Tag Archives: Song of Songs

My New Article in JSOT – Song of Songs and Canonicity

JSOT-CoThe Journal for the Study of the Old Testament just published my latest academic article on the canonicity of the Song of Songs. Full citation is:

Mark Giszczak, “The Canonical Status of Song of Songs in m. Yadayim 3.5,” JSOT 41 (2016): 205-220.

Right now, you can read the full text of it on their website here:


PDF here: Giszczak_CanonicitySongOfSongs_JSOT


St. Thomas Aquinas Sixteen Precepts for Acquiring Knowledge

About six years ago, I did a post on St. Thomas Aquinas’ “16 Precepts for Acquiring Knowledge.”  The precepts are from a letter that Aquinas wrote to a certain “John.” Now, some scholars doubt the authenticity of the precepts and I’m no Medievalist to argue over such things, so I’ll leave that up to you. I first became interested in the precepts upon reading A. G. Sertillanges’ book, The Intellectual Life, which is loosely based on the precepts. Last year, I used the precepts in an introductory course that I co-taught and for lack of a standard translation out there, I did my own. I’ll provide the Latin alongside my translation here so you can judge whether it’s a good one or whether there are errors. I hope you all find it useful. And this is the only place you’ll find it on the whole internet.

St. Thomas Aquinas

Sixteen Precepts for Acquiring Knowledge (De modo studendi)

Because it was asked of me, John, my beloved in Christ, how you ought to study in the in acquiring of a treasury of knowledge, such counsel is delivered to you by me:

  1. That by rivulets, and not immediately into the sea, we choose to enter, because by the easier we must come at the more difficult. This is my warning then and your instruction:
  2. I bid you to be slow to speak
  3. and slow in coming to the place of talking.
  4. Embrace purity of conscience.
  5. Do not cease to pray.
  6. Love to keep to your cell on a regular basis if you wish to be admitted to the wine cellar.
  7. Show yourself amiable to all.
  8. Pay no heed to others’ affairs.
  9. Do not be overly familiar with anyone, because excessive familiarity breeds contempt and yields subtraction from the ability to study.
  10. In no way enter into the sayings and doings of secular persons.
  11. Above all, flee conversation; do not omit to imitate the footsteps of the saints and the good.
  12. Do not consider from whom you learn,
  13. but commit to memory whatever good is said.
  14. It is the same with what you read and hear, work so that you may understand; resolve each of your doubts.
  15. And busy yourself to store whatever you are able in the closet of your mind, as desiring to fill a vessel.
  16. do not seek what is too high for you.


Following these footsteps, you will put forth and bear branches and fruit in the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts as long as you have life. If you pursue this, you will be able to obtain that which you desire.

Quia quaesisti a me, in Christo mihi carissime Ioannes, qualiter te studere oporteat in thesauro scientiae acquirendo, tale a me tibi traditur consilium:

  1. ut per rivulos, non statim in mare, eligas introire, quia per faciliora ad difficiliora oportet devenire. Haec est ergo monitio mea et instructio tua.
  2. Tardi loquum te esse iubeo
  3. et tarde ad locutorium accedentem;
  4. conscientiae puritatem amplectere.
  5. Orationi vacare non desinas;
  6. cellam frequenter diligas si vis in cellam vinariam introduci.
  7. Omnibus te amabilem exhibe;
  8. nihil quaere penitus de factis aliorum;
  9. nemini te multum familiarem ostendas, quia nimia familiaritas parit contemptum et subtractionis a studio materiam subministrat;
  10. de verbis et factis saecularium nullatenus te intromittas;
  11. discursus super omnia fugias; sanctorum et bonorum imitari vestigia non omittas;
  12. non respicias a quo audias,
  13. sed quidquid boni dicatur, memoriae recommenda;
  14. ea quae legis et audis, fac ut intelligas; de dubiis te certifica;
  15. et quidquid poteris in armariolo mentis reponere satage, sicut cupiens vas implere;
  16. altiora te ne quaesieris.




Illa sequens vestigia, frondes et fructus in vinea domini Sabaoth utiles, quandiu vitam habueris, proferes et produces. Haec si sectatus fueris, ad id attingere poteris, quod affectas.

