Monday, December 31, 2012

Song 8:5-14 - A Better Way


5 Who is that coming up from the wilderness,
   leaning upon her beloved?
Under the apple tree I awakened you.
There your mother was in labour with you;
   there she who bore you was in labour.
6 Set me as a seal upon your heart,
   as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
   passion fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
   a raging flame.
7 Many waters cannot quench love,
   neither can floods drown it.
If one offered for love
   all the wealth of one’s house,
   it would be utterly scorned.
8 We have a little sister,
   and she has no breasts.
What shall we do for our sister,
   on the day when she is spoken for?
9 If she is a wall,
   we will build upon her a battlement of silver;
but if she is a door,
   we will enclose her with boards of cedar.
10 I was a wall,
   and my breasts were like towers;
then I was in his eyes
   as one who brings peace.
11 Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon;
   he entrusted the vineyard to keepers;
   each one was to bring for its fruit a thousand pieces of silver.
12 My vineyard, my very own, is for myself;
   you, O Solomon, may have the thousand,
   and the keepers of the fruit two hundred!
13 O you who dwell in the gardens,
   my companions are listening for your voice;
   let me hear it.
14 Make haste, my beloved,
   and be like a gazelle
or a young stag
   upon the mountains of spices! (NRSV)
This is the last of our section by section posts on the Song of Songs. Stay tuned for a post discussing the didactic intention of the Song and for our usual commentary review post. Since we're making announcements, also look for a post coming soon giving a personal update and another announcing major changes at this blog.

The scene opens with the man and woman coming up from the wilderness. This is the second time this has happened. Weren't they just in a lush garden? Is this a signal to read against the grain? Against the expression of the two lovers?

Their love has grown strong. The girl  insists that nothing can tear them apart. They are not married and the
girl will not accept any other. Like death, love has consumed her.

Verses eight and nine are a tough nut to crack. With Exum, I find it highly unlikely that the brothers are the speakers of these verses. They are yet to speak in the entire poem. However, against Exum, I take the 'we' to imply a group speaking, that group being the daughters of Jerusalem. The Song is didactic and hence it's not shocking that it might want to make its point clear here at the climax. The daughters of Jerusalem have seen what has happened to the woman. How do they prevent it from happening to others? They must keep them pure once they are are betrothed. They must become truly inaccessible. Attractive but inaccessible - and not the pretense of inaccessibility that the girl of the Song exhibited. Attractive inaccessibility required the help of the community. The girl responds by saying that she was just like a beautiful inaccessible city - except that she wasn't inaccessible.

The next two verses are spoken by the man. He does not believe that there was a need for the girl to have been tended to by others. He could tend to his own woman just fine - except that she wasn't really his woman. We don't know if the girl was betrothed to another or not, but it does not seem likely that she was betrothed to him.

The Song closes as we might expect. The woman gives one more wistful cry for union, for love not satisfied, to indulge in the most sensuous of pleasures yet once more.

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