Arts & Culture

Object Lesson


Nanette Stahl is the Yale Library's Judaica curator.

Beinecke Library/Sholem Asch Collection: gift of Louis M. Rabinowitz

Beinecke Library/Sholem Asch Collection: gift of Louis M. Rabinowitz

A calligraphic masterpiece, this 11-inch-high piece of parchment contains the entire Song of Songs in Hebrew micrography. Near the center, in the three elaborate shapes that frame flowers, it is signed by the artist, Baruch ben Shemaryah. View full image

This magnificent 1794 manuscript by a Lithuanian scribe renders the entire Song of Songs as a work of art, in letters that are at once text and illumination.

Shir (song) is the central word around which the text revolves. The crown, labeled “crown of kingship,” perhaps refers to the Song's opening statement that its author was King Solomon.

Religious authorities in both Judaism and Christianity made the Song's prominence possible by interpreting it allegorically, as an expression of God's love. This document's chronogram -- Hebrew words whose numerical value indicates the date -- uses ahavat olam: eternal love. It may refer to a prayer about God's love for Israel which begins with those words; or it may mean the document was created in honor of a marriage. For, in everyday usage and in its plain meaning, the Song of Songs is about spring, youth, love, and yearning.  

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