Song of Songs: Readings in Biblical Poetry

BIB 8310

Bernard Revel Graduate School

Fall 2005: Mordechai Cohen

Syllabus (Original in PDF)

Bibliography, Commentaries, Notes

COURSE DESCRIPTION: In-depth study of the Song of Songs, diction, structure, imagery, and depiction of human and spiritual love. Literal vs. allegorical readings in rabbinic, medieval and modern commentaries. Emphasis on imagery, parallelism, and their role in biblical poetry.

REQUIREMENTS. Lectures are based on sources and readings (see bibliography) indicated below, which must be prepared prior to class meetings. During the semester: midterm exam (on text of Song of Songs) and two essays. Class 15: final exam, though students may write a research paper instead, on a topic chosen in consultation with the professor.

BIBLIOGRAPHY. See below. Also consult the following commentaries regularly:  (You will need a password to open the ones that are copyrighted)

These commentaries and the other assigned readings include references to further relevant studies, which students are encouraged to pursue independently.



UNIT 1: Introduction to the Song, Commentaries and Interpretive Approaches

Sources: Rashi, introduction to Song; Ibn Ezra, introduction to Song (both versions)

Readings: Pope 1977:17-229; Cohen 2003:46-48, 263-265

UNIT 2: Introductory Lyrics of the Song, Rashi’s Concept of Peshat

Sources: Song 1:1 - 2:7, with Rashi and modern commentaries (H&Rashi) (Gordis) (Fox)

Reading: Kamin 1986: 11-22, Gordis Introduction, Hakham Introduction

UNIT 3: The Spring-time Lyrics; Rashi’s Concept of Dugma

Sources:  Song 2:7-17, with Rashi and modern commentaries (H&Rashi) (Gordis) (Fox)

Reading: Kamin 1991:13-30

ESSAY #1 DUE September 27, 2005. Based on readings for unit 4, describe how Spanish exegetes (Moses Ibn Ezra, Rambam, Ibn ‘Aqnin) interpreted Shir ha-Shirim differently than Rashi.

UNIT 4: Literary Approaches to the Song in the Andalusian Tradition

Sources: Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, introduction (Schwarz ed., pp. 16-19)

Readings: Rosenberg 1990; Cohen 1995/6; Kamin 1991:12*-26*  

UNIT 5: Introduction to Parallelism in Biblical Poetry

Reading: Kugel 1981:1-58 

UNIT 6: Parallelism and Modern Literary Theory

Reading: Alter 1985:3-26, 27-61 (Password required: Copyrighted)

UNIT 7: Analyzing Biblical Parallelism

Reading: Berlin 1985: Chs.1, 2, 4, 6, Notes

November 15, 2005 MID-TERM EXAM on text of Shir ha-Shirim, with translation by Gordis and Da'at Miqra commentary, including both introductions (pp. 3-21).

UNIT 8: Urban and Natural Settings

Text: Song 2: 8-17 (review parallelism); 3:1-11

Reading:  Felix 1964 (optional)  

UNIT 9: Introduction to Imagery in the Song

Sources: Song 4:1-5:1  


ReadingAlter 1985:185-203 (Password required: Copyrighted)

UNIT 10: Dream and Reality in the Song

Sources: Song 5:2-6:12

Reading:  Landy 1987

December 6, 2005. ESSAY #2: Apply methods for analyzing parallelism to remainder of Song.

UNIT 11: Historical and Literary Setting

Sources:  Song 7:1-8:14

ReadingFox 1985: 227-252

UNIT 12: Rashi’s Commentary on the Song as Cultural Statement

Sources: Rashi on Song 2:7-3:11; 4:1, 6, 8, 16; 5:l-8; 6:1-5, 10-12; 7:1, 8, 9-10, 13; 8:3-4, 6

Reading: Kamin 1991:31-72 

UNIT 13: Rash’s Peshat-Derash Distinction; Philosophical and Kabbalistic Approaches to Song

Sources: Rashbam Gen 37:2; Abraham Ibn Ezra, Safah Berurah 5a

Readings: Rosenberg 1969; Kamin 1986:57-90; 109-125; 263-274; Ahrend 1994

UNIT 14: Philosophical and Kabbalistic Traditions

Reading: Halkin 1950. Optional: Song of Songs Commentary Attributed to Ramban (Chavel ed.)


