Passion fierce as death

Abstract

The written word is always journeying. The Song of Songs is an exceptional example of this reality. Its rich language imbued with images of exquisiteness, ecstasy and yearning have inspired and inflamed many different cultures throughout history; mining the depth of the human heart and communicating the experienced beauty and power of love and desire. Probably composed relatively late between the fifth and third centuries BCE,[1] the text has travelled on the paths of history through the traditions of Synagogue and Church, moving from the original audience it was composed for, to encounter new audiences with new concerns and horizons. Analysing this adventure invites us to encounter the text of the Song from different perspectives, with different assumptions and using different tools. From these various views a series of questions arise in relation to each other regarding author(s), text, audience, transmission and interpretation. I will break this enquiry into three different strands, which I will call ‘voice,’ ‘echo’ and ‘reply.’ These three words attempt to encapsulate the nature of the Song’s journey, which even now remains open-ended, as new generations encounter it with fresh eyes:

As a text is developed and/or recorded by its original author(s) in its original setting, nourished by the particular ‘intentionality’ of its writer, it becomes a ‘voice.’ This ‘voice,’ as it were declares itself within its specific semantic, historical and cultural horizon, to an audience. This relation of ‘voice’ to an audience generates meaning. As a text is proliferated and transmitted, different possibilities inherent in the text’s language, generate new meanings within new horizons and audiences. Within these accumulating traditions then, there is often an attempt made to recapture and explain the nature of the original ‘voice’ heard only as an ‘echo’ within a particular tradition, which has preserved the text beyond the life of its author(s), seeing a particular value or importance in its conception. The Song of Songs has especially throughout history, inspired a rich variety of interpretative traditions, analysing the ‘echoes’ of the original ‘voice(s)’ of the text within their tradition. These have viewed the text through a series of variant ‘interpretative lenses;’[2] such encounters amassing a wealth of historical, cultural and religious data. I will call the fruits of this process of interpretative encounter ‘reply,’ for this indicates a response to the ‘voice’ of the text heard in its ‘echo’ within a tradition, which attempts to outline the significance of the text. In this way I distinguish original, literal meaning (voice), from remembered, reconstructed and interpreted meaning (echo), and a judgement regarding the text’s significance (reply).[3]

THE SEARCH FOR THE ORIGINAL AUTHORIAL “VOICE/(S):”

A first encounter with the Song engenders and array of questions arising from the apparent confusion and yet equally seeming unity of the text, which presents itself to ear of the hearer as a magnificently complex tapestry of image, sound, allusion and emotion. It is as if the Song has both the paradoxical quality of unity in striking diversity; as found in a tessellation and a kaleidoscope, or to use another image – a tapestry – whose rich and dextrous fibres hold together and communicate an integrated and woven reality. Indeed it appears to the reader as something that can both be tangibly grasped as whole and yet mysteriously recognised as being composed of disparate threads fused together by living, inspired hands, and fashioned into a work of art.

As a desire to immerse one-self into the richness of the text’s treasury grows within this encounter, the experience of transportation occurs as we imagine ourselves within the locus of it’s author(s)’ intentionality; we try and understand what it is exactly that captivated the human heart to express so sumptuously and viscerally, so gently and so forcefully a profusion and melee of vibrant, colourful and at times even dramatic language. The adventurer on this journey of imagination and wonder is aware of the ability to deceive himself and the limitations of his project in this regard and yet he also remains a lover and is drawn back to the text over and over again to confront himself with the search for its message. Thus a dialogue of love occurs between the love in the human heart to know the ‘truth of the text’ (however this phrase is to be understood) and the theme of love which comes to the fore as providing the seminal unity and integrity of the text. When the Song of Songs is the “text of the day,” be it for a first century Jewish theological historian, a medieval Christian mystic or a post-modern feminist; the concern and anchor of all conversation and reflection, is the great theme of Love which springs forth from the Song and calls out to be heard and contemplated, to be critically assessed and unravelled, and to be pondered in the silence of the heart and with the wisdom of experience.

Fig 2 Marc Chagall, Cantiques des Cantique IV, 1965-1966

  • The ‘semantic horizon’ of the Song’s ‘voice’:

The Song expresses through its distinctive and diverse language a panoptic vision of the paradoxes and tensions of erotic and romantic love; from the sensual joy and pleasure of love, as the opening lines of the poem exclaim ‘love is better than wine’ (1:1), to its ultimate power and depth; for ‘love is as strong as death/passion fierce as the grave’ (8:6). Taken in its fullness the Song’s ‘voice’ explores with great range and artistry, the opulent tapestry of the human experience of love, within which is interwoven passion (1:2), separation (5:6), imagination and delight (4:1), rapture (5:4), intimacy (2:16), desire (2:5) and the contemplation and acclamation of sensual and aesthetic beauty (6:4).

In Pope’s comprehensive encounter with the text, he notes that the vocabulary of the Song is ‘unique or rare,’ making it both a puzzling and fascinating historical source.[4] Indeed in what is a comparably brief span of little ‘more than one hundred verses,’ there are ‘almost fifty hapex legomena’ and an ‘even greater number of words only rarely found in Scripture.’[5] This makes translation as interpretation a difficult task as Falk notes that with a ‘limited knowledge of the cultural context of a work, one might find it difficult to imagine original effects or guess at literary intentions,’ when there is ‘nowhere to turn for the very meaning of words that have gone out of use.’[6] Examples of such difficult words include ‘torim’ and ‘horizim’ found in the mystifying verse of (1:10), which the NRSV renders ‘ornaments’, whilst the NJPS prefers ‘plaited wreaths.’ Falk herself infers the sense of ‘braids’ and ‘strings of shells.’ [7] These are to adorn the female who is ‘compared to a ‘mare among pharaoh’s chariots.’ This allusion itself makes sense only when it is appreciated with a historian’s eye; that the ‘Egyptian’s enemies set mares loose in war to drive the pharaoh’s stallions wild’[8] – the woman is thus acclaimed by the author/s as at once beautiful, captivating and overwhelming, and thus singularly worthy of the finest treasures.  

Noting the inexorable complexity of this single unit (1: 9-11), we begin to see the sheer scale of the task facing the analyst and exegete, as they approach the Song as a whole and ponder the question of meaning.

Fig. 3 Philip Ratner, Song of Songs, 1984-

  • The musicality of the Song’s ‘voice’ and the possibility of a pre-literary oral tradition:

A tangible aspect of the text, which offers an equitable point of departure from the difficulty of assessing the text’s semantic scheme, as posed by the problems of specific words and phrases, are the ‘audibly apparent rhythms’ detected in the text’s ‘voice,’ clearly observed for example in the authoritative Leningrad M.S, 1008 C.E., as it is read out.[9] Hardly anyone would ‘disagree that the Song is poetry, not prose’ on this point, Falk surmises.[10] This is a useful discovery which offers hope beyond particular philological quandaries, as it implies the possibility that the substance of the text has a pre-literary history in well-developed and consistent oral traditions.[11] The Song, in this line of thought, is seen to have been originally conceived in spoken or sung compositions, which were not necessarily recorded at first. This would account for the rhythmic accent, and the reoccurrence of content, themes, motifs, images and refrains; making the Song (or parts of it i.e. “the Song of (composed of) Songs”) easily remembered and thus transmittable. Deliberating the text within this locus of a distinct literary provenance commensurate with an oral Hebraic tradition,[12] allows a hypothesis to grow in favour of seeing the text as a symphony of ‘voices,’ which form a literarily formal ‘voice,’ in all drawing from the same great theme of love, around which they are collated. In this line of thought, a common tradition is engaged with by a medley of authors, each approaching the theme of human love with particular poetical devices specific to the tradition.

