Book Review: Song Of Songs

Song Of Songs, translated by Hugh J. Schonfield

Before you read this book, you need to know that there are two essential flaws that keep this from being a truly authoritative guide to and translation of the Song of Solomon, and a few other flaws besides that.  For one, the author is of the Greek mindset [1] that seeks one level or layer of meaning in this text.  The author, for example, finds the allegorical interpretation of the text to be unsupportable and gives various possible levels of meaning while seeking the best/only one.  In making this approach, he fails because the Song of Solomon is, like any good Hebrew text or text written by someone with a Hebraic sort of mind, a multivalent text that is full of layers of meaning and application.  In addition to the author’s wrongheaded approach, he also comes at the text from the point of view of seeking to claim that it is an example of acceptable heathen sexuality, in the same vein as the heathen May Day games that the author sites as being blameless and acceptable to God, in clear contradiction to biblical texts that tell us seriously not to copy the ways of the heathen [2].

This book was interesting to read, though, despite its serious flaws, because the author is genuinely a scholar of Ancient Near East romance texts, a subject near and dear to my own dark heart.  The author, in this very short, 130 small pages, text, manages to discuss the place of the Song of Solomon in the biblical canon, various minor interpretations of the song, the theory that the book is an allegory, a drama, a wedding feast song, a love song, and a song relating to fertility rites.  The author then turns to questions about the geographical context of the song, its style and structure, its age and authorship (the author believes the song does not hail from anywhere centuries within Solomon’s time), and the setting of the song, before containing a brief forward and a quaint and old fashioned “new” translation of the song, which was new in 1959 but whose words like “bonny” already appear to be particularly out of date to contemporary ears.  A layer of meaning that added some enjoyment as a reader was a great deal of notes concerning an allegorical interpretation from someone whose handwriting was very clear, and whose allegorical insights managed to be a direct, if possibly unintentional, commentary on the views of the author himself.

So, given that the author’s viewpoint is off and the translation is a bit unimpressive, what is worthwhile about this particular book when one does not have the impressive notes that I did while reading the book?  The main insight of the book is one that the author appears somewhat unaware of.  As someone who greatly loves writing about the Song of Solomon [3], I was struck by how much the book is itself a critique of the heathen view of sacramental sexuality.  The book is itself not an example of pagan love poetry, but rather a critique of it in light of biblical morality.  The fact that the author does not recognize this is due to a variety of reasons, not least his own casual acceptance of the worth of such heathen views and his own lack of knowledge about biblical standards of morality, but the author’s connection of the Song of Solomon to contemporaneous writings in neighboring societies demonstrates the high sense of irony that the biblical poem shows, something that was fairly common within biblical poetry, and that note of irony is an appropriate one in dealing with this book as well.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

[3] See, for example:



About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Book Reviews, Christianity, History, Love & Marriage, Music History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Book Review: Song Of Songs

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    I’ve wanted to read some of his other works. He has had some rather eccentric ideas, within scholarship. He is best known for the Passover Plot.

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