Ahrend, Moshe. 1994. “The Concept Peshuto Shellamiqra’ in the Making.” In The Bible In Light of Its Interpreters: Sarah Kamin Memorial Volume, ed. S. Japhet. Jerusalem, 237-59.

Alter, Robert. 1985. The Art of Biblical Poetry, New York.

___________1987, “The Characteristics of Ancient Hebrew Poetry.” In Alter and Kermode 1987:611-24.

Alter, Robert and Frank Kermode eds. 1987. The Literary Guide to the Bible, Cambridge, MA. 

Berlin, Adele. 1985. The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism, Bloomington.

Boyarin, Daniel. 1987, “Two Introductions to the Midrash on Song of Songs” [Hebrew]. Tarbiz 56:479-500.

Cohen, Mordechai Z. 1995/6. “‘The Best of Poetry’: Literary Approaches to the Bible in the Spanish Peshat Tradition,” The Torah U-Madda Journal 6:15-57.

 ________________ 2003. Three Approaches to Biblical Metaphor: From Abraham Ibn Ezra and Maimonides to David Kimhi. Leiden.

Feliks, Yehuda. 1964. The Song of Songs: Nature Epic and Allegory (Hebrew). Jerusalem.

Fox, Michael V. 1985. The Song of Songs and the Ancient Egyptian Love Songs. Madison.

Gordis, Robert. 1954. The Song of Songs and Lamentations: A Study, Modern Translation and Commentary. New York.

Hakham, Amos. 1973. Da'at Mikra: Hamesh Megillot. Jerusalem.

Halkin, Abraham. 1950. “Ibn ‘Aqnin’s Commentary on the Song of Songs.” Alexander Marx Jubilee Volume, ed. S. Lieberman. New York. 389-424 (English section).

Ibn Ezra, Abraham. Song of Songs Commentary. Standard version in Rabbinic Bible (Miqra'ot Gedolot). Early recension: Commentary on the Canticles (First recension of the Song of Songs commentary), ed. H. J. Mathews. Oxford 1874.

______  Safah Berurah, ed. G. H. Lipman. Furth 1839. Rept. Jerusalem 1969. First part, ed. M. Wilensky, Devir 2 (1924) 274-302.

Kamin, Sarah. 1986. Rashi's Exegetical Categorization in Respect to the Distinction Between Peshat and Derash [Hebrew]. Jerusalem.

__________  1991. Jews and Christians Interpret the Bible. Jerusalem.

Kugel, James. 1981. The Idea of Biblical Poetry: Parallelism and Its History. New Haven.

Landy, Francis. 1983. Paradoxes of Paradise: Identity and Difference in the Song of Songs. Sheffield.

____________ . “The Song of Songs.” In Alter and Kermode 1987:305-19.

Maimonides. The Guide of the Perplexed, trans. (Hebrew) M. Schwarz. Tel-Aviv 2002.

Murphy, Roland E. 1981. Wisdom Literature: Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Canticles, Ecclesiastes and Esther. Volume XIII of The Forms of Old Testament Literature, 98-124. Grand Rapids.

Pagis, Dan. 1967. “A propos de l’amour intellectuel dans les oeuvres de Moise Ibn Ezra.” Revue des Etudes Juives 126:191-202.

Pope, Marvin. 1977. The Anchor Bible: Song of Songs. New York.

Reif, Stefan. 1990. “Abraham Ibn Ezra on Canticles.” In Abraham Ibn Ezra and His Age, ed. F.D. Esteban. Madrid. 241-49.

Rosenberg, Shalom 1969 "Bein peshat l'drash," De‘ot 37:91-98.

_______________ 1990. “Philosophical Hermeneutics on the Song of Songs, Introductory Remarks” [Hebrew]. Tarbiz 59:133-141.

Other Commentaries

Walfish, D., "Bibliography of Notable Medieval Jewish Exegesis on the Song of Songs,"

Sarei ha-Eleph, Commentaries on the Song

Salfeld, S., Das Hohelied Salomo's bei den Jüdischen Erklären des Mittelalters : Nebst einem Anhange : Erklärungsproben aus Handschriften, (J. Benzian, 1879).

Some commentaries on Song of Songs that I have found and copied:


9/6/2005 Class 1: Introduction to the Song, Commentaries and Interpretive Approaches

Relationship between human live and divine (spiritual?) love.  Note Netiv’s inro to the chumash, on “sim b’phihem”, says Hazal understand that Shira means the entire Torah, therefore it’s poetry! He call prose סיפור פרזי, which is a non-walled city. 

