Category Archives: Song of Solomon

Thinking of doing a new thesis… Singing Solomon’s Song: The Deuteronomist’s Sexual Ethics

That’s just a working title. I wouldn’t want to spend a month or so on it, since I am doing my second draft of my book starting next week.

But any suggestions? Any critical commentaries on SoS?

Things like that?

Thoughts?

Brief Exegesis: Song of Solomon 2-3.4

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There is so much more to be said about this wonderful book, but I only have 1500 words.

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The Song of Solomon is a work which has often been purposely clouded in allegorical mystery; however as this exegesis will show, the work fits well into the subtle, but sexually passionate, protest songs as often song by women in the Ancient Near East, with this passage in particular showing the work of the more a humanistic Deuteronomist[1] mindset. We cannot interpret the Song either hyper-literally, or hyper-erotically, but must rely upon social context to drive our understanding of this deeply beautiful text. We should de-euphemize the text, setting the whole work within the frame of the ANE love poem as often performed (and ‘written’ in some cases) by women who were challenging the patriarchal worldview at the moment.

Contextual Analysis

The passage in question is 2.1-3.4 which is a song sung by the Beloved (female), first to her Lover (male), then to the Maidens (audience), which includes an oath, an interaction between the two, and finally a story of longing. 2.1-3 contains a sort of emblematic parallel which has the Beloved speaking (v1), the Lover (v2) and the Beloved again (v3), with each line containing nearly the same thought. The flower mentioned in verse 1 is often translated as ‘rose’, which would have made it nearly impossible to fit within the author’s timeframe, as the introduction of the rose is late to Palestine. Instead, it is better translated as meadow-saffron (NET, 2.1 note). The saffron plant was used in a variety of ways, and more notably in Egypt as an aphrodisiac[2]. It would have been a desert flower and was used as a symbol of God’s pleasure with Israel (Isa 35.1). This agricultural imagery is not reserved only for the Beloved, as the apple tree is used to represent the Lover. The apple was often times a symbol of romantic as well as sexual love (S.N Kramer, The Sacred Marriage Rite, 100-101) and is used in the Song to represent sexual desire (2.5, 7, 9) and in other parts of the Hebrew bible to represent fertility (Joel 1.12). Verse 3 is important in our later discussion because it shows that the Beloved is taking pleasure in (delight) in the kisses (fruit) of her Lover. The shade mentioned in this verse should be seen as a sort of protection afforded the Beloved by the Lover (cf John 4.6) especially given the fact that her skin has been darkened due to her own management of her vineyards. The temptation to interpret this passion in a hyper-erotic manner leaves us without the proper context. Vineyards are used as a symbol of sexuality (2.15), but the Beloved has been left on her own to ‘manage’ this field, which informs us that she was an independent person who wasn’t merely being passed around as property, but could in fact engage in courtship herself and select her own mate.

In 2.4-6, we may see signs of a fertility ritual, but what we more easily see is the expression of the sexual passion which the Beloved has for her Lover. The LXX, later mimicked by medieval Hebrew MSS (NET, note on 2.4), casts this verse in the imperative, so that this entire passage is seen as the Beloved demanding to be brought into the banquet hall and to be refreshed due to her lovesickness. The commands are in plural imperatives which give us the notion that the speech is meant to be given passionately.  The foods mentioned in v5 are foods often associated with ANE virility rites (cf 2 Sam 6.19; 1 Chron 16.3) and are cures for what is only best described as a near death state caused by the lack of sexual passion. These demands are met by the Lover who takes her into his arms for an embrace which may in fact be sexual union. Regardless of the actual outcome of the demands, it is noticeable that it is the woman who initiates the actions, not through beguiling or seduction, but by demanding the embrace of her Lover.

