How do we know who is actually speaking in Song of Solomon? Are there markings in the Hebrew manuscripts that point to who is speaking, or are the scholars simply assuming based on what they are reading who is speaking? (For some Bibles mark who is speaking through letters next to the passage and an explanation in the footnotes)

For example ‭‭Song of Solomon‬ ‭8‬:‭5‬-‭7:

5... Beneath the apple tree I awakened you; There your mother was in labor with you, There she was in labor and gave you birth. 6 Put me like a seal over your heart, Like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, Jealousy is as severe as Sheol; Its flashes are flashes of fire, The very flame of the Lord. 7 Many waters cannot quench love, Nor will rivers overflow it; If a man were to give all the riches of his house for love, It would be utterly despised. (‬NASB1995)

My Bible marked that the bride is speaking here. Are the translators simply giving their opinion or is there hard evidence in the manuscripts that the bride is speaking instead of the bridegroom?

  • Look at the footnote of the NIV of SS 1:1 - the speaker can be determined by the gender of the pronouns and verbs.
    – Dottard
    Feb 2 at 10:49
  • Why do you limit your question to the Hebrew source only? In the ancient Greek LXX source it is actually clear by the declension and conjugation as well.
    – grammaplow
    Jul 1 at 20:12
  • All the scripture, before being written, it was spoken or sung. Also, back then there were no punctation or lines of dialogue. As "Dottard" and "Grammaplow" said you can tell who is speaking by the context and the grammar used in the Hebrew version or in the Septuagint.
    – Leonard
    Aug 25 at 8:45
  • @Dottard The gender of the speaker can sometimes be determined by the gender of pronouns and verbs. I believe that first-person pronouns and first-person verbs do not distinguish between masculine and feminine; and even in some other cases, the distinction is contained in the vowel sounds, which I assume were not marked in original biblical manuscripts. Sep 24 at 20:40
  • @JulianNewman - that is untrue - the difference between pronoun gender is a difference in both the spelling and even the number of letters in the pronouns. Consult a good lexicon.
    – Dottard
    Sep 24 at 21:00

3 Answers 3


I have just checked four translations of ch1. The AV and the RSV don't offer identifications of the speaker. The NIV and the Jerusalem Bible offer identifications which are slightly different. In the NIV, the second half of v4, and also v8, are both assigned to "Friends". The Jerusalem Bible agrees in giving v8 to a "Chorus", but leaves the whole of v4 slightly ambiguous; while vv1-3 belong to the woman, "Beloved", the new heading "First Poem" makes it unclear whether v4 as a whole continues her speech, or whether it is assigned to nobody.

This all implies that they are giving their opinion.

My own interpretation in "The Unseen Husband" (which has my biased recommendation) disagrees again. I regard the whole of v4 as belonging to the woman (she says "we" in the second half because she speaks for the whole group of "maidens" mentioned in v3)

As for v8, I assign that to the man, answering the question which she addressed to him in v7. Q: How can he be present to answer, if she does not know where he is? A; If the male is God, the "husband" of Israel, then he can see her, though she can't see him. I premise that the whole book is about this crisis in the relationship.

Regarding your passage quoted from ch8, the real problem is the assignment of the end of v5. The Jerusalem Bible assigns it to nobody, the NIV agrees with your Bible in assigning it to the Beloved. Again I disagree with them. That is the husband speaking again. It should be compared with the Lord's speech to his errant wife in Ezekiel ch16 vv4-6, describing how he took care of the neglected child after her birth. But whereas Ezekiel is outlining the justification for divorce, the rest of Song of Solomon ch8 is offering dialogue about a renewal of the marriage.

The short answer to the title question, which I've been trying to illustrate, is that we need to understand what is happening in order to identify who is speaking. And vice-versa, of course. The two puzzles throw light on each other.


The only hard evidence is contextual. The translators are not merely giving their opinion, but with many sections there is no absolute certainty. When one of the lovers refers to the other as "he" and describes his masculine qualities, the speaker is a woman - and vice versa. In addition, the "daughters of Israel" are sometimes addressed, and it seems that they also speak. So we are dealing with three characters (one of which is plural), not two. Finally, we should be aware that this may not be the work of a single author.

The NABRE editors introduce the Song thus:

The language and style of the work, among other considerations, suggest a time after the end of the Babylonian exile (538 B.C.) when an unknown poet collected extant love poems, perhaps composing new material, and arranged the whole into the masterpiece we have before us. Some scholars argue the possibility of female authorship for at least portions of the Song. The structure of the Song is difficult to analyze; this translation regards it as a lyric dialogue, with dramatic movement and interest.

I find this version particularly useful, both because it marks the sections with M for man, W for woman, and D for daughters; and because it is very well footnoted.


In verse 6 LXX translated says:

You want me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm

In the previous verses, we learn that she was leaning on his arm.

3 His left hand under my head... (‬NASB1995)

5 Who is this that comes up all white, leaning on her kinsman?... (‬NASB1995)

So, we can conclude that in this verse the bride is speaking, because she is leaning "like a seal" on his arm.

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