Song of Solomon 8 & Archaeology and the Date of Song of Solomon

Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon; he gave over the vineyard to caretakers. For its fruit one would have to pay a thousand silver pieces. My vineyard is at my own disposal; the thousand pieces are for you, Solomon, and two hundred for the caretakers of its fruit.

1 O that thou wert as my brother, that sucked the breasts of my mother! when I should find thee without, I would kiss thee; yea, I should not be despised.

Baal Hammon
King Solomon didn’t worship Baal Hammon like the pagans did. Why he put his vineyard there is unknown, but it might be due to the soil or possibly for business.

Baal Hammon, properly Baʿal Ḥammon or Ḥamon was the chief god of Carthage. He was a weather god considered responsible for the fertility of vegetation and esteemed as King of the Gods. He was depicted as a bearded older man with curling ram’s horns. Baʿal Ḥammon’s female cult partner was Tanit.

Cult and attributes
The worship of Baʿal Hammon flourished in the Phoenician colony of Carthage. His supremacy among the Carthaginian gods is believed to date to the fifth century BC, after relations between Carthage and Tyre were broken off at the time of the Battle of Himera (480 BC). Modern scholars identify him variously with the Northwest Semitic god El or with Dagon.

In Carthage and North Africa Baʿal Hammon was especially associated with the ram and was worshiped also as Baʿal Qarnaim (“Lord of Two Horns”) in an open-air sanctuary at Jebel Boukornine (“the two-horned hill”) across the bay from Carthage, in Tunisia.

The interpretatio graeca identified him with the Titan Cronus. In ancient Rome, he was identified with Saturn, and the cultural exchange between Rome and Carthage as a result of the Second Punic War may have influenced the development of the festival of Saturnalia.

Greco-Roman sources report that the Carthaginians burned their children as offerings to Baʿal Hammon. (See “Moloch” for a discussion of these traditions and conflicting thoughts on the matter.) Attributes of his Romanized form as an African Saturn indicate that Hammon (Amunus in Philo’s work) was a fertility god.

2 I would lead thee, and bring thee into my mother’s house, who would instruct me: I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate.

3 His left hand should be under my head, and his right hand should embrace me.

4 I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, until he please.

5 Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? I raised thee up under the apple tree: there thy mother brought thee forth: there she brought thee forth that bare thee.

6 Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.

7 Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.

8 We have a little sister, and she hath no breasts: what shall we do for our sister in the day when she shall be spoken for?

9 If she be a wall, we will build upon her a palace of silver: and if she be a door, we will enclose her with boards of cedar.

10 I am a wall, and my breasts like towers: then was I in his eyes as one that found favor.
11 Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon; he let out the vineyard unto keepers; every one for the fruit thereof was to bring a thousand pieces of silver.

12 My vineyard, which is mine, is before me: thou, O Solomon, must have a thousand, and those that keep the fruit thereof two hundred.

13 Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the companions hearken to thy voice: cause me to hear it.

14 Make haste, my beloved, and be thou like to a roe or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices.

Archaeology and the Date of Song of Solomon 

Post-Exilic Era
The Babylonian captivity or Babylonian exile is the period in Jewish history during which a number of people from the ancient Kingdom of Judah were captives in Babylonia. After the Battle of Carchemish in 605 BCE, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon besieged Jerusalem, resulting in tribute being paid by King Jehoiakim.

Jehoiakim refused to pay tribute in Nebuchadnezzar’s fourth year, which led to another siege in Nebuchadnezzar’s seventh year, culminating with the death of Jehoiakim and the exile of King Jeconiah, his court and many others; Jeconiah’s successor Zedekiah and others were exiled in Nebuchadnezzar’s eighteenth year; a later deportation occurred in Nebuchadnezzar’s twenty-third year.

The dates, numbers of deportations, and numbers of deportees given in the biblical accounts vary. These deportations are dated to 597 BCE for the first, with others dated at 587/586 BCE, and 582/581 BCE respectively.
After the fall of Babylon to the Persian king Cyrus the Great in 539 BCE, exiled Judeans were permitted to return to Judah. According to the biblical book of Ezra, construction of the second temple in Jerusalem began around 537 BCE. All these events are considered significant in Jewish history and culture, and had a far-reaching impact on the development of Judaism.

Archaeological studies have revealed that not all of the population of Judah was deported, and that, although Jerusalem was utterly destroyed, other parts of Judah continued to be inhabited during the period of the exile. The return of the exiles was a gradual process rather than a single event, and many of the deportees or their descendants did not return, becoming the ancestors of the Iraqi Jews.

Today many scholars consider the Song of Songs to have been written during the post-exilic era, in spite of the fact that the “official” title of the book, “Solomon’s Song of Songs” (Sol 1:1), associates it with the time of Solomon.

Archeology has provided several good reasons for believing that the Song was indeed written early, in or around the 10 century B.C.

Archeological data from this period indicates that this was a time during a time which Israel was under strong central authority, as the Bible suggests.  Many scholars deny that there ever was a great kingdom of David and Solomon.  Some go as far as to theorize that these men were legendary rather than historical.

Obviously, if there was no Solomonic Kingdom we could not postulate that the Song was written during the Solomonic period.  However, archeology does support the Biblical portrait of Solomon’s times.

According to 1 Kings 9:15, Solomon did indeed build the temple, his own palace, a structure called the Millo and the wall of Jerusalem, as well as the cities of Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer.