2.7-9 is the oath of the Beloved in which there is almost a step back from the demands presented in 2.4-6. Note that the oath is made ‘by the gazelles and the young does’, replacing the ancient witnesses of the heavens and the earth (Deut 32.1). These were symbols of romantic love (Pro 5.19), with other ANE literature associating them with sexual fertility. It was not uncommon to use the animals in this passage as an incantation for fertility, as we find in Mesopotamia, “With the love-[making of the mountain goat] six times, with the lovemaking of a stag seven times, with the lovemaking of a partridge twelve times, make love to me! Make love to me because I am young! And the lovemaking of a stag…Make love to me!” (R. D. Biggs, Ancient Mesopotamian Potency Incantations [TCS], 26, lines 4-8).”

2.10-17 is an interaction between the two lovers. The turtledove in v12 (and dove in v14) was a symbol of romantic love and is used here by both speakers. In 2.10-17 we return to the notion of security for the Beloved, as we note that she is in the clefts of the rocks (cf Jer 48.28) where her Lover must find her. No doubt, managing her own vineyards, she would need to have a secure place from which to commune with her Lover. In 2.15, we counter the temptation to see her as a defenseless woman with more imperative demands of her Beloved as well as a return to the euphemism of the Vineyards. In 2.17, we find another temptation to interpret this passage too aggressively, but here it may be one in which we yield too. Verse 17 is clearly an invitation, or demand, for a night long furlough into sexual passion. HALOT notes that the phrase “to turn” means to sit at the table and is heavily nuanced. If so, then the invite is for the Lover to turn into the Beloved, which is accompanied again with the symbols of sexual virility.

3.1-4 is set immediately after the invite in 2.17, leaving us with a Beloved longing for her Lover who has disappeared. She searches for him in the city streets and being found by the night watchmen finds her lover. She takes him to her mother’s house, which can stand for several things such as the place of marriage proposal, or that the mother’s house is the place where consummation may happen. The latter is probable, given that in 8.5, consummation occurs under the apple tree where the Lover was conceived. Regardless, the mother’s chamber was a private place where men weren’t allowed.

Synthesis

The woman presented in the Song of Songs is not the usual woman as seen in the wide range of biblical literature. While Ruth is often praised for her initiative, women are generally used as a symbol of what makes a man fall; however, in the Song, we have a woman who is equal in the chase, so to speak, and perhaps even more aggressive, than that of her Lover. It is not condemned in anyway (neither are other excesses), but has long been considered as something holy. Following Foucault, Laqueur and others, Carr supposes that this Song may have helped, or been intended to help, shape sexuality in Ancient Israel. It would have had social predecessors, such as Deuteronomy, which sought to shape the community. What is seen is that this work, which is similar to those performed (and in some cases ‘written) by women in other ANE societies, serves as a patriarchal protest and sets the female on par with that of the male. Carr notes (p240) that the Israelite male had certain rights over that of the female, and yet here, it is the female demanding and exercising her rites. The Beloved is not the archetypical woman, but serves in the same way that Deuteronomy does, to counter established norms and perhaps to try to caress Israelite society to a certain point, and this point is made clear by the (social) obstacles they must continuously overcome (i.e, the night watchmen).

Reflection

I am reminded of the early Christian sermon found in 2nd Clement (ch 12) which supposes that the Kingdom of God will come, “When the two shall be one, and the outside like the inside, and the male with the female, neither male nor female.” The Song of all Songs provides for us today a better understanding of the development of Israelite sexuality, which may serve to help modern believers address such topics with a more canonical focus. The female is aggressive for her lover, and is neither ashamed of it nor shamed by others (Tradition) for it.


[1] I note the influence of the Deuteronomistic way of thinking, especially in assigning humanity to God (see Carr 244-245). Song reflects the attitude of social change as found in Deuteronomy.

[2] Willard, P. (2001), Secrets of Saffron: The Vagabond Life of the World’s Most Seductive Spice, Beacon Press, ISBN 0-8070-5008-3, retrieved 2009-11-23

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Working Thesis Statement for the Song of Solomon Exegesis

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The assignment is due tomorrow and is limited to 1500 words (1500 words!!!!!) so I have to be concise. I am exegeting Song of Solomon 2.2-3.4 which deals with the song from the Beloved (female) to the Lover, an offer, and the plight of trying to find the Lover in the dark of the night.

