Was Song of Songs Written by a Woman?

Oct 25, 2022

Song of Songs is a book of the Bible celebrating romantic love, desire, and yearning between a couple. It is a wedding song full of splendid anticipation and amorous longing. The book's title - "Song of Songs" - is a Hebrew phrase communicating an emphatic superlative, and might best be translated "Best Song Ever!"

The song's dramatic unfolding is driven by its potent metaphors and similes: "love is as strong as death, passion as fierce as the grave."

The song celebrates romance from both a woman's and a man's perspective. The book is comprised of a collection of love poems presented as direct speech made by both parties of the couple, the woman and  the man. The poem alternates between the two voices. Sometimes the lovers speak to one another, and sometimes to a circle of friends praising the lover.

One of the book's intriguing features is that the woman is the primary speaker and her voice is the predominant one in the poem. Her dialogue comprises more lines and stanzas than that of the man, and some of the poem's lines are also given in the voice of "the women of Jerusalem" who surround the bride.

In addition, the woman often interrupts the man's speeches as her voice interjects into his stanzas (see, for example, 2:8-3:11; 4:1-5:1; 5:2-6:3, etc). [1]

The poem does not shy away from presenting female amorous desire, but embraces and celebrates it. The woman's speeches are peppered by her romantic feelings stirred up by the sound of her lover's voice, admiration for his physique, and her longing in the hours of the night for his presence. 

The overall structure of the book also places the woman as the focal point of the poems. Song of Songs opens with the woman's speeches, "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!" and closes with the woman simultaneously sending her lover away and calling him back. She is the driver of the poem's actions and its primary voice.

The role of the powerful figure of the woman in Song of Songs and her primary role as the book's main speaker has led scholars to wonder whether a woman might have authored the book or at least some of its poetic passages. I rather like the idea that ancient scribes and compilers of Scripture had appreciation for a woman's voice captured in the poems of Song of Songs and included it in the Scripture and embraced female desire without shame or embarrassment. Perhaps our own communities of faith should do the same.

[1] To read more about this exciting idea of a woman authoring Song of Songs, see J. Cheryl Exum's chapter on Song of Songs in Women's Bible Commentary, edited by Carol Newsome, Sharon Ridge, and Jacqueline Lapsley. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012.

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