Fig 4. Julias Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Corner section of Like an apple tree… is my lover, 1851-60

For Falk, ‘the allowance that women may have contributed to the Song’s authorship’ within such a tradition, ‘seems more than reasonable.’ [13] Ascertaining the Song’s origins as a collection of ‘love lyrics’ organically assimilated, she maintains that the ‘supposition of an oral folk tradition assumes the participation of both men and women in composition and transmittal,’ noting that ‘the topic of erotic love was ‘certainly within the domain of women no less than men’.[14] Indeed, on this point, she cites Meyers to uphold this claim by demonstrating that the Song’s emphasis on rural and domestic domains reflects aspects of life in which ‘women were primary.’[15]

Exum is wary of this analytical step, drawing awareness to the fact that the text remains ‘an artistic creation,’ and that the ‘man and woman/ men and women are literary personae, literary constructs’; she criticises Falk here, for too easily equating the persons who speak in the text and the authors themselves.[16] Although the possibility of male authorship using a female ‘voice’ as mouthpiece for creating as Clime’s controversially reads, an ‘ideal woman’[17] (exposing a prejudiced patriarchal agenda) remains a possibility, it seems the case for ‘women speaking out of their own experiences’ is perhaps more conceivable if the theory of “multiple authorship” is accepted. Women would have certainly had a role to play within an oral tradition, even if that tradition itself was later recorded by male authors.

  • The search for a “common repertoire” as the “literary provenance” of the Song’s distinct ‘voices’:

Given the possibility that Song itself is to be understood as a collective work of poetical craft, putatively engaged by female as well as male authors, if not at least female and male performers and transmitters, the question of meaning becomes closely linked to the “common repertoire,” from which each of these individuals drew their basic structural, thematic and poetical ideas from within a developed oral tradition, and integrated them into their own creations. This is a complex assessment, but it is clear that certain poetical tools and motifs are consistently employed throughout the text, that would be consonant with this notion of the repertoire of oral tradition.

Indeed, from the first-line, an unambiguously “lyrical”[18] and “poetical” diction unfolds in the synaesthetic sound play of ‘your sweet name’ (Falk’s translation), which impresses upon the reader’s ear a notable semantic alliteration in the Hebrew ‘šemen turaq šmekha’.[19] The author/s here is not holding back a desire to engage the subject matter of love-making, with a full appeal to the senses, which is memorable in both its form and content, baring a clear musicality.  It is through this abundance of sensual imagery (heard or visualised) and a sophisticated and often subtle use of associations that the Song continues its expression of the different aspects of love, drawing from an array of images, ideas and experiences. Falk’s study of core metaphors, when re-channelled and situated within the Sitz im leben of the speakers, unearths an elegant and dexterous creative repertoire:

In the sight of goats winding down the slopes of an Israeli countryside (4:1), an image of contour and contrast as ‘the dark animals weave a graceful pattern against the paler background of the hills,’ Falk observes the dark waves of hair cascading down a woman’s back’.[20] In the ‘slice of pomegranate’ glimpsed ‘behind the veil,’ she retrieves the ‘rosy skin’ of the female face, glimpsed and suggested behind the mesh of a ‘white veil’ akin to the distinct ‘white membrane’ of the fruit.’[21]

She defends, these images from distortions of scholars who claim they are ‘comical,’ ‘bizarre’ or ‘grotesque,’[22] demanding of the exegete a ‘non-literalistic visualisation,’ that re-claims the authentically beauteous vision impressed in the author’s culture-bound imagination. [23] The male and female form is extolled in a heightened and forceful poetical diction, expressing mutuality in desire and appreciation of beauty.

Strands of meaning can thus be detected in several constant images deployed throughout the poem, assessed in its unity. It is possible that these images and associations were developed orally, and were the “common stock” of the variant love lyrics, as they were recited and proliferated. I attune my analysis with the focus of Falk’s literary overview of the role of motifs, protracted into the text from a commonly shared oral heritage. [24]

The image of ‘vineyard’ as in (kerem), is not only a literal place for lovers to rendezvous (1:14), but is also found in the possessive form seemingly becoming a wider motif for ‘female sexuality;’ as in ‘my own vineyard I have not kept’ (1:6), and ‘our vineyards are in blossom’ (2:15). Flowers and the fruits adorn the vineyard as expressive of lush fecundity and delightfulness, as extolled by the male who enters and enjoys. As with the vineyard, so the place of the ‘garden’ operates as a multi-faceted motif, expressing a location for love-making (5:1)  and a metaphor for sexual activity itself, as in (6:11), and most expressively in (4:16).

Fig. 5 Cornelis Monsma, The Garden, 2009

‘Eating and drinking,’ can similarly be seen to function as symbols of erotic experience, as in ‘Eat, friends, drink and be drunk with love,’ which Falk translates ‘feast, drink – and drink deeply – lovers’ in poem 18, as forming the climax of the lovers union in the garden. It can be noted that wine is continually associated with the act of love-making as in (1:1) and (4:10), as well as with an act of kissing (7:9).  In (8:2) the speaker offers her sexuality (‘my pomegranate’) to the beloved, which leads to the exclamation of (8:3). This occurs as a repetition of the refrain found in (2:6), which again results from a great feast (this time of ‘raisins’ and ‘apples,’ leaving the female speaker ‘faint with love’ in the ‘banqueting house’). This eroticism, linking place, sense and word-play extends in more veiled manner, in sections where eating and drinking refer, for example, to the ‘flock,’ who the beloved ‘pastures among the lilies’ (2:16); (haro’eh baššošannim). In these cases ‘pasturing’ can be seen to metaphorically imply a ‘feeding oneself in the act of love’ and thus becomes symbolic of male sexual activity, and the lovers union.

Fig. 6 Barry Moser, Pomegranate etching, 1990

As the authors engage this “common oral source” of place, poetic diction and traditional motifs in different manners, a variety of ‘love lyrics’ are brought into existence of which the wasf[25]genre impresses itself upon the eye and ear of the reader as a particularly distinct ‘voice’ within the broader Song. Observed At (4:1-15, 5:10-16, 6:4-9, 7:1-9), Landy explains that within this exclusive genre, the ‘bodies of the lovers are disassembled and reconstructed in the Song, each constituent metaphorically combining with heterogeneous elements to give the impression of a collage, a web of intricate associations and superimposed landscapes that serve to blur the distinction between the lovers, and between them and the external world.’[26] As I have noted, this is a key characteristic of text’s eroticism. These images amass upon each other emphasising qualities of colour, warmth, liveliness and delicate beauty to extol the female form, and sturdiness, gentleness, succulence, fragrance and radiance, to praise in affinity the male subject. [27]  The wasf as a component of the wider Song carries in my view the theme of a rejoicing love, by its exploration of male and female beauty as an experience of symphony and unity, as the lovers find themselves as rooted in the created world, and in their love seeing that it is imbued with meaning and relation, of which they have now found a part within; in harmony and peace.

Fig. 7 Dr He Qi, Song of Solomon

There are other explanations though, which should be considered. Black is convinced that the depiction of the human body is ‘grotesque’ in being both ‘funny and frightening,’[28] she thinks this has the effect of dehumanising the male and female figures. I am uncertain that this reading compares well with Falk’s, but there is a need to be vigilant as Exum demands and make a judgement regarding the ‘gender symbolism.’[29] In any case the unique metaphorical code of the wasf distinguishes it in tone and style from other passages, but its motifs and settings remain consonant with a sense of a tradition, primarily transmitted through memorable associations and a colourful and distinct language.