The temple and palace of Solomon are lost and the location of his Millo is subject to debate, but archeology confirms that every aspect of Solomon’s temple, as described in the Bible, conforms to what we know of other temples form this time and region.

The cities of Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer have been excavated and found to have similar systems of fortification and gateways that date from the time of Solomon, suggesting that they were constructed by royal engineers who worked from a common blueprint.

Tel Hazor is one of the largest, most important Biblical sites in Canaanite and Israelite periods.

The Bible gave it the title: “the head of all those kingdoms.”

The excavating site brings you back 3-4 thousand years to the time this mighty city was the gateway between Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Oftentimes great literature flourishes during a period of national power and  prosperity (e.g. Virgil wrote the Aeneid at one of the high points of Roman history, the Augustan Age).  Thus, the association of the Song of Song with Solomon’s era makes sense.

During the latter part of the second millennium B.C. a distinctive style of love poetry flourished in Egypt, in some ways strikingly similar to the Song of Songs.  Although the message of the Song is different from that of the Egyptian material, it’s clear that the Hebrew poetry uses some of the same literacy conventions as that of the Egyptian poetry.

First Kings 9:16 indicates that Solomon, having  married an Egyptian princess, had good relations with Egypt.  It’s reasonable to assume that this was a time of close communication and commerce between the two nations.

Thus the Solomonic era is the very time at which we could most plausibly suggest that Egyptian love poetry came to be read and appreciated in the royal court of Israel.

Tel Megiddo was one of the most important cities in Canaan and Israel in the Biblical period.

It was at Megiddo that the Canaanite city-states gathered to rebel against Egyptian domination.

According to the Bible, Joshua captured Megiddo and King Solomon built up Megiddo.

In 732 B.C. it was captured by the Assyrian King Tiglathpileser III and served as Assyrian province.

The Book of Revelation places the battle of the last days at Armageddon (Megiddo).

Song of Songs 6:4 indicates that at the time this poem was written Jerusalem and Tirzah were the two most magnificent cities in Israel.  Tirzah (located in the north at Tell el-Farah) was a great city in the northern part of Israel during Solomon’s day.

After the kingdom split in two it became the capital of the northern kingdom under Jeroboam I and remained so until Omri (r.c. 885-874 B.C.) built Samaria.  Thereafter it declined and by the postexilic period it had ceased to exist.

It’s unreasonable to argue that a poet of the postexilic world would have paired Jerusalem with Tirzah, which at that time was nothing more than an abandoned mound.  However, it is entirely reasonable that a poet from the 10th century B.C. would have treated Tirzah as Jerusalem’s counterpart and equal.

Song of Solomon 7: The Maiden Desires Her Beloved & Imagery and Metaphor in Ancient Love Poetry

Recent excavations of Heshbon (now in Jordan) have uncovered the remains of large reservoirs near the city. The word for “fishpools” is the Hebrew berekot, which does not refer to springs or fountains, “but the deep reservoirs which the springs supply. The sense here is one of still, deep calmness rather than the sparkle and shimmer of flowing springs”

 1 How beautiful are thy feet with shoes, O prince’s daughter! The joints of thy thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a cunning workman.

2 Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like a heap of wheat set about with lilies.

3 Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins.

4 Thy neck is as a tower of ivory; thine eyes like the fish pools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-rabbim: thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus.

Heshbon was an ancient town located east of the Jordan River in what is now the Kingdom of Jordan, historically within the territories of ancient Ammon. Today, it is a ruin, bearing its old Arabic namesake, Tell Ḥesbān, located ca. 9 kilometers (5.6 mi) north of Madaba.

It is mentioned thirty-seven times in Scripture and was a powerful city in ancient Palestine. In Numbers 21:25-30 we learn that Heshbon was originally a Moabite city but was conquered by Sihon, the king of the Amorites, who made it his capital.

Later (Numbers 32:37) it became part of the inheritance of the tribe of Rueben, and although it eventually reverted back to Moabite rule (and both Isaiah and Jeremiah prophesied of coming judgment because of its evil), during the reign of King Solomon it was part of the inheritance given to the Levites as a city of peaceful refuge for the families of the priests. It was a beautiful city, a powerful city, and a city of peace.

Heshbon (also Hesebon, Esebon, Esbous, Esebus; Arabic: حشبون‎, Latin: Esebus, Hebrew: חשבון‎;) was an ancient town located east of the Jordan River in what is now the Kingdom of Jordan, historically within the territories of ancient Ammon. Today, it is a ruin, bearing its old Arabic namesake, Tell Ḥesbān, located ca. 9 kilometers (5.6 mi) north of Madaba.

In 1968, archaeological excavations were undertaken at the site of Tell Hesban (alternatively spelled Tall Hisban).
Two churches have been discovered from the Byzantine era, and both churches produced impressive remains of mosaic floors. Particularly interesting is the nilotic (using motifs originating in the environs of the river Nile) mosaic of the presbytery of the North Church where the mosaicists have created a motif of a turtledove set on a nest made of an imaginary flower.

5 Thine head upon thee is like Carmel, and the hair of thine head like purple; the king is held in the galleries.

6 How fair and how pleasant art thou, O love, for delights!

7 This thy stature is like to a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes.

8 I said, I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof: now also thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine, and the smell of thy nose like apples;

9 And the roof of thy mouth like the best wine for my beloved, that goeth down sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak.

