The Bible in and as History: Song of Solomon

So after a bit of a Hiatus I attempt to dive right back in and get to the end of the Old Testament.  When I began this I didn’t realize that it wouldn’t be the reading part that would prove the most difficult, but having things to say about the books in question.

The book of Songs, or the Song of Songs, or the Song of Solomon, is a bit of an odd duck in the old testament.  At first glance(and well second through third to my eyes) it appears to be a ballad to a woman.  That is it appears to be the sort of thing a man writes to  his lover.  Or perhaps about his love.  In places it is a dialogue, going back and forth between two lovers.  In places a woman describes her lover.  In places a man describes his.  There are allusions and metaphors and places that one could easily take the whole thing to be a bit racy.

So how did this thing end up in the canon?  Well not necessarily easily it appears.  It was not accepted into the Jewish canon until the 2nd Century CE.  Eventually it’s supposed authorship by Solomon won out over it potentially less than holy content.  This was occasioned by interpreting the text as being about Gods love of Israel, rather than a romantic or sexual relationship.

Christianity adopted the book into the canon as well as a similar, if not identical metaphorical interpretation.  The text now being taken as a relationship between Jesus and the Church.  According to my reading, later iterations of the Church would develop further readings; The Medieval Catholic Church, for example, would draw metaphoric connections between ‘the Bride’ mentioned in the text and the Virgin Mary.  Because it’s meaning was taken as purely allegorical so early on, the text itself lends towards a variety of interpretations, all some-what meditations on a relationship.  It is, in a way, as if a love poem was taken as a central holy text divorced from the actual people to which it referred so it could be used to describe any relationships; God to Israel.  God to the Church.  The Mother of God to her Son, etc.

Others have drawn comparison between the work and love poetry from Ancient Greece and Egypt.  That it fits within the confines of a broader literary genre, and yet has the stamp of holy scripture is profoundly interesting to me.  It suggests a living text produced first through cultural artifiacts of a particular period of history and than interpreted over and over again through forgoing generations.  This is the formation of history.  One is perhaps reminded of the great Science Fiction novel ‘A Canticle for Leibowitz’ in which a shopping list is interpreted as holy writ by a future generation of monks.  We have no knowledge of the true author of Songs.  If there is indeed even a single author.  We can’t know there historical intent, whether it was indeed some religious allegory or a more mundane understanding of ‘earthly’ love.  What we can see is how the work itself persisted through the accidents and whorls of history.

A Short book, so a short entry, and next time another of the Major Prophets with Isaiah!


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