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The JPS Bible Commentary: Song of Songs

The JPS Bible Commentary: Song of Songs

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 328
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    The JPS Bible Commentary: Song of Songs
    Book Description:

    Song of Songs is a wondrous collection of love lyrics nestled in the heart of the Hebrew Bible-songs of passion and praise between a young maiden and her beloved. It is religious lyric par excellence. But what is its true meaning? Is it an expression of human love and passion, pure and simple? A celebration of the covenant between God and Israel? Or something else?

    The latest volume in the Jewish Publication Society's highly acclaimed Bible Commentary series,Song of Songsprovides a line-by-line commentary of the original Hebrew Bible text, complete with vocalization and cantillation marks, alongside the JPS English translation. Unique to this volume are four layers of commentary: the traditionalPaRDeS:peshat(literal meaning),derash(midrashic and religious-traditional sense),remez(allegorical level), andsod(mystical and spiritual intimations). Michael Fishbane skillfully draws from them all to reveal the extraordinary range of interpretations and ideas perceived in this extraordinary biblical book. A comprehensive introduction, extensive endnotes, a full bibliography (traditional and modern), and additional explanatory materials are included to enhance the reader's appreciation of the work.

    This original, comprehensive commentary on the Song of Songs interprets historical, critical, and traditional sources drawn from the ancient Near East, the entire spectrum of Jewish sources and commentaries, and modern critical studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8276-1145-0
    Subjects: Religion
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE (pp. ix-xii)
    Michael Fishbane

    The Song of Songs is a wondrous collection of love lyrics—songs of passion and praise between a young maiden and her beloved, nestled in the heart of the Hebrew Bible. Scenes from the natural world abound, as the young pair make their way around the countryside and invoke all they see and smell in the world to express their inner feelings and laud one another’s beauty. There are plants and fruit growing in the orchards, sheep and gazelles moving on the hills, and oils and spices in profusion. Each and all convey the impressions that the loved one makes...

    • Four Levels of Commentary: Peshat, Derash, Remez, and Sod (pp. 17-21)

      For the reader’s convenience, the following treatment summarizes the discussion of these topics in the Introduction and in the excursus. It also explains the main features of the particular commentary that follows.

      Peshatmarks the plain sense of a verse or passage. As with any text, the Song’s dialogical or dramatic units compose its discourse, which conditions howpeshatreaders view a given passage. Then they construe the text through a combination of its philological and semantic sense; syntactic and metaphorical nuance; and literary style and structure. Consequently, in each successive analysis within thispeshatcommentary, the literary units are...

    • CHAPTER 1:1–17 First Words, First Encounters (pp. 22-53)

      This passage is subdivided into four units, according to Masoretic tradition.¹ These are marked by a series of dialogues between a young maiden and her beloved, and a series of rapidly shifting scenes. The dialogues open on the high pitch of desire, expressed by a female voice to a male.² In subsequent speeches, this maiden apparently speaks not only to her companions about her relations with a “king” (vv. 4, 12) in home environments, but also to a shepherd, who tends sheep in the pasture (vv. 7–8) and meets with her in the fields (vv. 16–17). Some regard...

    • CHAPTER 2:1–17 Love in Its Proper Time (pp. 54-81)

      This second cycle is subdivided into four units, according to Masoretic tradition.103As in the first cycle, the maiden and her beloved are the principal characters. At the beginning, they engage in a dialogue of mutual admiration. Then they appear separately: she in her account of the joys of love, he in his request that she join him in the fields. Toward the end, they again speak in a duet, after which she gives a farewell directive. These units join internal states of feeling with external conditions of reality, through personal statements and figures drawn from the natural world.


    • CHAPTER 3:1–11 Inner Experience and shared Joy (pp. 82-100)

      The third cycle of lyrics is composed of three units. These comprise two long scenes and one bridging element. The first unit (3:1–5) portrays the maiden alone and longing for her beloved, whom she eventually finds and brings to her mother’s home. Speaking autobiographically to her female companions, she details her impulses and recites her adjuration about the proper timing of love. By contrast, the concluding unit depicts a grand marital procession, with references to the wealth of Solomon and the king himself on his wedding day (though the bride and groom are not named). Speaking like a herald,...

