Although this work appears in the Old Testament as a canonic Canticle, it also appears to be entirely secular in its content. There is no mention of a divine figure, neither as a monotheistic being nor a member of any known pantheon of Gods. In addition, its secular content is concerned entirely with the practice of human coitus and the overiding pretensions of romantic love. No religious allergories are to be detected and if there is a moral to be absorbed then, beyond the transitory nature of human culpability and wishful thinking, it is only the certainty of human existence itself.


This is an examination, commentary, fresh translation and a freely interpretive presentation of the above work. Its intention is an attempt to clarify both the structure and the meaning of what has always seemed to be an uncharacteristic canon of the Old Testament and to place it into some kind of perspective therein. The author of this Old Testament book is given as King Solomon but it is not narrated as being in the first person. Its existence today is by way of the Greek Septuagint, into which the original Hebrew was translated in the 4th. Century BC. The original Hebrew script was lost when the Romans destroyed the temple of Jerusalem in the 1st, Century AD. The Septuagint text however survived in several versions of which the Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Alexandricus and Codex Vaticanicus are the main sources.

The text, per se, consists of eight chapters of apparently random lines of poetical observations on aspects of romantic love, spoken by two individual voices supported by a chorus. Many of these observations are quite oblique in meaning and are mostly concealed within sexual symbolism and euphemism that sometimes overspills into explicit reference. However, the lines do not present a cohesive whole or even a connected web of dialogue and, apart from the Codex Sinaiticus, are not attributed to any character by means of rubric annotations. Even in this latter text, such rubrics are confined to single gender (ie. ‘Νυμφιος’ – [Bridegroom]: ‘Νυμφη’ – [Bride]:, or a group feminie gender (ie.Νεανιδες’ – [Women,)

The readers themselves are left to deduce an acceptable scenario with the few clues available in the text itself. The two individual voices are seen to belong to a young maiden and an important man respectively; the chorus to a group of retainers belonging to the latter. It would seem logical that the ‘Νυμφος’ should be identified as King Solomon himself and, this being so, the chorus could then be reasonably identified as his harem of wives and concuines - (said within the text to number over one hundred and forty!). However the identity of the ‘Νυμφη’ remains concealed until the penultimate chapter and even then the reader is required to leap to a tenuous conclusion. At this point the whole cast, save the ‘Νυμφη’ herself, unite in a powerful cry "Return, return, O Shulammite that we may gaze once more upon you" Shorn of any other identification within the text, we might reasonably assume that this mysterious ‘Shulammite’ is the ‘Νυμφη’ of these eight chapters of romantic adulation.

However, the action implicit in the whole piece is that of a new woman arriving to join the harem of a sultan or king and who is not of their nationality, class or even station in life but that the king is enchanted by her follows almost inevitably. As might be expected, this Shulammite is not welcomed by the rest of the harem and they make fun of her, resenting her as a foreign beauty

The nature of the attached Rubrics are clearly at odds with the actual Greek text itself and, in allocating the soubriquet of ‘Bride’ and ‘Bridegroom’ to the two principals, the Rubrics would seem to be a determined intrusion to divert the readers attention from the earthly content of their conversational exchanges. These are clearly those of a man and a woman discussing their sexual dreams, desires and expectations. That the conversations are conducted with symbolic reference and allegory to the world they both individually inhabit cannot be allowed to divert attention to the implicit earthly context. Nor should it be allowed to be sublimated into consideration of any heavenly or other unworldly context.


The eight chapters comprising this work exhibit no real continuity nor indeed a contextual whole. It does not appear to be written as a play form even though the ‘voices’ are gathered together in the same setting. Any connectivity is left to readers to construct within their own minds, for each chapter exists as a unique vignette in its own right. Were it a contemporary work, written in our own time, then it could well attract comparison with the works of Harold Pinter, Samuel Becket and, possibly, James Joyce rather than any mainstream genre. However, unless it can be dismissed as a dream sequence or even as a legendary folk tale, it can only be taken in a purely literal context. Any attempt to ‘sanitize’ the overt sexual imagery within the text or to attempt to steer or ‘allegorize ‘ it into a religious role is to defy credibility.

Chapter one precipitates the reader unequivocally into the middle of a conversation between the Shulammite and the women of King Solomon’s harem. The subject is, apparently, sexual foreplay. The remainder of this and the subsequent seven chapters, recount the evolution of activity to eventual acceptance of the Shulammite into the harem, her subsequent consumation with Solomon, temporary rejection and eventual reconciliation. However the whole text depends on quite remote hyperbole and a sexual symbolism drawn from nature, natural behavioural patterns and seasonal events.