  • The continued importance of the form of the text as step to postulating an overall perspective on meaning; the question of unified literary voices or tessellated collection:

As I have outlined above in the several formal judgments I have already postulated, it is desirable for an understanding of the wide ‘semantic horizon’ of the text and to explain the “tapestry-like-quality” of the intricate weaving of many individual ‘voices’ be they male or female into an literary unity, as being indicative of the view that the Song is primarily an anthology. This anthology collated within the locus of a well-established oral tradition of composing and proliferating ‘love lyrics.’ It is clear for scholars such as Pope and Brenner that the Song read in its final form shows a movement through different disparate vignettes, which I break down in my outline below as follows: There are the dialogues of male-to-female and female-to-male speakers and listeners, as well as female monologues. These occur in different settings;

in the king’s chambers (1:4); immersed in the cultivated flora and fruit of an orchard (2:1-3); in a banqueting house where the enigmatic chorus of the ‘daughters of Jerusalem’ is present (2:4-7); in the wild and remote natural landscape of mountains, hills and cliffs (2:8-15); through a “dream-like” sequence in which a female lover looks for her beloved in a city (3:1-4) and (5:2-7), in interior environments such as a mother’s house (3:4), and in the midst of a military parade of the King’s entourage (3:6-10), in dialogues concerning the male and female form that draw from local geography, flora, fauna, colour and culture (the wasfs), and finally in villages and vineyards (7:11-12).

Exum provides perhaps the most consistent argument against the view that the anthology is a “haphazard” or “disparate” collection and favours the nuanced perspective that there is a refined narrative unification and sequence bringing these vignettes together, in which the characters remain as constants within an unfolding plot. Pope laments of this view that it is near impossible to recover the ‘original songs’ or the ‘plan of the collector’ behind this alleged intentional design.[30] Exum perseveres nonetheless, and detects three pairs of poems; (2:7-3:5 and 5:2-6:3; 3:6-5:1 and 6:4-8:3; 1:2-2:6 and 8:4-14) [31] and separates these in finding the limits of each poem to be demarcated by the ‘repetition of key phrases and words, and motifs.’[32] Indeed Exum’s posits that these structural parallels imply a ‘unity of authorship with an intentional design, and a sophistication of poetical style,’ rendering it a ‘unified literary creation with a consistent attitude to love, the body, sex and women. Exum does not suggest that unity of authorship follows from this textual unity,and therein does not deduce between the possibility of ‘either a single author or a school of poets working together.’[33] Falk rejects what she sees in Exum as an ‘imposition’ of ‘fixed personae and either plot or contextual unity’ as she sees the text as instead presenting a ‘variety of voices speaking in a range of settings and without narrative sequence.’[34] Noting examples from the text, Falk’s perspective on form looks favourable, considering stark changes in tone that make the continuation of a single narrative unlikely or difficult to make sense of:

1:2-4 – A woman who refers to her beloved as a king, inviting him to lovemaking

1:5-6 – a woman speaking to city women with a defiant tone, self-assertive and stern.

Or:

5:1 – The lovers rejoice in a feast in the garden

5:7 – The sentinels of the city beat the female subject for leaving her house at night-time in the search for her beloved.

In both cases the city provides a foil to the ability of the lovers to express their affection. They appear to imply a variant cultural experience, which is at odds with that of rural dwellers. These different attitudes to the lovers imply smaller compositional units, composed for variant audiences but drawing from the dispensary of a shared oral tradition. If this is the case, then a stance must be taken on how the unity is achieved. Here I am arguing for a thematic rather than a narrative unity. Brenner suggests that such a thematic linking of disparate poems is achieved by recurrent ‘catch phrases.’[35] Kessler provides a level assessment of this phenomena and concluded that the recurring ‘love epithets [that] are used in the Song appear as a strong argument against unity theory.’ Indeed these very ‘structural peculiarities’ reveal the ‘craftsmanship behind the Song’s poetry’[36] and give credence to a ‘compilation theory’[37] under the guidance of a ‘purposeful hand.’[38] These epithets in a sense act as the binding force bringing together and interweaving the various ‘voices’ in the text to form a singular chorus addressing the theme of love. Jastrow explains; ‘One compiler began the process by putting together some songs that had attained wide popularity, others followed by adding their favourites, and so in the course of time a little anthology arose.[39] As Landsberger puts it simply; the Song is not a collected whole but ‘a collection of several poems.’[40]

  •  The possibility of inter-textual Biblical parallels

As we have seen, the Song is itself is a vibrant tapestry of poetic exultation, imagination, passion and artistic interweaving of archetypal themes. Further, as Brenner notes it has a secular ‘a-historical character,’ which approaches the theme of love without ‘national bias’ and these characteristics of the text he maintains, make it ‘unique within the literature of the Hebrew Bible.’[41] This uniqueness begs inter-textual comparison with other biblical passages and literary genres. Brenner argues that the text has ‘strong affinities with diverse biblical traditions.’ These may have contributed alongside the oral sources of the love lyrics to form the text’s ‘voice.’

He notes an interesting relation between the Song and prophetic material. On the surface it seems, for example, that there is no connection between the Hosean analogy of marital non-bliss, which depicts a “woman-people” as unfaithful to the steadfast, devotional husband-like love of the God of Israel which ruptures the covenantal tie, and the reciprocal and symbiotic mutual affection and love of the Song.

Plead with your mother, plead – for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband – that she put away whoring from her face and adultery from between her breasts. (Hosea 1:2)

My beloved is mine and I am his (Song 2:16)

Brenner argues however that although these two texts ‘appear diametrically opposed to each other’ it can be shown that ‘genetically and stylistically they are related.’[42] He suggests that they both belong to ‘a common tradition of Hebrew love poetry’ but the binary stances can be explained by the gendre of the authors. Indeed, citing van Dijk’s study, he explains that gendre-determined manifestations of love poetry can expose underlying ‘social ideologies.’[43] He claims that the Hosean passage might in this sense expose a patriarchal structure (of authorship, audience), which he sees as persisting in the prophetic writings of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The Song might arguably be best understood as alternatively as ‘love lyrics’ (Brenner/Falk) of which male and females provided contribution. As I have already suggested in line with Falk’s interpretative scheme ‘the preponderance and authenticity of women’s voices in the Song’ does indeed ‘suggest a context of origin that is quite different from that of other biblical texts.[44]

Fig. 8 Salvador Dalĺ, et sponsabo te mihi in sempiternum (Hosea 2:19),1964-67

Another potentially fruitful parallel is the Song’s relation to the primeval garden of Genesis, depicted in the second account, written within the Yahwist tradition. Indeed the Second Genesis account (2:1-3:22) appears on a surface level to also involve relationships developing within the context of a garden, although in this case we again see a reverse as female disobedience becomes the root of expulsion from a non-erotic garden; proving painful for female sexuality (childbirth) and social status. As Landy observes, ‘the detailed correspondence of thematic material is so extensive that the Song constitutes an inversion of the Genesis narrative.’[45] It remains to be said though, that Landy is not concerned with intentionality as he maintains there is little ‘evidence that the relationship’ played ‘any conscious part in the poetic composition’ beyond the supposition of a ‘very deep familiarity with the myth from the cultural background.’[46] In any case the importance of the garden’s latent symbolism within the Yahwist faith, seems correlated to the ‘poetic stock’ of the Song’s literary provenance, as a location in which the meaning of human sexuality is explored and enacted. As Grelot hypothesises, it is possible that the ‘inspired editors of the Canticle, nourished by sacred Scripture… superimposed a higher meaning on the obvious sense of the text’ drawing also from their spiritual heritage.[47]

