Skip to main content

Is the Song of Songs Ironic?

We once again meet our refrain warning the daughters of Jerusalem. If you've read my comments closely you should be able to determine two opinions that I have. One is that the couple is not married in any of the scenes discussed so far. The second is that I believe they have been sexually active in some way shape or form.[1] While we should not assume that Israelite culture was anywhere near as "conservative" as the legal portions of the Torah might suggest, it would be surprising to find a work in the Old Testament unabashedly extolling sexual love between two unmarried people. And allegorical interpretation wouldn't solve that problem. Even if it did, most scholars hold that allegorical interpretation arose because of the Song was in the canon, not the other way around. How did it get there?


Perhaps the Song is ironic. Perhaps the Song is a warning against what it seems to be celebrating. Specifically, it could be a well crafted warning to women to be careful not to fall in love before the appropriate time. Several factors lead me to this possible identification. First, the Song was associated with Solomon, which means that it was associated with the ancient Israelite wisdom tradition. This implies a clear didactic concern. When we scan the song for signals as to this concern, we run across one sentence that repeats. 'I adjure you daughters of Jerusalem...do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready!' This is the overt moral message of the song. Each occurrence of this refrain follows a section describing intimate activity or that has strong sexual overtones. Second the woman's behavior in the song is sometimes outrageous. For example, her wandering out at night in search of her beloved is extreme behavior. By portraying her as being wild and throwing caution and social mores to the wind it warns others to guard themselves or they may be transformed into a wild woman (and perhaps this explains the bizarre scene in chapter 5 where she gets beaten by the guards). This also, in my opinion, explains the female-centric voice of the poem.


Who would have interest[2] in this type of text? Older, elite, male, religious leaders would certainly be one group. They would have a strong interest in seeing their daughters remain chaste. It also would cause the text to cohere with portions of the legal code about premarital sex, even in terms of their strong focus on the activity of the woman.[3]


I certainly don't think it's an open and shut case, but I would want to submit it for further thought. I know I'm swimming against the tide with this suggestion, but I just don't see how the Song could get canonized otherwise, if it is a poem about premarital sexual love.  


----------------------
[1] A point held by most commentators, including at least one conservative scholar - Tremper Longman.
[2] Interest is not being used as a loaded term here. Some of those interests that drove the canonization of the Song were probably positive, and some probably negative.
[2] Premarital sex isn't a major topic in either the Old or New Testament, so I don't want this sentence to be understood as suggesting that the Bible focuses on the topic a lot. It doesn't. It's not even in the discussion with issues like generosity and the just treatment of the socially disadvantaged. In fact, outside of a couple of texts in the law it'd be hard to find texts that give clear condemnation. The case must be inferred.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Commentary Series Overview

When I write commentary reviews, one of my main goals is to assess how well the commentator hit the intended audience of the commentary and utilized the format of the commentary. This often necessitates cluttering up the post discussing issues of format. To eliminate that, I thought that I would make some general remarks about the format and audience of each of the series that appear in my reviews. Terms like liberal, conservative, etc. are not used pejoratively but simply as descriptors. Many of you are familiar with Jeremy Pierce's commentary series overview. If you don't see a particular series covered here, check out his post to see if it's reviewed there. I am making no attempt at covering every series, just the series that I use. Additionally, new series (such as the NCCS) have been started in the five years since he wrote his very helpful guide, so I thought that it might not be completely out of order to have another person tackle commentary series overviews. This…

Paul's Argument in Galatians 3:15-29

15 Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. 16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. 17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise. 19 Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. 20 A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one. 21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! Fo…

Doctor Who: Rose Tyler - Traitor?

The end of season four was very, very controversial. When I first saw it, I felt cheated. I was angry. The more I think about it, the more I think I see what Russell Davies was doing. He is too good of a writer and the show is too carefully crafted for him to screw up Rose's character and the end of a four season storyline. So while the ending isn't strictly part of our series, it is tangentially related, and I've agonized over that scene in Bad Wolf Bay so much that I have to write about it. :)

To briefly set things up, near the end of the final episode of season four, there is a meta-crisis, that results in a part human. part Time Lord Doctor being generated. He has all of the Doctor's memories, and thinks and acts like the Doctor. However, importantly, he only has one heart and cannot regenerate. He only has one life to live. The meta-crisis Doctor brought full resolution to the battle fought against the Daleks, and in the process, wiped them out. Thus, the real Doc…