10 I am my beloveds, and his desire is toward me.

11 Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages.

12 Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth: there will I give thee my loves.

13 The mandrakes give a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.

Imagery and Metaphor in Ancient Love Poetry

The modern reader of Song of Solomon is struck by the poem’s powerful and yet eccentric images and metaphors.  Why, for example, would a man tell the woman he adores that her nose is like a tower (Sol 7:4)?  Unless the Israelites believed that an enormous nose was attractive, wouldn’t she be insulted?

Some have dealt with this problem by simply assuming that the ancients had a different way of expressing themselves and that metaphors that sound ridiculous to us weren’t only acceptable, but pleasing to them.

It turns out that while many of the more easily understood metaphors or the Song do have parallels in other ancient Near Eastern texts, some of the more bizarre similes have no known correlations in other ancient love poetry.

For example, when the woman is said to be a flower (Sol 2:1) or the man exhorted to come running like a gazelle (Sol 8:14), the former obviously refers to her youthful beauty and the latter to his strength and speed – images that have fairly clear parallels in Egyptian poetry.

On the other hand, it’s hard to find a parallel in ancient literature to a text like Sol 4:1-5, where the woman’s eyes are doves, her hair a flock of goats coming down a hill, her neck a tower covered in shields and her breasts twin fawns.

Song of Songs
From translators Ariel and Chana Bloch about a poem that has inspired everyone from Kate Bush to Toni Morrison:

“The Song of Songs is a poem about the sexual awakening of a young woman and her lover. In a series of subtly articulated scenes, the two meet in an idealized landscape of fertility and abundance — a kind of Eden — where they discover the pleasures of love. The passage from innocence to experience is a subject of the Eden story, too, but there the loss of innocence is fraught with consequences. The Song looks at the same border-crossing and sees only the joy of discovery.”

Kiss me, make me drunk with your kisses!
Your sweet loving is better than wine.
You are fragrant,  you are myrrh and aloes.
All the young women want you.
Take me by the hand, let us run together!
My lover, my king, has brought me into his chambers.
We will laugh, you and I, and count each kiss,
better than wine.
Every one of them wants you.

Although we might find some visual correspondence between the feature represented and the chosen image, the language is shocking and at times difficult to understand.

There are various ways interpreters have tried to deal with this aspect of the Song of Solomon:

Some posit that the words suggest how the singer felt about the woman, not how she looked.  Thus, a tower-like nose or neck might suggest that he was in awe of her and not imply anything about the appearance of these physical features.

Another possibility is that the metaphors really do suggest how this woman looked, but not in a crudely literally way.  Her hair might in some sense have resembled a flock of goats on a hillside, with the slope of the hill and the hair of the goats somewhat similar to the appearance of her tresses cascading down over her shoulders.

A third possibility is that the poetry is deliberately comic or ironic.  This seems highly unlikely, in that the Song never suggests a humorous purpose.

The first and second suggests no doubt have some validity, but it’s difficult to avoid the fact that the Song consistently uses extravagant and unlikely metaphorical language.

Actually, some of the closest parallels to what we see in the Song may be found in prophetic and apocalyptic Bible texts.  The vision of God’s glory in Ezekiel 1, with wheels within wheels and wheels covered with eyes, is also starling.

The book of Revelation is replete with this kind of language, as when the risen Christ is described as having a sword protruding from his mouth (see Rev 1:13-16).

Thus, the language of Song of Solomon may be deliberately extravagant, suggesting that the man and woman are larger-than-life, representing not just two individual people but the profound mystery and power of love.

Song of Solomon 6: The Maiden’s Beauty

City of Tirzah
Tirzah (Hebrew: תִּרְצָה‬) was a town in the Samarian highlands NE of Shechem; it is generally identified with Tell el-Far’ah (North), northeast of current-day Nablus, in the immediate vicinity of the Palestinian village of Wadi al-Far’a and the Far’a refugee camp, although Conder and Kitchener suggested that the ancient city may have actually been where Tayasir (Teiâsīr) is now located, based on its phonemes. The present identification is located in a valley named Wadi Far’a in Arabic and Tirzah Valley or Nahal Tirza in Hebrew.

In the Bible
The town of Tirzah is first mentioned in the Bible in Joshua 12:24 as having had a king whom the Israelites smote; it is not mentioned again until after the period of the United Monarchy.

During the time of King Jeroboam, Tirzah is mentioned as the place where Abijah, son of Jeroboam, died as a result of illness (1 Kings 14:17). Later Tirzah is described as a capital of the northern kingdom of Israel during the reigns of Baasha, Elah, Zimri and Omri (1 Kings 15:33, 1 Kings 16:8, 1 Kings 16:23). The royal palace at Tirzah was set on fire by Zimri when he was faced with having to surrender to Omri. Omri reigned from Tirzah for six years after which he moved Israel’s capital to Samaria.

Tirzah is mentioned in 2 Kings 15:14, when Menahem went from Tirzah to Samaria, assassinated King Shallum and became King of Israel.

Tirzah is mentioned in Song of Songs 6:4, where the lover compares his beloved’s beauty to that of Tirzah. If the authorship of Song of Songs can be attributed to Solomon, then this is a reference to the city during the United Monarchy. However, Song of Songs provides no definite historical context to allow it to be dated on that basis.

1 Whither is thy beloved gone, O thou fairest among women? Whither is thy beloved turned aside? That we may seek him with thee.

