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!
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • 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.