Song of Songs Essay –  Love in the Bible

Authors: Jo Milgrom and Yoel Duman


The root AHB appears 251 times in the Bible. What kinds of love?  Who is loving and who is loved?
There is love of a man for a woman ויאהב יעקב את רחל Genesis 29:18
and the love of a woman for a man  ותאהב מיכל בת שאול את דוד  I Samuel 18:20 
There is love between men נִפְלְאַתָה אַהֲבָתְךָ לִי מֵאַהֲבַת נָשים   II Sam 1:26 
and there is love between women כלתך אשר אהבתך Ruth 4:15
There is love of oneself and of the “other” ואהבת לרעך כמוך Leviticus 19:18 
and there is love of the stranger ואהבתם את הגר  Deuteronomy 1:19
There is love of the child  את בנך אשר אהבת Genesis 22:2
There is love of food  ועשה לי מטעמים כאשר אהבתי  Genesis 27:4 
There is love of a master אהבתי את אדוני Exodus 21:5
There is love of God  ואהבת את ה’ אלהיך Deuteronomy 6:5 
and there is God’s love of Israel   זרע אברהם אהבי  Isaiah 41:8
There is love of Torah שלום רב לאהבי תורתך Psalms 119:165 
There is love of Good ואהבו טוב  Amos 5:15
and there is love of Compassion  ואהבת חסד  Micha 6:8  
There is love of a man for his wife ראה חיים עם אשה אשר אהבת Ecclesiastes 9:9 
But the Song of Songs (hereafter, Songs) is for all readers the quintessential book of biblical love.  On the one hand, this love seems to many modern readers to be mainly the erotic love of a young couple and God plays no part in it; on the other hand, traditional Jewish and Christian commentary reads the book as an allegory of human-divine love and therefore suppresses the erotic elements. Our challenge was to see how artists of various times and places understand this love and how they deal with the darker side of love that appears in several passages in the book.

Songs in Medieval Art

The most widespread imaging of Songs in the art of the medieval Church portrays the bond between Jesus and the Church (Ecclesia) or between “the Divine Word and the individual soul”.

Bible and commentary (Latin 14776
Bible and commentary (Latin 14776
Bible moralisée (76 E7
Bible moralisée (76 E7
Bible historiale (10 B 23
Bible historiale (10 B 23
Admont bible (Cod. ser. nov. 2701
Admont bible (Cod. ser. nov. 2701

In most of these images one sees a haloed man with a (usually) crowned woman.  In all the examples above, the couple is in close physical contact.
In contrast, while Jewish medieval art also portrays couples as the iconic representation of Songs, they are not marked as divine nor are they intimate.
In all of the examples below, the couple accompanies the initial word אתי (“with me”), found in Songs 4:8; in the Mahzor, this phrase has been incorporated into the piyyut Iti MeLevanon (“Look together with me from Lebanon”), sung in the synagogue service for Shabbat Hagadol, just before Passover. The piyyut ties Songs to Passover by interpreting the frustrated yearning of the lovers as a metaphor for the plight of Israel in Exile, especially the enslavement in Egypt.

In the Worms Mahzor, a wedding couple stands under the huppah; there is no physical contact between them; the bride is entirely covered by a long hooded coat. The ornamented word אתי (including a winking eye as a vowel mark!) takes center stage, separating the couple from the officiating rabbi and further diminishing the physicality of the couple.

Similarly, אתי appears above the couple in the Levi Mahzor; here, as elsewhere, the groom wears a Jews’ hat and the bride a crown. The Jews’ hat and the blindfolded bride (modeled on the “Synagoga” of Christian art) seem to indicate the influence of Christian iconography.  But here, there is some contact – the hands of the couple modestly meet at the center of the picture.

In the Leipzig Mahzor, the couple is seated side by side but again, they are separated, this time by a “tree”, designed to prevent contact and perhaps reflecting an iconographic tradition from the Garden of Eden story, in which Adam and Eve stand on either side of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The Darmstadt Mahzor portrays a bride and groom, seated as far apart as possible on either side of the word אתי; the bride holds a goblet and the groom, what may be a ring.

In the Worms Mahzor, a wedding couple stands under the huppah; there is no physical contact between them; the bride is entirely covered by a long hooded coat. The ornamented word אתי (including a winking eye as a vowel mark!) takes center stage, separating the couple from the officiating rabbi and further diminishing the physicality of the couple.

Other icons of Songs

Both in Christian and in Jewish illuminations, however, we find additional interpretations connected with Songs, some of them very arcane.
In some Christian illuminations, the lovers from Songs are simply portrayed as a human couple, walking in a garden or conversing in a bedroom. These treatments of the couple are an unusual pre-modern literal reading of the book.

Bible historiale (Français 10
Bible historiale (Français 10
Bible historiale (Français 160
Bible historiale (Français 160

More widespread as an emblem of Songs is the figure of the Virgin Mary, by herself, with the Christ child, with angels or symbolized as a locked or enclosed garden:

 A garden locked
Is my sister, my bride,
A fountain locked,
A sealed-up spring.  Songs 4:12

How did these visual treatments develop?

Illuminated bible (KB  76 E 22
Illuminated bible (KB 76 E 22
Grimani breviary (Ms. lat. I 99
Grimani breviary (Ms. lat. I 99

As we have already seen, Christianity interpreted Songs as an allegory for the love of Jesus and the Church. The Virgin Mary is equated with the Church. During the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, Christian doctrine developed a dogma called “Immaculate Conception”: Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit while retaining her virginity. The symbol of this dogma used by artists of the time was the “enclosed garden” (hortus conclusus) of Songs.

Speculum humanae salvationis (M.766
Speculum humanae salvationis (M.766
Speculum humanae salvationis (M.385
Speculum humanae salvationis (M.385
Speculum humanae salvationis (M.140
Speculum humanae salvationis (M.140

Sometimes, as in the Speculum Humanae Salvationis, the image of the enclosed garden is paired in an astonishing midrashic leap with the image of Balaam, who according to Christian interpretations prophesied the birth of Mary in the stars (see Numbers 24:17).
An additional, and surprising, image connected with Songs in Christian illuminated manuscripts is the tomb.

In the picture here from a Biblia Pauperum of 1470, Reuben finds Joseph missing from the pit (Genesis 37). This is connected with the Three Mary’s finding the empty tomb of Jesus. In the third image, the bride is anguished by the absence of the bridegroom (Songs 3:1-3; 5: 2 – 6). In all three images there is the pain of loss. As noted above, this combination is based on the equation of the bride in Songs with the Virgin Mary.

During the 12th century, with the rise of the cult of Mary, Songs was understood to be a prefiguring of the life of Mary. Episodes from her life were equated with sections from Songs. Among these episodes is the visit of the three Marys (or the myrrh bearers) who discover the empty tomb of Jesus (Mark 16: 1 – 7), which is paralleled by Songs 5: 2 – 6.  Here the beloved opens her door to receive her lover and finds him gone. The highly sexual text of Songs is interpreted as a metaphor for death and loss and Songs becomes a funeral text.

While there is no parallel to this connection between Songs and funerals in Jewish art of the Middle Ages, Songs does appear in the Jewish ritual of preparing the body for burial (taharat hamet) ; verses from chapters 4, 5 and 7 are sung during the washing process. These verses extol the beauty of the human body, to honor the physicality of God’s creation, short-lived though it is.  But this use of Songs in Jewish funeral rites is never illustrated.

Other icons in medieval Jewish art

In addition to the image of the couple, Jewish illuminated manuscripts employ several other images as emblems of Songs.
Deer appear in one group of these emblems. The two next examples use this image in wildly contrasting ways.

In the Rothschild Mahzor, a stag and doe accompany the introduction to the Torah service during Pesach, at which time Songs is read.  What does this love song have to do with deer?  Deer of various sorts appear throughout Songs, in both masculine and feminine forms, as imagery of the lovers. The male: My beloved is like a gazelle Or like a young stag. Song of Songs 2:9
And the female: Your breasts are like two fawns, Twins of a gazelle, 
Browsing among the lilies.  Songs 4:5

In the Rothschild Mahzor, the stag and doe create an additional level of Midrash:  While the usual allegorical interpretation of the lovers in Songs is as God and the people of Israel, here the female deer represents the Torah and the male deer represents God or the people of Israel. This Midrash derives from a Talmudic passage, relating to the deer image as found in the book of Proverbs:

Samuel b. Nahmani expounded: With reference to the Scriptural text: A loving doe, a graceful mountain goat etc. (Proverbs 5:19), why were the words of the Torah compared to a ‘hind’? To tell you that as the hind has a narrow womb and is loved by its mate at all times as at the first hour of their meeting, so it is with the words of the Torah — They are loved by those who study them at all times as at the hour when they first made their acquaintance. ‘And a graceful mountain goat’? Because the Torah bestows grace upon those who study it. Tal. Bab. Erubin 54b

How strange it was for us to view the opening of the text of Songs and see a stag hunt in the De Castro Pentateuch.
Although this motif is found in other Hebrew illuminated manuscripts in a variety of contexts, only here is it used in association with Songs. The lettering alternates red and blue.