2 My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies.

3 I am my beloveds, and my beloved is mine: he feedeth among the lilies.

4 Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners.

5 Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me: thy hair is as a flock of goats that appear from Gilead.

6 Thy teeth are as a flock of sheep which go up from the washing, whereof every one beareth twins, and there is not one barren among them.

7 As a piece of a pomegranate are thy temples within thy locks.

8 There are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and virgins without number.

9 My dove, my undefiled is but one; she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bare her. The daughters saw her, and blessed her; yea, the queens and the concubines, and they praised her.

10 Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?

11 I went down into the garden of nuts to see the fruits of the valley, and to see whether the vine flourished, and the pomegranates budded.

12 Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Amminadib.

13 Return, return, O Shulamite; return, return, that we may look upon thee. What will ye see in the Shulamite? As it were the company of two armies.

Song of Solomon 5: The Torment of Separation & Cedars of Lebanon

Ancient Honeycomb Reveals the Etruscans as Beekeepers
“The importance of beekeeping in the ancient world is well known through an abundance of iconographic, literary, archaeometric, and ethnographic sources,” says Lorenzo Castellano, who is an archaeometry graduate student with New York University’s Study of the Ancient World Institute. What makes this discovery about ancient beekeeping even more phenomenal is the fact honeycombs are rarely found at such sites due to how perishable they are.

Ancient Confirmation
This discovery confirms the words of Roman scholar Pliny the Elder (the Etruscans eventually joined the Roman Empire). Over 400 years after the Forcello’s site’s destruction, Pliny once wrote about Ostiglia, a town roughly 20 miles from Forcello. Per Pliny, villagers would place hives onto boats and then carry them five miles at night upstream. “At dawn, the bees come out and feed, returning every day to the boats, which change their position until, when they have sunk low in the water under the mere weight, it is understood that the hives are full, and then they are taken back and the honey is extracted.”

1 I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.

The 9,500-year-old honeycomb city of Çatalhöyük.
Catalhoyuk is oldest town in world with large Neolithic and Chalcolithic best preserved city settlement in Cumra, Konya. It was built in about 7500 B.C.

Overlooking the Konya Plain in Turkey lies the remarkable and unique ancient city of Çatalhöyük, the largest and best-preserved Neolithic site found to date. At a time when most of the world’s people were nomadic hunter-gatherers, Çatalhöyük was a bustling town of as many as 10,000 people.

“The neolithic civilization revealed at Çatalhöyük shines like a supernova among the rather dim galaxy of contemporary peasant cultures,” says James Mellaart, excavator of Çatalhöyük and premier authority on the ancient Near East.

Forming a large hill atop the Southern Anatolian Plateau, the site is like a massive labyrinth of mud-brick houses, often described as a ‘honeycomb city’, made up of 18 successive layers of building representing distinct stages of the city and reflecting different eras of its history. The bottom layer is as early as 7,500 BC while the top layer dates back to 5,600 BC, a point in time in which the city was mysteriously abandoned and moved several miles away across the Carsamba Cay River to Çatalhöyük West, which appears to have been occupied for another 700 years until it too, was abandoned.

2 I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night.

3 I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?

4 My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him.

5 I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock.

6 I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone: my soul failed when he spake: I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer.

7 The watchmen that went about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took away my veil from me.

8 I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, that ye tell him, that I am sick of love.

9 What is thy beloved more than another beloved, O thou fairest among women? What is thy beloved more than another beloved, that thou dost so charge us?

10 My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand.

11 His head is as the most fine gold, his locks are bushy, and black as a raven.

12 His eyes are as the eyes of doves by the rivers of waters, washed with milk, and fitly set.

13 His cheeks are as a bed of spices, as sweet flowers: his lips like lilies, dropping sweet smelling myrrh.

14 His hands are as gold rings set with the beryl: his belly is as bright ivory overlaid with sapphires.

15 His legs are as pillars of marble, set upon sockets of fine gold: his countenance is as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars.

16 His mouth is most sweet: yea, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.

Cedar Trees
The mountains of Lebanon were once shaded by thick cedar forests and the tree is the symbol of the country. After centuries of persistent deforestation, the extent of these forests has been markedly reduced.

It was once said that a battle occurred between the demigods and the humans over the beautiful and divine forest of Cedar trees near southern Mesopotamia. This forest, once protected by the Sumerian god Enlil, was completely bared of its trees when humans entered its grounds 4700 years ago, after winning the battle against the guardians of the forest, the demigods.[3] The story also tells that Gilgamesh used cedar wood to build his city.

Over the centuries, cedar wood was exploited by the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Romans, Israelites and Turks. The Phoenicians used the Cedars for their merchant fleets. They needed timbers for their ships and the Cedar woods made them the “first sea trading nation in the world”.

The Egyptians used cedar resin for the mummification process and the cedar wood for some of “their first hieroglyph bearing rolls of papyrus”. In the Bible, Solomon procured cedar timber to build the Temple in Jerusalem. The emperor Hadrian claimed these forests as an imperial domain, and destruction of the cedar forests was temporarily halted.

Cedars of Lebanon

Huge Trees
The tallest trees in the world are redwoods, which tower above the ground in California. These trees can easily reach heights of 300 feet.

