Light unto my path
Light unto my path. I shall light a candle of understanding in thine heart, which shall not be put out. I shall light a candle of understanding in thine heart, which shall not be put out. Light unto my path, an exploration of the books of the Old Testament, from these books through the ages, has come our concept of man born in the image of God and made to have
dominion over all things. The Bible is the record of man's understanding of the role of the divine in human life. We now examine that record when it was written, how it was preserved, and why it ranks first in our literature. Light unto my path, produced by radio station WHOA of the University of Wisconsin, under a grant from the National Educational Television and Radio Center, in cooperation with the National Association of Educational Broadcastes. These programs are planned and prepared by Dr. Menahem Mansour, Chairman of the Department of Hebrew and Semitic Studies at the University of Wisconsin. Professor Mansour. Today we look into the song of Solomon.
It is a tiny book, only eight short chapters, and yet it's one of the greatest riddles of all biblical writing. From title to finish, it excites and stirs the imagination, perplexes the intellect and may even disturb our concepts of religious writing. Is this book a spiritual experience? How does it relate to the rest of the Old Testament? What have scholars determined of its origins and its significance? Glansettic copy of the song of Solomon, and I think he will sense why of all the books of the Bible none has provoked so much discussion as this book. And let me say here and now, no final answer to the riddle has been found, and I shall not attempt one. I find myself agreeing with the philosopher Saadia, who said nine centuries ago that the song of songs is a lock to which we as yet have no key.
You will notice the philosopher calls this the song of songs, so does the biblical heading and social eye, since this phrase is a true statement of the superlative in the Hebrew language. We have similar expressions in English, the king of kings, meaning the supreme king or the book of books for the greatest book, meaning the Bible itself. Last song of songs means in the Hebrew the very finest song. It is surely that in the sense of love lyrics of sheer beauty. Yes, these are songs of love, but the word love can mean many things. Let us look at some of these love lyrics in the song of songs and see what love is expressed here. The book opens with this. Let me drink of the kisses of thy mouth, for thy love is better than wine.
Thine oils are a delight to inhale, therefore the maidens love thee. Here we are using the translation of the Jewish Publication Society. You will find variations if you are reading from the King James or the revised standard version, but the elements of love expressed are of course the same. Here is a portion of the second chapter from the revised standard version. Sustained me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am sick with love, oh that his left hand were under my head and that his right hand embraced me. I assure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles of the hines of the field that you stir not up nor awake in love until it please. And from the King James version, here are portions of chapter 5.
I sleep, but my heart waketh. It is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, open to me my sister, my love, my dull, my undefiled, for my head is filled with dew and my luxe with the drops of the night. I rose up to open to my beloved and my hands dropped with mure and my fingers with sweet smelling mure upon the handles of the lock. I opened to my beloved, but my beloved had withdrawn. I sought him, but I could not find, I called him, but he gave me no answer. The watchman that went about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me. I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, that he tell him that I am sick with love.
His eyes are as the eyes of doves by the rivers of waters, his cheeks are as a bed of spices, his lips like lilies, his mouth is most sweet, yeah, he is all together lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem. Longs of love, of ardent love between a man and a maiden, this is the obvious theme in all translations. We note that this is the only complete book of the Bible which is entirely secular. This has troubled teachers and scholars since earliest times.
In the Talmud, that gigantic post-biblical work of the Jewish scholars who interpreted the Bible, we find the warning. He who trills his voice in the chanting of the song of songs and treats it as a secular song has no share in the world to come. Apparently, the songs were sung simply as love songs in those early times, or else there would have been no need to warn against such singing. And there came a later time when the book was seriously challenged and very nearly lost its place in the canon of Scripture. The debate on its suitability was at its height in the second century AD. One of the great rabbis who participated was Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva was an outstanding leader of the Jewish people, a deeply devout man who was to be tortured to death by the Roman pagans for his unshakable faith in God.