My main concern is not to interpret the Song as a hyper-erotic tale of ancient pornographic love, but to try to focus on de-euphemizing the text and setting the whole work with in the frame of the ANE love poem as often performed (and ‘written’ in some cases) by women who were challenging the patriarchal worldview at the moment. Here, I rely upon David Carr in his JBL entry, Gender and the Shaping of Desire in the Song of Songs and Its Interpretation, for some this backdrop. It’s not a feminist interpretation, to be sure, but one which seeks to analyze the why of the ‘whoa, should I be reading this’ aspect of the book while tempering the rush to see it as an oppressed view, oppressed by males for centuries.

So the thesis statement is essentially this:

The Song of Solomon is a work which is often purposely clouded in allegorical mystery, set either for or against sexual oppression and often times read in the tenor male voice; however as this exegesis will show, the work fits well into the subtle, but sexually passionate, protest songs as often song by women in the Ancient Near East, with this passage in particular showing the work of the more humanistic Deuteronomist.

Thoughts? Suggestions?

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Brief Exegesis – Song of Songs 2.7

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All those deer in the Song of Solomon are, well, not just deer…

I adjure you, O maidens of Jerusalem,
by the gazelles and by the young does of the open fields:
Do not awaken or arouse love until it pleases! (NET)

“With the love-[making of the mountain goat] six times, with the lovemaking of a stag seven times, with the lovemaking of a partridge twelve times, make love to me! Make love to me because I am young! And the lovemaking of a stag…Make love to me!” (R. D. Biggs, Ancient Mesopotamian Potency Incantations [TCS], 26, lines 4-8).

One of the temptations in looking at the Song of Songs is to interpret it ‘hyper-erotically.’ Unfortunately, with a brief examination of the book alongside that of similar types of ANE literature, it is difficult to not to do so. In this passage (Songs 2.2-3.4), we have what amounts to be we a long song from the Beloved (female), putting her sexuality on an equal plane of that with the Lover (male.) Here, she is not seen as the concubine, or other of the similar types of ‘bad’ biblical women, but as one who longs for her soon to be husband with an intense passion, so intense that she has become sick with love (2.5) and needs to be refreshed only with the love, the very powerful physical love, of her soon to be husband. Her oath here is by the symbols of her desire, the gazelles and the stags which we find as literary metaphors for a passionate experience between two lovers.

note… this is not the final, and it may not ever make it into the final exegesis

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Scratchpad: Exegesis of Song of Solomon 2.2-3.4

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Thanks to Bob on an earlier comment for directing me to this passage, as well as Gez, via Twitter as well. I’ve decided to go with this chapter for no apparent reason than I need to have the assignment done by Friday, but with two people recommending to me what I consider a whole passage, I figured I might go for it. It begins,

Like a lily among thistles is my darling among young women.

Like the finest apple tree in the orchard is my lover among other young men. I sit in his delightful shade and taste his delicious fruit.
He escorts me to the banquet hall; it’s obvious how much he loves me.
Strengthen me with raisin cakes, refresh me with apples, for I am weak with love.
His left arm is under my head, and his right arm embraces me.
Promise me, O women of Jerusalem, by the gazelles and wild deer, not to awaken love until the time is right. (Sol 2:2-7 NLT)

The beauty of this book has often been hide by prudent intepreters, favoring the more allegorical – and if no other place, they will always allegorize this section – than the less than euphemistic literal thought.

It is the week of the Royal Wedding, so this sort of suits the mind set, don’t you think?

