Select Page

In case you’re wondering why the Song of Songs is so difficult to understand, this might explain why:

…but as [the theological revisers] were unable to suppress the book, they endeavored to darken its real meaning, for dogmatic purposes, saying as Georg Hoffmann put it in his translation of the Book of Job, Let us save the attractive book for the Congregation, but we will pour some water into the author’s strong wine. Not satisfied with the obscuration of the original book, the theological revisers tried to cut up and dislocate the text as much as possible, destroying the original order and logical sequence, so that in the present form of the book there is no proper arrangement, no logical connection between the individual verses

The above quote is from an research article titled “Difficult Passages in the Song of Songs.” It was published by Professor Paul Haupt, Ph.D. in a 1902 volume of the Journal of Biblical Literature.

There was a flourishing of scholarship during the late 1800s and early 1900s that attempted to decode the Song of Songs. But, tragically, those insights never reached the church. Then a couple of world wars and political upheavals seems to have diverted the attention of intellectuals to other matters.

Apparently, Dr. Haupt wasn’t the only one to recognize that something was screwy with the way the Song of Songs was arranged. A scholar named Professor Bickell, of Vienna, tried to show, in 1884, that the confusion was due to a bookbinder who misplaced the sheets of the manuscript. But Haupt claims the distortion was intentional.

In another article, Dr. Haupt attempts to put the Song of Songs together in what he judged to be the proper arrangement.

Normally, I would be instinctively opposed to any attempt to rearrange the received text. But I find at least two reasons Dr. Haupt’s thesis is plausible.

First, we have the Apostle Paul’s prophesy to consider:

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. (1 Tim 4:1-3)

The joys of marriage are primarily sexual. In order to convincingly forbid marriage, one must make sex seem undesirable for piety. But the Song of Songs, with it’s graphic and exuberant praise of the joys of sex, would stand directly in the way of that agenda. Thus it would be necessary to render the text indecipherable and offer an allegorical interpretation in its place.

Finally, Dr. Haupt’s rearrangement and translation simply makes more sense than the received text. For example, here’s a section he titles “The Bride Addressing the Bridegroom on the Morrow After Marriage”:

Behold thou art fair, my own darling,
aye, sweet; our bed will be green.
Of our home all the rafters are cedarn,
and (its walls) are all paneled with cypress.

As the apple amid trees of the forest,
so amid youths is my sweeting.
I delight to dwell under its shadow,
and sweet to my taste is its fruitage.

To the tavern where wine flows he brought me,
‘Love’ was the sign hanging out there.
He refreshed me with cates made of raisins
and with apples appeased all my cravings.

On his left arm my head was reclining,
while around me his right arm was clinging.
As long as the King stayed there feasting,
my spikenard its scent was exhaling:

My sachet of myrrh was my darling,
scenting my breasts with its perfume.
My darling was a cluster of henna
(blooming) in En-gedi’s gardens.

With kisses of thy mouth do thou kiss me,
for thy love than wine is far sweeter.
Thy name is thrice-clarified perfume;
and therefore all maidens do love thee.

Take me with thee! Come, let us hasten!
to thy chamber, O King, do thou lead me!
There let us rejoice and make merry,
and be drunken, not with wine, but with loving.

My darling is mine, and his am I,
who feeds on the dark purple lilies
Till the breeze (of the morning) arises,
and the shadows are taking their flight.

Do thou spring to the feast, O my darling, —
like a gazelle or a young hart be thou! —
(To the feast) on the mountains of myrrh,
(to the feast) on the hillocks of incense.

O maidens, lo, I beseech you,
by the gazelles and the hinds of the fields,
That ye not stir nor startle our loving
before our fill we have drunken.

 

Even if one is unfamiliar with the erotic euphemisms, the logical sequence makes it quite clear that something quite exciting is going on between a man and a woman.

If you’d like to delve into the topic deeper, check out Dr. Haupt’s article as well as his metrical translation.*

* It appears that Dr. Haupt has abbreviated the Song for the sake of rhythm. Hebrew is more concise than English and thus difficult to translate poetically. The complete text is clarified in the footnotes. There’s no introductory note about this so it took me a few takes to figure out.