CANTICLES (Lat. ranticulum, little song, from canere, to sing. The name of the book is in Lat. rantieum canticorum, song of songs. Gk. go-Act (icrAcircov, asmat6n. Heb. slur hash shirim). One of the books in the Hebrew canon. There is no reference to it in the Old Testament. the Old-Testament Apocrypha, Philo, Joseplins. or the New Testament. The age of the Greek version is unknown, but it cannot well be later than the First Century A.D. The book is first mentioned in the Mishna (edited about A.D. 200). At the assembly of Jamnia (about A.D. 100) the rabbis are said to have been of different opinion as to its canonicity, some holding that it was not a sacred hook, rendering the hands unclean so that they must he washed after contact with it (see BIBLE, ('anon), others strongly main tained its religious value. among these particu larly R. Akiha. )'whoirn. iii. 5, Pilityoth. v. 3. This seholar denounced the men who would sing the songs of Canticles in wine-houses. Tosephta Sanh. xii. It is evident that the allegorical as well as the literal interpretation was in vogue in the First Century A.D. Probably the ascription of Canticles to Solomon, the philosopher par cseellence, caused the conviction that it must have a profound significance; and the allegori cal method of the day led men to find in it a description of Jehovah's love for His people Israel. This interpretation passed from the synagogue to the Church, with the modification that the bridegroom became Christ and the bride either the Church or the individual soul. Origen understood the poem very much as Akiba had, and Cocceius found in it the history of the Church down to the Synod of Dort in A.D. 1618, just as the Targumist had found the his tory of Israel down to the exile of ti.c. 586. Some adherents of this allegorical interpretation, such as Vatable, Bossuet, and Lowth, assumed a double sense, a description of earthly love at the same time intended to be typical of spiritual love. In defense of this view, it has been argued that the poem may have precisely the mystical sense that has been claimed for the love-songs of liatiz and Jayadeva's Gitagoeinda. it is not al together inconceivable that a work which has furnished so rich nourishment to Christian mysticism itself may be the product of a similar Jewish mysticism. But where the mystical ten dency and the allegorical method were most in evidence, in Philo's works, there is no trace of Canticles or anything like it. At the present time there is a practical agreement among scholars that the love depicted is solely that of man and woman.
The first Christian interpreter who discarded all allegorizing was Theodore of Mopsuestia (died 429) - For this he was condemned in 551. Luther, curiously enough, looked upon Canticles as a political allegory teaching obedience to civil authority. The secular character of the poem was fully recognized by Sebastien Chateillon (1544). For this offense he was driven out of
Geneva by Calvin. Luis de Leon (died 1591) was incarcerated by the inquisition five years for suggesting in his Latin translation a similar view. lingo Grotiu.. somewhat timidly, and Jean le Clore, more decidedly, maintained that earthly love was depicted in the song. Observing what he deemed the immorality of some of the lyrics. J. D. Sliehaelis threw the book out of the canon, and J. S. Semler likewise questioned its canonicity. The conception of canonical author ity prevalent in their time has now been general ly abandoned: and the highly spiced descriptions of sexual passion have been justified, first by the supposed purpose of the author to protest against Solomon's harem life, and then by the assump tion that wedded love is portrayed.
But is this poem of earthly love a drama or a mere collection of lyrics? And is the love de scribed that of husband and wife, or of men and women who follow the promptings of passion re gardless of social conventions? Already Origen says of Canticles. "Dramatis in mod um milni videtur." Cornelius a Lapide (Van den Steen, died 1G37 )divided the poem into tire acts. Lowth (1753) regarded it as an impi•rfect drama lack ing a regular plot. .J. Wachter (1722) and 1. F. Jacobi (1771) sought to indicate a plot. While the former made Solomon and the Shu lamite the ehief (diameters, the hitter discovered in addition a shepherd lover. Delitzsch (1851-75) gave the classical expression to what has been called the 'king theory,' while the 'shepherd theory' was especially developed by Velthusen (1786), Staudlin (1792), and Ewald (1826, 1839, 1842). Through Ewald, this theory became widely accepted. Bdttcher (1850) even inure de cidedly made the poem a modern operetta enacted on the stage. Hitzig (1855) discovered Solo mon's wife, and Hirzel (1888) was able to find two shepherds and two shepherdesses. The latest critic who has accepted this view is Dubin (1902). He regards Canticles as an operetta resembling the medieval miracle plays, and divides it into twenty lyrico-dramatie passages. The plot is simple; true love wins the day over all the efforts of Solomon to part the lovers and make the maid of Sharon his favorite wife. The songs are sung partly by individuals, such as the Shulamite. Solomon, and the shepherd, partly by choruses of harem-ladies, women of Zion, brides maids, and kinsfolk. Several objections have been urged against this theory. The ancient Hebrews possessed no theatre, and the Semitic race has produced no great dramatic genius: there is no intelligible plot in Canticles; there is a lack of verisimilitude in the King's char acter and behavior; there is something absurd in the idea that the heroine's answers to Solomon are in reality addresses to her absent lover; the necessity of putting the Shulamite to sleep on the stage. to dream through entire scenes, is not less embarrassing.