The Passionate Woman Who Wrote 'Song of Songs'

Bible scholar Renita Weems talks about the origin of the only book in the Bible that's secular and told in a woman's voice.

Rev. Dr. Renita J. Weems, associate professor of Old Testament studies at Vanderbilt University and a Cosby Visiting Professor at Spelman College, is a highly respected authority on women and spirituality. She especially loves to re-examine conventional wisdom about the "intense, stubborn, and strong women" in the Bible. She discusses her newest book,

What Matters Most

, on the heroine of "Song of Solomon," with Beliefnet.

How do you know that it was a woman who wrote Song of Songs?

It's the only book in the Bible where a woman's voice predominates and is in the first person. The imagery, the language, and the emotions that are expressed are ones that one would expect and associate with a woman. [Scholarship] suggests that these are lyrics and songs that originated with women, which women would have traditionally sung at wedding ceremonies and in day-to-day activities when they were gathering to celebrate romance and love and coming to womanhood. As a scholar I'm willing to concede that male editors are responsible for its final editing and placement in the canon. But it certainly rings true as a female composition.



Why do you think it was attributed to Solomon?

The name of Solomon was probably appended to the book later. Solomon was certainly a renowned figure in the Bible, a romantic figure, even a scandalous figure, a man who had 700 wives and concubines and a relationship with the Queen of Sheba. In addition to his wisdom and being the son of David, he is remembered as one who was amorous and maybe something of a gigolo. So you can imagine how his name became attached to this song.

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It seems to be about a woman who is deeply in love, but difficulties stand in her way. Could you summarize the basic story?

She is an unnamed woman referred to as "the Shulammite," indicating that she was probably born in the village of Shulem. Her story is typical of the literature of obstructed love. In the great love stories, there's some reason that the lovers can't consummate their love, they cannot get together, somebody or something keeps them from each other, and it's not until the end of the song, movie, or book that the lovers come together-or not.

Is she a black woman?

She says, "I am black

and

lovely," or "I am black

but

lovely," depending upon the translation. "My brothers put me out into the vineyard and made me work there. Do not stare at me because I am black." There seems to be something going on with her color, not in terms of race, but more in terms of class distinction. The fact that she has to work out in the sun suggests a woman of a lower class, whereas upper class women do not have to toil in the sun.

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