Song of SongsThe following is a paper I wrote this week for my graduate Old Testament class.  It provides some insight into the difficulties Biblical scholars have in interpreting the subject and meaning of the Song of Songs for the modern-day church.  I pray it will open your eyes a bit as well. – PK

 

In Part Three: The Writings in Old Testament Survey (425-582 LaSor), the authors highlight the Writings section of Scripture. Of particular intrigue are the diverse interpretations for the controversial Song of Songs.  LaSor provides an eclectic list of the various scholarly approaches to Songs’ theological style, ranging from allegorical and typological, to its use in weddings and funerals (LaSor 515-517).  Admitting that “scholars have found it hard to agree about the origin, meaning, and purpose of the Song” (LaSor 515), the question of why the lack of consensus is glaring.  As Saadia Gaon aptly put it in his opening commentary on Song of Songs, ‘They (the various interpretations) differ because Song of Songs can be compared to a lock whose keys have been lost.” (“A ‘do not disturb’ sign?  Reexamining the Adjuration Refrain in Song of Songs” – Gault, Brian P; Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 36.1 (2011) 93).

One possible explanation for scholarly disagreement is the cultural gap between the explicit graphic imagery used in typical ancient Hebraic writing and our modern western sensibilities (LaSor 514).  Boyd Luter explains that this disconnect leads to “the tradition or interpreter effectively blushing, not willing to accept the obvious” (“Love in a fallen world: further toward a theology of the Song of Songs” – Luter, Boyd; Criswell Theological Review, 10.1 (2012) 53).

In his classic study of the differences between Greek and Hebrew perspective, Thorlief Boman says that, unlike Greeks, Israelites viewed descriptive imagery, not as “photographic,” but as an “impression of the objects quality” (Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek, trans. J.L. Moreau (Philadelphia: 1960), 75).  According to Boman, Israelites utilize images in Song of Songs (such as a tower, mountain, and wall) to signify the maiden’s “insurmountability, inaccessibility, pride, purity, and virginity” (Boman 78).  This understanding sheds light upon other images used, such as a “locked garden” (Songs 4:12) and a “fortified, unconquerable royal city, such as Jerusalem or Tirzah” (Boman 79).  Instead of these images promoting ambiguity, when viewed in their cultural context, the description of a “head like a mountain” (Songs 7:5) and “breasts like a tower” (Songs 8:10) reflect proper sexual etiquette, not inappropriateness that invites theological “blushing” (Luter 53).

As LaSor eludes, an understanding of Song of Songs within its cultural background, “a wholesome, biblical balance between the extremes of sexual excess and of (the traditional view of) asceticism” (LaSor 517), would better assist us in our interpretation of this beautiful section of Scripture.