Among the redwoods, a tree named Hyperion tops them all. Standing at 380 feet tall, Hyperion also shares its name with the titan god of heavenly light. Coming in second for the world’s tallest trees is Helios standing at 374 feet. And for the bronze medal we have another redwood called Icarus, at 371 feet high. The largest tree by volume and not height or circumference is a sequoia called General Sherman. 275 feet tall with a circumference of nearly 103 feet.

The tallest tree ever measured was not a Sequoia sempervirens, but a type of Eucalyptus, an Australian hardwood tree. In 1872 forester William Ferguson spotted an extremely tall mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans) near the Watts River, Victoria, Australia. Purportedly he was 132.6 m (435 feet) tall.

The Giants Cedars are mentioned 47 times in the Bible.
That’s an awful lot of times! Now we know these trees were GIANT by particular passages in the Bible. In Ezekial 31:3 we read, ‘Behold, Assyria was a cedar in Lebanon With beautiful branches and forest shade, And very high, And its top was among the clouds. The CEDARS were AMONG the clouds! They have to be pretty tall to be that high. In Psalms 80:10 it states, The mountains were covered with ITS shadow, And the cedars of God with its boughs. So the CEDARS were TALLER and BIGGER than the mountains.

A tall and majestic evergreen tree (averaging 120 feet in its maturity), the cedar of Lebanon was highly valued in antiquity.  It’s durability and dimensions provided ships and furnishings, and Egyptians prized its resin for mummification.

Nebuchadnezzar wrote hauling felled cedars to Babylon from Mount Lebanon, an abundance source of timber in the ancient Near East (cf Isa 37:24).  The temple and palace complex in Jerusalem were lavishly adorned with cedar (1 Kgs 7:2; 1 Chr 22:24), and cedar wood was used for purification rituals (Lev 14:4).

Attesting to the use of cedar in monumental architecture, remnants of charred cedar beam were found in a Middle Bronze Age palace at Lachish (16th century B.C.).

The height and commanding presence of the species yields vivid Biblical images.  Yahweh’s majesty stands above all cedars (Ps 148:9,13) and his voice is so powerful that it shatters them (Ps 29:5).   

The development of a righteous person is compared to the cedar’s steady maturing process (Ps 95:12).  In the Song of Solomon the lover’s appearance evokes the tree’s exquisite worth (Sol 5:15).  Yet, the cedar’s height can also be human pride and arrogance (Isa 2:12-15; Eze 31:3, 10-12).

Song of Solomon 4: The King Offers His Love

Gilead Mountains
In contrast to the plateau regions to the north and south of it, Gilead is a mountainous, hilly region. The highest peak reaches 4,090 ft. The region is well watered by rain (24-32 inches per year), heavy dew in the summer and springs. Terracing was required for productive farming.

Olive trees and vineyards are ideally suited to terraces because they require less space. Wheat could be grown on the lower foothill regions of Gilead. Gilead was rich in balms (Jer 8:22, 46:11) because of the trees (2 Sam 18:8; Jer 8:22). Gilead was heavily forested, and this was an ideal area for grazing animals.

 1 Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves’ eyes within thy locks: thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from mount Gilead.

2 Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them.

3 Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely: thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate within thy locks.

4 Thy neck is like the tower of David builded for an armory, whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men.

5 Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins, which feed among the lilies.

6 Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense.

7 Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.

Mount Hermon
Mount Hermon, from the Hebrew word pronounced ker-mone, meaning abrupt, is the eastern extension of the Anti-Lebanon mountain range. Consisting of a ridge about 20 miles (32 kilometers) long with three peaks rising up to 9,200 feet (2,800 meters) above The Mediterranean Sea, it marked the northern boundary of Israel (Deuteronomy 3:8, 4:48, Joshua 11:3, 11:17, 12:1, 13:11).

Mount Hermon’s majestic snow-covered peaks can be seen from far south into Israel, to the west in Lebanon, and to the east in Syria. About 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of The Sea Of Galilee, it would have been a well-known sight for Jesus Christ all of His life, from Nazareth, and then later from Capernaum.

Before the invention of modern refrigeration, Mount Hermon was a source of ice, as indicated by another name that it is known by – ice mountain. In modern times, many people go skiing on its slopes in season.

Throughout Bible History, Mount Hermon was known variously as “the Hermonites” (Psalm 42:6 KJV) because of its multiple summits. It was known to the Sidonians as “Sirion,” and to the Amorites as “Senir” or “Shenir” (Deuteronomy 3:9). Others called it “Baal-Hermon” (Judges 3:3, 1 Chronicles 5:23) and “Sion” or “Siyon” (Deuteronomy 4:48).

Many believe that The Transfiguration occurred somewhere on Mount Hermon (Matt 17:1–8, Mk 9:2–8, Lk 9:28–36).

8 Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse, with me from Lebanon: look from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Hermon, from the lions’ dens, from the mountains of the leopards.

9 Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck.

10 How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse! How much better is thy love than wine! And the smell of thine ointments than all spices!

11 Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon.

12 A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.

13 Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard,

14 Spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices:

15 A fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon.

16 Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.

Song of Solomon 3: The Maiden’s Search & Weddings in Ancient Israel

1 By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not.

2 I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not.

3 The watchmen that go about the city found me: to whom I said, Saw ye him whom my soul loveth?

4 It was but a little that I passed from them, but I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go, until I had brought him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me.

