Cmticles, Or Seng Of Solomon(the of the Septuagint, the Canticvm Canli-corum of the Vulgate), the fourth book of the Hagiographa, and the first of the so-called Megil-loth, called Song of Songs from the beauty of its language and poetry. In a number of dialogues and soliloquies it gives a glowing description of the love and beauty of two lovers betrothed, or bride and bridegroom; of rural scenes among the mountains of Lebanon and Hermon, among the hills and vineyards of Engedi, and in the environs of Jerusalem. It is ascribed to Solomon, whose palaces, gardens, chariots, horses, guards, and wives are mentioned, enhancing by the contrast the charms of calm rural life. In regard to its form, its plot, and the order of its parts, as well as to its subject, it has been variously classified by ancient and modern writers: by Origen, in the preface to his comments, as an epithalamium in the form of a drama, which is also the opinion of Lowth and Michaelis; by Bossuet as a regular pastoral drama of seven acts, giving the scenes of seven days, of which the last is the Sabbath: by others as a collection of songs or idyls. Adam Clarke regards it as a poem sui generis, composed for the entertainment of marriage guests.
Its canonicity has also been a matter of controversy; it seems to have been in question with the Jews at the time of the Mishnah. Theodore of Mopsuestia, the friend of Chrysos-tom, attacked it most vehemently with arguments derived from the erotic character of the book, and was severely condemned for his attacks. Origen, who is said to have written ten books of comments on the Canticles, and his admirer Jerome, are among its most prominent defenders, supported by the circumstance that the book is contained in all the Hebrew copies of the Scriptures, in the translations of the Septuagint, of Symmachus the Jew, and of Aquila, and is mentioned in the most ancient catalogues of the church, commencing with that of Melito, bishop of Sardis, who lived in the 2d century. Modern criticism has also questioned the authorship of King Solomon, and several Aramaic words and some supposed to be of Greek origin have been quoted as evidences against the antiquity of the book, though none of these is conclusive. But no subject has excited more controversy, or has been a source of more learned and contradictory disquisition' and scrutiny, than the question of the literal or allegoric and mystic sense of the book. Many modern critics, both among Jews and Christians, contend for the literal sense.
They also widely differ in the interpretation of the meaning and object of the book. The more ancient opinion defends the allegorical, religious, and sacred character of the songs. Thus, on the one side, the subject is the love of a shepherd, of a youthful king, etc, and the beloved is a shepherdess, an Ethiopian princess, or, according to Grotius and others, the daughter of Pharaoh, wife of Solomon; while, on the other side, love appears as a spiritual affection, as the love of God for Israel, his chosen but abandoned people, or of Christ for the church, or as the connection between the divine and human nature. Aben Ezra finds in the book the hopes of redemption for oppressed Israel; Kaiser, the restoration of the Mosaic law by Zerubbabel and Ezra; Hug, an attempt made in the time of Hezekiah to reunite the remnant of the ten tribes to Judah; others, the love of wisdom, and even the search for the philosopher's stone. Among the more than 300 commentators on this book, the following belong to the best known: Origen, Jerome, Eusebius, Athanasius, Gregory I., Luther, Erasmus, Umbreit (1820), Ewald (1826), Rosen-muller (1830), Krummacher (1839), Delitzsch (1851), Hengstenberg (1853), Ginsburg (1857), Weissbach (1858), Stuart (1860), Renan (I860), Houghton (1865), and Gratz (1871). The last named writer finds in Canticles imitations of the idyls of Theocritus, and considers it a product of the Syro-Mace-donian period which preceded the struggle under the Maccabees.