Latin text: Thomas Aquinas, De modo studendi (Textum Taurini, 1954), Corpus Thomisticum, http://www.josephkenny.joyeurs.com/CDtexts/Latin/ModoStud%28false%29.htm (accessed June 29, 2011). Translation is mine. Copyright 2011 CatholicBibleStudent.com.

I should note that the “wine cellar” (cellam vinarium) in Precept #6 is a quotation from the Vulgate rendering of Song of Songs 2:4, “introduxit me in cellam vinariam ordinavit in me caritatem” (He brought me into the wine cellar, he ordered charity in me). This little idea, which in the Hebrew is closer to “house of wine” and dynamically, “banquet hall,” becomes important in Medieval spiritual reading of the Song.


Hippolytus’ Commentary on the Song of Songs Now Published

A while back, I wrote a post on Hippolytus’ commentary on the Song of Songs, which is the first extant Christian commentary on the Song. Unfortunately, it has never been published in an English translation…until now. Yancy Smith wrote his dissertation on this topic and incorporated a translation of the commentary, including translations from the Georgian texts. Now, he has thoroughly revised and changed the dissertation into a book being published for 2013, but now available from Gorgias Press. So, if you are studying the Song of Songs or its interpretations and are in the market for ancient Christian commentaries, you can purchase the book, which is available now with a big discount from the Gorgias Press website. The book is entitled, The Mystery of Anointing: Hippolytus’ Commentary on the Song of Songs in Social and Critical Contexts.


Gregory of Nyssa on the Song of Songs

Another story of a book hunt: I was using Richard Norris volume on the Song of Songs from the Church’s Bible series. It uses extensive quotations from Gregory of Nyssa’s Homilies on the Song of Songs. There’s a note in the front of the book that the quotations are from Norris’ own translation of Gregory, copyright 2003. I thought that looked promising, but turns out he did not publish it until 2006 and at the point it was published with Brill (ISBN: 9789004130616). Good luck finding a copy! It is no longer for sale from Brill, Amazon does not carry it and only 2 or 3 libraries own a copy. However, I found that it was re-published by SBL in 2011 (ISBN: 1589831055). That sounded good, but again only about three libraries own it. I called one of them and they told me the book was actually only on order, not in their possession. So, I found the book on the SBL online bookstore, but it said “forthcoming,” meaning “not yet published.” I called SBL publications and asked when the book would really be published. They told me that there’s no scheduled date. And really weird—I looked on their website today and there’s no trace of the book. The other thing I found out that probably affects what is going here is that Norris died in 2005. I would imagine that complicates the publishing of one of his books. Anyway, I’ll probably have to settle for the older translation of the homilies by Casimir McCambley from 1986.


Bernard of Clairvaux (and Gilbert of Hoyland and John of Ford) On the Song of Songs

One of the most important Christian commentaries on the Song of Songs is Bernard of Clairvaux’s series of 86 sermons. Unfortunately, he only got through Song 3:1 or so. Another Cistercian abbot, Gilbert of Hoyland from Swineshead in Lincolnshire, decided to keep up the sermon series and picked up at the beginning of chapter 3. He got in 47 sermons before his death and made it to Song 5:9. Once Gilbert died, another Cistercian abbot, John of Ford, took up the torch and wrote 120 sermons finally making it all the way through the Song of Songs (and the longest sermon series in the Middle Ages!). The whole series does not read like a commentary, but rather like a sermon series. The point of the sermons is not to focus in and provided a detailed historical critical exegesis of each passage. In fact, in some of the sermons it’s hard to find a mention of the text of Song of Songs at all. Rather, the vast sermon series is a great work of spiritual theology, which examines the nature of the soul’s relationship with God through the lens of the Song of Songs. All of the sermons are available in English translation from the Cistercian Fathers series. All told, there are 14 volumes.


Where is Hippolytus’ Commentary on the Song of Songs?

The very earliest Christian commentary on the Song is that of Hippolytus. Unfortunately, the text of this commentary is only extant in fragments. Despite this fact, Hippolytus’ work remains of great import to the history of Christian interpretation of the Song.