King Solomon’s stables at Megiddo
Megiddo was situated at a strategic location overlooking the Plain of Esdraelon (the Valley of Jezreel) near to where it joined the coastal plain (the Plain of Sharon). As the Via Maris – the ‘Way of the Sea’ – passed nearby, it was a vital stronghold on the main route from Egypt to Mesopotamia, and was fought over numerous times.

One of the earliest historical confrontations to be recorded in detail took place during the 15th century BC when the Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose III defeated a Canaanite coalition under the kings of Kadesh and Megiddo at the Battle of Megiddo.

Solomon recognized the importance of Megiddo by building one of his ‘chariot cities’ on the site of the earlier Canaanite stronghold.

Today, visitors can see the site of King Solomon’s Stables (see 1 Kings 10:26-29), as well as the remains of an earlier Canaanite altar dating from c.1500BC. The city was approached along a cobbled roadway and was entered by an impressive triple-entry gateway with three defensive butresses and inner recesses (now partially re-constructed), dating from the Late Bronze Age (c.950BC) – the time of King Solomon.

5 I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please.

6 Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant?

7 Behold his bed, which is Solomon’s; threescore valiant men are about it, of the valiant of Israel.

8 They all hold swords, being expert in war: every man hath his sword upon his thigh because of fear in the night.

9 King Solomon made himself a chariot of the wood of Lebanon.

10 He made the pillars thereof of silver, the bottom thereof of gold, the covering of it of purple, the midst thereof being paved with love, for the daughters of Jerusalem.

11 Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion, and behold king Solomon with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart.

Weddings in Ancient Israel

A wedding, as the public solemnization of an agreement made at the time of an engagement, was an occasion for great joy.  The ceremony itself most likely consisted of one recitation of a simple formula, such as the one alluded to at the time of the first union between a husband and a wife (Gen 2:23).

The Elephantine Papyri
The Elephantine Papyri consist of 175 documents from the Egyptian border fortresses of Elephantine and Syene (Aswan), which yielded hundreds of papyri in Hieratic and Demotic Egyptian, Aramaic, Greek, Latin and Coptic, spanning a period of 2000 years.

The documents include letters and legal contracts from family and other archives, and are thus an invaluable source of knowledge for scholars of varied disciplines such as epistolography, law, society, religion, language and onomastics. They are a collection of ancient Jewish manuscripts dating from the 5th century BCE. They come from a Jewish community at Elephantine, then called ꜣbw. The dry soil of Upper Egypt preserved documents from the Egyptian border fortresses of Elephantine and Syene (Aswan).

Hundreds of these Elephantine papyri, written in Hieratic and Demotic Egyptian, Aramaic, Greek, Latin and Coptic, span a period of 1000 years. Legal documents and a cache of letters survived, turned up on the local ‘gray market’ of antiquities starting in the late 19th century, and were scattered into several Western collections.

Though some fragments on papyrus are much older, the largest number of papyri are written in Aramaic, the lingua franca of the Persian Empire, and document the Jewish community among soldiers stationed at Elephantine under Persian rule, 495–399 BCE. The Elephantine documents include letters and legal contracts from family and other archives: divorce documents, the manumission of slaves, and other business, and are a valuable source of knowledge about law, society, religion, language and onomastics, the sometimes surprisingly revealing study of names.

The ‘Passover letter’ of 419 BCE (discovered in 1907), which gives detailed instructions for properly keeping the passover is in the Egyptian Museum of Berlin.

Further Elephantine papyri are at the Brooklyn Museum. The discovery of the Brooklyn papyri is a remarkable story itself. The documents were first acquired in 1893 by New York journalist Charles Edwin Wilbour. After lying in a warehouse for more than 50 years, the papyri were shipped to the Egyptian Department of the Brooklyn Museum. It was at this time that scholars finally realized that “Wilbour had acquired the first Elephantine papyri”.

Marriage contracts from the Jewish community of Elephantine of the 5th century B.C. record a vow common to the ancient world: The groom would declare that the woman was his wife and that he was her husband for eternity.

The wedding ceremony also may have involved the symbolic act of the man covering his bride with the corner of his garment to indicate that she was now under his protection and that it was his responsibility to provide for her (Ruth 3:9; Eze 16:8).  Blessings of fruitfulness were bestowed upon the couple by family and friends (Gen 24:60; Ruth 4:11-12).

A passage from the Babylonian Talmud tells us that at a Jewish wedding in the early Christian era a groom would wear a ceremonial crown and receive his bride, who would make her entrance at the wedding party in a sedan chair.  This event may explain the description in Song of Songs 3:6-11; it would appear that the bride was riding in such a sedan chair, accompanied by an honor guard (In the phrase “Who is this?” in v. 6 the word “this” is feminine, referring to a woman.) 

The bride’s entourage also included a musical procession (Ps 45:14).  The groom was attired in festive headdress (Sol 3:11; Is 61:10), and the bride was adorned in embroidered garments and jewelry (Ps 45:13-14; Is 49:18, 61:10).  A veil completed the virgin bride’s costume, which may partly explain the success of Laban’s ruse of substituting Leah for Rachel on Jacob’s wedding night (Gen 29:23; Sol 4:1).

Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matt 25:1-13) describes the arrival of the groom during the night prior to a wedding.  He was attended by male companions, one of whom would serve as his best man (Jdg14:20; Jn 3:29).