Fig 9. Marc Chagall, Adam and Eve expelled from paradise, 1961

  • A conclusion in favour of the Song as a composite of ‘collected voices’ addressing the theme of love:

In the search for an original authorial ‘voice’ it becomes clear when approaching the text in the light of formal and literary critical perspectives that we are in fact dealing with a collection of ‘voices.’  As Pope maintains of these, it is hard to ‘convinced by any of the efforts to demonstrate or restore order or logical sequence and progression,’[48]within the compilation of these voices. Arguments in favour of original unity seem to be unable to overcome the challenge of the stark tonal changes, posed by darker aspects of the text and genre changes such as the wasfs. In the light of these considerations it remains plausible however to adopt the view that similarities in content and imagery and well as style, stem from the fact that behind the literary work is a well-established oral tradition with its own unique poetical stock. This tradition could have been engaged with by either male or female authors, with the resulting literary creations brought into unity by consistent epithets. Noting the sheer difference to the Yahwist garden narrative and the prophetic tradition, it is again plausible to credit all if not many of the passages to female writers. In the light of these considerations; the meaning of Song is best understood as a secular engagement with the theme of love, by male and female authors, resulting in a varied compilation of several types of love lyrics, expressing a wide range of feeling and tone.

Eric Gill, ‘His left hand underneath my head, His right hand round about me,’ 1925

ANALYSING HOW AN ORIGINAL “VOICE/S” CREATES “ECHOES:”

  • Understanding Traditional Judaeo-Christian exegesis from within its own rationale:

From an early stage in the Jewish ‘reception history’ of the Song, the ‘echo’ of the original authorial ‘voice’ as reverberating within the Jewish tradition, was discerned as being that of the great King Solomon. Therein the traditions of Targum and Midrash widely assume this basic methodological premise within their hermeneutic of interpretation.

The Targum introduces the Song thus:

Songs and praises which Solomon, the prophet, King of Israel, spoke by the Spirit of prophecy before the Lord of all the world, YHWH.[49]

In the midrash of Rabbi Rashi we read:

Solomon fore(saw) by the Holy Spirit, that Israel would be carried into one exile after another and would suffer one calamity after another; that in exile they would lament their former glory and remember the former love that God had shown them… Solomon produced this book by divine inspiration in the language of a woman saddened by a living widowhood, longing for love.[50]

A commentary by Ibn Ezra explains in a similar fashion:

This book surpasses all the Songs which Solomon composed and perish utterly perish its being (understood) as erotic literature… were it not a book of high import, as spoken by the Holy Spirit, it would not have defiled the hands (i.e. have been admitted to the canon of sacred Scripture.[51]

Brenner comments that the ‘traditional attribution of the SoS to king Solomon was undoubtedly one of the reasons for its acceptance as part of the Hebrew canon’ as well as its popularity.[52]The superscription, which is now seen to be ‘external to the work itself’[53] undoubtedly helped to facilitate the text’s acceptance into the Jewish canon and gave the Song a theological credibility hand-in-hand with a religious-allegorical/symbolical schema of interpretation, which quickly became the officially validated exegetical praxis. This judgement was encouraged by the connection between the superscription and the alleged allusion to the ‘name’ of Solomon elsewhere in the Song (3:7, 9, 11, and 8:11, 12), as well as aspects of the Song, considered as a unity, which converged with the biblical view of his being interested in the flora and fauna of the world, as a naturalist and poet (cf. 1 Kings 4:33), whose great literary activity (1 Kings 4:32) must have survived in part.[54] This meant that the ‘SoS became Scripture’ but in Brenner’s view, this was at the ‘cost of the suppression of its original meaning and setting in life, that of secular love poetry.[55] This methodological assumption is first premise of Jewish Targumic and Midrashic exegesis. The theological readings provided by the Synagogue, begin with the assumption of Solomon’s authorial hand, and the literary unity of the text. In this manner the tools of allegorical hermeneutics can be brought into play, and a dialogue with the Sacred opens up.

Fig 11. French School, King Solomon reading the Torah, c.1280

The Christian tradition’s complete acceptance of the Hebrew canon included, regarding the Song itself, transference of the methodological assumptions of the Jewish exegetical traditions, concerning authorship.[56] In this way, for example, we see in the Church Father’s espousal of the allegorical/symbolical mode of interpretation, much like their Jewish contemporaries and predecessors, a  maintenance of the perspective of Solomonic authorship, which within their ‘interpretive lens’ served to highlight certain prophetic or typological ends.

The centrality of Solomonic authorship widely persisted as a methodological assumption for nearly nineteen centuries in Church and Synagogue. In Luther’s exegetical encounter with the text he develops the conclusion that ‘the Song is a hymn in which Solomon thanks God for the divine gift of obedience.’[57] Later in Harmer, who followed the tradition of Grotius, Bossuet, Lowth and Percy, we hear adopted the view that the Song ‘celebrated the nuptials of Solomon and pharaoh’s daughter’ but he added a third figure of the Shulamite, who was Solomon’s ‘previous principle wife’; therein within the Song we have a ‘threeway colloquy between Solomon and his rival wives’ analogous to the conduct of the Messiah towards the Gentile and Jewish churches.[58]

These theological readings can be seen to function within their own hermeneutical rationales, and to amass their own cultural and religious data and wisdom; as spiritual truth, the faith perspective of Divine revelation, an appreciation of history, liturgy and dogmatic formulation come into dialogue within both Church and synagogue.

  • The insight gained from modern hermeneutical methods and developments:

As Meek observes ‘no serious scholar today believes that Solomon was the author’ of the Song, and there are ‘few that believe that the book was the work of a single hand.’[59] Indeed the twentieth century saw a great paradigmatic shift in the priorities of the hermeneutician’s methodological schema vis-à-vis the method and mode of actively discerning the ‘voice’ heard from within the ‘echo’ of traditions. What was seen to become centre-stage was the critical search to re-find and reclaim the authentic ‘voice/(s)’ of the author, as hermeneutical theory became a methodological instrument for universally interpreting texts in the search for their author’s. [60]

Traditional hermeneutics as we have broadly seen, had assumed that a text contained ‘a fixed and determinate meaning’ and that with a proper exegetical method it could be discerned by an interpreter. In this way, commentators had unseeingly distorted or misrepresented the ‘voice’ of the original author, in an uncritical discernment regarding the plausibility of the ‘echo’ of that ‘voice’, offered by their traditions. Lindbeck describes the history behind this ‘new’ interpretative perspective and criticism in terms of Scripture, as one which saw ‘typological interpretation’ collapsed under the ‘combined onslaughts of rationalistic’ and ‘historical-critical developments.’ [61]

Within this new paradigm, texts such as the Song, ‘became primarily an object of study whose religiously significant or literal meaning’ was seen as ‘located outside itself.’[62] This trend constituted a seminal shift from the understanding of a text in its exact words and their objective meaning, to a new emphasis on the individuality of the text’s author and his setting in life as a primary means to evaluating the Song’s message, function and meaning. As Schleiermacher put it, the ‘vocabulary and the history of an author’s age together form a whole from which his writings must be understood as a part.’[63] Within this locus of modern hermeneutical criticism, the methodological assumption of Solomonic authorship (the traditional discernment as to who is speaking) no longer remained critically viable.