An inspired and inspiring martyr who delivered his soul to his maker with the words here or Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. In the debate on the song of songs, it was Rabbi Akiva who stepped forward to uphold the right of this book to a place in the Holy Scriptures. He surely understood the meaning of love at its best. For this Rabbi, as a young shepherd, had fallen deeply in love with his master's daughter who gave up her riches and the comforts of her home to elope with the young shepherd. Now as a greater respected Rabbi, he spoke for the song of songs in deeply moving and passionate words. The entire universe is not as worthy as the day on which the song of songs was given to Israel. For though all the writings are holy, the song of songs are the holy of holies. Of course, not one man's opinion, nor one aspect of the book could justify its admission
to the Bible. There were other factors. First was the name of King Solomon which occurs in the text in chapter 3. What is that coming up from the wilderness, like a column of smoke, perfumed with morn and frankincense with all the fragrant powders of the merchant, behold it is the litter of Solomon, go forth O daughters of Zion and behold King Solomon with the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding, on the day of the gladness of his heart. Because of such passages, the title of the book states the song of songs which is Solomon's and of course the Bible tells us that King Solomon did compose one thousand and five songs and he is hailed as the greatest of all Old Testament kings. In the book of kings, we read of the Shulamite maiden, the lovely girl who nursed King David
in his dying days and who after his death was under King Solomon's protection. We can identify the lovely maiden with the Shulamite woman in the song of songs chapter 6. Return, return O Shulamite, return, return that we may look upon you. How graceful are your feet in sandals or quaintly made me. Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand. Your eyes are pools in hechbun by the gate of Bathrabim. Your nose is like a tower of Lebanon overlooking Damascus. Your head crowns you like caramel and your flowing locks are like purple. A king is held captive in the treasures. In these references to Solomon and to the Shulamite maiden, even on the very surface of the book, the rabbis found some reason to include it in the canon of scripture.
Another and a stronger reason was the interpretation they placed upon the love songs. This is the story they said, not of mere human and physical love, but an allegory of spiritual love between God and his people. An allegory is, as we know, a story told in language which permit a quite different and deeper meaning than the surface meaning of the words themselves. The allegory was not unlike other writings of Solomon and writings of the prophet, such as Huzia and Isaiah. It was not difficult to believe that the song of songs too had an allegorical purpose. We shall return to the rabbis exact interpretation of the allegory later on. But for now, it's enough to note that the song of songs was accepted by the Council of Rabbis in the year 90 AD and has never been seriously challenged since that time. The early Christians, so regarded it in its allegorical meaning, and made of it a classic
in the Christian church. Some Christian fathers identified the maiden of the song of song with Mary, others as in the King James Version, interpreted the book as expressing the love of the church for Christ and Christ awakening the church with His calling. Despite this, the song of songs was still appealing to many readers, simply as love songs, to be taken literally. In the Talmud, we read that Solomon wrote three books, the song of songs, the book of Proverbs, and the book of Ecclesiastes. Which did he write first? One Rabbi looked at human nature and its normal behavior, and claimed Solomon wrote according to this pattern. When a man is young, his sings love songs. When he becomes a mature adult, he atters practical wise Proverbs. But when he becomes old, he cries out against the vanity of things.
Now we may ask, how do scholars regard the song of songs? Dr. MJ Cohen, the author of the Pathways through the Bible, praises the beauty of its lyrics with these words. We walk with the lovers amidst country scenes, where doves hide in the clefts of the rocks, gazelles leap over the hills, trees are clad in varied foliage, and flowers with bright colors and richly-cented perfumes are everywhere. The golden sun of the holy land plays over the landscape, and the gentle breezes of spring blow across green meadows. This leads to one scholarly interpretation, one which we know as the shepherd theory. The land which Dr. Cohen described is, of course, traditionally, a land of shepherds. The Shulamite maiden of the book loves a native shepherd, and to win her away from this love, King Solomon brings her to his palace amidst royal surroundings. But his plans fail.
The constancy of the maid's devotion to her lover cannot be shaken. Her will is fortified by a love that is strong as death. In the end, the embarrassed but wise King must make way for the true lover. Here we have a fascinating fable. The conflict is genuinely dramatic. The climax is powerful and ethical. A second interpretation is offered by scholars. This theory considers the book to be a collection of love songs and wedding songs, which were sung during the marriage festivities in ancient Israel. These celebrations continued for seven days, and included make-believe royalty. The bride and the groom were seated upon thrones, and greeted as king and queen by singers and guests. The bride groom was extravagantly praised for his manliness, the bride for her charming beauty. King Solomon and the lovely Shulamite maiden were highest symbols of majesty and beauty. Hence all lovers in the wedding festivities were compared to them.
