Wine and vine(yard) have various symbolic meanings and as such appear in all traditionally wine-drinking cultures. In this post, I want to shortly present the “Song of Songs” (שיר השירים), one of the books in the Old Testament. The Jewish culture is truly one of the oldest, which involved wine in its rich religious and artistic symbolism. The reason for which I decided to write about it on the St. Valentine’s Day is that the “Song of Songs of Solomon” is an expression of love, of an extraordinary beauty and of significance for Jews and Christians. I’ve even heard an opinion that it is the ‘mother’ of all European love lyrics. In fact, the very name points to its particularity. The “Song of Songs” is in Hebrew a superlative construction, indicating greatness, like in the case of the “Holy of Holies”, used for the inner part of the Jerusalem temple.
The relation of deep love between the man and women in the Song has been often defined as an allegorical illustration of love between God and Israel or Christ and the Church. So, the people of Israel would be the betrothed of God, or the Church the betrothed of Jesus, respectively. It is believed that at the assembly of Jewish wise men (Chazal, Hebrew: חז”ל), at which the Song was added to the Tanakh, the canon of the Hebrew Bible, it was said that all the fortune in the world is not worth the day when Israel was given this book.
At the same time, the song is full of erotic symbolism. The meanings of wine, milk and honey can appeal to every adult’s imagination. We find comparisons like “may your breasts be like clusters of grapes on the vine” or “your mouth like the best wine”. In the text, wine can be generally interpreted as a symbol of supreme pleasure, and together with milk a fertility symbol. Some researchers see in ‘vineyards’ female body and in ‘vine’ a symbol of woman’s erogenous zone.
Millennia after the composition of this song, we can still enjoy the text in its aesthetic and poetic beauty, regardless of its religious interpretations. And immersing in these sensual verses, gratify your own senses with a glass of some Israeli wine – it might be a kosher Bordeaux-style cuvee from the Judean Hills, where allegedly “love is better than wine”, but they didn’t have ‘Yatir Forest’ reds when they wrote these words, did they?
My favorite musical interpretation of the “Song of Songs” (Serbian: Pesma nad Pesmama) is by Divna Ljubojević – a famous Serbian singer of sacral music. It’s sung in the original language of the text – Hebrew.