In the light of these continual developments, the story of the Song’s encounter with new horizons develops, as new methodological systems form further ‘echoes’ and persist in exploring the possibilities of the text in the search for its original ‘voice.’

  • New ‘echoes:’ the Feminist encounter with the text – the enigmatic female author?

The majority of Feminist criticism has sought to understand the role women may have had  in forming the text and the actual presentation of women within the Song, which often commentators have suggested provides something of a counter-text within the Biblical canon, in what Ostriker calls its ‘extraordinarily egalitarian image of mutual love and desire.’[64]As I have demonstrated in my own search for the ‘voice’ or ‘voices’ present in the text, there is a considerable basis for the view that women  had a role to play in the formulation of the Song. Seemingly its late canonical status in the Jewish tradition may also have been related to the realisation that, as Pardes puts it, the Song ‘had the potential of filling a religious need’ for a sense of ‘God’s more intimate presence,’ whilst also plausibly acting as a counter-weight to the ‘misogynist prophetic degradation of the nation [and of women].[65] Ginsburg pioneered work in arguing the importance of the Song in Women’s liberation, commending the text in his own exegesis of the ‘ascendency of a virtuous woman in humble life over all the blandishments of wealth and royalty, as a celebration of the ‘virtuous example of woman.’[66] The Song has been seen for some feminists, continuing in this vain of positive appraisal, to further express a paradisiacal non-sexist world. This is the core thesis of Landy and Falk. According to Falk, this does not mean that the reversal of a patriarchal structure means female domination, but rather the authors of the text in her view offer a model in which all hierarchical domination is absent. The Song expresses a ‘mutuality, found for example in the mirroring of images ‘lily among brambles’ (2:2)/ ‘apple among the trees of the wood’ (3:3) and sentiments ‘ah you are beautiful my love… are you are beautiful my beloved’ (1:15-16), as well as an ‘absence of stereotyped notions of masculine and feminine behaviour.’ [67]

Fig. 12 A, Lillie, An apple tree in blossom, 1925

Difficult passages such as (5:6-7) are often overlooked in these treatments. In her analysis, Falk makes no comment on the violent beating of the sentinels. For Exum this does not suffice and she points to these difficulties in the text amongst others for coming to a critical conclusion on the autonomy of the female figure in this passage, beyond broad “romanticized” visions extending to the whole passage. She explains in her Ten Things Every feminist Should Know, that it seems that either ‘the woman has internalised social constraints’ of a patriarchal nature, or she is presenting them as a foil to the liberating love she experiences with her beloved.[68] Bird takes this view when she presents the vignette as an example of when ‘power and beauty are expressed in a relationship of complete mutuality controlled neither by man nor by woman.’[69]  The sentinels (3:3), (5:7) as well as the city women (1:5), (5:9), (6:1) in this reading provide an antithetical image of relations, which act as a backdrop upon which the intimate mutual loved or ‘lover’ and ‘beloved,’ emerge as an ideal (8:12).

Fig 13. Eric Gill, ‘They smote me and they bruised me,’ 1925

  • New ‘echoes’: the Cultic interpretation of the Song – the possibility of a pagan source

A new tradition of interpretation has grown in recent years, which attempts to demonstrate putative links between the Song and pagan cults existing before and during the establishment of the First Temple. Specifically, in Meek’s argument, this is with the cult of Tammuz-Adonis. Whilst previous attempts have posited links with Canaantish paschal poems (Erbt) and Osirian Litanies (Neuschotchz), these are no longer esteemed by scholarly consensus. Meek’s hermeneutical perspective, which is considered the most convincing, is based on a consideration of Akkadian hymns edited in the twentieth century.[70] He finds parallels between the stark images of the Song and the hymns of the Akkadian agrarian and fertility cultus; in his large hymn lists he parallels for example:

‘O come down to the garden of the king which reeks of cedar’ with (1:17) commenting that cedar is everywhere connected with the pagan cult. Again the hymn ‘O bird of child-bearing, harbinger of light, honey is thy voice’ comes very close philologically to (2:14) as well as (4:11) and (5:11).[71]

The assumption of pagan survivals in the festivals of Israel is plausible considering that most of the ‘sanctuaries were taken over from former inhabitants,’ whilst ‘heathen cults were carried on’ in close proximity.[72] It is possible therein that these texts were subjected to a form of revision within the Yahweh cultus, although the distinct language remained in part; perhaps explaining the phenomena of large number of hapex legomena. Amongst those who are unconvinced by this argument are Schmidt, who contends that Meek distorts the data when he claims that ‘many of the phrases are identical.’[73] He criticises this claim as misleading, explaining that ‘the most careful search does not reveal a single phrase that is quite identical.’[74] He concludes as many have, that the characteristics which Meek addresses are those of ‘love poetry’ in general. Waterman’s suggestion that the Song harbours aspects of an old Tammuz liturgy, which had been ‘reduced to the level of folk poetry’ as the Yahweh cult became established, is an interesting contention.[75]This would integrate well with the perspective on the text that I have argued. Indeed these themes could have formed part of the recollection and mindset of those who formed the love lyrics at the stage of an oral tradition, finding their way into the text as they were compiled; never providing identical parallels but providing inspiration and imagery; what I have called the ‘repertoire’ from within which the author’s vividly approached the theme of love.

THE “REPLY” OF TRADITIONS

In the preceding survey of the methodological schemas latent within different traditions of interpretation, I have shown how ‘echoes’ to the original authorial ‘voice’ are formed through history as the text is approached with different hermeneutical tools and underlying assumptions. In this section I want to give a texture of what sort of conclusions regarding the Song’s significance have been amassed within these variant traditions. The “reception history” of the Song is so broad and munificent that it would be impossible to cover in several books. As Pope’s attempts at detailing aspects of different traditions offer us a brief glance into the exceedingly rich troves of different religious, literary and critical traditions, we can get a sense of the power of the Song to inspire and provoke literary, spiritual, artistic, philosophical and theological reflection in a spirit of creativity and zeal, within very different cultural horizons. Gadamer’s phenomenological of “fusion of horizons”[76] is a good point of departure for analysing the dynamic engagement between the original ‘voice,’ the ‘echoes’ of that ‘voice’ as heard within forming traditions and the nature and fruits of their ‘reply.’