Whatever theories colors adopt, on one point we are all agreed. The exquisite purity of the language and beauty of the songs. Here is ideal love, expressed in superb symbols, and its appeal is so strong that it draws the human heart irresistibly. So let us look for a moment at the book's beauty simply as poetic expressions of ideal love. I mentioned just now its use of superb symbols. Symbols, figures of speech, metaphors, and similes are the very cornerstones of all poetry, and symbolic writing is stronger than writing in allegory. In allegory, the imaginary figures are used as equivalents for the real figures, and the objects involved have no independent reality of their own. Symbolism is also superior to literal speech because it holds both existential reality and reality which represents something beyond reality.
Let us look at the symbolic writing in the song of songs. I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys. As a lily among Brambo, so is my love among maidens. As an apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. Here is a picture of a girl in love, and yet also a picture of exquisite flowers and of trees and fruit which express that love. All the beauty and delight of love and its joys are found in symbols of light and shadow, of color and taste and scent. A garden shut up is my sister, my bride, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed. I am come into my garden, my sister, my bride.
I have gathered my mirror with my spice, I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey. I have drunk my wine with my milk, eat her friends, drink, yes, drink abundantly or beloved. My beloved is gone down to his garden, to the bed of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies. This is beautiful symbolic writing, pure poetry, and its appeal is inescapable. Symbols of love and beauty, but how are these poetic words of love reconciled to the canon of scripture? It is time to look at the interpretation which synagogue and church have placed upon these songs and use to enrich our concepts of spiritual love. The council of rabbis, which established once and for all the inclusion of the song of
songs in the Bible, saw the maiden Israel in the maiden of the songs, who says, I sleep but my heart waketh, what awakens Israel to the love of God? The lips of the beloved, like a thread of scarlet. They were the lips of the high priest, pronouncing the holy name of God on the day of atonement. And thereby, causing the scarlet sense of Israel to become white as snow. The heap of lilies which encircle the maiden's waste, where the seventy elders of the Bible, to whom the law had been given. Obviously, the rabbis wanted to preserve this sweet human and beautiful book, so they found the entire work to be a metaphor and a exquisite symbol. Thus, the love of God, the brideroom, is shown toward Israel, the bride. As we have already said, the Christian church enlarged the symbols to include Christ and
Mary and the soul. Is the book of importance in our use of the Bible in worship today? Is the story alive for us still? The story of Israel's faithfulness to God, of God's love for Israel, and the power of true love to resist worldly riches or any other attempt to shake our faith? It is alive in twentieth century synagogues. Each Friday evening, when it is the custom to read the song of songs on the eve of the Sabbath. In Safid, near the sea of Galilee, ever since the middle ages, the rabbis perform a ceremony at sunset each Friday evening. Rest in Sabbath white robes, they leave the city as the sun is sinking, and go to the mountains nearby to welcome the arrival of the Sabbath with hymns. It is an unforgettable experience to participate in this ceremony.
Come, my beloved, let us meet the bride, let us welcome the Sabbath. The cry to come in worship is beautifully real and alive on the mountain slopes where the songs were written, and the land where the love of God for his children was so well understood so long ago. It is sheer delight to read the allegorical interpretation of the song of songs as developed by the rabbis, and the entire work is available in English. God is here represented as picking out Israel as a man chooses his bride. Now art all fair, my love, and there is no spot in thee. These words apply well to Israel, when at Mount Sinai in the days of Moses, Israel pledged to obey God's law. This was the beginning of Israel's relationship to God, the people's willingness to obey and love the Lord, and experience likened to the marriage vow between husband and wife.
