact that Shulamith had an abundance of hair.
The wellspring of good things always draws the thirsty to itself-just as in the Gospel the well-spring says: 'if anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink(John 7:37). For in using these words, He sets no limit...He issues a continuing invitation to thirst and to drink and to be impelled toward him.
9 You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. 10 How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice! 11 Your lips drip nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue; the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.
- "You have made my heart beat faster"(NASB).
- "You have stolen my heart,"(NET).
- "You have ravished my heart,"(NRSV/KJV).
- "You have captivated my heart,"(ESV)
- "You [drive me crazy]," or "you [enchant me]"(Keel)
- "You have heartened us,"/" Ἐκαρδίωσας ἡμᾶς, "(LXX).
- "Thou hast encouraged me"(BDB).
- "you have embolden me"/"ἐθάρσυνάς με," (Symmachus, Greek old testament).
BDB refers to this passage as one of encouragement, which is aligned with Symmachus' concept of emboldening. The context seems to draw another conclusion - one wherein the ESV and Keel are correct in saying that this passage is talking about an enchantment or captivation, and conveying the idea that Shulamith is the cause of the emotional change - love/infatuation.
12 A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a spring locked, a fountain sealed. 13 Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits, henna with nard, 14 nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, With all choice spices— 15 a garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon.
Drink water from your own cistern and running water from your own well. Should your springs be dispersed outside, your streams of water in the wide plazas? Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you. May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in your young wife– a loving doe, a graceful deer; may her breasts satisfy you at all times, may you be captivated by her love always. (NET)
The metaphors of the locked garden and the sealed fountain belong to a series of metaphors of inaccessibility (cf. 2:14, the dove in clefts of the rock; 4:8, the bride on the peak of Hermon,, among the lions)...this image is simply about the inaccessible loved one....[because] the doors that lead to them are locked.
16 Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden, let its spices flow. Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits.
Ordinarily the garden, as a metaphor for the woman, belongs to the man; she calls it 'his garden' here in this verse (and in 6:2), and he calls it 'my garden' to refer to herself and her physical charms. In the present context, however, the woman could be using 'my garden' to refer to herself and her physical charms which are hers alone to give and which in her next breath, she offers to her lover by calling herself 'his garden.'
Suddenly a sound like a violent wind blowing came from heaven and filled the entire house where they were sitting. And tongues spreading out like a fire appeared to them and came to rest on each one of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them.
5:1a I came to my garden, my sister, my bride, I gathered my myrrh with my spice, I ate my honeycomb with my honey, I drank my wine with my milk.5:1b Eat, Friends, Drink, and be drunk with love!