The picture is dominated by the word Song (Shir); to the right, a stylized tree conceals a hunter, sounding his horn.  To the left, the object of the hunt, a leaping stag, is attacked from below by a large hound, while a smaller dog stands below the opening word.
The image of the stag hunt in Hebrew illuminated manuscripts has been explained by art historians as a symbol for the oppression of the Jews in Galut; the stag is Israel (see II Samuel 1:19), the hunter is the gentiles (compare Esau, the evil hunter of Midrash).
The strange imaging of the love story of Songs by such a cruel emblem affirms that Songs was understood here to revolve around the plight of Israel in the Galut. According to this interpretation, the thrice repeated oath:

I adjure you, O maidens of Jerusalem,
By gazelles or hinds of the field:
Do not wake or rouse
Love until it please!  Songs 2:7; 3:5; 8:4

is understood as part of the extended allegory of God and Israel and actually refers to three oaths taken by Israel submitting to its exile.  Do not wake…love means: Stay in your dormant state of exile, from God and the land of Israel until.
Thus, in the two pictures above, Songs is linked to the reality and the hope of Jews in the Middle Ages – their reality is oppression (the dog biting the stag), their hope is Israel at peace (the stag and the doe).

One of the most enigmatic pictures connected with Songs in Hebrew illuminated manuscripts is found in the Kaufmann Tripartite Mahzor of 1322.

All are agreed that the picture shows King Solomon, the traditional writer of Songs, seated on his throne.  All agree further that the major literary source of the picture is Targum Sheni to Esther, a late midrashic work. But there is disagreement about all of the other elements of the picture. According to B. Narkiss and G. Sed-Rajna, the picture shows the famous Judgment of Solomon (I Kings 3). Solomon is seated on the right on his magical throne, sword in hand, about to split the living child. On the left, below, the two contesting mothers (portrayed in accordance with the practice of the time and place with animal heads!) raise their hands toward the king; above, looking on in wonder, the Queen of Sheba (who actually only appears well after the Judgment, in I Kings 10), is identified by her royal robes and crown.  Both above and below on the left there are chimerical figures, playing music and romping as befits a royal audience.
But as S. Shalev-Eyni has pointed out, there is no baby here, as in all other portrayals of the biblical scene; so perhaps this is not the Judgment. In all other pictorial versions of the Judgment, the killing sword is in the hands of the executioner, not in the hands of the King, the man of Peace. Shalev-Eyni further points out that the supposed royal robe of the woman above is identical to that of one of the women below, who is supposedly a prostitute. The supposed crown she wears is, in fact, spiked hair, just like that of the chimerical figure in front of her. And finally, these chimeras reflect both Jewish and Christian midrashim on Solomon’s power over a variety of demons and spirits.  Note that in the Muslim world too, Solomon (=Sulayman) is usually portrayed in the company of both angels and demons, seated on his throne and sometimes accompanied by Balqis, the Queen of Sheba.

Qisas el anbiya (Persan 54
Qisas el anbiya (Persan 54
Qisas el anbiya (Diez A fol 3
Qisas el anbiya (Diez A fol 3

Thus, Shalev-Eyni rejects the identification of the picture from the Tripartite Mahzor as the Judgment of Solomon and sees it as a picture of Solomon praised by a group of women and spirits, employing an amalgam of characteristics of the King, produced by a remarkable co-production of Jews and Christians.
The final question is: what have either of these interpretations to do with Songs? On the one hand, we might see the stories of the Judgment of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, which associate the King with women, as parallel to the love interest of Songs. On the other hand, we might see the image of Solomon and women as alluding to the classical allegory of God (the male principle) and Knesset Israel/the Church (the female principle).
In both cases, the erotic nature of Songs is well-concealed beneath the royal robes. In the very same manuscript, we find a second illumination connected with Songs, again by way of the piyyut Iti MeLevanon.

Again our expectations of an expression of love are thwarted; instead two knights are jousting on horseback! Shalev-Eyni has suggested that this battle scene is a reference to the battle of Muhldorf in 1322, in which the champion of the Jews was bested in the struggle for control of the Holy Roman Empire. Since the piyyut expresses hope for salvation of the Jews, the battle scene was employed, with the almost unnoticed addition of a naked man turning his backside to the victor. In this manner the defeated Jew is thumbing his nose at his oppressor. An additional explanation of the surprising use of military imagery regarding Songs is that such imagery is actually found in Songs in close proximity.

4Your neck is like the Tower of David,
Built to hold weapons,
Hung with a thousand shields—
All the quivers of warriors.
8From Lebanon come with me;
From Lebanon, my bride, with me!
Trip down from Amana’s peak,
From the peak of Senir and Hermon,
From the dens of lions,
From the hills of leopards.    Songs 4:4,8

Thus, in both pictures from the Tripartite Mahzor, not only is there no intimacy, there is no love at all; perhaps the general context of the time and place could not deal with the erotic nature of Songs.

In the late 15th century Rothschild Mahzor, similarly, there is no treatment of the love of a young couple.  But here, on the right, we have Solomon seated on his throne, gesturing toward a book, presumably Songs. And on the left stands a troubadour, suggesting the love songs yet to be sung. This is a simple, even a conventional, presentation of Songs, alluding to its authorship by the youthful, unbearded Solomon.

In conclusion, both Christian and Jewish artists chose the allegorical interpretation of Songs over the depiction of carnal love. In both cultures, most imaging presented a symbolic couple. In some cases, the allegorical interpretation went very far afield: Solomon’s extraordinary powers, the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception, stag hunts, jousting knights, etc. Only from the 19th century would artists dare to interpret Songs literally.

Songs in the Renaissance and Baroque

Very few if any treatments of Songs seem to have been produced in the 16th to the 18th centuries. This lacuna may be linked to the rise of humanism and changing attitudes toward the Church – since the bride had been formerly identified as the Church, humanist artists (especially Protestants) lost interest in the book. They couldn’t yet read the book as love poetry; this only happened in the 19th century with the rise of romanticism, stressing love, the body and the exotic East.
Once we leave the liturgical environment, two new interpretations appear: love and romance, on the one hand, and the exotic/erotic on the other.  We will see greater exposure of the body, more naturalistic use of nature motifs and some rare glimpses of violence.

Christian artists in the 19th and early 20th century

Gustave Moreau is the earliest artist we know of who portrays an incident from Songs in a naturalistic manner; his painting of 1851 “La Sulamite” is violent.

I met the watchmen
Who patrol the town;
They struck me, they bruised me.
The guards of the walls
Stripped me of my mantle.   Songs 5:7

The Shulamite is surrounded by a gang of drunken soldiers. They will not protect her or help her find her lover; they are about to abuse her. As if to say “Unhand me”, she pushes away one of the soldiers, who lifts her veil aggressively, causing another soldier to spill the chalice of wine he is offering her.
Moreau has turned the city guards into a drunken mob.  This is the nightmare of the Shulamite and the danger faced by a lone woman, out at night in biblical times.  It is not clear whether Moreau meant to describe naturalistically the well-known interpretation of Theodoret, the 5th century Bishop of Cyrus (the Shulamite is the Church and the guards/soldiers are its Roman persecutors) or was he giving the passage his own special literal interpretation. In any event, he belongs to the Orientalist school of his time that stressed the exotic, the erotic and the violent in its portrayal of the (Ancient) Near East.  See other examples of this trend, below:


Song of Songs
Song of Songs

Kupka Frantisek

Song Of Solomon
Song Of Solomon

Flint William Russell

The name most widely associated with this English artistic and literary movement is that of Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  In reaction to the stilted Academic style of the time, this group mandated a return to medieval and early Renaissance detail and strong colors. However, it was not really the Middle Ages that inspired them, but their 19th century Romantic interpretation of medieval chivalry, courtly love, etc. Their major focus was on chaste love and idealized beauty.

Rossetti’s painting “The Beloved” is the crowning expression of Pre-Raphaelite chaste beauty. The pale Beloved is surrounded by her companions (“the daughters of Jerusalem”), who are also aspects of herself. There is a bouquet of roses below her, symbolic of restrained passion. The black child, holding the roses, is a more open expression of passion and the only male figure in the painting.

Rossetti labeled the painting with verses from Songs and Psalms:

My beloved is mine, and I am his; He pastures his flock among the lilies. Songs 2:16
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.  Songs 1:2
She shall be brought unto the king in raiment of needlework: the virgins her companions that follow her shall be brought unto thee.  Psalms 45: 14

In the verses from the Bible there are multiple “voices”: first, second and third person. Rossetti wants to transfer these different voices to the painting. The Beloved, while she seems to be looking at the observer, is actually focused internally. The women around her are the speakers of the texts.
Only 10 years after Moreau, Edward Burne-Jones, a younger member of the Pre-Raphaelites, treated Songs in a stained glass window for St. Helen’s Church in Darley Dale, England.