In the Jewish tradition the significance of the Song, elucidated in systematic theories of comprehensive interpretation, from the earliest stages of canonical inclusion became synonymous with an allegorical-symbolical mode of interpretation that saw the text as depicting the intimacy of the covenantal bond between Yahweh and His Chosen People. These schemes often developed into full ‘historical allegories’ covering the highlights of Israel’s experiences. The Targum to the Song took shape after A.D 636 according to Pope, and was concerned with repelling the views of ‘certain conventional rabbinic circles’ that in characteristically Gnostic vein, had made a direct connection between the ‘maiden’s praise of her lovers physical charms’ as a ‘description of the mystical body of God.’[77] The author-redactor of the text, according to Pope, was concerned with ensuring that this ‘esoteric extravagance’ was ‘checked and kept in place.’[78] This was achieved by showing how it was in fact an ending song, the ninth, within Ten Songs, marking the ‘milestones of human and Jewish experience,’[79] as a discourse between God and Israel’s love of God and longing for communion with Him; a “history of salvation” from the ‘creation of the world to its future eschatological climax.[80]It was a revelation about the passionate love of God for his people, rather than of his “physical” attributes. Medieval Jewish exegesis moved into the metaphysical plain, and studied philosophically the possibility of the seeing dynamic interaction of the lovers as representative of the ‘union of the receptive and active intellects’ of the human mind in its search for wisdom and knowledge.[81] In Ben Solomon’s encounter with the text we see a good example of this ‘in vogue’ medieval Jewish intellectual interpretation. He suggest that certain preceding readings of the text had been trapped in the ‘material world,’ reducing the Song (which he referred to as the ‘Holy of Holies’ in the tradition of Rabbi Aqiba)[82] to a ‘common book of historical record’ and in this way lamentably failed to appreciate its true nature (‘the reality of the book’) as a mystical expression of the ‘possibility of reunion with the incorporeal mind.’[83] In his schema the female lover corresponds to the ‘corporeal intellect’ which longs for the ‘influence of the active intellect… to cleave to it and to come up to its standing, which is its ultimate end and purpose.’[84] These allegorical and metaphysical readings persisted in various schools of interpretation until the nineteenth century and continue to presented today in different forms within variant Jewish sects, with variations of preceding analyses, such as the sixteenth century writer Don Isaac Abravanel, who ‘saw the protagonists of the Song of Songs as Solomon and Wisdom rather than God and Israel,’ with Solomon as ‘the Bridegroom and lover of Wisdom.’[85]Modern Jewish exegetes have incorporated feminist and historical-critical tools of analysis within their encounters with the text. Brenner categorises this focus as being one in which ‘a growing emphasis on the ‘reader’s location’ coupled with a ‘recognition of difference…including gender’ forms the interpretative locus of encounter.[86] Falk’s unique translation and commentary, which I have relied on in my earlier analysis, is a good example of such a reflection, by a Jewish woman.

Fig 14. Mahzor Rothschild, Manuscript depicting Solomon and a minstrel, Italy, 1492.

Christian reflection on significance of the Song, assuming the life, death and Resurrection of the Christ as a trans-historical event, was in many senses co-extensive with the allegorical/symbolical methodological frameworks developed by Judaism, and also entered into and adopted mystical modes of interpretation, within the medieval period, to communicate and elucidate theological and spiritual truths. Pope elucidates that ‘The Church inherited from the Synagogue the allegorical approach to the Song of Songs and replaced God and Israel by Christ and the Church as the two main characters in this dialogue.’[87] He suggests that this interpretation, which used the ‘exegetical ancestry of the Targum’ and a series of typological relations; Solomon’s curtain – the tabernacle and Solomon- standing for Christ the peacemaker, was enough to infuriate Targum authors to launch ‘elaborate discussions of the Torah and its significance in order to oppose patristic treatment of the same text,’ which sanctioned a ‘most spectacular act of apostasy.’[88] This was the second motivation for presenting the Targum exegesis in the form of the unique salvation history of the Jewish race. Loewe’s notion of the Targum as an anti-Christian apologetic as well a eulogy on the claims of near-esoteric knowledge found in some rabbinic circles, shows us the seminal relation between allegory, theology and religious belief in forming traditions.[89] Origen, in his encounter with the text, made used of Jewish schema’s of interpretation but had stressed that ‘it was the preaching of Christ’s gospel which brought the biblical history of salvation to the world’; as ‘Jesus shone forth in the world, he carried the Law and the prophets out into it with him, and in very truth our text –thy name is perfume poured out- so found its fulfilment.’[90] According to Matter, in this way ‘he attempted to learn the languages and techniques of early rabbinic interpretation to provide Christians with better tools of refutation.[91]

Medieval Christian exegesis is well treated by Matter, who suggests that this form of encounter should usefully be understood as a “genre of medieval literature” as the ‘treatises display a clear consciousness of belonging to a type, a method, a mode of literature.’[92] This genre continued to make use of Jewish hermeneutical tools, as a means to interpreting the Bible, and in our case the song ‘verse by verse, sometimes word by word,’ with the aim of ‘making explicit the visions of eternal truth shimmering behind the veil of the words of the text.[93] These traditions of exegesis create “chains of meaning and association” regarding words and scenes within the Song. Matter’s suggests Augustine’s De doctrina christiana that had looked at the relation between God’s revelation and allegory as one in which He provided in the divine writings ‘that the same words might be understood in various ways which other no less divine witnesses approve’ under the guidance of the same Holy Spirit that had inspired their original authorship, formed a key foundational horizon of interpretation for much medieval exegesis. This notion of the ‘multi-vocality’ of Scripture could be traced back to Origen’s typological schema and found a practical application in Cassian’s system, which according to Matter, became ‘disproportionately influential in medieval exegesis’ over and above Augustine’s.[94] Like Origen, Cassian saw a dynamism in the whole of Scripture towards the eschatological completion of all things in God, made possible in Christ, and thus presented a schema of reading in which the ‘last things come last’ as a text is encountered firstly in a ‘historical’ and then ‘allegorical, tropological’ (moral life), and finally an anagogical sense which was the peak of interpretation that could be achieved in mystical communion with the Word of God as a prelude to Beatific communion. The readings tended to emerge from a culture of monasticism; Cassian was one of the recommended readings of Benedictine communities.[95] Two key recurring trends in reading the text emerge within these traditions concerned with penetrating spiritual truth; the vision of the spousal love of Christ for His Ecclesia Bride or the individual Christian Soul, and a Mariological reading of the Song along these lines which saw Mary as a pinnacle example of this relation. The first reading has early roots in Pauline soteriology and is then advocated by Origen, Hippolytus and later finds expression in the medieval author St Bernard’s series of sermons on the text.[96] According to Bernard, ‘under divine inspiration,’ King Solomon ‘celebrates the praises of Christ and His Church, the grace of heavenly love, and the mysteries of the eternal marriage.[97] The Mariological reading must have been an early reflection on the centrality of Mary within salvation history, as we find it in Ambrose and Jerome, in what Zola describes as ‘bridal spirituality’ within his study of ninth century monasticism.[98] This theological tradition blended with Marian liturgy and feasts in the orthodox Christian East and West, suggested that Mary was ‘not just a member of the Church, but one whom the description of the bride in the Canticle fits in a special and singular way.’[99]

Fig. 15 Hesdin of Amiens, The Bridegroom crowning the bride, 1450-55
 

Theodore of Mopsuestia began an early dissenting tradition against the Song’s canonical inclusion on the grounds of its allegorical reading, claiming it was solely an erotic song, in the Roman West this argument was taken up by Jovininian.[100] Modern authors such as Rowley have persisted in this line of thought, making use of historical analysis to show a ‘connection’ with pagan ‘fertility rites.’[101] Beyond the often argued claim that Christianity can only view the text in the light of a Spiritual, asexual reading modern Christian authors have argued that the Song demonstrates redeemed male-female relations in the light of Christ. Barth has argued for a theological reading of an inversion of the structures of relation in Gen 2, which we have also observed earlier in Landy’s paradisiacal reading of the Song. Pope John Paul the II’s encounter with the text within His catechesis on the Theology of the Body presents the Song as an extrapolation of Gen 2 (vv.23-25), where a ‘few simple and essential words’ are developed into a ‘full dialogue’ or rather a ‘duet’ in which the ‘bridegroom’s words are interwoven with the bride’s, and they complete each other.’[102]

Fig 16. Eric Gill, Adam and Eve in heaven, 1927

Two other secular traditions of thought can be noted here briefly, as I have already treated the topic of modern hermeneutical insight and looked at feminist and cultic schemes of interpretation. The first notable comprehensive theory of interpretation is known as the dramatic reading, which sees the Song as formed of ‘poetic dialogues, monologues, soliloquies and choral responses,’ which are not merely ‘poetic convention’ but a cast of ‘dramatic personae’ (Driver, Ewald).[103] I have already argued against this view on the basis that literary integrity, understood as “one composition throughout,” is untenable based on tonal, lexical and formal discrepancies. The second secular tradition is more useful in my view, and is known as the Wedding Week Theory, which analyses modern Syrian Wedding poetry and convention as a putative counter-source to the Song. In Wetzein this has provided and isolated the useful genre of the ‘wasf’ and its style,[104] which I have already noted as important for the argument in favour of understanding the Song as an anthology. Although the use of this counter-source is at root essentially speculative, it can also possibly be useful to the search for the poetic repertoire of the original author.

