Archive for the ‘song of songs’ Category
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My brother got married on Saturday. He is not a Christian, and after a certain amount of discussion and compromise, he and his fiancée decided to have a civil ceremony, followed by a church blessing. The church service was really very good in lots of ways – welcoming and warm, appropriate to the couple, clear on the distinctives of marriage, openly Christian whilst recognising the different opinions of others. But there was one particular thing about the service that made me very happy indeed in a wholly unexpected way.
I did one of the readings, and since they asked me to choose what I wanted to read, they got something from the Song of Songs. The passage that I read included the wedding procession of 3:6ff in which the bridegroom arrives perfumed with frankincense and myrrh, in a carriage inlaid with gold. In a totally unrelated decision, they chose to sing a couple of Christmas carols in the service, including O Come All Ye Faithful, with the following verse:
Lo, star-led chieftains,
Magi, Christ adoring,
Offer him incense, gold, and myrrh;
We to the Christ-child
Bring our hearts’ oblations…
Coincidence? I think not.
I’ve finally found a chance to go through the programme for SBL and I’m encouraged to see that there are a number of papers on the Song:
Saturday, 9.00-11.30 am: F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp, The Ekphrastic Image in Song 5:9-16
Saturday, 1.00-3.30 pm: Me, Poetic Structure of Song 7:12-14
Saturday, 4.00-7.00 pm: Al Wolters, Ann Francis (1738-1800) on the Song of Songs
Sunday, 9.00-11.30 am: Janet A. Timble, The interpretation of the Song of Songs in the Pachomian Koinonia: “Reading” Community
Monday, 1.00-3.30pm: Sarah Zhang, The fine line between One and the Other in Song 5:2-9
Okay, so we won’t be calling for our own section any time soon, but at least I’m not the only one. And, pleasingly, they are all on at different times, so I think I will try and get to all of them. I’m afraid I have just had to Google ‘Pachomian Koinonia’ to find out what that’s about, and I’ve never heard of Ann Francis either (looking forward to that paper a lot, though).
If I’ve missed any, do let me know.
There are still spaces available for the study day on the Song of Songs, hosted by Emmanuel Evangelical Church on October 24th. More info is here. The day will be useful for anyone interested in learning more about this part of God’s word, whether pastor, student, or ordinary Christian. Everyone is welcome.
There has been lots of hoo-ha recently in the biblioblog world (I was trying to type biblioblogosphere but my fingers just wouldn’t let me use such an awful word) about the lack of women who blog biblical studies. Some people have compiled lists of female bibliobloggers, some of which include me.
Um, okay. On the biblioblog list, this blog appears as a ‘related blog’ under the category of ‘Christian Spiritual, Theological, Homiletic, Patristics’. That is to say, I sometimes blog about biblical studies, but that is not the primary focus of the blog. That sounds about right to me. I blog about all kinds of things, and occasionally that includes my studies, though usually only when I come across something that I think might have wider interest for, say, pastors or other Christians. But if other people want to define things differently and include this as a biblioblog, that’s fine too. The more links, the merrier. Feel free to stick around if you find things you like. And if you can’t bear the pink and green, well that’s what the Lord gave us feed readers for.
Anyway, here’s some biblical studies. ;)
This is from Gerald Sheppard’s Wisdom as a Hermeneutical Construct in a section where he is examining Sirach 24:3-9 and observing some links to the Song of Songs:
It is possible that the choice of imagery in Sir. 24 is influenced by Song of Songs 3:6-11. The difficulty in dating the Song of Songs naturally complicates this hypothesis. However, early in the history of interpretation, the Song of Songs passage attracted exposition in terms of the ark of the covenant moving through the wilderness to Zion.
If one identifies Solomon with Wisdom, some interesting correspondences to the Sirach Song emerge. Solomon (the bridegroom?) comes up “from the wilderness” in procession that appears like a “column of smoke” (כתימדות עשׂנ, cf. Joel 3:3). Wearing his royal crown (v. 11), he rides a majestic litter (v. 6) or palanquin (v. 9) which is equipped with silver posts, a gold back, and a purple seat. Observers from Jerusalem watch enthusiastically. The daughters of Zion rush forward to greet him on what seems to be his royal wedding day.
In Sirach 24, instead of Solomon, the alleged author of the wisdom books, it is Wisdom who comes “circling” (v.5a) and “walking” (v.5b) through the cosmos in search of a resting place and an inheritance, as did Israel and the tabernacle in the wilderness. Just as Solomon’s royal litter appears as a “column of smoke,” her throne is in a “pillar of cloud.” Both are destined for the elect city of Zion. While Solomon rides on a portable throne, Wisdom is, likewise, carried on her throne in the transient pillar of cloud. With Solomon, the smoke is fragrant with “myrhh (sic) and frankincense,” two of the elements which compose the sanctuary’s perfumed holy incense with which Wisdom is intimately related in Sir. 24:15. (Sheppard:33 n.42)
I have previously noted various links between this passage in the Song and temple/sanctuary imagery, and also with NT passages about the coming of the bridegroom (most notably Mt 2:11). I don’t think I’ve ever explicitly connected it with the arrival of the ark in Zion after its journey through the wilderness before.
I’m working at the moment on the links between the Song and the wisdom literature, I don’t think the Song is wisdom literature, per se, but I do think that when you read the Song with the wisdom literature, it raises some very interesting possibilities indeed.
Thus the principal clue to the meaning of the Song has, to the best of my knowledge, never been noticed, namely, that there are twenty-six occurrences of the term ‘my beloved’ in the Song, and that twenty-six is the numerical value of the divine Name, YHWH.