Upon his arrival the groom’s family would host a feast (Matt 22:2, Jn 2:9).  Putting the evidence together, it appears that the groom with his companions would traditionally arrive at the ceremonial house first, during the night, to be received by a group of young women.  Early the next day the friends of the groom would go out to bring back the bride, who would arrive in a sedan chair with the groom’s friends as her symbolic honor guard.

The marriage would be consummated on the first night of a banquet celebration typically lasting for seven days (Gen 29:27; Jdg 14:12).  The bridal couple would seal their union in a bridal chamber (Ps 19:5; Joel 2:16), and the blood-stained nupital sheet would be saved by the bride’s parents as proof of her prior virginity (Deut 22:17).

A wedding celebration in any time or culture typically brims with emotion, including the culmination of joy and the realization of an anticipated promise, thereby aptly expressing believer’s union with Christ at the end of time:

Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come and his wife hath made herself ready.

And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints (Rev 19:7-8).

Song of Solomon 2: The Rose of Sharon & The Flowers of Ancient Israel

1 I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.

2 As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.

3 As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.

4 He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.

5 Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.

6 His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me.

7 I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please.

8 The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.

9 My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice.

One plant commonly called “Rose of Sharon” in the US is Hibiscus syriacus, here seen in bloom.
Rose of Sharon is a common name that has been applied to several different species of flowering plants that are valued in different parts of the world. It is also a biblical expression, though the identity of the plant referred to is unclear and is disputed among biblical scholars. In neither case does it refer to actual roses, although one of the species it refers to in modern usage is a member of Rosaceae.

The deciduous flowering shrub known as the Rose of Sharon is a member of the mallow family which is distinct from the Rosaceae family. The name’s colloquial application has been used as an example of the lack of precision of common names, which can potentially cause confusion. “Rose of Sharon” has become a frequently used catch phrase in poetry and lyrics.

10 My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.

11 For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;

12 The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;

13 The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.

14 O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy

voice, and thy countenance is comely.

15 Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.

16 My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies.

17 Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether.

Oldest grave flowers ever found unearthed in Israel
An ancient burial pit dating to nearly 14,000 years ago contained impressions from stems and flowers of aromatic plants such as mint and sage.

The new find “is the oldest example of putting flowers and fresh plants in the grave before burying the dead,” said study co-author Dani Nadel, an archaeologist at the University of Haifa in Israel.

Though the exact purpose of these plants remains a mystery, the findings, detailed Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shed light on some of the rituals used by one of the earliest human cultures living in fixed settlements.

Ancient tombs
The burial pits, the first true gravesites in the world, were excavated nearly a half a century ago from Raqefet Cave in Mount Carmel, Israel. The people who made the tombs were part of a Natufian culture that flourished in the Near East beginning about 15,000 years ago. The region contains graves for hundreds of skeletons, including a burial of an ancient shaman woman.

The Natufians were the first people who transitioned from a nomadic, hunter-gathering lifestyle to a more sedentary one. They formed fixed settlements, built heavy furniture, domesticated the wolf, and began to experiment with domesticating wheat and barley, Nadel told LiveScience. Soon after, humans evolved the first villages, developed agriculture and went on to found some of the first empires in the world.

The Flowers of Ancient Israel

 Floral imagery was widely used in ancient Israel, in the decoration of the temple and lampstands (Ex 25:37; 1 Kgs 6:7), as well as in the prophetic and poetic writings.  The identification of various flowers in ancient Israel has been complicated by the following factors:

Many newer plant species have been introduced into the region during the last few centuries.

From the time of the church fathers, the practice of naming plants after Biblical names has served as a way of keeping Scripture alive in everyday life.  Thus, flowers that did not exist in ancient Israel might still bear Biblical names.  For example, Hibiscus syriacus has been called “the rose of Sharon,” even though it is native to Eastern Asia and was more recently introduced into the region now known as Palestine.

Information is scanty.  Frequently plant’s only identification might be its Biblical name, with no accompanying description.  Oral tradition might provide the only clue in identifying a particular flower.

The rose of Sharon (2:1) has been variously identified as narcissus, anemone or even red tulip.  The lily of the valley (v. 1) has been equated to chamomile, crowfoot, various species of lily, narcissus, sea daffodil and lotus.  Flowers in ancient Israel served mainly ornamental purposes, and it’s likely that their beauty was the primary focus of the Song’s writer.  Although precise identification of the various flowers would be helpful, it’s not essential for interpreting the text.

Song of Solomon 1: In the Chambers of the King & Ancient Love Poetry

1 The song of songs, which is Solomon’s.

2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.

3 Because of the savor of thy good ointments thy name is as ointment poured forth, therefore do the virgins love thee.

Wall carving of a mounted warrior, Tel Halaf
Horses came from the vast grazing lands of the steppes of Asia and Europe. They grazed on the open pastures in summer and endured the fearsome windswept winters. Natural wanderers, they seem to have reached the ancient Bible lands from southwestern Asia.

Somewhere along the way they was domesticated. It became the friend and servant of tribal people in western Europe, southwestern Asia and Mongolia.

• The first mention we have of the horse is in Akkadian documents at the end of the 3rd millenium BC. The people who wrote these documents called it the rather undignified “mountain ass” or “foreign ass”.

• It is called “an ass of the west” in a fable of the time of Hammurabi (1750 BC).

4 Draw me, we will run after thee: the king hath brought me into his chambers: we will be glad and rejoice in thee, we will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee.

5 I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.

6 Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother’s children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.

7 Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon: for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?