    • CHAPTER 4:1–5:1 The Beautiful Maiden, So Praised (pp. 101-131)

      The collection of songs in 4:1–5:1 is divided into two units, according to Masoretic tradition. The first is the beloved’s praise of the maiden’s beauty (vv. 1–7). The second, in which he remains the speaker, has four parts: he invites the maiden to join him in the hills (v. 8); he refers to her effect upon him (v. 9); he celebrates her sweet love (vv. 10–11); and he depicts the lass as a lush garden—in response to which she invites him to enter this place, which he does (4:12–5:1). Throughout this cycle, the male’s initiative...

    • CHAPTER 5:2–6:3 In Quest of the Marvelous Beloved (pp. 132-159)

      The song cycle in 5:2–6:3 is one entity, according to Masoretic tradition. It opens with a report of the maiden in a state of dreamy wakefulness awaiting her beloved; it concludes with her request that her companions join her search for him. This framework is filled with diverse images, dialogues, and moods—portraying internal states and external realities.

      In the initial unit (5:2–8), the maiden reports a series of nighttime events to her friends. The sequences that she recounts have a dreamlike realism, recalling an earlier nocturnal experience (3:1–4). Having searched for her beloved but failed to...

    • CHAPTER 6:4–10 The Maiden, Lovely and Luminous (pp. 160-168)

      This cycle is composed of two units, according to Masoretic tradition. The first is verses 4–9, in which the beloved proclaims his darling’s beauty. Each evocation highlights her physical appeal though sensuous similes (vv. 4–7), with the final series extolling her as incomparable—even among the noblest ladies (vv. 8–9).

      The second unit is verse 10, in which another (choral) voice beholds her luminous appearance and reiterates her splendor.¹ Whereas the beloved addressed the maiden directly, using the second person “you” the chorus beholds her from a distance, asking “Who is this?!” in a rhetorical exclamation. For...

    • CHAPTER 6:11–7:11 Love Overwhelming (pp. 169-193)

      This diverse collection of speeches comprises one entity, according to Masoretic tradition.¹ It is composed of four units. Identification of the voices involved depends on the reader’s sense of the dramatic flow, the relations between events, and the play of language. The first task is to assess the content, then access its coherence.

      The first presumptive unit is 6:11–12. Both verses are marked by the “I” voice, indicating a first-person experience. In the first instance (v. 11), a person reports entry to a garden to see if budding has occurred. There follows (v. 12) a sudden emotional event wherein...

    • CHAPTER 7:12–8:14 Longing, Love, and Loss (pp. 194-224)

      The final group of discourses is composed of four units, according to Masoretic tradition.¹ Each is distinct in style, topic, and focus. Internal subsections increase the diversity. Overall, these elements arouse a crescendo in the relationship between the maiden and her beloved, demonstrating the maiden’s worthiness and appeal. The editorial collation is one of interlocking perspectives rather than compositional coherence. The cycle concludes with the beloved’s abrupt departure. It deprives the Song of closure, which leaves the passions of love incomplete.

      Unit 1 (7:12–8:4) has two parts. In the first, the maiden invites her beloved to go with her...

    • NOTES TO THE COMMENTARY (pp. 225-244)
  8. EXCURSUS: A History of Jewish Interpretation of the Song of Songs (pp. 245-338)

    The emergence of thePeshat-type of commentary in northern Europe in the eleventh to twelfth centuries was a veritable revolution in Jewish intellectual culture. After a thousand years during which midrashic exegesis was the signature mode of rabbinic creativity, a radically new emphasis emerged on the primary sense of Scripture: its language, style, and context. To be sure, scholars in the traditional academies of learning also had studied the words and phrases of Scripture with great care (as is evident in the legal and homiletic sources from earliest times). But their chief concern was to resolve issues of terminology and...