Great, but where is it? Because of its fragmentary nature, no one seems to bother publishing the text of Hippolytus’ commentary. See this footnote from Roland Murphy’s Commentary on the Song of Songs (pp. 14-15):

Only a small portion of the Greek text is accessible in the Migne edition (PG 10, 627-630). Major fragments of the work preserved in various languages are treated in the following: Gottlieb Nathanael Bonwetsch, Studien zu den Kommentarn Hippolyts zum Buche Daniel und zum Hohenliede (TU 16/2 [N.F. 1]; Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1897); idem, Hippolyts Kommentar zum Hohenlied auf Grund von N. Marrs Ausgabe des grusinischen Textes (TU 23/2c [N.F. 8]; Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1902); idem and H. Achelis, eds., Hippolytus Werke, Vol. 1: Hippolyts Kommentar zum Buche Daniel und die Fragmente des Kommentars zum Hohenliede (GCS: Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1897). A Latin translation of the Georgian text is available: Gérard Garitte, Traités d’Hippolyte (CSCO 264; Louvain: Secretariat du CorpusSCO, 1965).

Ok, so it seems that only one guy was all that interested in publishing the text, Mr. Gottlieb Nathanael Bonwetsch. Now, using the magic of Google Books, I ‘m able to link to the 1897 edition of Hippolytus’ Commentary on Daniel and Song of Songs. And I’m also able to link to the 1902 edition of Hippolytus’ Commentary on just the Song of Songs. I can’t find an online copy of the other 1897 work, nor, of course, of the 1965 Latin translation.


It seems though, that a certain Yancy Smith has recently written a dissertation that includes English translations of these text. You can read about is at Roger Pearse’s blog. The dissertation is entitled “Hippolytus’ Commentary on the On the Song of Songs in Social and Critical Context” (2008) and is currently available through ProQuest UMI and perhaps soon through Brill with the title “The Mystery of the Anointing Hippolytus’ Commentary on the On the Song of Songs in Social and Critical Context,” which can be viewed online. The translations of Hippolytus’ work are in a separate section. I have a feeling Mr. Smith could turn the translation section alone into a nice book for us. Perhaps in the next few years, we’ll see it. But for now, he has done everyone a noble service providing these texts in translation online.

[Edited 1/16/18 to fix links]


A House of Wine in the Song of Songs

I was reading the Hebrew of the Song of Songs and notice ??? ???? (the beit hayyayin) in Song 2:4. I thought, “Wait a second! I didn’t remember a ‘House of Wine’ in the Song.” So, I took a look at the English translations and most of them are lousy. Most of them have things like “banqueting house” (ESV, JPS, KJV, RSV, NRSV), “banquet hall” (NAB, NASB, NIV). The Latin has “cellam vinarium” which the Douay-Rheims dutifully translates as “cellar of wine.” This reminds me of St. Thomas’ injunction regarding the mystic wine cellar in his Sixteen Precepts, which I wrote about a while back. Only the translations of the Septuagint get it right as “wine house” (at least Brenton’s translation). So what’s the deal?! Clearly, we clearly have a “house of wine” here and every translation opts for some kind of bizarre dynamic equivalence. Frustrating. My tendency is to believe that the KJV translators were prejudiced against wine drinking and all the more recent translations followed suit. Well, next time anyone asks, you’ll know that a House of Wine is to be found in the regions of the Song of Songs.


Marcus Jastrow, Father of Morris Jastrow, Jr.

Ok, this one is really confusing. I have been using two works by “Jastrow,”  thinking they were the same guy. But, lo and behold, they are a father-and-son duo. Marcus Jastrow was a Talmudic scholar who wrote a great dictionary of rabbinic sources, this is a must-have for students of Hebrew and Aramaic. Marcus’ son is Morris Jastrow, Jr. who wrote a commentary on Song of Songs, which I have been reading. The confusing part is why Morris gets the “Jr.” appellation when his father’s name is “Marcus.” There must be some naming conventions that I don’t know about.  Maybe he was named after his grandfather? Or maybe the family thought that “Marcus” sounded too antiquated, so they named the baby “Morris” yet still after his father? Or maybe they thought that “Morris” was etymologically related to “Marcus”?


Egyptian Keys and the Pope

Egyptian Wooden Key

Photo from globalegyptianmuseum.org

A couple days ago I learned something new which shed light on at least two Bible passages for me.