Song of Songs 5:7
Song of Songs 5:7

Burne-Jones Edward

Song of Songs
Song of Songs

Burne-Jones Edward

Sponsa de Libano
Sponsa de Libano

Burne-Jones Edward

The windows have a subdued, dark atmosphere, utterly devoid of the erotic. Burne-Jones treats a variety of scenes from Songs and places them not in the order of the book, but in a way that creates a plot centered on the lovers seeking, but not finding each other.  Particularly interesting is Burne-Jones’ treatment of the same episode from Songs 5:7 that Moreau had chosen. The scene is placed centrally to the view of the parishioners
The young woman, wrapped in a long black dress, her head covered, has been knocked to the ground, only her foot, hand and face are exposed.
The angry watchman, also dressed in medieval garb, grips her arm and is about to berate her, but the artist won’t allow violence.  In order to identify her, the guard shines a lamp in her face. Since both his hands are occupied, his abuse can only be verbal.
The artist takes liberties with the text, both adding and deleting details: there is only one guard in the panel; the veil is missing; and the lamp is the artist’s creation. Texts are quoted under each picture, but only in part.
The window looks like a throwback to medieval art, perhaps because it was designed for a church and perhaps because of the moralistic inclination of the Pre-Raphaelites. But Burne-Jones’ major statement regards the hardships of love, the trials which lovers must experience, the often unrealized quest for the beloved. The beating scene is the most painful example of this statement.

Zionist artists

From the first years of the 20th century, Songs has attracted mainly Jewish artists, among them, especially Zionists.  How should we explain the paucity of Christian artists dealing with Songs in this period?  Perhaps by the decline of figurative art in general and narrative art in particular in the 20th century. Jews, on the other hand, have remained anchored in the biblical text.

1. Pre-State artists

In the early years of the 20th century, two artists representative of Jugendstil (also known as art nouveau) dominated the field: Ephraim Moshe Lilien and Zeev Raban.  Both of these artists were educated in Europe and both developed strong ties to the nascent Zionist movement and the Land of Israel. While Lilien only visited Palestine several times, Raban immigrated in 1913 and became one of the leading figures of the Bezalel Art School in Jerusalem. The emotional climate in the works of Lilien and Raban is melodramatic .

Lilien’s etching of 1906, like Moreau’s earlier painting, is entitled “the Shulamite”. As with the Pre-Raphaelites, the subject is chaste, caring, maternal and sweet.  She wears simple peasant clothing and carries a lamb and a crook, identifying her as a shepherdess. She is seen in broad daylight, against the backdrop of open skies and a peaceful country landscape with stereotypical palms and the Sea of Galilee.

Die Bücher der Bibel (p. 309): Shulamit
Die Bücher der Bibel (p. 309): Shulamit
Jesus Christ with Lamb
Jesus Christ with Lamb

The foreground of the etching is a celebration of the artist’s name, a field of lilies. While the title of the piece is taken from Songs 7:1, the Shulamite is never identified in the book as a shepherdess. Lilien imaginatively transforms the male shepherd mentioned in Songs 2:16 and 6:3 into a female counterpart.  But the main inspiration for this figure would seem to be the Christian motif of “the Good Shepherd”.

In his etching entitled “The Silent Song”, Lilien took a very different approach, reminiscent of Moreau in its eroticism. The etching may be a reference to the opening words of Songs:

2Oh, give me of the kisses of your mouth,
For your love is more delightful than wine.

In contrast to the open space of “The Shulamite”, this piece is a provocative night scene, lavish with texture and set in an enclosed garden, framed by a window. The embracing couple is dressed in richly embroidered garments that blend the two into one. But she is half-naked, while he is fully clothed, as is typical in Orientalist art. His kiss is not aggressive, but he is dominant.
Zeev Raban was certainly influenced by Lilien, but is more attached to the physical Land of Israel. However, his love of the Land is visionary romanticism. His images include both land- and cityscapes. He is devoted to text, young love, imagining biblical times by observing local Arabs, their dress and customs, on the one hand, and imagery from the ancient Near East, on the other.

This picture illustrates Songs 1:13:

13My beloved to me is a bundle of myrrh
Lodged between my breasts.
14My beloved to me is a spray of henna blooms
From the vineyards of En-gedi.
15Ah, you are fair, my darling,
Ah, you are fair,
With your dove-like eyes!
16And you, my beloved, are handsome,
Beautiful indeed!
Our couch is in a bower;
17Cedars are the beams of our house,
Cypresses the rafters.

The Seven Species crown the scene with authenticity. Pillars, reminiscent of the Egyptian lotus pillars of Luxor, frame the medallion. The pair of lovers, dressed in Raban’s fantasy Arab costume, reclines on a carpet of red flowers bordered by a cypress, a cedar and fir tree, while a mountain peak rises in the background. Ein Gedi never looked anything like this; Raban does not reproduce the physical reality, but a romantic idealization, with Japanese influence.

A grey palette marks the tone of the next selection from Raban’s series that is taken from Songs 8:5:

5Who is she that comes up from the desert,
Leaning upon her beloved?…
6Let me be a seal upon your heart,
Like the seal upon your hand.
For love is fierce as death,
Passion is mighty as Sheol;
Its darts are darts of fire,
A blazing flame.
7Vast floods cannot quench love,
Nor rivers drown it.
If a man offered all his wealth for love,
He would be laughed to scorn.

The dramatically colorful central tableau poses the embracing lovers in a desolate desert scene. This endless, burning landscape is not a desert characteristic of the land of Israel; it comes out of Raban’s imagination.
The somber side of love, a grey frame, surrounds the central tableau. A pattern of embossed menorot fills the background. Raban has daringly turned this traditional symbol of the Temple and the Jewish people into an icon of burning passion; is this a resurfacing of the traditional allegorical interpretation of Songs?
Allegorical figures surround the lovers. Flanking the central tableau are Death and Jealousy, trying to separate them. Death is a skeleton holding apart a pair of doves and Jealousy is an angry demon, wrapped in snakes. Both are framed by serpentine columns. Love, above the central tableau, is an embracing couple, burning with passion, balancing the text, below.
It is worth noting that Raban’s interpretation is refuted by many modern Bible commentators, who translate קנאה as ardor, rather than jealousy. The comparison to death and ardor indicates the power of love and not it’s down side.

Our final choice in Raban’s series is the strange and disturbing scene from Songs 5: 7, that we have already seen.
Framed by an idealized gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, replete with lions and columns, the scene itself is a cityscape, practically a photograph from the 1920’s, in contrast to the imaginary landscapes of the previous pictures. Two guards accost the girl; one is about to strike her, the other, holding a lamp, scowls and seizes her shawl. She raises an arm in self-defense, meanwhile exposing herself.

The treatment of this scene from Songs by Moreau, Burne-Jones and Raban can be explained as part of the orientalist interest in the exotic/erotic and sometimes violent expressions of passion

Song of Songs 5:7
Song of Songs 5:7

Burne-Jones Edward

I met the watchmen who patrol the town
I met the watchmen who patrol the town

Raban Zeev

2. Songs in the young State of Israel

Shraga Weil’s illustrations of Songs are a refreshing change. In the first, Sabena Schweid identifies Weil’s shepherdess as a Yemenite woman, holding herself erect, accustomed to balancing loads on her head, while the young man is a former Palmachnik. The style is still romantic, but no longer melodramatic, reflecting the youthful dreams of Weil’s generation of the 1950’s.
The unlikely romance portrayed below takes place in a rocky landscape, populated by goats, thorns, and withered trees. Weil relates to the text impressionistically, rather than photographically.
His treatment of Songs 5: 3 – 5 is erotic without being vulgar.

4My beloved took his hand off the latch,
And my heart was stirred for him.
5I rose to let in my beloved;
My hands dripped myrrh—
My fingers, flowing myrrh—
Upon the handles of the bolt.

Weil represents this single image in two sections that fill a double page of his illustrated Songs. We see the beloved from behind, reaching for the bolt on hearing her lover knock:

3I had taken off my robe—
Was I to don it again?

This very sexy picture stimulates the imagination. We the viewers are also participants, looking in the same direction as she and involved in her excitement.
Our eye follows the strong line of her elbow, jutting out from her transparent nightgown all the way to the detail of the bolt.
The bolt is actually a closeup of the left hand of the girl on the right, showing what is hidden by her head. The intense detail of the bolt and the bracelet serves to further emphasize the already suggestive image. Our eye returns to the girl, peeking through a crack in the door toward her now absent lover.
She is 100% present, filling the double page; he is 100% absent, his hand is no longer on the latch. In a world of color, Weil has chosen the medium of black and white; perhaps color would distract us from appreciating the forms.
Weil is more emotionally accessible and contemporary than Lilien or Raban, whose figures live in a different world.

