Song of Songs (NICOT)

By Tremper Longman III
Grand Rapids : Eerdmans (2001). xvi + 238 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Irv Busenitz
13.1 (Spring 2002) : 133-134

 With the publication of this volume, Tremper Longman III has made another valuable contribution to the growing list of NICOT publications. Also known as the Song of Solomon, this OT book throughout history has often been misinterpreted by both scholars and laypeople. In an effort to bring clarity to misunderstanding, Longman addresses the background and text of this beautiful and timeless book.

The author begins with a very extensive, in-depth treatment of introductory matters, with forty percent of the book given to these issues. As to authorship, Longman concedes that “[t]here is nothing inconceivable about the idea that Solomon wrote one or more of the poems . . .” (7). Nevertheless, he chooses instead to remain neutral, contending that the authorship cannot be known with certainty. He concludes, “The most honest appraisal is that we do not know for certain who wrote the songs of the Song, a man or a woman, and in any case it is a collection of love poetry, whether by men, or women, or both” (9). He adds that the mention of the king in 1:1, as in Prov 1:1 and Eccl 1:1, does not necessarily restrict the authorship to him (4-5).

As one would expect in a commentary on the Song of Songs, Longman provides an extensive treatment of its interpretation, asserting a priori “that it is not telling a story about Solomon” (7). He details the various allegorical and literal approaches, concluding that the “Song is an anthology of love poetry” (44) that affirms love, sex, and marriage (70). At the same time, Longman claims that since one’s relationship with God is described biblically by the metaphor of marriage, there is an allegorical element that cannot be denied. Though he cautions against arbitrarily pressing the details of the analogy, he contends that “from the Song we learn about the emotional intensity, intimacy, and exclusivity of our relationship with the God of the universe” (70). He observes that viewing the Song as a collection of love poems as opposed to a drama significantly affects one’s approach to the book. “It turns attention away from the explanation of a story . . . to the explication of the meaning of words and metaphors and an attempt to bring out the emotional texture of the poems” (44).

Given the interpretive parameters noted above, Longman engages the reader with the details of each of the twenty-three love poems. Where applicable, he draws comparisons (and contrasts) with the love songs of other ancient Near Eastern literature, without suggesting any kind of direct borrowing of songs between the various cultures. The commentary is easy to read, with many beneficial insights into the text, both English and Hebrew, though the exclusive use of transliteration diminishes its helpfulness. A full complement of indexes and an extensive bibliography are also provided.

Though one may not agree with Longman’s conclusions, the volume provides a wealth of information for the pastor as well as the exegete.