What did I learn? That keys in Ancient Egypt were made out of wood and were very large–we’re talking two feet long or so. They were so big and heavy that they often had to be carried on the shoulder. Egyptian locks had pins just like modern locks, but the pins were a lot larger and made of wood. The key hole itself would have been very large–large enough to put a hand through. (See Paul Haupt, The Book of Canticles, 37).

So, where does this shed light on the Bible? First, Song of Songs 5:4 says “My lover put his hand through the opening; my heart trembled within me, and I grew faint when he spoke” (NAB). Now, this makes no sense if the keyhole is the size of modern ones, even skeleton key size. The keyhole has to be rather big to fit a hand through it. The poetic image makes no sense if the key hole is not big enough for fingers or a hand. Now did Israelites use Egyptian locks? Maybe not, but the technology was close at hand for over a thousand years in a bordering country so they could have easily used such locks.

The second place where this Egyptian key makes a difference is Isaiah 22. Here’s how the passage reads:

20 In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah,
21 and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your sash on him, and will commit your authority to his hand. And he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.
22 And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.

Woman holding egyptian key

Photo from Rice University

Now, many Catholic commentators have associated this description of Eliakim as at the al-bayit (over the house) with Peter in the New Testament. Eliakim is assigned to be over David’s house, not to be king himself, but to be more a prime minister. Peter’s assignment by Jesus is very similar. And if Jesus is the legitimate heir to David’s throne, as he claims to be, then this comparison of Eliakim to Peter makes all the more sense. In Matthew 16:19, Jesus tells Peter two things that reference this passage in Isaiah 22. Matthew 16:19 – “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed1 in heaven” (ESV). First, Peter will be given the “keys of the kingdom.” This sounds a lot like Eliakim getting the key to the House of David. Second, whatever Peter binds on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever he looses on earth will be loosed in heaven. This binding/loosing power sounds a lot like Eliakim’s power to open and shut, a power which cannot be overridden. That’s where the Pope comes in. Since he’s the successor of Peter, he gets the power of the keys. And it turns out these are big old keys! Makes me feel a bit more comfortable with the huge keys Peter normally carries in icons and statues.

St. Peter Huge Keys

Photo from Capernaum, Israel

Ok, so what about the Egyptian keys? Well, in Isaiah we hear that the key will be upon Eliakim’s shoulder. Why would anyone put a key on their shoulder? I mean, it would fall off, right? It’s too small, right? Turns out though, that ancient Egyptians, who had such huge wooden keys would carry them on their shoulders. Can you imagine if your house key, barn key, office key and car key were all 20 inches long?! It’s not exactly like you could slip those into your pocket on a little metal ring. You’d have to carry them on your shoulder!

I even found a drawing of a Cairo merchant carrying some of these keys on his shoulder. Check it out!
(Image from T. K. Cheyne, The Book of the Prophet Isaiah, 160)


Which is better: wine or love?

There’s a wonderful line in Song of Songs 1:4

We will praise your love more than wine!

Franz Delitzsch (whose commentary I’ve been reading) brilliantly comments, “The wine represents the gifts of the king, in contradistinction to his person” (F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes, trans. by M. Easton, [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1891], 23). Why is this so brilliant? Well, it reminds me of something that preachers often say, that we should “seek the Giver, not the gifts.” If we read the beautiful poetry of the Song allegorically (even just a little) and allow the king to represent God and the woman/women to represent His people, then the exclamation reminds us to seek God’s love, to seek a relationship with him, not just the gifts he provides to us. For indeed, his love is far better than any wine or other princely gift that he may offer to us.

Human relationships work the same way. If anyone ever tries to buy or bribe your friendship (or worse), at first you may be attracted because of the “stuff” you might get out of the relationship. But in the end, you’ll be more disgusted with the person attempting to buy your friendship than anything else. You may even be disgusted at yourself for being tempted by the notion of being bought. Our relationships with one another don’t work right if we try to “buy” each other. Love is about self-less giving, not about an exchange of goods. Persons are ends in themselves and deserve to be treated as such–and to treat themselves as such. So next time you’re tempted to try and bribe someone or to regard God’s gifts above his Person, remember Song of Songs 1:4, that His love is far better than wine.