Lyricism: Chagall and Dali

Chagall’s five paintings of Songs, done in the late 1950’s, were originally intended for a church in southern France. Painted as a memorial to his first wife, Bella, the paintings are now exhibited in the Chagall Museum in Nice.
While Raban and Weil interpreted Songs as a linear narrative, Chagall, perhaps more in keeping with the actual form of the book, produced a series of scenes combining literal, personal and exegetical elements from diverse sections of Songs that are often repeated and embellished.  We have chosen two of the five paintings to discuss.
Both of these paintings employ the female body on many levels: Painting II, a uterus and Painting III, the breasts and belly of the beloved woman.
In Painting II, the beloved is anticipating fulfillment. She lies on a verdant bed, within the womb, soon to be born into love. The womb/tree/lawn floats above a pastoral village scene in which we see a herd of sheep, a disembodied hand, the sun radiating behind a crescent moon and a shepherdess. While this shepherdess could be the Shulamite, she might also represent the matriarch Rachel, the beloved of Jacob, balancing the moon, alluding to Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37. Chagall employs his stock of icons, drawn from the Bible, Jewish lore and personal experience, creating a collage, his Midrash on Songs. For example, the central figure of the nude woman is flanked by the silhouette of her lover below and the donkey above, symbolizing animal passions on the one hand and eliciting associations with the Messiah, on the other.  The blue crowned angel on the right will morph in other paintings of the series into the blue bridegroom/Chagall/Solomon. Above this angel is an inverted tree, an image taken from Kabbalistic literature and to the angel’s right, the empty throne of Exile, still awaiting the Messiah. In sum, this painting is not an illustration of a particular event or passage from Songs, but Chagall’s expression of the mood of anticipation found throughout the book. Note that only in this painting is the bridal pair absent.
The bridal pair is the dominant figure in Painting III.
It would seem to be a reference to Songs 3:11.

O maidens of Zion, go forth
And gaze upon King Solomon
Wearing the crown that his mother
Gave him on his wedding day,
On his day of bliss.

This sole reference to a wedding in Songs inspires Chagall’s recurring bridal images.
This is another indication that the artist’s intention is not to illustrate the book of Songs. Chagall presents a double focus in this painting. His personal reminiscences conjure up a bridal couple, she in white and he in blue, standing under the huppah, and subsequently lying together. The second focus is a midrashic interpretation of the wedding as the ingathering of the exiles.  This connection between the personal and the midrashic is further elaborated by the cities of Jerusalem and Vitebsk, sandwiched at the center of the painting.  Above (below?) Vitebsk hovers Chagall’s favorite image of the Wandering Jew/Elijah.  Smoke rises from Jerusalem; is it from the Temple sacrifices or its destruction? Wedding and Temple are connected by the breaking of a glass at the climax of the marriage ceremony. In any event, the two cities express the double identity of this 20th century European Jew, galut (exile) and geulah (redemption). On the margins of the painting, we find, once again a sampling of Chagall’s stock images: an inverted tree, a crowned donkey, an acrobat, and yet another self-portrait (in the upper left corner). In sum, Chagall has produced a quintessential visual midrash, combining and juxtaposing materials from the Bible and Jewish lore with his own personal life experience. This is his Song of Songs.

In the painting, from Salvador Dali’ series Biblia Sacra, a man on bended knee, proposes to his beloved, crowned with a halo.
This portrayal certainly derives from the classical allegorical interpretation of Songs as the love of Jesus and Mary. But the quotation accompanying the painting adds another level of meaning. While the published notes to the painting refer to Songs 2:12:

 The flowers have appeared in our land, the time of pruning is come: the voice of the turtle (sic) is heard in our land

The Latin verse used as the painting’s title is actually taken from Hosea 2:22 (19 in the Vulgate):

And I will espouse thee to me forever.

In other words, Dali has juxtaposed two biblical verses; Hosea’s express use of marriage and weddings as a metaphor for the relationship between God and Israel and the love relationship in Songs, as understood metaphorically by both Jewish and Christian traditional exegetes.

Pop: contemporary anti-romantic

Finally, two contemporary Jewish American artists, who represent the pop tendency of other artists of our times and their treatment of Songs. Gone is the romanticism of the early Zionist painters and the charming clichés of Raban and others.
Each of Archie Rand’s “19 Diaspora Paintings” is oddly paired with one of the nineteen blessings of the Amidah, the central part of the daily prayers. The eighteenth blessing, Thanksgiving, finds its partner in a picture relating Songs 1:2

Oh give me the kisses of your mouth
Because your mouth is more delightful than wine

The association between the verses, the painting and the blessing is enigmatic. As for the painting itself, we think of it as a visual soap opera or comics. Set at a rural southern front gate, boy meets girl. She is coiffed and dressed for a big date. He’s dressed in white: Is it a tux? Is it a kittel?  Is it a bathrobe? We think we understand her idea of the date, but we can’t figure out his. Is this because the biblical text lives only in her mind and heart?

Perhaps the pairing with the Thanksgiving blessing is meant to express the couple’s expectation of a romantic soiree. Rand has stated that his intention is to display the range of cultural influences on him and makes no differentiation between the texts that contribute to his identity: the Bible, the prayer book and comics – none takes precedence and none stands on a pedestal of holiness.

Judy Chicago created a series of lithographs entitled “Voices from the Song of Songs” in 1999.  Her texts are Marcia Falk’s poetic translation of the biblical book.
The title of the painting refers to Songs 7:8:

There you stand like a palm,
Your breast clusters of dates.
Shall I climb that palm and take hold of the boughs?

Unlike Rand, Raban and many others, no context is provided for the image of a man grasping the fronds of a palm tree, the woman. Although the biblical text is written from the man’s point of view, Chicago’s woman-tree is also active, grasping the behind of her man, helping him in the act of love. All we know about her is that she has strong hands, dark skin and “big hair”. The emphasis here is on the act and not on the emotions. Representing radical feminism, Chicago creates a performance around the female body, devoid of the romanticism associated with male domination. In giving voice to the woman’s desire and sexuality, even in reference to a verse wholly representing the man’s view, Chicago is celebrating the general mutuality of desire in Songs.


Our challenge was to see how artists of various times and places understand love in the Song of Songs and how they deal with the darker side of love that appears in several passages in the book.

  1. Songs in medieval art is allegorical – Christian art tends to portray the relationship between God and the Church as passionate; Jewish art portrays the relationship between God and the people of Israel with greater restraint.  Christian art also uses Songs to express some of the ascendant beliefs of the middles ages, such as immaculate conception and the bliss of the world to come, because of the pain of life in this period.  Jewish art, on the other hand, found in Songs expression of the pain of Exile and the hope for Redemption.
  2. In modern times, Songs was generally understood literally.  In the 19th century, romantic artists were drawn to the book’s eroticism, due to changes in sexual mores. More recently, Songs was treated mainly by Jewish artists, and particularly Zionists, who strove to connect its diverse vignettes with their own conceptions of biblical reality.
  3. In our post-modern world, romanticism has been abandoned and Songs has been lampooned or become the stuff of pop culture.  Its sexuality has been totally exposed; the human body, both male and female, are unabashedly undressed.  At the same time, there has been a renewed celebration of the role of the woman in Songs and in enlightened society.

While Songs is unlike any other book of the Bible, artists have treated it as they have treated the other books.  Each generation paints Songs in its own image.

Mishna Taanit 4
Rabbi Shimon ben Gamaliel said: There were no days of joy in Israel greater than the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur.

On these days the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in borrowed white garments in order not to shame any one who had none. All these garments required immersion.  The daughters of Jerusalem come out and dance in the vineyards. What would they say?  Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself. Do not set your eyes on beauty but set your eyes on the family. Grace is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman that fears the Lord, she shall be praised (Proverbs 31:30).  And it further says, “Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her works praise her in the gates” (ibid, 31:31).

Similarly it says, O maidens of Zion, go forth and gaze upon King Solomon wearing the crown that his mother gave him on his wedding day, on the day of the gladness of his heart” (Song of Songs 3:11). On his wedding day:  this refers to Matan Torah (the Giving of the Torah). And on the day of the gladness of his heart: this refers to the building of the Temple; may it be rebuilt speedily in our days, Amen.

Mishna Yadaim 3
All the holy writings render unclean the hands. The Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes render unclean the hands. R. Judah says: the Song of Songs renders unclean the hands, but there is a dispute about Ecclesiastes. R. Jose says: Ecclesiastes does not render unclean the hands, but there is a dispute about the Song of Songs. R. Simeon says: [the ruling about] Ecclesiastes is one of the leniencies of Beth Shammai and one of the stringencies of Beth Hillel. R Simeon b. Azzai said: I received a tradition from the seventy-two elders on the day when they appointed R. Eleazar b. Azariah head of the academy that the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes render unclean the hands. R. Akiba said: Far be it! No man in Israel disputed about the Song of Songs [by saying] that it does not render unclean the hands. For the whole world is not as worthy as the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel; for all the writings are holy but the Song of Songs is the holy of holies. So that if they had a dispute,  they had a dispute only about Ecclesiastes. R. Johanan b. Joshua the son of the father-in-law of R. Akiba said: in accordance with the words of Ben Azzai so they disputed, and so they reached a decision

Mekhilta Bahodesh 9
And stood afar off (Ex. 20:15) – Beyond twelve miles.  This tells that the Israelites were startled and moved backward twelve miles and then again, returning, moved forward twelve miles – twenty-four miles at each commandment, thus covering two hundred and forty miles on that day.  The God said to the ministering angels, Go down and assist your brothers, as it is said The angels [reading malakê  (angels) instead of malkê (kings)] of the hosts lead, they lead (Ps. 68:13) – they lead them when going, they lead them when returning.  And not only the ministering angels assisted Israel; but the Holy One, blessed be He, Himself also, as it is said, His left hand is under my head and His right hand embraces me (Songs 2:6)

Mekhilta Bo 5
Of them it is stated in the traditional sacred writings: A garden shut up is my sister, my bride; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed. (Cant 4:12).  A garden shut up refers to the men; a spring shut up refers to the women.  R. Nathan says:  a garden shut up refers to the married women, a fountain sealed refers to the betrothed. women.