A translated text now follows with the attached Rubrics and to explain the philosophy of the translation, thus comparing the original Septuagint Greek text with the freely interpretive nature of the translation per se. An accompanying Greek text is available for comparison and it should be noted that this version found in the Codex Sinaiticus is annotated with Rubrics, which seem to have been added to the original Hebrerw/Greek translation at a later date. Though obviously intended to clarify the text, they do a disservice by allocating identities to the speakers which are not reflected in the text itself. Therefore, although the terms ,‘brother’ or ‘sister’, are freely intermingled within the Greek text together with the terms ‘beloved’ or ‘lover’, the Rubrics have be consistently translated as above, and the ‘Daughters of Jerusalem’ likewise always translated as the’Women of the Harem’. It is hoped that this approach will clarify the translation for the reader.


Chapter I

The Shulammite:

1:2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth on mine.
Since your peerless breasts are sweeter than wine

1:3 And your fragrant perfume is in everyway appealing
Proclaiming the very presence of itself everywhere

1:4 All maidens will follow you and seek to emulate you
Quickly, take me with you, invest me with your fragrance.

The Shulammite informs the
harem of Solomon’s summons:

For the King has summoned me to come into his presence

The harem women congratulate the Shulammite

We rejoice with you and delight in your good fortune
Now your breasts will be welcome and sweeter than wine!

So the women welcome the Shulammite
Her name is acclaimed

We welcome you willingly, and with great joy, into our midst.

The Shulammite replies

1:5 I am black but beautiful, daughters of Jerusalem
As black as the tents of Kedar; as are the shields of Solomon

1:6 Do not look down upon me because I am different,
Because the sun has cast its shadow upon me.
My mother’s sons cornered me in a vineyard,
Imprisoned me, fought over me and violated me.
I was not able to protect my own ‘vineyard’!

The Shulammite,
now in Solomon’s presence

1:7 Tell me you, to whom my soul aspires,
Where do you graze your flocks and rest at midday?
Why should I be the only one veiled amongst your flock?


1;8 If you know not, unveil yourself beautiful creature
And be amongst these other beautiful women
Then follow at their heels, as if a flock of sheep
And display your charms, before the tent of the shepherd

1:9 You are like a beautiful young mare, harnessed that I might plough.
Yet you seem to think that you are the the equal of me

The Harem Women to the Shulammite

1:10 Although you are ripe fruit, ready for harvesting
You are too headstrong and in much need of training

1:11 We will make you a beautiful bridle of gold,
And we will have it studded with silver.!


The Shulammite (in reverie)
As if to herself

1:12 When the king lies down and is at rest,
The perfume of my spikenard will envelope him,

1:13 Bind yourself to me my beloved, he who is mine alone
And let your vine branch rest between my breasts

1:14 From this beloved of mine, hangs Cypriot grapes’
A bunch as large and as luscious as those of Ein Geddi.

The Shulammite;s reverie continues
She imagines Solomon’s voice

1:15 How beautiful is she who will lie close to me
How beautiful she is, with eyes like a dove

The Shulammite (again to herself)

1:16 How beautiful is he who is my beloved,
And, as it is the season to lie beneath the shade of trees

1:17 So that the beams of our house shall be of cedar,
And the rafters of our house shall be of cypress.


Chapter 2

Solomon (as if to himself)

2:1 I am the blossom of the desert plain
A lily in its hollow places

(and then as to the Shulamite)

2:2 But, like a lily amongst thorns,
Is my companion amongst other women.

Shulammite (ao to Solomon)

2:3 Like an apple tree in the virgin forest
Is my beloved amongst the young men
in his own house and I will kneel before his virility
And taste of his fruit that will be sweet in my throat.

The Women with The Shulammite

2:4 He has led me into a tavern
And commands me to make love

2:5 Let my nature flow freely, penetrate
Me and fill me with the fruit of apples
For I am faint with love.

2:6 His left hand supports my head
While his right hand surrounds me.

2:7 I counsel you, Daughters of Jerusalem,
Strengthen and restrain yourselves
From arousing a man’s lust too soon
Until your own love and your own self is ready.

The Shulammite gives ear to Solomon

2:8 Behold, my loved one
Look he has begun to respond
And his mound of virility arises.

