I'm a pastor who is planning a sermon series through Song of Songs. In my research on the book I decided to purchase this commentary and have become fond of it. It's worth noting that the editor of this Baker Commentary series (Longman III) wrote his own commentary on the Song of Songs in the NICOT series. Because of this, I believe Hess had an unspoken (or maybe even spoken) understanding that he had better do a first rate job on this commentary. I believe he has done just that.
When the author of the Word Commentary on Genesis (Wenham) writes a rave review on an Old Testament Commentary of any book, it is worth noting, because of his extensive knowledge of ancient near eastern culture.
First we have about 285 pages on this 8 chapter book. He lays the material out in a very readable form. Hess reviews the options and declares his position without being shy about it. Sometimes he does not explain his reasons in depth, but you do find out where he stands. For example in his introduction he simply says that the Song of Songs should not be read as a drama (one major view), but that it closely resembles ancient neareast poetry, especially Egyptian love poetry. He gives an extensive 17 page bibliography on Song of Songs associated material at the end of the book. For students doing research, here you go!
Hess also gives you good nuggets for further study on a variety of issues, like dating, authorship, the history of interpretation of this book, etc... On the history of interpretation he cites Pope as the most extensive known history of interpretation on Song of Songs. Things like this reveal a breadth of knowledge on the subject and also assist new students in sorting through the myriad of potential sources. He's excellent in this way throughout the book.
One criticism: he often refers to a wasf in his outline and in the book. Unfortunately the definition of this term is hard to find. I stumbled across it in the middle of some text on page 31. I would prefer that they asterisk that term and send you to the definition page whenever they use it or at least in the first chunk of the book. Since many people do not read commentaries from cover to cover, that's frustrating. (By the way it is an arabic term for love poetry).
After what I would consider a short introduction, he gives an outline for the book and then begins his commentary. His outline is as follows:
II. Prologue: first coming together and intimacy 1:2-2:7
III. Lovers joined and separated 2:8 to 3:5
IV. Love and marriage at the heart of the song 3:6 to 5:1
V. Search and reunion 5:2 to 6:3
VI. Desire for the female and love in he country 6:4 to 8:4
VII. Epilogue: The power of love 8:5 to end
Hess comments with references that are easy to read, but on the technical side as far as Song of Songs commentaries go. This is no devotional commentary. It has transliterations of ancient language terminology throughout. He often cites how many times a term appears, where it first appears and how that is all relevant to the text at hand.
This commentary has no excursions. There are no articles on theological implications that draw out Christological allusions or parallels. It is entirely focused on a literal rendering of the book.
On the actual text Hess provides his own translation. If you are working on a specific verse in Song of Songs, it is easy to navigate Hess. The commentary relationship to the text is clearly marked. Overall this commentary is very valuable and one that I have been referring to regularly since I received it. Get a copy today.