Mekhilta Bo 7
I will pass over you. R. Josiah says:  Do not read ufasahti (I will protect) but ufasa’ti (I will step over) God skipped over the houses of his children in Egypt, as it is said, Hark, my beloved, he cometh leaping upon the mountains and it continues He standeth behind our wall (Cant. 2:8-9)

Mekhilta    Hashira 3
R. Akiba says, I shall speak of the prophecies and the praises of Him by whose word the world came into being, before all the nations of the world  For all the nations of the world ask Israel, saying What is thy beloved more than another beloved, that thou dost so adjure us (Songs 5:9), that you are so ready to die for Him and so ready to let yourselves be killed for Him?  For it is said, Therefore do the maidens love Thee (Songs 1:3), meaning they love Thee unto death.  And it is also written, Nay but for Thy sake are we killed all the day (Ps. 44:23).  You are handsome, you are mighty, come and intermingle with us.  But the Israelites say to the nations of the world, Do you know Him?  Let us but tell you some of His praise:  My beloved is white and ruddy… Songs 5:10).  As soon as the nations of the world hear some of His praise, they say to the Israelites, We will join you, as it is said, Whither is thy beloved gone, O thou fairest among women?  Whither hath thy beloved turned him, that we may seek him with thee (Songs 6:1).  The Israelites, however, say to the nations of the world, You can have no share in Him, but My beloved is mine and I am his (Songs 2:16), I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine… (Songs 6:3)

Bab. Tal. Sanhedrin 101a

Our Rabbis taught: He who recites a verse of the Song of Songs and treats it as a [secular] air, and one who recites a verse at the banqueting table unseasonably, brings evil upon the world. Because the Torah girds itself in sackcloth, and stands before the Holy One, blessed be He, and laments before Him, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Thy children have made me as a harp upon which they frivolously play. He replies, My daughter, when they are eating and drinking, wherewith shall they occupy themselves? To which she rejoins, Sovereign of the Universe! if they possess Scriptural knowledge, let them occupy themselves with the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings; if they are students of the Mishnah, with Mishnah, halachoth, and haggadoth; if students of the Talmud, let them engage in the laws of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles on the respective Festivals. R. Simeon b. Eleazar testified on the authority of R. Simeon b. Hanina: He who reads a verse in season [as just defined] brings good to the world, as it is written, and a word spoken in season, how good is it.

Midrash Rabba Song of Songs 1, 12
12. Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth. Where was it said? R. Hinnena b. Pappa said: It was said by the Red Sea, as it is written, To a steed in Pharaoh’s chariots  (S.S. 1, 9). R. Judah b. R. Simon said: It was said at Sinai, as it says,  The Song of Songs (shirim), that is, the song which was uttered by the chanting singers (sharim), as it says,  The singers (sharim) go before, the minstrels follow after (Ps. LXVIII, 26). It was taught in the name of R. Nathan: The Holy One, blessed be He, said it in the excellence of His majesty, as it says, The Song of Songs which is Solomon’s, that is, of the King to whom belongs peace. R. Gamaliel said: The ministering angels said it; the Song of Songs – that is, the song which the singers on high uttered. R. Johanan said: It was said on Sinai, as it says, let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth. R. Meir said: It was said in the Tent of Assembly. He bases his view on this verse: Awake, O North, and come thou, O South  (S.S. IV, 16) .’ Awake, O North: this is the burnt-offering which was killed on the north side of the altar; and come, O South: this refers to the peace-offerings which were killed on the south side. Blow, my garden: this refers to the Tent of Assembly. Let his spices flow:  this refers to the incense of spices. Let my beloved come to his garden: this is the Shechinah. And eat his delicious fruits: these are the offerings. The Rabbis say it was said in the Temple, and prove it also from this verse. Awake, O North ‘: this refers to the burnt-offering which was killed on the north side. And come, O South: this refers to the peace-offerings which were killed on the south side. Blow, my garden: this refers to the Temple. Let his spices flow: this refers to the incense of spices. Let my beloved come: this refers to the Shechinah. And eat of his delicious fruit : this refers to the offerings. The Rabbis also hold that all the succeeding verses refer to the Temple. R. Aha said: The verse ‘A palanquin’ and what follows [refers to the Temple]. The Rabbis, however, make these an introduction to And it came to pass on the day that Moses had made an end of setting up the Tabernacle (Num. VII, 1).  According to the view of R. Hinnena who said that it was uttered by the Red Sea, we interpret [this verse, Let him kiss etc.] Let the holy spirit rest upon us and we will sing before Him many songs. According to the view of R. Gamaliel who said that the ministering angels said it, we interpret, May He impart to us of the kisses which He gave to His sons. On the view of R. Meir who says that it was said in the Tent of Assembly, we interpret, May He send fire down to us and receive His offerings.’ On the view of R. Johanan who said that it was said on Sinai, we interpret, May He cause kisses to issue for us from His mouth. Hence it is written, Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.

Babylonian Talmud Shevuot 35b
Every Solomon mentioned in the Song of Songs is sacred: the Song to Him whose is peace, except this: My vineyard, which is mine, is before me; thou, O Solomon, shalt have the thousand – Solomon for himself [shall have a thousand]; and two hundred for those that keep the fruit thereof [viz.] Sages. And there are some who say this also is secular: Behold it is the bed of Solomon.  This also, [implies] that the other is undoubtedly [secular]. But then what of Samuel who said: A government which kills only one out of six is not punished; for it is said: My vineyard, which is mine, is before me; thou, O Solomon, shalt have the thousand for the Kingdom of Heaven; and two hundred for those that keep the fruit thereof  for the kingdom of earth. Now Samuel is not in agreement with the first Tanna nor with the some who say! But this is what it means: And some there are who say this is sacred, and this is secular  [the verse] about his bed; and Samuel agrees with them.

Babylonian Talmud Erubin 54b
R. Samuel b. Nahmani expounded: With reference to the Scriptural text: Loving hind and a graceful roe etc. (Proverbs 5:19), why were the words of the Torah compared to a ‘hind’? To tell you that as the hind has a narrow womb and is loved by its mate at all times as at the first hour of their meeting, so it is with the words of the Torah — They are loved by those who study them at all times as at the hour when they first made their acquaintance. ‘And a graceful roe’?  Because the Torah bestows grace upon those who study it.

Babylonian Talmud Ketubot 111a
R. Jose son of R. Hanina who said: ‘What was the purpose of those three adjurations?  One, that Israel shall not go up [all together as if surrounded] by a wall; the second, that whereby the Holy One, blessed be He, adjured Israel that they shall not rebel against the nations of the world; and the third is that whereby the Holy One, blessed be He, adjured the idolaters that they shall not oppress Israel too much’

Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Repentance 10:3
What is the proper [degree] of love? That a person should love God with a very great and exceeding love until his soul is bound up in the love of God. Thus, he will always be obsessed with this love as if he is lovesick.

[A lovesick person’s] thoughts are never diverted from the love of that woman. He is always obsessed with her; when he sits down, when he gets up, when he eats and drinks. With an even greater [love], the love for God should be [implanted] in the hearts of those who love Him and are obsessed with Him at all times as we are commanded [Deuteronomy 6:5: “Love God…] with all your heart and with all soul.”

This concept was implied by Solomon [Song of Songs 2:5] when he stated, as a metaphor: “I am lovesick.” [Indeed,] the totality of the Song of Songs is a parable describing [this love].

Babylonian Talmud Gittin 68a – b
I got me sharim and sharoth, and the delights of the sons of men, Shidah and shidoth. ‘Sharim and Sharoth’, means diverse kinds of music; ‘the delights of the sons of men’ are ornamental pools and baths. ‘Shidah and shidoth’: Here [in Babylon] they translate as male and female demons. In the West [Palestine] they say [it means] carriages.