I know what you are all relieved…

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A Translation of the Song of Solomon

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What is it that we can know of Songs that this is the best? There are 30 songs in the Psalter. (Psalms 30, 45, 46, 48, 65, 66, 67, 68, 75, 76, 83, 87, 88, 92, 108, and the Psalms of Ascent 120-134) And there are others in the Scripture – like The Song of the Sea Exodus 15:1, or of Deborah and Barak in Judges 5:1 or of David in 2 Samuel 22:1 (= Psalm 18 – not named as a song!) This article by Chris Brady at Targuman lists the top ten from the Targum on the Song. It is an intriguing list because it reveals how the compiler of the Targum read the Scripture as a whole. Chris Brady’s article is very worth reading. (Midrash etc is also posting on the Song. Adam Couturier posting on Heschel is also worth noting in this respect.)

via Dust: The Song of Songs which is of Solomon – Part I.

I am exegeting a passage from the Song which is the greatest of all Songs for my OT class – you know, simply because it is Royal Wedding week, and the Song is about the love of two royals. Anyway, Bob MacDonald stopped by and shared a link, which I am not sharing with you all.

On a side note, can/should you make a translation which which makes unhidden the euphemisms in this book?

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Scratchpad: Exegeting Song of Solomon

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I have to write a short exegesis, 1500 words, for my Old Testament class by Friday (which, ironically enough, is the date of the Royal Wedding, which will be my official excuse for exegeting Song of Songs). I am thinking of doing the Song of Solomon, just for the fun of it, and because, well, oh, you know…. ;)

So, how would you break it down? This is one suggestion, put forth by David Carr, I think:

1:2-2:7 Anticipation
2:8-3:5 Found, and Lost – and Found
3:6-5:1 Consummation
5:2-8:4 Lost – and Found
8:5-14 Affirmation

And here is another one I found, and I think is related to more Jewish allegorical interpretation:

Verses 1:2-3:6 are believed to represent the Exodus, Sinai, the sin of the golden calf, the construction of the tabernacle and entry into Canaan. “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” was understood to allude to the Oral Toral given to Israel by God. Vs 3:6 “What is that coming up from the wilderness, like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all fragrant powders of the merchant?” was seen as Israel’s triumphant entry into Canaan.

Verses 3:7-5:1 are believed to concentrate on the Temple. Ch 4, verses 6-7 “Until the day breaths and the shadows flee, I will hasten to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense. You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.” was understood as God’s promise of protection as long as Israel remained faithful.

Verses 5:2-6:1 refer to Israel’s sin and repentance, and includes the experience of the Babylonian Exile. Indeed the anguish of the exiles may be well reflected in the pain of the female lover when she wakes to find her beloved gone, and is abused as she searches fruitlessly for him. “I opened to my beloved but my beloved had turned and was gone. My soul failed me when he spoke. I sought him but did not find him; I called him but he gave no answer. Making their rounds in the city the sentinels found me; they beat me, they wounded me, they took away my mantle, those sentinels of the walls. I adjure you, o daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, tell him this:I am faint with love.”(5:6-8)

Verses 6:2-7:11 commemorate the post-exilic reconciliation of God and Israel, and the rebuilding of the Temple. The Shulamite’s declaration “I am my beloved’s and his desire is for me” rings out as a response to God’s declaration (Ex 6:7a) “I will take you as my people and I will be your God.”

Verses 7:12-8:14 mark Israel’s exile in the Roman empire and look forward to an ultimate redemption. The Messianic tradition is said to be represented by 8:2, “I would leave you and bring you into the house of my mother, and into the chamber of the one who bore me.” In the final verses God receives the prayers of Israel as Israel awaits her final redemption.

I am trying to pick a passage out, something nice and neat, to write up real quickly.

Any suggestions?

Oh, and just to be clear. This is an exegesis and not an attempt at theologizing. This is about what the text meant to the earliest readers/redactors/canonizers, etc… not how the Church has (badly, at times) interpreted this book, so no, don’t expect me to point everything in this work to Christ. To do so is dishonest, in my opinion.

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