The Shulammite To the Women

2:9 My beloved is like a gazelle
Or a fawn reaching to a doe
See how fertile he is as it stands up
Repeatedly, time and time again
As it peeps out beneath his loincloth
Always seeking entry, always trying to get in.

2:10 My beloved said, listen to me,
"Make it stand again, my beautiful dove

2:11 Look, the storm of passion has now passed by,
The shower ceased and it arouses itself once more

2:12 Blossoms are seen on the earth,
The season for cutting them has come
And the cooing of the Turtle-dove is heard in the land.

2:13 The fig tree produces its own fruit
And the Cyprian vines blossom forth their perfume
Awaken and arise my beautiful one,

My dove and come with me.

2:14 And my dove hides her face in the clefts
And hiding places of the mountain
Show me your face
And let me hear your voice once more,
For your voice is lovely and
Your face has the glorious bloom of youth"

The Women to Solomon

2:15 Let us be wanton
For we are like young foxes hiding in the vineyards
Intent on mischief since our own vineyards are also in bloom.

The Shulammite

2:16 My beloved browses amongst the lily fields
And he is mine alone and I am his alone.

2:17 Until the break of day when all shadows disappear,
Turn around my beloved
And, be like a gazelle or a young fawn,
Nuzzling in the folds and hollows of a doe.


Chapter 3

3:1 As I lay upon my bed at night
I reached out for the love of my heart

To summon him and join ourselves together,
But neither could I find him, nor could I hear him

3:2 So I arose and went into the city,
Searching the streets and the squares
To find the love of my heart and mind
But once again I found him not.

Then the Shulammite to the Watchmen

3:3 The watchmen on their nightly serach of the city found me
But they had not seen the love of my heart and mind.

Then she finds Solomon herself

3:4 Having passed them by a short way,
I found him of my heart’s desire
I held him tight and would not let him go
And took him to the house of my mother
To the room of the one who conceived me

The Women are Abjured by the
Shulammite a second time

3:5 I counsel you, Daughters of Jerusalem,
Once again, strengthen and restrain yourselves

From arousing a man’s lust too soon
Until your own love and your own self is ready.

Solomon to the Shulammite

3:6 Who is this, fully mounted and coming from the desert,
Like a pillar of smoke, like a sacrificial column of incense
Or Lebanese myrhh and by some merchant or worshipper

3:7 Look, it is the palanquin, of Solomon
Surrounded by sixty warriors,
From the bravest men of Israel.

3:8 All of them are wearing swords,
Well experienced in battle
With their drawn swords at their sides,
Ready to face the terrors of the night.

3:9 King Solomon’s palanquin, made for himself
From the cedar wood from Lebanon

3:10 Its posts are made from silver
And its base is made of gold

Its interior is furnished in royal purple
Made lovingly and with joy
By the daughters of Jerusalem.

3:11 Come out and see
King Solomon in all his glory, wearing his crown
In which he was crowned by his mother
On the day of his coronation
And the day that his heart rejoiced.

Chapter 4

4:1 You are so beautiful, my beloved, so very beautiful,
Your eyes, beneath the veil, are as a doves,
The tresses of your hair, likewise revealed,
Are like the fine hair that hangs
From the goats of Mount Gilead

4:2 Your white teeth are like young lambs,
Newly shorn and fresh from the washing.
All as with a matching twin;
None being isolated and alone

4:3 Like ribbons of scarlet are your lips
And your speech so elegant
Under the silence of your veil, your cheeks
Are like the halves of a pomegranate,

4:4 Like a watchtower of David is your neck
Under your veil, untouched by the harsh sun,
Having itself been assidiously guarded
By the shields of a thousand mighty warriors.

4:5 Your two breasts are like the twin fawns of a gazelle,

That browse and feed amongst the lilies.

4:6 Until the break of day, when the shadows flee,
I myself will go unto those hills for Myrrh
And on to those mounds of Lebanon.

4:7 For you are so beautiful, my beloved and there is no imperfection in you.

4:8 Come to me from Lebanon, my beloved, from Lebanon
Come, come and cross over the dvide with confidence
From the summit of Mount Hermon and the heights of Senir;
Away from the haunts of lions and from the sight of Leopards.

4:9 You have withered my heart, my sister, my beloved
Stolen it with a look from your eyes
And the perfection of your neck.

4:10 How lovely are your breasts,
My sister, my beloved, how much sweeter than wine,
How aromatic is the fragrant perfume of your body’s scent.