R. Johanan said: There were three hundred kinds of demons in Shihin, but what a shidah is I do not know.

The Master said: Here they translate ‘male and female demons’. For what did Solomon want them? — As indicated in the verse (I Kings 6:7), And the house when it was in building was made of stone made ready at the quarry, [there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house while it was in building]; He said to the Rabbis, How shall I manage [without iron tools]? — They replied, There is the shamir which Moses brought for the stones of the ephod. He asked them, Where is it to be found? — They replied, Bring a male and a female demon and tie them together; perhaps they know and will tell you. So he brought a male and a female demon and tied them together. They said to him, We do not know, but perhaps Ashmedai the prince of the demons knows. He said to them, Where is he? — They answered, He is in such-and-such a mountain. He has dug a pit there, which he fills with water and covers with a stone, which he then seals with his seal. Every day he goes up to heaven and studies in the Academy of the sky and then he comes down to earth and studies in the Academy of the earth, and then he goes and examines his seal and opens [the pit] and drinks and then closes it and seals it again and goes away. Solomon thereupon sent thither Benaiahu son of Jehoiada, giving him a chain on which was graven the [Divine] Name and a ring on which was graven the Name and fleeces of wool and bottles of wine. Benaiahu went and dug a pit lower down the hill and let the water flow into it  and stopped [the hollow] With the fleeces of wool, and he then dug a pit higher up and poured the wine into itand then filled up the pits. He then went and sat on a tree. When Ashmedai came he examined the seal, then opened the pit and found it full of wine. He said, it is written, Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whosoever erreth thereby is not wise, and it is also written, Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the understanding.  I will not drink it. Growing thirsty, however, he could not resist, and he drank till he became drunk, and fell asleep. Benaiahu then came down and threw the chain over him and fastened it. When he awoke he began to struggle, whereupon he [Benaiahu] said, The Name of thy Master is upon thee, the Name of thy Master is upon thee. As he was bringing him along, he came to a palm tree and rubbed against it and down it came. He came to a house and knocked it down. He came to the hut of a certain widow. She came out and besought him, and he bent down so as not to touch it, thereby breaking a bone. He said, That bears out the verse, A soft tongue breaketh the bone He saw a blind man straying from his way and he put him on the right path. He saw a drunken man losing his way and he put him on his path. He saw a wedding procession making its way merrily and he wept. He heard a man say to a shoemaker, Make me a pair of shoes that will last seven years, and he laughed. He saw a diviner practising divinations and he laughed. When they reached Jerusalem he was not taken to see Solomon for three days. On the first day he asked, Why does the king not want to see me? They replied, Because he has overdrunk himself. So he took a brick and placed it on top of another. When they reported this to Solomon he said to them, What he meant to tell you was, Give him more to drink. On the next day he said to them, Why does the king not want to see me? They replied, Because he has over-eaten himself. He thereupon took one brick from off the other and placed it on the ground. When they reported this to Solomon, he said, He meant to tell you to keep food away from me. After three days he went in to see him. He took a reed and measured four cubits and threw it in front of him, saying, See now, when you die you will have no more than four cubits in this world. Now, however, you have subdued the whole world, yet you are not satisfied till you subdue me too. He replied: I want nothing of you. What I want is to build the Temple and I require the shamir. He said: It is not in my hands, it is in the hands of the Prince of the Sea who gives it only to the woodpecker, to whom he trusts it on oath. What does the bird do with it? — He takes it to a mountain where there is no cultivation and puts it on the edge of the rock which thereupon splits, and he then takes seeds from trees and brings them and throws them into the opening and things grow there. (This is what the Targum means by nagar tura).  So they found out a woodpecker’s nest with young in it, and covered it over with white glass. When the bird came it wanted to get in but could not, so it went and brought the shamir and placed it on the glass. Benaiahu thereupon gave a shout, and it dropped [the shamir] and he took it, and the bird went and committed suicide on account of its oath.

Benaiahu said to Ashmedai, Why when you saw that blind man going out of his way did you put him right? He replied: It has been proclaimed of him in heaven that he is a wholly righteous man, and that whoever does him a kindness will be worthy of the future world. And why when you saw the drunken man going out of his way did you put him right? He replied, They have proclaimed concerning him in heaven that he is wholly wicked, and I conferred a boon on him in order that he may consume [here] his share [in the future].  Why when you saw the wedding procession did you weep? He said: The husband will die within thirty days, and she will have to wait for the brother-in-law who is still a child of thirteen years.  Why, when you heard a man say to the shoemaker, Make me shoes to last seven years, did you laugh? He replied: That man has not seven days to live, and he wants shoes for seven years! Why when you saw that diviner divining did you laugh? He said: He was sitting on a royal treasure: he should have divined what was beneath him.

Solomon kept him with him until he had built the Temple. One day when he was alone with him, he said, it is written, He hath as it were to’afoth and re’em,  and we explain that to’afoth means the ministering angels and re’em means the demons.  What is your superiority over us?  He said to him, Take the chain off me and give me your ring, and I will show you. So he took the chain off him and gave him the ring. He then swallowed him, and placing one wing on the earth and one on the sky he hurled him four hundred parasangs. In reference to that incident Solomon said, What profit is there to a man in all his labor wherein he labors under the sun.

And this was my portion from all my labor. What is referred to by ‘this’? — Rab and Samuel gave different answers, one saying that it meant his staff and the other that it meant his apron.  He used to go round begging, saying wherever he went, I Koheleth was king over Israel in Jerusalem.  When he came to the Sanhedrin, the Rabbis said: Let us see, a madman does not stick to one thing only. What is the meaning of this? They asked Benaiahu, Does the king send for you? He replied, No. They sent to the queens saying, Does the king visit you? They sent back word, Yes, he does. They then sent to them to say, Examine his leg. They sent back to say, He comes in stockings, and he visits them in the time of their separation and he also calls for Bathsheba his mother. They then sent for Solomon and gave him the chain and the ring on which the Name was engraved. When he went in, Ashmedai on catching sight of him flew away, but he remained in fear of him, therefore is it written, Behold it is the litter of Solomon, threescore mighty met, are about it of the mighty men of Israel. They all handle the sword and are expert in war, every man hath his sword upon his thigh because of fear in the night.

Rab and Samuel differed [about Solomon]. One said that Solomon was first a king and then a commoner, and the other that he was first a king and then a commoner and then a king again.

Midrash Rabbah – The Song of Songs I:10
10. Another explanation of The Song of Songs: R. Aibu and R. Judah [joined issue on this]. R. Aibu said:  Song indicates one, songs two, making three in all. R. Judah b. Simon said: The whole of the Song of Songs makes one, and two referred to in the word songs are different. How do you specify them? One is, A song of ascents of Solomon (PS. CXXVII), and the other, A Psalm, a song at the dedication of the House of David  (Ps. XXX). You would naturally think that David composed this, but in reality it is only ascribed to David in the same way as it says, Like the tower of David is thy neck  (S.S. IV, 4). So here, Solomon composed it and ascribed it to David.

If you examine, you will find that everything that happened to that rnan was in threes. Solomon rose by three stages. Of the first stage it is written, For he had dominion over all the region on this side the River (I Kings V, 4). Of the second stage it says, And Solomon ruled (ib. 1). Of the third stage it says, Then Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord as king (I Chron. XXIX, 23). Said R. Isaac: Is it possible for a man to sit on the throne of the Lord, of Him of whom it is written, For the Lord thy God is a devouring fire (Deut. IV, 24), and it is also written, A fiery stream issued and came forth, etc. (Dan. VII, 10), and it is also written, His throne was fiery flames (ib. 9)? And you say And Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord! What it means, however, is that just as the throne of the Holy One, blessed be He, has sway from one end of the world to the other, so the throne of Solomon had sway from one end of the world to the other. Just as the Lord on His throne judges without witnesses and without warning, so Solomon on his throne judged without witnesses and without warning. What is the example? The case of the harlots. For so it is written, Then came there two women (I Kings III, 16). Who were they? Rab said, they were spirits2; the Rabbis said, they were yebamoth; R. Simon said in the name of R. Joshua b. Levi that they were really harlots, and he passed sentence though there were no witnesses and no warning.

Solomon suffered three declines. The first decline was that after he had been a great king ruling from one end of the world to the other, his power was curtailed and he ruled only over Israel, for so it is written, The Proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel  (Prov. I, 1). The second decline was that after he had been king of Israel his power was reduced and he was left king only over Jerusalem, as it is written, I Koheleth have been king over Israel in Jerusalem (Eccl. I, 12). The third decline was that after he had been king over Jerusalem his power was reduced and he was left king only over his own household, as it says,  Behold it is the litter of Solomon, threescore mighty men are about it of the mighty men of Israel, they all handle the sword (S.S. III, 7, 8); and even over his own couch he was not king, for he feared the spirits. He lived three lives. R. Judan and R. Hunia explained this differently. R. Judan said: He was a king, then a subject, then a king again; he was wise, then foolish, then wise again; he was rich, then poor, then rich again. On what does he base this view? [Because Solomon said], All things have I seen in the days of my vanity (Eccl. VII, 15). A man does not call to mind his sufferings save when he is at ease again. R. Hunia said: He was first a subject, then a king, then a subject again; first foolish, then wise, then foolish again; first poor, then rich, then poor again. On what does he base his view? [Because it says], I Koheleth have been king over Israel: as much as to say, Once upon a time I was, but now I am no longer. He committed three sins. He acquired too many horses, he took too many wives, he accumulated too much silver and gold, as it says, And the king made silver to be in Jerusalem as stones (II Chron. IX, 27). And yet it was not stolen! R. Jose b. Hanina said: It was in blocks of ten cubits and eight cubits. R. Simeon b. Yohai taught: Even the weights in the days of Solomon were of gold, as it says, Silver was nothing accounted of in the days of Solomon (I Kings X, 21). He took too many wives, as it says, Now king Solomon loved many foreign women, besides the daughter of Pharaoh… Of the nations concerning which the Lord said unto the children of Israel: Ye shall not go among them, neither shall they come among you… Solomon did cleave unto them in love (I Kings XI, 1, 2). R. Joshua b. Levi said: The reference is to the injunction, Neither shalt thou make marriages with them  (Deut. VII, 3). R. Simeon b. Yohai said: It says here in love, which means literally, harlot-love. R. Eleazar the son of R. Jose the Galilean said: It is written, Nevertheless even him did the foreign women cause to sin (Neh. XIII, 26); this indicates that he used to have intercourse with them when they were menstruous, and they did not tell him. R. Jose b. Halafta says: in love here means, to make them beloved [to God], to bring them near [to God], to convert them and to bring them under the wings of the Shechinah.

