In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Song of Songs

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • History of Interpretation
  • Text of Songs of Songs
  • Annotated Study Bibles
  • Bibliographies
  • Song of Songs and Ancient Near Eastern Poetry
  • Song of Songs and Intertextuality
  • Essay Collections
  • Early Jewish Interpretation
  • Early Christian Interpretation
  • Medieval Jewish Interpretation
  • Medieval Christian Interpretation
  • Literary and Poetic Analysis
  • Gender Analysis
  • Body and Body Imagery
  • Eros and Sexuality
  • Reception

Biblical Studies Song of Songs
Chloe Sun
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0215


The Song of Songs has been deemed the most sublime song, the holy of holies, and the interpretive key that has been lost. Although a small book with only eight chapters and 117 verses, the Song of Songs has generated thousands of works since its canonization in the 1st century. The book was at the center of controversy starting from the process of its inclusion in the canon for its literary genre, authorship, literary unity, frequent change of scenes in the text, gender relations, as well as its lack of explicit “God-content.” The book’s history of interpretation is one of the most fascinating subjects. From the early centuries until the medieval period, the allegorical interpretation dominated the understanding of the book. Within the allegorical interpretation is also the Jewish historical allegory, the Christian mystical allegory, and the Catholic Marian allegory. With the rise of the historical critical method in the 19th century, interpretation expanded beyond the allegoric to include the dramatic interpretation, the cultic interpretation, the wedding interpretation, the funerary interpretation, and various strands of feminist and intertextual interpretations. Contemporary scholarship sees the book as a collection of love poems between a man and a woman. Yet its exact interpretation still thrives with intrigue and tension in the present day.

Introductory Works

The introductory works are generally brief and concise. They provide an overview of the issues involved in studying the Song. Archer 1964 is a critical introduction to the Song and serves as a textbook for Old Testament survey courses. It is a starting point for a quick glance of the book. Brueggemann 2005 and Freedman 1992 are Bible dictionaries that provide introductory materials regarding authorship, date, literary features, theological messages, and background information of the Song. Keck 1997 is a concise discussion of the Song, commented on by paragraphs rather than verse by verse. Walton 2009 gives a visual presentation of the images in the Song, connecting text with images. Longmanand Enns 2008 contains three chapters on the Song with bibliographical materials.

  • Archer, Gleason L., Jr. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Chicago: Moody, 1964.

    This is a brief introduction to the Song of Songs. It is one of the starting places for a big-picture view of the content and basic issues of the book.

  • Brueggemann, Walter, ed. The New Interpreter’s Bible: Old Testament Survey. Nashville: Abingdon, 2005.

    This is a concise edition of the survey on the Song of Songs without verse-by-verse commentary. The chapter on the Song of Songs is written by Renita J. Weems (pp. 262–269).

  • Freedman, David Noel, ed. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 6. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

    The section of the Song appears on pages 150–155. The bibliographic material is limited to the time period prior to 1982.

  • Keck, Leander E. The New Interpreter’s Bible: Vol. V, Introduction to Wisdom Literature, The Book of Proverbs, The Book of Ecclesiastes, The Song of Songs, The Book of Wisdom, The Book of Sirach. Nashville: Abingdon, 1997.

    The commentary on the Song of Songs appears on pages 363–434. The introductory section appears in “The New Interpreter’s Bible: Old Testament Survey.” The commentary is brief but helpful in getting the gist of the passages. The author provides useful reflections after each literary unit.

  • Longman, Temper, III, and Peter Enns. Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2008.

    This dictionary devotes three chapters to the Song. The first chapter provides a general overview of the book. The second chapter gives the ancient Near Eastern background of the book. The third chapter deals with its history of interpretation. A great resource for scholars and a general audience.

  • Walton, John H. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary. Vol. 5, The Minor Prophets, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009.

    The chapter on the Song of Songs appears on pages 518–533. It includes several pictures of Egyptian portraits including Akhenaten and his queen, Egyptian love poetry, Pharaoh’s horses, and date palm trees, all of which reflect the images emerged from the Song.

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