Category 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, (accessed June 29, 2011). Translation is mine. Copyright 2011

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.

Bernard of Clairvaux, Gilbert of Hoyland and John of Ford on the Song of Songs

Since I could not find a similar list elsewhere, I have compiled a list of the volumes in the Cistercian Fathers series on the Song of Songs with their corresponding biblical references. As I described in a previous post, the commentary was begun by Bernard, continued by Gilbert and finished by John of Ford. This list matches each volume with the verses being commented on. It is worth noting that some verses are commented on in multiple sections and that not every single “sermon” in the collection deals directly and explicitly with the text of the Song of Songs. I hope this list may be useful to someone.

  1. Bernard, On the Song of Songs, Vol. I, Cistercian Fathers 4, Song 1:1-2.
  2. Bernard, On the Song of Songs, Vol. II, Cistercian Fathers 7, Song 1:3-16.
  3. Bernard, On the Song of Songs, Vol. III, Cistercian Fathers 31, Song 2:1-15.
  4. Bernard, On the Song of Songs, Vol. IV, Cistercian Fathers 40, Song 2:16–3:3.
  5. Gilbert, On the Song of Songs, Vol. I, Cistercian Fathers 14, Song 3:1-6.
  6. Gilbert, On the Song of Songs, Vol. II, Cistercian Fathers 20, Song 3:7–4:10.
  7. Gilbert, On the Song of Songs, Vol. III, Cistercian Fathers 26, Song 4:10–5:10.
  8. John of Ford, On the Song of Songs, Vol. I, Cistercian Fathers 29, Song 5:8-11.
  9. John of Ford, On the Song of Songs, Vol. II, Cistercian Fathers 39, Song 5:11-14.
  10. John of Ford, On the Song of Songs, Vol. III, Cistercian Fathers 43, Song 5:14–6:2.
  11. John of Ford, On the Song of Songs, Vol. IV, Cistercian Fathers 44, Song 6:3-12.
  12. John of Ford, On the Song of Songs, Vol. V, Cistercian Fathers 45, Song 6:12–7:7.
  13. John of Ford, On the Song of Songs, Vol. VI, Cistercian Fathers 46, Song 7:8–8:5.
  14. John of Ford, On the Song of Songs, Vol. VII, Cistercian Fathers 47, Song 8:5-14.

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.

John of Ford on Biblical Authorship

When discussing whether Solomon himself or some of his companions wrote Song of Songs 8:11-12, he pronounces the question unanswerable and says,

Since we all agree that the voice is that of the Holy Ghost, why squabble about his instrument? Let us rather look for what the Holy Spirit wanted to convey to use in these words, seeing that he is the sole author of this marriage song, in the deepest sense.

–John of Ford, “Sermon One Hundred and Sixteen,” in Sermons on the Final Verses of the Song of Songs, translated by  Wendy Mary Beckett (Cistercian Fathers 47; Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 193.

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”?