Midrash Rabbah – The Song of Songs I:5
5. Another explanation:  Seest thou a man diligent in his business: this applies to Solomon son of David, who was diligent in the building of the Temple, as it is written, So he was seven years in building it  (I Kings VI, 38). But another verse says,  And Solomon was building his own house thirteen years (ib. VII, 1), which would show that the building of his own house was finer and more elaborate than that of the Temple. This in fact has been explained thus: over the building of his own house he dallied, with the building of the Temple he was diligent and did not dally. Huna said in the name of R. Joseph: All assist the king; all the more then do all assist for the glory of the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He even spirits, even demons, even ministering angels!

Targum Sheni

Section II
This throne was neither his own nor that of his father’s, but it was the throne of Solomon, which Hiram, the son of a widow of Tyre, had made with great skill. It was this King Solomon whom the Holy One, blessed be He, set to reign from one end of the world to the other. He chose him before he was born, loved him when he was yet in his mother’s womb, revealed to him hidden mysteries, and showed him deep hidden things. He gave him knowledge and wisdom, and an understanding heart from the very beginning. He looked through the persons who came to him to adjudicate their differences so that they could not say what was false before him, for he knew to distinguish between, him who was right and him who was wrong. The Lord bestowed upon him splendour and glory, put the royal crown upon his head, and invested him with grace and mercy, as He did once to his father David all his days.

And so it is written : ” Solomon sat upon the throne of his father David.” All the kingdoms feared him, nations and languages were obedient to him; devils, demons, and ferocious beasts, evil spirits and accidents, were delivered into his

hands. Imps brought him all kinds of fish from the sea, and the fowls of heaven, together with the cattle and wild animals, came of their own accord to his slaughter – house to be slaughtered for his banquet. He was rich and powerful in the possession of much silver and gold. He explained parables, solved hidden problems, and made known mysteries without end. His enemies and adversaries became his friends, and all the kings obeyed him. All came to see his face, and longed to hear words of his knowledge. The High One elevated and exalted him for the sake of David His servant. His fame was spread among the kings, and his power among the wise. He was perfect and true, shunned evil, understood the mysteries of heaven, and was wise in divine things. His kingdom was more powerful than all the kingdoms, and his understanding was greater than that of all the children of Mahhol (the globe). They heard everywhere of his fame and of his wise sayings, and all came to salute him. All the kings loved him; all governors trembled before him ; they brought him their sons and daughters to be his servants, and to run before him ; they desired to sit before him, and yearned to hear the words of his mouth and his wisdom. When he began

to speak, they knelt and prostrated themselves before him; all who were about to come to him neglected and despised their cities, even hated their places and countries, and to hear amiable words of wisdom from his lips with which he manifested the praise of the Lord of lords. When he opened his mouth, he spake like a trumpet the praise to the Most High King. To him was given a large key whereby to open the gates of wisdom and understanding of the heart.

He understood the languages of birds and of animals, stags and rams ran at his command, lions and tigers seized weapons before him. He understood languages better than all nations, he instructed all schools, all kings and queens trembled before

him. All rulers were seized with terror, to him was given the crown of victory, he subdued all men, he was the head of all kings, and (through his influence) no kingdom could take up weapons against another. All kings shook before him, all countries revealed mysteries to him, so that he knew all the secrets of men ; because he did works of righteousness and charity, he was from the beginning worthy to be king in this world, and he shall be worthy in the world to come.

Section III
This King Solomon was it who had caused a glorious royal throne to be made, covered with gold from Ophir, overlaid with beryl stones, brilliants, marble, samaragel, carbuncle, diamonds, pearls, and other precious stones.

For no king was the throne made like it, and no kingdom could produce similar ones. This throne was made as follows: Twelve lions of gold stood upon it, and opposite

to them twelve eagles of gold, a lion opposite an eagle, and an eagle opposite a lion. The right paw of the golden lion was toward the left wing of the golden eagle, and the

left wing of the golden eagle was toward the right paw of the golden lion. The sum of all the lions upon it was seventy – two, and there were the same number of eagles.

Towards the top, where the king’s seat was, the throne was round. It had six steps of gold, as it is written : ” The king made a throne of ivory, and this throne had six steps.”  Upon the first step lay a golden ox, and opposite to it a golden lion; upon the second step lay a golden bear, and opposite to it a golden lamb ; upon the third step lay a golden panther, and opposite to it a golden owl ; upon the fourth step lay a golden eagle, and opposite to it a golden peacock ; upon the fifth step lay a golden cat, and opposite to it a golden hen ; and upon the sixth step lay a golden hawk, and opposite to it -a golden dove. Upon the throne stood likewise a golden dove, holding a golden hawk in its claws. Thus one day will all the nations and languages be delivered into the hands of King Messiah, and into the hands of the house of Israel. Upon the top of the throne stood a candlestick, properly arranged with lamps, ornaments (or pomegranates), snuffers, ash-pans, cups, and lilies. To one side of the shaft were attached seven pipes, upon which the pictures of the seven patriarchs were engraven. The names of these are as follows : Adam, Noah, his eldest son Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Job among them. To the other side of the shaft were likewise attached seven pipes, upon which were represented seven pious men of the world,

whose names are : Levi, Kehath, Amram, Moses, Aaron, Eldad, Medad, and the prophet Haggai among them (or rather Hur). Upon the top of the candlestick stood a golden jar filled with the purest olive oil which supplied the lamps of the temple ; and under it was a great golden vessel containing the purest olive oil which supplied the lamps of the candlestick, and upon it was portrayed the high priest.  Two branches proceeded from this great vessel, and upon them were depicted the two sons of Eli, namely, Hophni and Phinehas, and out of these branches proceeded two pipes bearing the pictures of two sons of Aaron, viz. Nadab and Abihu. There were also upon it two seats of gold, one for the high priest and the other for the vice high priest. Towards the top of the throne were attached seventy golden chairs, upon which sat the seventy Sanhedrists as judges before Solomon. Two doves were sitting, one on each side of the ears of Solomon, in order that he should not be frightened (at the tumult of the judges). On the upper side of the throne were placed twenty-four vines of gold, which formed a shade for the king. And wherever Solomon wanted to go, the throne moved under him upon wheels. When he placed his foot upon the first step, the golden ox raised him to the second, and so it went from the second to the third, from the third to the fourth, from the fourth to the fifth, and from the fifth to the sixth, where the eagles took hold of him and seated him upon the throne. There was also a serpent of silver around the wheels.  When the kings heard the fame of the royal throne of King Solomon, they assembled themselves and came and bowed before him, and exclaimed :  No such throne was ever made for any king, and no nation can manufacture its like!

And when the kings saw its glory, they prostrated themselves and praised the Creator of the World. As oft as King Solomon ascended the throne and sat down, the crown was placed upon his head, and after this a great serpent artificially wound itself, and also lions and eagles rose up and artificially shaded his head, a golden dove descended from one pillar, opened a cabinet and took out the book of the law and placed it in his hands, in accordance with the words of Moses : ” And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life,” that he and his sons may long reign in Israel. When the high priest came to salute King Solomon, and all the elders sat on the right and on the left of the throne to administer justice, and there appeared witnesses who wanted to bear false testimony before Solomon, then the wheels

moved artificially, the oxen lowed, the lions roared, the bears growled, the lambs bleated, the panthers yelled, the owls hooted, the cats mewed, the peacocks shrieked, the cocks crowed, the hawks screamed, and the birds chirped, and caused terror in the hearts of the false witnesses, so that they said to themselves : ” We must bear witness to the truth ; if not, the world will be destroyed on account of us.” When King Solomon went up upon the throne, rivers of spices flowed ; and no other king had such a throne.

Section IV
After David succeeded Solomon his son, whom the Holy One, blessed be He ! made to rule over all the beasts of the field, and over the fowls of the air, and over the creeping things of the earth, and over devils, demons, and spirits, whose language he understood as they also understood his. For thus it is written: “And he spoke of trees” (1 Kings iv. 33).

And when the heart of King Solomon was once merry with wine, he sent to invite all the kings of the East and of the West who were near the land of Israel, and he lodged them in the royal palace. And when again merry with wine, he ordered that the violins, cymbals, tambourines, and harps upon which his father played should be brought to him. And, further merry with wine, he commanded the wild beasts, the

birds, the reptiles, the devils, demons, and spirits to be brought, that they should dance before him, to show his greatness to the kings who were staying with him. The royal scribes called them all by their names, and they came together without being bound or forced, and without even a man leading them. At that time, the cock of the wood was missed among the fowls, and was not found. Then the king commanded in anger that he should appear before him, or else he would destroy him. Then the cock of the wood answered and said to King Solomon : ” lord of the earth, incline thine ears

and hear my words. Are there not tln-ee months since thou hast put counsel in my heart and words of truth upon my tongue ? Since then I have not eaten any food, nor drank any water, and have flown all over the world and made an inspection. I thought, Is there a country or a kingdom which is not subject to my lord the king ? Then I saw a certain country, the name of whose fortified town is Kitor, whose dust is more precious than gold, and where silver lies about like dung in the streets. Trees also are there standing from primeval times, and are watered from the garden of Eden.

