The JPS Bible Com­men­tary: Song of Songs

Michael Fish­bane
  • Review
By – July 28, 2016

The Song of Songs (Shir ha-Shir­im), some­times referred to as the Song of Solomon or Can­ti­cles, is arguably one of the most beloved and prob­a­bly one of the most con­tro­ver­sial sec­tions of the Hebrew Bible. The roman­tic dia­logues and erot­ic images of the text are lit­er­ar­i­ly com­pelling and the­o­log­i­cal­ly challenging.

Michael Fish­bane applies his tremen­dous schol­ar­ly knowl­edge and deft con­trol of lan­guage to pre­sent­ing this piece of Scrip­ture as it was under­stood, inter­pret­ed, and appro­pri­at­ed over gen­er­a­tions of Jew­ish cul­ture. The orig­i­nal text, in Hebrew and Eng­lish trans­la­tion, occu­pies four­teen pages of a vol­ume more than 300 pages long. An exten­sive intro­duc­tion dis­cuss­es the lin­guis­tic and cul­tur­al dimen­sions of Song of Songs, and an excur­sus of sim­i­lar length unfolds the exeget­i­cal his­to­ry of the bib­li­cal book from Late Antiq­ui­ty to the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. The cen­tral fea­ture of the vol­ume is the com­men­tary itself, which is anthol­o­gized from dozens of Jew­ish interpretations.

The den­si­ty of this com­men­tary is imme­di­ate­ly appar­ent. Fish­bane adopt­ed the famous four­fold scheme of Jew­ish exe­ge­sis, divid­ing his com­ments into Peshat, Derash, Remez, and Sod. Peshat, the sim­ple” mean­ing, focus­es on indi­vid­ual words and includes tex­tu­al and lin­guis­tic dimen­sions. Derash reflects the con­cerns of the Midrash lit­er­a­ture, which gen­er­al­ly inter­pret­ed the romance of Song of Songs as a metaphor for the rela­tion­ship between God and the Jew­ish peo­ple. Remez fol­lows the philo­soph­i­cal tra­di­tion in Jew­ish exe­ge­sis, read­ing the vers­es as a descrip­tion of the intel­lec­tu­al soul’s quest for enlight­en­ment, and Sod sim­i­lar­ly seeks traces of the mys­ti­cal search for con­tact with the Divin­i­ty. This mul­ti­lay­ered com­men­tary makes for an absorb­ing, enrich­ing and sat­is­fy­ing immer­sion in this end­less­ly fas­ci­nat­ing Song.

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Discussion Questions