4:11 Your lips are a honeycomb dripping honey, beloved
And honey and milk are under your tongue;
The fragrance of your garments is that of Lebanon.

4:12 You are a secret garden, my sister, my bride,
With a spring untapped and with a fountain unused.

4:13 You are a messenger from paradise, with the fruits of Cyprus
And trailing streams of spikenard.

4:14 Soikenard and Saffron,
Kalamos and Cinnamon
From the pastures of Lebanon
Myrrh and Aloes and all the finest spices

4:15 A well of garden water, like a fountain of the womb,
Like a scented stream out of Lebanon.

The Shulamite

4:16 Away dry North Wind and come soft moist South Wind.
Blow into my garden so that my enticing fragrance may waft into the air.

The Shulammite invites
Solomon to enter himself into her garden

I have entered into your garden, my sister
And I will partake of your harvest.


Chapter 5

Solomon to The Shulammite

5:1 I have entered the garden, my sister, my bride.
I have partaken of my honeycomb, my myyrh and spice,
And my honey. I have drunk my milk and my wine

The Harem Women nearest to the Shulammite

Let us all eat and drink also; drink your fill lovers

Shulammite (to herself)

5:2 I slept but my heart was awake.

The Shulammite and Solomon
Who is knocking on the door

Listen my beloved knocks upon my door


"Open my sister, my beloved.
My dove, my perfect one,
My head is soaked with dew
And my hair is mizzled by the dampness of the night."

The Shulammite (to herself)

5:3 I have discarded my robe,
Must I replace it?
I have washed my feet,
Must I soil them again?

5:4 My beloved thrust his hand through the judas window;
And my nature begins to flow with desire.

5:5 I rose to open the door to my beloved
But my hands were wet with my nature
My fingers slipped upon the bolt
I could not open the door latch

5:6 When I opened for my beloved
My beloved had gone and had passed me by
My passion had discharged itself without reason
For coupling it had not flowed.
I called to him but he did not hear me.

5:7 The palace guards doing their rounds of the city found me,
They hurt me, molested me, stripped me of my cloak
And violated me. So much for the palace guards

5:8 I implore you, daughters of Jerusalem,
In your strength and goodness, if you see him
Tell my beloved that I am faint with my love for him


The Women, the Watchmen gather together
And ask of the Shilammite

5:9 How is your beloved different from all the others most beautiful of women
How is your beloved so unlike the others that you ask us so?

The Shulmmite describes her beloved

5:10 My beloved is radiant and ruddy;
Outstanding even amongst ten thousand!

5:11 His head is crowned with pure gold and the locks of his hair
Are wavy and as black as the raven’s wing

5:12 His eyes are like those of a dove, washed clean by running water
Bathed as in milk
And as prominent as washed jewels.

5:13 His jowls are like bowls of myrrh yielding delicate fragrance,
His lips are like lilies that have been dipped in myrrh.

5:14 His arms are as golden rods inset with chrysolite.
His body like polished ivory decorated with saphires

5:15 His legs are like pillars of marble upon bases of gold,
His appearance is as Lebanon; as choice as its mighty cedars.

5:16 His throat is stroked with sweetness and he is wholly the object of desire
Thus is my beloved, my brother O daughters of Jerusalem.




Chapter 6

The Women of the Harem to the Shulammite
Asking where her beloved has gone

6:1 Where has your beloved gone, most beautiful of women?
Which way did your lover turn
So that we may search with you?

The Shulammite to the Women

6:2 My beloved has gone down to his gardens
To the beds of spices
To browse there and gather other flowers and lilies

6:3 But I am my beloved’s flower and my beloved is mine own
Even though he strays amongst other flowers and lilies

The Shulammite recalls Solomon's former words.

6:4 You are so beautiful my dearest, so satisfactory
As imposing as Jerusalem or troops aligned in battle

6:5 Turn away your eyes from me,
My senses are overwhelming me.
Your hair is like that which is shorn
From the goats of Mount Gilead

6:6 Your white teeth are like newly shorn lambs,
Freshly come from their washing.
All with a matching twin;
None being isolated and alone

6:7 Like a ribbon of scarlet are your lips
And your speech is so elegant
And like pomegranate halves.
Are your beautiful cheeks

6:8 Sixty queens there may be and eighty concubines
And countless other women and virgins.

6:9 But my dove is my perfect one
Without parallel, the favourite
As of he who begat her, the image of her mother.
The matrons and women themselves,
The queen and the concubines, have all agreed.