Great crowds of people are there from the garden of Eden, having crowns upon their heads, who know nothing of warfare, nor can they draw the bow. For, indeed, I have seen one woman who rules over them all, and her name is Queen of Saba. Now, if it please my lord the king, I shall gird my loins like a mighty man, and shall arise and go to the city of Kitor, in the land of Saba, and shall bind its kings and governor in chains of iron, and shall bring them to my lord the king.” This speech pleased the king, and royal scribes were called, a letter was written and tied to the wings of the cock of the wood, who lifted up his wings and soared up in the air, and compelled other birds to fly with it. Then they came to the city of Kitor, in the land of Saba. Toward morning the queen went out to worship the sea, when the birds obscured the sunlight, so that the queen out of astonishment took hold of her clothes and tore them in pieces. The

cock of the wood now came down, and she observed that a letter was tied to its wings, which she at once opened and read what was written therein, as follows : ” From me. King Solomon, peace to thee and to thy princes. Thou must certainly know that the Holy One, blessed be He ! made me to rule over the wild beasts, over the fowls of the air, over devils, demons, and spirits, and that all the kings of the East and of the West, of the South and of the North, come to salute me. If thou wilt come and salute me, I shall show thee greater dignity than I shall show to all the kings that are sojourning with me ; but if thou wilt not come to salute me, I shall send kings, legions, and riders against thee. But if thou wilt ask. What sort of kings, legions, and riders has King Solomon ? So know, that the wild beasts are the kings and the legions, and the riders are the birds in the air. My army consists of devils, demons, and spirits, who will strangle you in your beds, the wild beasts will kill you in your houses, and the fowls of the air will devour your flesh in the field.” When the queen heard the words of the letter she again rent her clothes. Then she sent for the elders and prominent men,

and said to them, ” Do you know what King Solomon has sent to me ? ” They answered, ” We do not know Solomon, nor do we esteem his kingdom.” But she did not trust them, nor listen to their words, but caused all the ships to be collected and loaded with presents of pearls and of precious stones. And she also sent him six  thousand boys and girls who were born in the same year, month, day, and hour, and

who were of the same stature and of the same proportion; and they were all dressed in purple.

She wrote a letter and sent it through them, which ran as follows : ” From the city of Kitor to the land of Israel is indeed a journey of seven years, but owing to the questions which I have to ask thee, I shall come in three years.” After

three years, the Queen of Saba really came to King Solomon, who, when he heard of her arrival, sent Benayahu, son of Yehayada, to meet her. He was beautiful as sunrise (or like Venus the lustrous star), and like the white lily which stands by brooks of water. Now when the Queen of Saba saw Benayahu, son of Yehoyada, she dismounted from her riding  animal. ” Why,” asked Benayahu, son of Yelioyada, ” dost thou dismount from thy riding animal ? ” She rejoined, ” Art not thou King Solomon ? ” He replied, ” I am not King Solomon, but one of his servants who attend upon him.” Thereupon she turned to her great men, and said this proverbial

saying: “If you do not see the lion, you see his lair; though you do not see King Solomon, yet you see a handsome man who stands before him.” Then Benayahu conducted her to the king, who, when he heard that she was coming, went

and sat down in an apartment of glass. When the queen saw the king sitting there, she thought in her heart, and in fact said, that he was sitting in water, and she raised her

dress to cross the water, when the king noticed that her foot was full of hair. He said to her, “Thy beauty is the beauty of women, and thy hair is the hair of men ; hair is

becoming to a man, but to a woman it is a shame.” The Queen of Saba then said : ” My lord king ! I will give thee three riddles,^ which if thou shalt solve, I will acknowledge that thou art a wise man ; but if not, then thou art a man like all the rest.”

She asked, ” What is berries of wood and buckets of iron which draw up stones and pour out water ? ” He answered, ” A tube of paint.” ” What is,” she asked again, ” a thing which comes as dust from the earth, eats dust, is poured out as water, and sticks to a house ? ” He answered, ” It is naphtha.” She further asked, ” What is that which as an oracle (or as a storm) goes at the head of all, cries loudly and bitterly with its head bowed down like a rush, is a cause of praise to the free, of shame to the poor, of honour to the dead, of disgrace to the living, of joy to the birds, and of grief to the fish?” He answered, “It is flax.” She exclaimed,  ” I would not have believed it had I not come here and seen it with mine own eyes ; and behold the half has not been told me, for thy wisdom and thy goodness surpass the report I have heard. Blessed are thy people, and blessed are these thy servants who are about thee ! ” Thereupon he

brought her into the tribunal (or an apartment) of the royal palace. ‘Now, when the Queen of Saba saw his greatness and glory, she praised the Creator, and said : ” Blessed be the Lord thy God, wdiom it has pleased to set thee upon the throne of the kingdom to do justice and right.” She then gave the king plenty of gold and silver, and he gave her what she desired. And the kings of the West and of the East, of the North and of the South, who heard of his fame, came tremblingly from their various places with extraordinary dignity, and they presented him with much gold and silver, and with pearls and precious stones.

Midrash Zuta Song of Songs III
11 On the day of his wedding – These are the days of the Messiah, since the Holy One, blessed be He, is imaged as a bridegroom, as it says, And as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride (Isa. 62:5)

Zohar III, 60b
78. There is no count to those holding on to the hair OF MALCHUT, MEANING THE JUDGMENTS THEREIN NAMED HAIR. Two sons suckle daily FROM MALCHUT called the spies of the earth and this is the secret written in the Hidden Book (Heb. Safra deTseniuta) AT THE END OF TRUMAH, “And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shitim two men to spy secretly, saying” (Joshua 2:1). These TWO

SONS nurturing from under the sides of the wings OF MALCHUT ARE THE SECRET OF CHESED AND GVURAH. Now two daughters, WHOSE SECRET IS TWO HARLOTS, are under the feet OF MALCHUT, MEANING NETZACH AND HOD OF MALCHUT. Therefore, it is written ABOUT THEM, “And the sons of Elohim saw the daughters of men” (Genesis 6:2). They, THE SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF THE KLIPAH, hold on to the nails of that bed, NAMELY MALCHUT, AS HER NAILS MEAN THE BACK PART OF THE FINGERS OF THE HANDS AND FEET. This is what the verse teaches us, “Then came there two women, that were harlots, to the king” (I Kings 3:16), “Then came” but not before. And when Yisrael are down, turning their backs on the Holy One, blessed be He, it is written, “As for My people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them” (Isaiah 3:12), surely REFERRING TO THE TWO WOMEN MENTIONED ABOVE.

Safra deTseniuta, ch. 4
16. (Therefore in the letter IVD, Yod, and in the name IHI are hidden two males and two females, which is symbolized in that saying, Gen. vi. 2: “And the sons of the Elohim beheld (the plural in its least form denotes two) the daughters of men” (and this also). This explains on this account that which is written, Josh. ii. 1: “Two men as Spies, saying” (hence is revealed the mystery of the two men). But how (is it proved that two females are understood) by the words, “Daughters of men?” Because it is written, 1 Kings iii. 16: “Then came there two women unto the king.”

17. Of these it is written, ibid. 28: “Because they saw that the wisdom of Elohim was in him.” (Here are involved the two males, in the wisdom, the father; in Solomon, Microprosopus. Therefore) then came they (even the two women, the understanding and the queen) and not before.

18. In the palace of the union of the fountains (that is, in the world of creation) there were two connexions by conjunctions among the supernals; these descended from above, and occupied the earth; but they rejected the good part, which in them was the crown of mercy; and were crowned with the cluster of grapes. (That is instead of benignity, they were surrounded with judgments and rigours. Which also can be explained concerning Microprosopus and his bride, first in the mother, and afterwards in the existences below, and in exile with surrounding rigours and severities.)

Soncino Zohar, Shemoth, Section 2, Page 107b – 108a
In his charge to Solomon concerning this Shimei, David said: And behold thou hast with thee Shimei….which cursed me with a strong curse… and I swore to him by the Lord saying, I will not put thee to death with the sword.” Was Shimei, then, a fool to accept an oath like this, which forbade David only to kill him with a sword, but not with a spear or arrow? But this sentence can be taken in two ways. One is based on the saying of the son of the great fish whose scales reached the highest clouds (i.e. whose wisdom was great), that when David swore he swore by his sword upon which was engraved the Ineffable Name (Tetragrammaton)

Gaster, Exempla 351a (p. 128)
King Solomon warned a man against the infidelity of his wife.  The man, who had built the palace of Solomon, did not believe it.  Solomon then gave him as a present for the work, a silver goblet which he took home.  The paramour of his wife came, saw the goblet, and asked the woman to drink out of it together with him.  Their lips remained attached to the goblet.  The husband then brought them before Solomon, who said, “The spell can only be broken, if their heads be pierced with red hot iron”.  The husband pleaded for the culprits.  Then Solomon took David’s sword, on which was engraved the Ineffable Name, poured water over it and sprinkled their faces.  They were thus released.  According to others, two scholars passed a scroll of the Law between them and thus released them.