Concluding remarks:

In this analysis I have used a threefold encounter with the Song of Songs in the search for its original ‘voice’ and meaning of the text, in an analysis of the ‘echoes’ of that voice in the growth of burgeoning traditions into fully-fledged systems of interpretation based on certain methodological priorities and assumptions, and finally the ‘replies’ of these traditions as the fruits of these analyses and as elaborations of the texts significance, as fused with their own horizon of interpretation. This threefold encounter has attempted to analyses and sketch in a somewhat crude manner, something of the incredible journey of the Song through history, from its original conception in the conception in mind of its Ancient Near Eastern author(s) and the paths of differing traditions, who have explored core existential questions of life, love, sexuality and death with very different aims and priorities but always with a ferocious passion that the texts demands, forming “chains of meaning” and  mining the possibilities of words, image and the human spirit – ‘For love is as strong as death/ Passion as fierce as the grave’ (8:6).

Fig. 17 Eric Gill, Transiliens Colles, Hortus Conclusis, Dilecti Mei Pulsantis,

Ibi Dabo Tibi, In Domum Matris Meae, Qui Pascitur Inter Lilia, Inter Ubera Mea, Fuge, Dilecti Mi, from Canticorum, Cranach Press, 1931

Bibliography:

Abstract:

Brenner, A, The Song of Songs (JSOT Press, 1989)

Gadamer, H, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/gadamer/#HapTra, accessed 09/07/2012

Hirsch, D, E, Three Dimensions to hermeneutic in Newton, M, K, Twentieth Century Literary Theory: A Reader (Palgrave Macmillan, 2002)

Pope, M, Song of Songs (Doubleday & Company, 1980), pp. 22-33

THE SEARCH FOR THE ORIGINAL AUTHORIAL “VOICE/(S):”

Black, F, Unlikely Bedfellows: Allegorical and Feminist readings of the Song of Songs 7. 1-8 cited in The Song of Songs: A Feminist companion to the Bible ed. Brenner, A & Fontaine, R, C (Sheffield Academic Press, 2000)

Brenner, A, The Song of Songs (JSOT Press, 1989)

Clines, D, Interested parties: The Ideology of Writers and Readers of the Hebrew Bible (Sheffield Academic Press, 1995)

Exum, C, Ten things a feminist should know about the Song of Songs cited in The Song of Songs: A Feminist companion to the Bible ed. Brenner, A & Fontaine, R, C (Sheffield Academic Press, 2000)

Falk, M, The Song of Songs: A New translation (Harper Collins, 1990)

Grelot, P, Introduction to the Bible (Burns and Oates, 1967)

Landy, F, Paradoxes of Paradise: Identity and Difference in the Song of Songs (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 201)

Meyers, C, Gender Imagery in the Song of Songs (Hebrew Annual review 10, 1986)

Pope, M, Song of Songs (Doubleday & Company, 1980)

ANALYSING HOW AN ORIGINAL “VOICE/S” CREATES “ECHOES:”

Bird, P, Images of Women in the Old testament, in, Religion and Sexism (Simon and Schuster, 1974)

Brenner, A, The Song of Songs (JSOT Press, 1989)

Exum, C, Ten things a feminist should know about the Song of Songs cited in The Song of Songs: A Feminist companion to the Bible ed. Brenner, A & Fontaine, R, C (Sheffield Academic Press, 2000)

Lindbeck, G, Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Post-Liberal age (SPCK, 1984)

Ostriker, A, A Holy of Holies: The Song of Songs as Countertext cited in The Song of Songs: A Feminist companion to the Bible ed. Brenner, A & Fontaine, R, C (Sheffield Academic Press, 2000)

Pardes, I, Countertraditions in the Bible: A feminist approach (HUP, 1992)

Pope, M, Song of Songs (Doubleday & Company, 1980)

Schleiermacher, F, Hermeneutics: The Handwritten Manuscripts. Ed. Heinz Kimmerle. Trans. James Duke and Jack Forstman. (Atlanta: Scholars Press.)

Vines, J, Hermeneutics, Exegesis and Proclamation, (Criswell Theological Review 1.2, 1987)

THE “REPLY” OF TRADITIONS:

St Bernard, Sermon 1:3 accessed at http://www.ldysinger.com/@texts2/1150_bernard/03_bern-SOS-1.htm

Brenner, A, ‘My’ Song of Songs,’ cited in. The Song of Songs: A Feminist companion to the Bible ed. Brenner, A & Fontaine, R, C (Sheffield Academic Press, 2000)

Brenner, A, The Song of Songs (JSOT Press, 1989)

Butting, K, Go your way: Women rewrite the Scriptures (Song of Songs 2.8-14) cited in The Song of Songs: A Feminist companion to the Bible ed. Brenner, A & Fontaine, R, C (Sheffield Academic Press, 2000)

Gadamer, H, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/gadamer/#HapTra accessed 09/07/2012

Matter, E, The Voice of My Beloved: The Song of Songs in Western Medieval Christianity (University of Pensylvania Press, 1990)

Pope John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (Pauline Books & Media, 2006)

Pope, M, Song of Songs (Doubleday & Company, 1980)

Zola, G, A, Radbertus’s Monastic Voice: Ideas about Monasticism at Ninth-century Corbie, (Loyola University, 2008)


[1] Brenner, A, The Song of Songs (JSOT Press, 1989), pp. 60-61, Pope, M, Song of Songs (Doubleday & Company, 1980), pp. 22-33

[2] I use the phrase ‘interpretative lens’ to signify the specific ‘horizon’ that places an exegete or commentator on the Song within the limitations of his/her period and its latent assumptions. I am drawing here on Gadamer’s phenomenological category of ‘historically-effected consciousness’ (wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewußtsein), as an ‘awareness of the historically effected character of understanding. ‘Understanding and interpretation can thus always be seen as ‘occurring from within a particular ‘horizon’ that is determined by our historically-determined situatedness’ cf. Gadamer, H,  http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/gadamer/#HapTra, accessed 09/07/2012

[3] By this three-fold distinction I make use of Hirsch’s distinction between ‘meaning’ and ‘significance.’ Hirsch suggests that it is best to see ‘meaning’ as what an ‘interpreter actualises from a text’ – the ‘meaning-for-an-interpreter’ and the ‘meaningfulness of that meaning’ is the texts ‘significance.’ Significance can change in relation to the contexts in which that meaning is applied. Thus, whilst ‘meaning is what an interpreter actualises from a text,’ ‘significance is that actual speaking as heard in a chosen and variable context of the interpreter’s experiential world’ cf. Hirsch, D, E, Three Dimensions to hermeneutic in Newton, M, K, Twentieth Century Literary Theory: A Reader, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), p. 51

[4] Pope, pp. 34-35

[5] Ibid.

