Biblical Archaeology Review 43:1, January/February 2017

Biblical Views: Love Is Strong as Death—but Don’t Spend the Family’s Wealth

By Philip Stern

The Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon) from the Hebrew Bible is a love song beyond compare—although it has been compared to everything. Some have deemed it ancient pornography. Others have sung its praise. In the second century C.E., Rabbi Akiva called it the “holy of holies.”a

Saadia Gaon, a prodigious tenth-century scholar and rabbi, observed that Song of Songs resembles a locked door to which the key is missing. However, I believe that the key to understanding the Song is near at hand:

6 Set me as a seal upon your heart,

As a seal upon your arm.

For strong as death is love,

Harsh as the netherworld (Sheol) is passion.

Her flames are flames of fire,

a mighty blaze.

7 Torrents of water cannot extinguish love,

Rivers cannot sweep it away!

[Yet] if a man were to expend

all the wealth of his house for love,

[People] would surely heap scorn upon him.

(Song of Songs 8:6–7, author’s translation)

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