The wanderings of the wilderness, which followed for many years, are read as the honeymoon season with the trusting bride ready to follow her brideroom, whether so ever he leads her. I sleep, but my heart waketh, hark, my beloved knocketh. Open to me my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled one, for my head is filled with dew, my locks with the drops of the night. I sleep, say Israel, as to the practice of rights and ceremonies, but my heart waketh to perform acts of loving kindness. I sleep as regards the temple and the sacrifices, but my heart waketh to the synagogue and its prayers. Who is she that looketh forth as the dawn, fair as the moon, and clear as the sun? According to the rabbis, Israel is compared to the sun at the break of dawn. Indeed, Israel's redemption shall come like the dawn, not with sudden outburst, but
by slow degrees unfolding into perfect freedom gradually step by step. I went down into the garden of nuts, to look at the green plants of the valley, to see whether the vine budded and the pomegranates were in flower. As association with the garden of nuts is significant, it symbolizes the world's attitude toward the community of Israel. Remove from a heap of nuts a single one and the whole pile may collapse. Thus it is that if a single Jew commits an offense, the entire people will be held accountable for the misdeed. How true this message is for us today. One more symbol, the seal of love. The ancient peoples of near eastern lands carried seals with them, either on a ring on the finger or as a necklace near the heart.
The maid in the songs cannot bear to be separated from her lover. She pleases to be close to him as his seal. Set me as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal upon thy arm, for love is strong as death. One as unyielding as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a flame of God. Many waters cannot extinguish love, nor can the flood sweep it away. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned. Here in the closing chapter of the book, the Frank Aval of Love reaches its impressive climax, where it is described as a mighty force, the very flame of God. Thus, the basic truth underlying the song of songs is emphasized that natural, true, and pure love is holy and divine. One rabbi describes this flame of love as follows.
If there is harmony and love between men and women, God is between them. If there is no harmony, no love, God departs from them and only the flame is left to consume. Those concerned with marriage teaching and counseling today can well agree with this analysis of married life. Let us repeat. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned. Surely, the physical basis of love is extolled in the song of songs. But it is only the foundation for the spiritual relationship of the couple. Against all trials and temptations, perfect love endures. Without spiritual strength, mere physical love is not ideal and cannot endure. The great scholar Robert Gordes, who wrote excellent works on the Bible and especially
on the song of songs, remarks that it is in this sense that the modern reader will approach the song of songs, and that modern reader, without reference to an allegory, can nevertheless echo rabbi Akiva to whom we referred earlier, defending the book as the Holy of Holies. Holy as a song of pure natural love that is the holiness of human life. That is an eternal message and how many thousands of volumes have been written on this theme. Today, we are fortunate in the codes of morality of our age and the increased understanding of human nature and man's life of the flesh and of the spirit which free us to accept this song freely, to rejoice in their beauty and to see in them the expression of the best and ideal striving of man toward perfect love. To quote Gordes again, the book gives expression in poetic and hence in deathless terms to
the authentic outlook of life which recognizes body and soul, matter and spirit, both as the twin aspects of the great and unending miracle called life. Let us conclude with that passage from the song of songs which is the eternal message of hope and renewal, the welcoming of life and the coming of springtime. Arise my love, my fair one, and come away, or low the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land. Light unto my path, radio programs exploring the Old Testament.
The series is planned, prepared and narrated by Dr. Menahem Mansour, chairman of the Department of Hebrew and Semitic Studies at the University of Wisconsin, script writing by J. Helen Stanley, music by Don Vagley, production by Carl Schmitt. Light unto my path is produced by radio station WHOA of the University of Wisconsin, under a grant from the National Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of Educational Broadcasters. This is the N-A-E-B radio network.
- Light unto my path
- Producing Organization
- University of Wisconsin
- WHA (Radio station : Madison, Wis.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Series Description
- This series explores the books of the Old Testament, how they were written, how they were preserved, and why they continue to have influence.
- Broadcast Date
- Media type
Composer: Voegeli, Don
Host: Grauer, Ben
Narrator: Manning, Dean
Producing Organization: University of Wisconsin
Producing Organization: WHA (Radio station : Madison, Wis.)
Production Manager: Schmidt, Karl
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 60-50-5 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Light unto my path,” 1960-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed November 30, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-2805253d.
- MLA: “Light unto my path.” 1960-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. November 30, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-2805253d>.
- APA: Light unto my path. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-2805253d