Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
August 27th, 2015 by Joel Watts

Does Song of Solomon argue with Genesis 1-3 about human sexuality ?

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If, as some critics have argued, the Song’s humanistic viewpoint represents an Israelite poet’s self-conscious attempt to “demythologize” ancient Near Eastern concepts of sacred sexuality — manifest in fertility rites of sympathetic magic — the broader vision sketched in Genesis 1–2 calls into question the notion that male-female sexual relationships were thereby completely desacralized, secularized, or set loose from constraints of moral decision making. Neither in the Song nor elsewhere in Scripture is human sexual love celebrated as “its own legitimation.” It is to be diligently sought after and treasured when found, because it is a vital part of God’s gracious design for human life; it is a “good” gift to be enjoyed and yet, like others, capable of being twisted by human perversity.1

The author goes on to suggest that by looking at these things together, we get a framework for human sexuality. He gives a few points:

  • That sex is (morally) good (think Genesis 1)
  • That love makes sex better
  • Erotic love makes sex steamy and that is good

He concludes…

Human sexual fulfillment, fervently sought and consummated in reciprocal love between woman and man: Yes, that is what the Song of Songs is about, in its literal sense and theologically relevant meaning.

  1. Roland Edmund Murphy, The Song of Songs: A Commentary on the Book of Canticles or the Song of Songs (ed. S. Dean McBride; Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 100–101.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

11 Responses to “Does Song of Solomon argue with Genesis 1-3 about human sexuality ?”
  1. I’m not sure what to say about Murphy’s “framework” points as you summarized them. They’re OK. Incomplete, but not bad. His main conclusions which you quoted are very good. He is correct that if you put Genesis 1-2 together with Song of Solomon that you get a framework for human sexuality. I’m glad we have both. But I think he gives too much credit to the people he’s arguing with. Anyone who would would seriously propose or accept “the notion that male-female sexual relationships were thereby completely desacralized, secularized, or set loose from constraints of moral decision making,” based on reading the Song of Solomon, is an idiot. But that’s why I don’t write commentaries I guess; I’m not polite enough. But wait, you write commentaries, so… 😉

    Reading that again I realize that since I’m reacting like that to Murphy’s characterization of certain other positions (“set loose from constraints of moral decision making”), maybe he isn’t giving them too much credit after all. Hmm.

  2. Know More Than I Should says

    Of course, all of this begs the question: Where the Ancient Hebrews essentially a collective fertility cult.

    • define fertility cult

      • Know More Than I Should says

        Fertility cults tend to worship new life.

        While most ancient civilizations had a fertility goddess, the Ancient Hebrews were monotheistic. Thus, a competing deity was not a possibility.

        At the same time, having a compelling need to survive in harsh environment during difficult times, the Hebrews obviously held minority status when compared to their neighbors. As a result, they constructed a mythology to justify the subjective role of women.

        Because a woman brought “sin” into the world, all women were therefore to be under the thumb of their husbands. Any sex act, or even physical condition of a woman, not likely to result in procreation was either unclean or it was an affront to God. Under some circumstances rape was permitted.

        On the other said of the coin, a man not capable of procreation (crushed testicles) was forbidden from entering the Temple.

        While the one man married to one woman may have been the ideal, polygamy was rampant. While prostitution may have been forbidden, concubines were a fact of life. (Quite likely, because prostitution would have given women a path to independent wealth and, thus, from men, explains why it was forbidden.)

        All of the above, and more, suggests that Judaism may have been one large fertility cult.

  3. Actually, if you follow William Dever, you know that many idols of Asherah were found in ruins of the average peasant homes in Israel. Dever, I think, says it looks like there may have been Asherah worship (or at least revering) by the women of the household.

  4. Know More Than I Should says

    Apparently, either the Ancient Hebrews had a tradition of polytheism before the deportation, or they treated Asher as Yahweh’s consort/wife.

    • Women and men had separate lives. Yahweh or El for men. Women didn’t buy into the priestly BS. They had their own god. Maybe a lesser God, but a God that new and understood their problems….child birth, raising children, putting up with an a-hole husband, etc.. Just my personal opinion. The written texts were male dominated. Thus the fixation on Yahweh only.

      • Know More Than I Should says

        Beyond Asherah, according to academic criticism with which I am familiar, the primary Old Testament divinity seems to have had at least a dual personas. Somewhat oversimplified, there was a benevolent god and a wrathful god.

        At some point, these two personalities were woven together to create the unified deity found in current versions of the Old Testament. However, consolidation of the male divinity came at the expense of any female component or consort.

        Regardless of details, one fact appears obvious. The Judaic contribution to Judeo-Christian tradition seems to have evolved on this earth rather than arrived delivered fully formed from on high. Likewise, much the same thing occurred in church history.

          • Know More Than I Should says

            It is all quite reminiscent of parents telling Little Johnny to not shove a sting bean up his nose. So, what does Little Johnny do?

            Much the same is true in the United States during the war on alcohol, aka Prohibition. Just say no to alcohol turned about half the country into criminals!

            The Soviet Union tried telling everyone to just say no to religion. That didn’t work too well either.

            Sometimes, one of the fastest ways to get people to do or try something is to forbid it.

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