The Women, the Queens and the Shulammite

6:10 Who is this that appears as though it is the dawn, breaking,
As beautiful as the moon, as incandescent as the sun,
As majestic as troops in battle array

Solomon to the Shulammite

6:11 I came back into the garden to look at the nut trees in their beds
To see if there were anyhing new in the valley, to see if the vines
Were in bud and the pomegranate trees were in bloom.


The Shulammite to Solomon

It was there that I once gave my breasts to you!

6:12 But now my heart cannot stay with you. The chariots of my people await me!

Chapter 7

Solomon to the Shulammite

7:1 Come back! Come Back! O Shulammite! Come back. Come back
When shall we look upon your face once again/

The Women together, as the Shulammite is greeted by her people

Why would you wish to look upon the face of the Shulammite?
For her return from the battle array of her people, the troops Aminadab?

7:2 How beautiful are your feet in sandals,
O daughter of Aminadab
Your legs are so graceful, the finest work
From the hands of a craftsman

7:3 Your navel is like a jewelled bowl that never lacks fine wine
Your waist is like a mound of milled wheat surrounded by lilies

7:4 Your two breasts are like twin fawns born to a swift gazelle

7:5 Your throat is as an ivory tower.
Your eyes like the pools before Hebron
Before the gates of many daughters
Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon,
Looking towards Damascus

7:6 Your head is as a crown on Mount Carmel,
The hair on your head is like a royal tapestry
For the king is enraptured by its tresses.

7:7 How beautiful and how pleasant
It is to to be with your delights

7:8 Your stature is very great
As that of a date palm tree
And your breasts are as its cluster

7:9 Now I will climb up the palm tree
And taste of the fruit itself
And may your breasts be as the cluster of the vine
And your breath be like apples

7:10 And your mouth taste of the finest wine

The Shulammite, remembering her time with Solomon

May such wine go directly to my beloved,

Flowing gently over his lips and teeth.

7:11 I am my beloved’s beloved only
And to me only, he himself belongs.

7:12 Come my beloved, let us go to the countryside.
Let us spend the night together in a village

7:13 Let us rise early and go into the vineyard
To see if the vines are in bud
Their blossoms opened and the pomegranates are in bloom

There I will yield my breasts to you, once more.

7:14 The mandrakes send out fragrance
And at the door delicacies of every kind
That I have stored for you, my beloved.

Chapter 8

8:1 If you were to me as a brother, nursed at my mother’s breast,
Finding you outside, I could kiss you and no one would despise me

8:2 I would lead you at once to the house of my mother,
She who conceived me, and into the storehouse
Where I would give you spiced wine to drink

And the juice that flows from my pomegranates.

8:3 His left hand is under my head
And his right arm encircles me.

8:4 Daughters of Jerusalem, I exhort you!
Strengthen your resolve, harden your feelings
Do not arouse or awaken lust until love dictates your desire.

The Women and the Queens
Speak of the Shulammite

8:5 Who is this coming from out of the wilderness
And heading towards her beloved?

Solomon to the Shulammite

Under the apple tree I showed you the way,
There, where your mother conceived you,
There where your mother gave birth to you.

8:6 Fix me like a seal upon your heart,
Like a seal upon your arm;
For love is as mighty as death,
Jealousy as unforgiving as the grave
Enfolds. Encircling like a burning flame itself.

8:7 Many mighty waters cannot quench love
And rivers cannot wash it away,
If one gave one’s livelihood itself for love,
It would be scorned as nought itself.

8:8 We have a young sister and her breasts are not yet grown
What shall we do wth our sister
On the day that she is spoken for?

8:9 If she was a wall we would build a tower of silver for her
And if she was a door we would embellish her with panels of cedar.

The Shulammite (speaking freely)

8:10 I am a wall and my breasts are as towers,
Thus, in his eyes, I am a means to discover ones youth again.

8:11 Solomon has a rich vineyard in Bel-Hamon,
And he rents out his vineyard to tenants
Each tenant is required to pay a thousnd shekels for its crop

8:12 However, my vineyard is my own.
The thousand shekels are yours to keep, Solomon
And two hundred for those who tend and guard it!

The Shulammite

8:13 You who are seated in the garden with your companions!
Turn thoughts and voice to me and listen to mine

8:14 Come away my beloved and be once again like a gazelle
Or a young deer. Or even a mighty stag, upon my aromatic mountain.