bible blog 1066

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings, along with a headline from world news:

Edward Snowden’s lady is alone now he’s in hiding

Lindsay Mills

Lindsay Mills

Song of Solomon 1

Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)

1 The Ultimate Song, by Shlomo:

[She]

Let him smother me with kisses from his mouth, for your love is better than wine. Your anointing oils have a wonderful fragrance; your name is like anointing oil poured out. This is why young women love you — “Take me with you. We will run after you.” The king has brought me into his rooms.

[Chorus]

We will be glad and rejoice for you. We will praise your love more than wine. How right it is for them to love you!

[She]

I am dark tan but beautiful, you daughters of Yerushalayim, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Shlomo. Don’t stare at me because I’m dark; it’s the sun that tanned me. My mother’s sons were angry with me and made me look after the vineyards. But I haven’t cared for my own vineyard.

Tell me, my love, where you pasture your flock, where you have them rest at noon; for why should I veil myself [like a whore] beside the flocks of your friends?

[Chorus]

If you do not know, you most beautiful of women, then follow the footprints of the flock and let your kids graze by the shepherds’ tents.

[He]

My love, I compare you with my mare, pulling one of Pharaoh’s chariots — 10 your cheeks are lovely with ornaments, your neck with its strings of beads; 11 we will make you ornaments of gold, studded with silver.

[She]

12 As the king reclines at table, my nard gives forth its perfume: 13 to me the man I love is a sachet of myrrh lodged between my breasts; 14 to me the man I love is a spray of henna flowers in the vineyards of ‘Ein-Gedi.

[He]

15 Look at you, my love! How beautiful you are! Your eyes are doves —

[She]

16             — Look at you! So handsome, so pleasing, my darling! Our bed is the greenery; 17 cedars are the beams of our houses, cypresses the rafters.

Raphael: Solomon and Queen of Sheba

Raphael: Solomon and Queen of Sheba

I’ve given this song in the Jewish Bible Translation as it represents well the eroticism of the original. As scholars cannot agree on the date of the writing -it’s certainly not contemporary with King Solomon- and as there a very few other writings with which it can be compared, it’s hard to tell whether the its language is completely original, completely conventional, or a mixture of both. Perhaps it’s most likely that the author is using the common poetic language of love but using its resources creatively.

Christian interpretation has made a complete mess of this writing because it interpreted it as an allegory of the relationship of Christ and the Church, or of the individual soul and God. The effect of this was to introduce intriguing erotic elements into the language of theology, while distorting the celebration of sexual love set out in the Song of Songs. The ecstasy of sexual love has been used as a metaphor for the divine/ human relationship in many writings, but this writing is not one of these. The attempts of pious commentators to find a theological meaning for “the man I love is a sachet of myrrh lodged between my breasts,” are amusing but hardly convincing.

No, Song of Songs is a celebration of sexual love between a royal man, designated as Solomon, and a country woman, called the “Shulamite” whom he will take as one of his wives. Although there is no equality of status between the man and the woman, it is notable that within their relationship she can take the initiative and insist that he show her all the courtesies of love: she refuses to hang about waiting for him, “veiled like a whore.”

The format of the song is uncertain; scholars have to deduce who is speaking from the gender of the Hebrew pronouns, but we can be sure that is a dialogue, the expression of exclusive love between man and woman, and therefore recognisable in every human culture. I doubt if a contemporary Scottish woman would be too delighted if her lover compared her to Pharaoh’s horse, but perhaps if he said she was as elegant as Bill Gates’s Lamborghini or Roman Abramovitch’s Yacht, she might get the picture. What we read here is a form of courtship in which the issue is not “if” but “when.” The pair are already lovers, so the wooing is a sort of teasing which refuses to take love-making for granted. There seems to be a hint of separation and re-uniting, a mention of a wedding, but there’s no clear progression of events in the songs, just a repetition of the couple’s delight in each other. And that’s enough to reveal the purpose of the Song, which is to depict personal erotic love between man and woman as happy and glorious. We could say, “as God’s gift” but there is no mention of God in the Song.

Rembrandt: The Jewish Bride

Rembrandt: The Jewish Bride

Ah, but is it only “love between man and woman” that is glorious? What about love been man and man or woman and woman? The Bible has not provided us with that specific affirmation, although it praises all love. If people have come to believe that same- sex relationships are just as worthy of celebration, then they have to write the songs. It’s maybe due to the lack of such songs and stories that some people find it difficult to see heterosexual and homosexual marriage as the same thing.

 

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