Monday, June 05, 2006

The Song of Songs

Several recent events have led me to do some deeper reading and research on the Song of Songs. The charge that the book has a sexual nature that is out of place in the realm of the holy is an old one. It has been leveled, at times, by both Christians and the detractors of Christianity. Some of my more humorous of late has been Victorian bible scholars and their attempts to address the books theology while not addressing it’s sexuality.

Over the next month or so, I’ll be doing a chapter by chapter analysis of the Song of Songs. To be sure, the most vocal recent critical opponents of the Song of Songs are those of the Muslim faith. This point is reflective of the larger difference between the two faiths: The redemption of the body as a Christian principle.

The Song of Songs has been seen in many lights throughout it’s history:

1. A literary work

2. A poem, divinely inspired, that speaks of God’s love for Israel

3. A poem, divinely inspired, that speaks of God’s love for His Church

4. A historical work embellished in poetry as a tribute to Solomon and the queen of Sheba

5. A divinely inspired work that delves into the nature and beauty of the Sacrament of Marriage

6. A Marian foreshadowing

7. (Tied to #5) A work, divinely inspired, that deals with the redemption of the physical form.

I’ll be hitting on all of these points, but it is a combination of 2,3,5 and 7 that will dominate my analysis. In short: The Song of Songs speaks of God’s love for His people and leads us to an understanding of our physical natures redeemed by Christ and given the ultimate holy purpose of a loving marriage. Sexual imagery is not out of place because our physical natures are not base or sinful when oriented toward God’s glory in the sacrament of marriage.

Before I start doing the chapters, I'd like to take a look at just how much depth this book has. I have found several interesting points that reveal the true beauty of the work. One point is that in Songs 5:9 there is the phrase:

What is your beloved more than another beloved?

This is the only time in the Bible where this Hebrew grammatical structure is used:

“Mah (X) Mi{n} (Y)” The specific structure of “How is this different from that”

This is not a comparative structure but a differentiating structure. Although this grammatical structure is found nowhere else in the Bible, it is found somewhere else:

Mah nistannah ha-laylah ha-zeh mi{n}-kol ha-leylot
How is this night different from any other?

Used once in the Bible in the Song of Songs, but one of the most important questions ever asked. It is used at Passover to differentiate the night of deliverance from all other nights.

To me this is a beautiful parallel in the divinely inspired work to our redemption by Christ. How is the beloved different from all others? Because He brings deliverance and redemption.

Works I will be using (so far):

The Bible
The Revised Standard Catholic Edition

Love's fugue : translation and commentary on 'The finest song of all'
Xavier McMonagle

The Theology of the Body
John Paul II

The Song of Songs : a new translation with an introduction and commentary
Ariel Bloch and Chana Bloch; afterword by Robert Alter

The Cantata of Love: A Verse by Verse Reading of the Song of Songs
Blaise Arminjon, S.J.

Sacred marriage : the wisdom of the Song of songs
Nicholas Ayo

Feast of love : Pope John Paul II on human intimacy
Mary G. Durkin

Shir Hashirim : The "Songs of songs," as echoed in its Midrash. (An insight into the traditional conception of Jewish nationhood)
Yitzhak Broch


Bent El Neel said...

Hey David
Welcome back to blogworld :) hope u had a lovely time with the family.

Now this is certainly going to be very beneficial. I am looking forward to your upcoming analysis because it will be a great help for me also. I have found a couple of good resources but they are all in Arabic.

Thanks for your hard work Dave...There's always something to learn around here in your blog :)

DavidNic said...

Thanks. My sister, my wife and I had a wonderful time.

As I looked at the Song of Songs I found great scholarship, but figured I'd gather it together and provide some analysis.

My appreciation for the Poem has been greatly increased.

erudit said...

Looking forward to your commentary, David.

Anonymous said...

Any spiritual meaning of song of songs is just a joke.The work is clearly a literary work with frank sexual hints and many saints of church e.g. Thomas Acquinas said clearly they wonder to post this poem in bible.It is not difficult to explain every thing by a mystic meaning whether food or stools.The song is clearly derived from old egyptian songs about love.

DavidNic said...

The song is clearly derived from Egyptian love songs. The culture of Egypt infused the fertile crescent.

The Style is clearly egyptian based miked with Hebrew folklore references.

The theology however is not. Of course the work has to do with sexuality. Sexuality is not a dirty concept. It is part of who we are. Many strange understandings of the songs have been given by Christian saints who were afraid to deal head on with the sexual nature.

But it is not the charge that the song is sexual that bothers me, but that the sexuality is somehow immoral or out of place.

John Paul II Theology of The Body and the concept od redemption of sexuality clearly brings the true meanings of this poem as a spiritual work to light.

Anonymous said...

We are looking at the song of songs in our church group and would be glad of any enlightenment.

DavidNic said...

The list of references I have above are very good.