Passover's 'The Song of Songs' Is Correct Name, Not 'Solomon's Song'

Philologos Solves Dilemma With a Dose of Solomonic Wisdom

To Play The King: Bible translator John Wycliffe first inserted the name of Solomon (depicted here in an 18th century print) into the title of ‘The Song of Songs.’
Getty Images
To Play The King: Bible translator John Wycliffe first inserted the name of Solomon (depicted here in an 18th century print) into the title of ‘The Song of Songs.’

By Philologos

Published March 31, 2013, issue of April 05, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

One of the customs of the week of Passover is the reading in the synagogue — done at different times in different traditions — of the biblical poem of “The Song of Songs.” “The Song of Songs,” or “The Song of Solomon,” as it is called by the King James and other English Bibles, is associated with Passover because it is a love poem set in the Palestinian spring, which comes in late February or early March and generally lasts until mid-April. (This year, because the winter’s rains, unusually heavy at first, stopped almost entirely by the end of January, spring has come, and will depart, early.) The poem is full of spring imagery, such as (in the King James Version):

“For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. 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. The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell.”

This has always puzzled me, not because of the “turtle” part — the King James Version is referring to the turtledove or wild pigeon, which indeed coos a great deal in its spring mating season — but because the tiny flowers and fruit of the budding grapevine have no smell at all. Perhaps when you’re in the intoxicating throes of first love, they do. In any case, though, what I wanted to write about today was not grapevines or turtledoves, but the two different titles: “The Song of Songs” vs. “The Song of Solomon.”

Among Jews, the biblical poem has always been known as “Shir ha-Shirim” or “The Song of Songs,” after its first, introductory line, shir ha-shirim asher li’shlomo, “[This is] The song of songs, which is Solomon’s.” It is one of three books in the Bible that are attributed to King Solomon, two of them explicitly and one by implication.

The first two are The Song of Songs and Proverbs, which begins “[These are] The proverbs of Solomon, the son of David, king of Israel.” The third is Kohelet or Ecclesiastes, whose opening verse is, “[These are] The words of Kohelet the son of David, king in Jerusalem.”

The Hebrew word kohelet, which occurs nowhere else in the Bible, is an enigmatic one, a grammatically feminine noun formed from kahal, “congregation” or “audience,” and commonly taken to mean a preacher or someone addressing a crowd. Jewish tradition, and Christianity in its wake, assumed that this preacher-king was Solomon and that he wrote the erotically passionate Songs of Songs when he was young; Proverbs, with its sententious wisdom, in middle age, and Kohelet when he was old and disillusioned.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.