[6] Falk, M, The Song of Songs: A New translation (Harper Collins, 1990), p. 93

[7] Ibid.

[8] Falk, p. xviii

[9] Falk, p. 105-106 and Brenner pg. 98; the ‘masoretic accents attached to the written text of the Song of Songs imply a certain way of singing.’

[10] Brenner, p. 106

[11] Ibid., p. 134

[12] Segal comments on oral transmission that is was likely that the ‘material was drawn from oral rather than written sources’ and through a process of generations of oral transmission ‘ the poems were subject to changes and adaptations until they assumed a more or less uniform style and language.’ cf. Pope, p. 42

[13] Falk, p. 134

[14] Ibid.

[15] Meyers, C, Gender Imagery in the Song of Songs (Hebrew Annual review 10, 1986), pp 209-23

[16] Exum, C, Ten things a feminist should know about the Song of Songs cited in The Song of Songs: A Feminist companion to the Bible ed. Brenner, A & Fontaine, R, C (Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), pp 27-28

[17] Clines, D, Interested parties: The Ideology of Writers and Readers of the Hebrew Bible (Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), pp. 102-106

[18] Falk, pp. 114-115; ‘musical or songlike,’ ‘sensual’ and harbouring ‘rich imagery;’ it enters into ‘subjective form’ to communicate its message.

[19] Falk, p. 168

[20] Falk, p. 131

[21] Ibid.

[22] Falk, p. 128 cf. Black, F, Unlikely Bedfellows: Allegorical and Feminist readings of the Song of Songs 7. 1-8 cited in The Song of Songs: A Feminist companion to the Bible ed. Brenner, A & Fontaine, R, C (Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), pp128-129

[23] Falk, p. 131

[24] My own analysis under the following italicised divisions is based on Falk’s study of literary convention;  pp 151-161

[25] since Wetzein (1873) who used this Arabic word used for ‘praise songs of the bride and groom in Syrian weddings in the nineteenth century, in which the bodyis anatomized and compared to remote objects’ cf. Landy, F, Paradoxes of Paradise: Identity and Difference in the Song of Songs (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2011), p. 66 through a ‘poetic passage that describes through a series of images the parts of the human body’ from ‘top to bottom or bottom to top’ cf. also Falk, p, 127, also Pope p. 56

[26] Landy, p. 65

[27] Ibid., p. 68

[28] Black, p. 116

[29] Exum, p. 30

[30] Pope, p. 41

[31] Exum, p.34, Commentary

[32] Pope, p. 46

[33] Falk p. 103 cf. also Pope 47

[34] Falk, pp 103-106

[35] Brenner, p. 37

[36] Kesler cited in Pope, p. 47

[37] Ibid. p. 48

[38] Ibid. p. 50

[39] Pope, pg 41 citing Jastrow.

[40] Pope, p. 42

[41] Brenner, p. 80

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid., p. 91

[44] Brenner, p. 134

[45] Landy, p. 172

[46] Ibid.

[47] Grelot, P, Introduction to the Bible (Burns and Oates, 1967), p. 206

[48] Pope, p. 172)

[49] Pope, p. 296

[50] Ibid., p. 102

[51] Ibid, p. 103

[52] Brenner, p. 25

[53] Brenner, p. 23; she comments that the ‘single appearance of the relative pronoun ’šr which elsewhere is substituted by its later equivalent š-, defines the superscription as a later interpolation, effectively rendering the view of Solomonic ascription untenable.

[54] Pope, p. 22 cf. also Brenner p. 12

[55] Brenner , p. 25

[56] Ibid., p. 25

[57] Pope, p. 126

[58][58] Ibid., pp 130-131

[59] Meek cited in Pope, p. 42

[60] Vines, J, Hermeneutics, Exegesis and Proclamation, (Criswell Theological Review 1.2, 1987), p310

[61] Lindbeck, G, Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Post-Liberal age (SPCK, 1984), p. 119 (my italics)

[62] Ibid,. p. 119 Schleiermacher (d. 1834) pioneered work in this regard, he isolated the difficulty arising from the ‘hermeneutical circle’, and showed how the grammatical dimension of interpretation was dynamically linked to the psychological, suggesting that texts are best understood and judged from the perspective of the creative mind of the author and their ‘authorial intent’ – to ‘put oneself in the position of the author’ cf. Schleiermacher, F, Hermeneutics: The Handwritten Manuscripts. Ed. Heinz Kimmerle. Trans. James Duke and Jack Forstman. (Atlanta: Scholars Press.) pp 1805-33.

[63] Ibid., p 113

[64] Ostriker, A, A Holy of Holies: The Song of Songs as Countertext cited in The Song of Songs: A Feminist companion to the Bible ed. Brenner, A & Fontaine, R, C (Sheffield Academic Press, 2000),  p.37

[65] Pardes, I, Countertraditions in the Bible: A feminist approach (HUP, 1992), pp 124-127

[66] Pope, p. 140

[67] Ibid., p. 118

[68] Exum, p. 31

[69] Bird, P,  Images of Women in the Old testament, in, Religion and Sexism (Simon and Schuster, 1974), p. 82

[70] Pope, p.146

[71] Ibid., p. 147

[72] Ibid., p. 149

[73] Pope

[74] Ibid.

[75] Ibid., p. 150

[76] Gadamer, H,  http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/gadamer/#HapTra accessed 09/07/2012; “Inasmuch as understanding is taken to involve a ‘fusion of horizons’, then so it always involves the formation of a new context of meaning that enables integration of what is otherwise unfamiliar, strange or anomalous. In this respect, all understanding involves a process of mediation and dialogue between what is familiar and what is alien in which neither remains unaffected.”

[77] Loewe’s argument cited in Pope, p. 101

[78] Ibid.

[79] Ibid, p. 94

[80] Ibid., p. 100

[81] Ibid., p. 105

[82] ‘Heaven forbid! No one in Israel ever disputed that the Song of Songs defiles hands, for all the world is not as worthy as the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel’ cf. Butting, K, Go your way: Women rewrite the Scriptures (Song of Songs 2.8-14) cited in The Song of Songs: A Feminist companion to the Bible ed. Brenner, A & Fontaine, R, C (Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), p. 143

[83] Ibid., p. 106

[84] Pope, p. 106

[85] Ibid., p. 110

[86] Brenner, A, ‘My’ Song of Songs,’ cited in. The Song of Songs: A Feminist companion to the Bible ed. Brenner, A & Fontaine, R, C (Sheffield Academic Press, 2000) p. 154

[87] Pope, p. 96

[88] Pope, p. 97

[89] Ibid.

[90] Pope, p. 98

[91] Matter, E, The Voice of My Beloved: The Song of Songs in Western Medieval Christianity (University of Pensylvania Press, 1990), p. 21

[92] Ibid., p. 7

[93] Matter, p.7

[94] Ibid., p. 54

[95] Ibid.

[96] Pope, pp 122-13

[97] St Bernard, Sermon 1:3 accessed at http://www.ldysinger.com/@texts2/1150_bernard/03_bern-SOS-1.htm

[98]Zola, G, A, Radbertus’s Monastic Voice: Ideas about Monasticism at Ninth-century Corbie, (Loyola University, 2008), pp 108-110

[99] Pope, p. 189

[100] Pope pp. 119-120

[101] Pope, p. 193

[102] Pope John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (Pauline Books & Media, 2006), p. 552

[103] Brenner, The Song of Songs, p. 71

[104] Pope, pp 141-144

Image is my own; “Come away, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or like a young stag on the spice-laden mountains” (Song 8;14).

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