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Friday Bible Blogging - Song of Songs 1 to 8

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). All headings are links to those Bible chapters.

BibleToday's entry will cover the entire book of The Song of Songs, also known as The Song of Solomon. The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), in its introduction to the book, noted that despite historical religious interpretations by Jews and Christians, the current scholarly consensus is that this really is a love poem, with no divine meaning. It makes no reference to the Law or even Yahweh himself. It's a bit puzzling why such a poem would be included in the canon of Jewish religious scriptures, but that's the strange nature of the Bible. The NOAB also notes that the book bears many similarities to contemporary Mesopotamian and Egyptian love poetry, and that "the poet drew upon a rich cultural tradition of love poetry", a poet who, by the way almost certainly wasn't Solomon.

This marks the last of the Wisdom books, but I'm still not quite halfway through with the whole Bible.

I wasn't particularly fond of this book. But then again, I'm not particularly fond of modern day love poetry, so I can't really comment on whether or not this is a good example of the genre. Since there wasn't much that really jumped out at me about this book, I'm going to channel my inner middle schooler and focus mainly on the scandalous sections, just to have something somewhat interesting to write about.


Song of Songs, Chapter 1

The poem jumps right into a physical relationship in the opening lines.

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine

And according to the NOAB, it's "Love, a plural form referring to physical lovemaking". So maybe 'love' should be in scare quotes.

Or consider this passage:

   they made me keeper of the vineyards,
   but my own vineyard I have not kept!

Is being the keeper of your own vineyard anything like being the master of your own domain? Even according to the NOAB, "My own vineyard refers to he woman herself, probably with a sexual meaning".

As long as your mind's in the gutter, this next passage sounds reasonably bad, but it sounds even worse with the proper translation.

Tell me, you whom my soul loves,
   where you pasture your flock,
   where you make it lie down at noon;

According to the NOAB, that second line should read simply, 'Where do you graze?'.


Song of Songs, Chapter 2

Here are the last two lines from this chapter.

turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle
   or a young stag on the cleft mountains.

According to the NRSV and NOAB footnotes, 'cleft mountains' might be better translated as 'mountains of spices', but either way, you know what 'mountains' it's referring to. As the NOAB puts it, this "alludes to the woman herself and the various pleasures her body offers, perhaps her breasts".


Song of Songs, Chapter 3

I've got nothing from this chapter. None of it jumped out at me.


Song of Songs, Chapter 4

Romantic imagery was a bit different in that culture:

Your hair is like a flock of goats,
   moving down the slopes of Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes
   that have come up from the washing,
all of which bear twins,
   and not one among them is bereaved.

I don't think I'd set much of a romantic mood with my wife if I started comparing her to goats and sheep.

Here's one of the more explicit references to anatomy:

Your two breasts are like two fawns,
   twins of a gazelle,
   that feed among the lilies.

And like the NOAB says, "Elsewhere the man is described as feeding among the lilies, an erotically suggestive image in which the lilies signify the woman".

The very next passage is this:

Until the day breathes
   and the shadows flee,
I will hasten to the mountain of myrrh
   and the hill of frankincense.

And you know what 'mountain' this is referring to.


Song of Songs, Chapter 5

I thought maybe I was being a bit too juvenile reading this chapter, but according to the NOAB, it's "replete with sexual allusions." So when you read this passage:

My beloved thrust his hand into the opening,
   and my inmost being yearned for him.

I guess it really is just as bad as it seems.

And this is almost enough to make me blush:

I arose to open to my beloved,
   and my hands dripped with myrrh,
my fingers with liquid myrrh,
   upon the handles of the bolt.
I opened to my beloved,

Or when she's describing her lover:

His appearance is like Lebanon,
   choice as the cedars.

How salacious.


Song of Songs, Chapter 6

There's nothing that really jumps out from this chapter, but just wait for the next one.


Song of Songs, Chapter 7

Oh my. This is another rather explicit chapter. Even if, as the NOAB puts it, the body parts are "described in metaphors that are not transparent", you can certainly get the gist of enough to know that this isn't G-rated.

Your rounded thighs are like jewels,
   the work of a master hand.
Your navel is a rounded bowl
   that never lacks mixed wine.

And navel might even be more explicit than just the belly button. According to the NOAB, it might be "a euphemism for 'vulva.' "

And just consider this:

I say I will climb the palm tree
   and lay hold of its branches.
O may your breasts be like clusters of the vine,
   and the scent of your breath like apples,
and your kisses like the best wine
   that goes down smoothly,
   gliding over lips and teeth.

And again, I'm sure you can guess what the branches are that the man lays a hold of.


Song of Songs, Chapter 8

This passage gets just a bit too kinky for me.

I would lead you and bring you
   into the house of my mother,
   and into the chamber of the one who bore me.

There's no way I would 'make love' in my parents' bed. That's just wrong, but I guess it turned on the lovers in this poem.

The poem ends with these verses.

O you who dwell in the gardens,
   my companions are listening for your voice;
   let me hear it.

Make haste, my beloved,
   and be like a gazelle
or a young stag
   upon the mountains of spices!

If that seems abrupt, apparently that was on purpose. As the NOAB puts it, "The poet does not bring the Song to a proper close, so that the love it celebrates can remain unending."


---

So, this wasn't the best book of the Bible, but it wasn't the worst, either. And I apologize if this review was a bit juvenile compared to some of my other reviews, but that's about the only way I could think of to keep it somewhat interesting. Other than that, it's just a sappy love poem that's not really my cup of tea.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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