Poetry certainly can be identified kephel inyan b’milim shonot.  iE says ta'am kaphul.  Imagery is another feature of poetic works.

We will discuss genre, and then go into the current rage: the history of the interpretation. 

Read Pope: For works on Parshanut of Shir Hashirim see: Rashbam’s commentary on Shir Hashirim (Yeffet's working on it).  Monsheiin is working on iE’s version in Shir Hashirim.  Daniel Frank, working on Kararites Yefet ben Eli (10th cent) and ???.  See Sara Kamin on Rashi on Shir Hashirim. 

See Avot d’Rabbi Natan, quoted by Amos Hakham on the gniza issue.

Problem with pshat as “literal meaning” is that sometimes the literal meaning is only metaphoric, such as “cities with walls in the heavens…” 

Reading for next week: Read Amos Hakham into to Shir Hashirim.  Read Gordis intro (pp. 1-18, 43).  In the intro look for development to various approaches to interpretation.  Look at dating of the book.  Is the text unified and coherent?

Study 1:1-2:7.  What is Rashi’s goal?  See Gordis: Translation and little notes.  Follow with Da’at Mikra.  What type literature is this?  How does Hakham differ from Gordis?  Think about literary unity/integrity. 

Kamin 11-22.  Says all Midrashim are peshat.  What does Rashi mean by Peshat?
Finish iE Intro.

9/13/2005 Class 2: Introductory Lyrics of the Song, Rashi’s Concept of Peshat

Assignment for next time: What does Rashi mean by dugma, and how does it play into Rashi’s idea of Shir Hashirim.  See Kamin.  What is the setting and the literary integrity.  Review Rashi on through 2:17  What terms does he use, and how does he use them.  Focus on philological notes of Gordis. 

In two weeks the essay is due so start pondering it: 3-5 pages.  Reading for unit for.   Focus on methodology (less on content)  Read Kamin 1991, and The Best of Poetry of false.  See guide of perplexed.  See Rosenberg on Rambam.  

For iE, when he says derech hayshara or HaIkar, he means pshat, i.e. the correct meaning of the text.  He actually says that every text has only one meaning, which is pshuto shel mikra.  And he says drash is “tosefet ta’am”. 

The plain meaning of iE is that the simple meaning, while it is tahir (or pshat)

Paper idea.  Does Ibn Ezra accept the idea of the plain meaning be story, and the Drashic interpretation is added on (during redaction?) in order to make it holy/canonical.  Baruch Alster, Muncheim is coming out with a new translation.

What to do with the disconnected settings of the stories.  One needs to metaforize or interpret the text in order to create a unity of the love stories.  I.E.  If they weren’t really shepherds and farmers then urbane then pastoral, the connectivity is not lost.

Did Rashi find unity in the Love story itself?  How does Ibn Ezra find unity?

9/20/2005 Class  3: The Spring-time Lyrics; Rashi’s Concept of Dugma

Kamin Question: Why did Rashi select a new word, Dugma, to deal with Shir Hashirim, and what does it mean.  Also, did Rashi know Latin?  Tuito (1982) says the Rashi and group was inspired by parallel movement in Christian schools (the little renaissance of the 11-12th century)

Literary integrity of Shir haShirim:  If there is an integrity, who are the speakers of the book, i.e., the characters.  Rashi sets up a near-broken love story to create a real-situation that can be used as a Dugma for the historical events that pass.  

Amos Hakham, by admitting that there are underlying poems, must constantly attempts to unify the characters and the voice.  He keeps most things in a wedding ceremony.    Since these people are face to face, third person language must be managed.  On the other hand, Rashi is describing a separation, therefore he must explain second person speech.  

(In v. 7 Rashi is dealing with the shift in Imagery)  On issue of unity: Read Fox 217-222.  Argues for a unified work.  P. 110 on the Swear.  Cf. Gordis p. 82.  

Essay for next week: What are the key questions about the readings in order to understand how Spanish exegetes differed.  Focus on exegetical principals, not content.  

Note that the man  (in 1:9-11) is speaking in a different language and from a different class (?) than the woman has been speaking up to now.  In verse 12-14, she’s not in the party and she’s trying to draw him how.  Her comparisons are to bring him to the pastoral.  Come out to the Kerem so to speak.    In verse 15ff they’re now on the same wavelength.  Regarding the leafy bed see commentary by y. felix.  And continue this pastoral image through 2:3