8 If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds’ tents.

9 I have compared thee, O my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh’s chariots.

10 Thy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels, thy neck with chains of gold.

11 We will make thee borders of gold with studs of silver.

12 While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof.

13 A bundle of myrrh is my well-beloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts.

14 My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of En-gedi.

15 Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves’ eyes.

16 Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant: also our bed is green.

17 The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir.

Ancient Love Poetry 

The ancient Near East produced many examples of what can broadly be called “love poetry.”  Some of it is overly religious in nature, describing the love affairs of gods and goddesses.  Other songs provide examples of “secular” love poems that explore both the excitement and the heartbreak so prevalent among young lovers.  Examples of ancient love poetry are as follows: 

Mesopotamia has produced primarily religious love poetry: 

Nebo and Tashmetu: an Akkadian poem about the love between Nebo, the god of scribes, and his consort, Tashmetu. 

“The Love Song for Shu-Sin”
An inscription dating back to c.2000 BCE, The Love Song for Shu-Sin is described as the world’s oldest known love poem. “Once a year, according to Sumerian belief, it was the sacred duty of the ruler to marry a priestess and votary of Inanna, the goddess of love and procreation, in order to ensure fertility to the soil and fecundity to the womb,” writes Sumerologist Samuel Noah Kramer.

“The time-honored ceremony was celebrated on New Year’s day and was preceeded by feasts and banquets accompanied by music, song, and dance. The poem inscribed on the little Istanbul clay tablet was in all probability recited by the chosen bride of King Shu-Sin in the course of one of these New Year celebrations.”

Bridegroom, dear to my heart,
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet,
Lion, dear to my heart,
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet.
You have captivated me, let me stand tremblingly before you.
Bridegroom, I would be taken by you to the bedchamber,
You have captivated me, let me stand tremblingly before you.
Lion, I would be taken by you to the bedchamber.

The Bridal Sheets: a Sumerian song featuring a playful dialogue between the god Utu and his sister Inanna, in which he gradually divulges that he has arranged for her to marry Ama-ushumgal-anna. 

Songs of Ishtar and Tammuz: a compilation of songs dealing with the love affair between the goddess Ishtar and the god Tammuz. 

Egypt has produced a number of love songs that are more “secular” in outlook in that they concern people rather than gods (c. 1300-1150 B.C.).  They do, however, sometimes have fantastic or mythological motifs.  These poems astutely but sometimes comically portray the emotional turmoil of young love, with striking similarities to Song of Songs. 

Papyrus Harris 500: A young man and woman sing of their passionate love for each other.  

The dialogue-like parts for the male and female singers are similar to what we see in the Song. 

In some of these texts the female sings a soliloquy about her love; this too has parallels in the Song.

“The Flower Song”
Something interesting to note about Ancient Egyptian poems in general from National Geographic:

“Women’s voices were strong in Egyptian poetry — as the narrators of poems or as lovers making choices about their beloveds, for example. This strength confirms that women had a higher position in ancient Egyptian culture than in other societies at the time, [Egyptologist Terry] Wilfong said. Women may even have written some of the poetry.”

To hear your voice is pomegranate wine to me:
I draw life from hearing it.
Could I see you with every glance,
It would be better for me
Than to eat or to drink.

Cairo Love Songs: Recorded on a vase, they include the songs of a young woman who declares her devotion to her lover, and those of a young man, who yearns to be with her – to be the ring on her finger on her laundryman so he can handle her clothing. 

The Turin Love Song: a fanciful text in which various trees talk a pair of young lovers. 

Chester Beatty Papyrus I Love Songs: again include parts for male and female singers, in which they describe the intensity of their passion and their frustration at being kept apart.  One compilation, the Nakhtsobek Songs, explores a man’s becoming enamored of a prostitute. 

The Egyptian poetry displays several parallels to the Song of Songs.  Structurally they are similar in that both have parts for male and female singers.  They also share similar metaphors and imagery.  A few examples of common elements include: 

The beloved is called “brother” or “sister” as a term of endearment. 

In the Egyptian texts the woman asserts that her man’s love is better than beer (the favorite Egyptian beverage).  In the Song, his love is preferable to wine (1:2).

In the Egyp0tian poems the woman calls for her lover to come like a horse dashing to a battlefield; in the Song she summons him to hasten to her like a young stag (e.g., 8:14). 

In both cases the woman is said to be a flower (2:1). 

In each instance either the man or the woman is likened to a tree (2:3).           

The door image is important to both (5:2-7). 

At the same time, Egyptian poetry and the Song have significant differences: 

Egyptian lovers often invoke Hathor, the goddess of love, in their quest to win over their beloved.  The Biblical texts never suggest that God can be persuaded by a lover-struck youth to manipulate someone to fall in love with him or her. 

The Egyptian songs, but not the Song of Songs, often focus on youthful infatuation and thus include some frivolous elements. 

The Egyptian poems are generally lighthearted, intended as humorous entertainment.  Song of Songs takes a much more serious look at the significance of sexual love. 

It is impossible and unnecessary to deny that the Egyptian texts influenced the poetry of Song of Songs.  In fact, this poetry gives us a strong reason to date Song of Songs to the age of Solomon, who not only lived near the time the Egyptian songs were being written, but also maintained good relations with Egypt.  Even so, the content complexity and theological significance of Song of Songs require us to regard it not as an imitation but as an original, canonical text.