From Sr. Edmée Kingsmill’s unpublished PhD thesis, The Song of Songs and the Eros of God.
A study day on the Song of Songs? Sign me up now!
Look, there will be sessions on:
Poetry and emotion in the Song of Songs
Canonical connections to the Song of Songs (oh, someone should write a PhD on that…)
Proclaiming the Song of Songs
Behold, he comes: the eschatology of the Song of Songs
Go here, for more information and to book your place. I suppose that means I’d better start working out what to say…
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David Williams has some helpful things to say about the harem in the Song of Songs, and the problem it draws attention to in application to contemporary society as he suggests. None of us are Israelite kings, after all. And since the Song makes it quite clear that it is better to have someone for one’s very own than to have a harem, none of us should want to be.
One of the things that this makes clear is the situated-ness of the Song. Very often, it is hailed as timeless love poetry, whereas in fact the Song is very firmly situated within Israelite history, politics and geography. Not to mention, of course, salvation history. Marcia Falk’s translation makes this point in a fascinating way. She has stripped out all the specifically Israelite references she could find, to render the Song as generally applicable as possible. In so doing, of course, she makes it a completely different poem. Well worth reading, as are her notes on the Song, in ‘Love Lyrics from the Bible’.
If ever I finish this PhD, I rather think I would like this by way of celebration:
If you click through to the website, you can see an enlarged version.
More urgently, my supervisor is going to be in Cambridge in less than two weeks time and I am supposed to have finished the revised version of my first chapter by then. Must stop wasting time on the internet…
A little while ago, someone left a question on the ‘Ask Ros‘ page (which is, after all, what it’s there for!) asking about explaining the Song to younger people:
I am wondering if you have ever had to explain SOS to young folk. I find myself in the situation, where this teenager asked me why this book is even in the Bible. It does not say anything about God even. No…? ;-)
I guess …fear… that what I have is a complicated explanation.
SOS has all sorts of cool connections with other books of the Bible – like Genesis, Exodus, Revelation.
SOS is that it is about love and relationships, something we all will have to deal with for better or worse.
SOS is aesthetically awesome… the colors … intoxicating… I am speaking as an artist now.
SOS is also aesthetically awesome in a literary way … poets and writers will dig this book perhaps more so than any other book in the Bible. … Something like that…
Incidentally…I think that one of the reasons why this book is so difficult to understand is because, its like watching all of the musical video parts of a musical, and then trying to figure out the storyline of the entire movie based on that. SOS reminds me a lot of the musical parts of Indian movies.
I quoted all of this, mainly because I love that last paragraph. That’s such a great way of explaining how the Song of Songs works. I haven’t seen a whole lot of Indian musicals (Monsoon Wedding, Bride and Prejudice – not sure if that even counts) but it’s the same for Hollywood musicals, too. Imagine trying to piece together the narrative of a Cole Porter musical from just the songs. The focus isn’t on the story, though there are hints of the story; the focus is on the experience of the moment of the song – the feelings that burst out into music.
Anyway, back to the real question. I’d basically want to explain to teenagers, and even younger children, the same thing that I’d want to explain to adults: that the Song of Songs is in the bible to show us how much God loves us, to help us experience that love and respond to it appropriately. Even a young child can know that Mummy and Daddy love each other very much, and the Song tells them that God loves them just as much as their parents love each other. I probably wouldn’t spend a whole lot of time teaching this book to young children, though. Not so much because of the content as because of the form. I could be wrong, but my experience is that children find it easier to understand stories and straightforward narratives, rather than complex lyric poetry full of metaphor and other literary devices. Maybe it’s just me, but I certainly didn’t come to appreciate poetry till I was older.
But I would want teenagers to read and understand and respond to the Song. Some are going to find that the poetic nature of the Song immediately appeals to them and others are going to find it harder going. That’s okay. I’d focus on the characters of the bride and the groom and their love for each other. If you’re a teenager, you probably have no difficulty understanding the burning desire of the lovers in the Song, and you probably have your own chorus of ‘Daughters of Jerusalem’ telling you to wait. That emotional response to the love displayed in the Song is what makes this a book so powerful for teaching kids. Because when you can then explain how the bridegroom in the Song is the promised Messiah (king, shepherd, anointed with oil, surrounded by gold, frankincense and myrrh and so on…) and the bride is his people and nation (the married land, Jerusalem and Judah, Lebanon and Tirzah…), the emotional weight of the Song is transferred to their relationship with Christ. I want Christian teenagers to feel that same urgent, passionate longing and desire (magnified a hundred thousandfold) for God, that they do for their boyfriend or girlfriend. They know, with the exquisite agony of youth, what it’s like to be separated from the one they want – and the Song teaches them that this is the agony of the Christian life, waiting for the final consummation of our marriage to the lamb.
I’d use the Song of Songs to teach teenagers about sex and marriage, and how great and wonderful those things are – so great and wonderful that they can even be used to illustrate the more profound, more intimate, more satisfying relationship between Christ and his church. The Song of Songs gives expression to the negative feelings of loss and loneliness, which may also be important things for your teenagers to learn about and to put into perspective as they think about the great wedding day stored up for us all.
So yes, I’d definitely teach the Song to a youth group or similar. Because after all, we want these young people to learn to love the Lord with all their hearts, as well as their minds, don’t we?
John MacArthur has an excellent series of posts on the hows and how nots of preaching the Song:
The Rape of Solomon’s Song Part 1 addresses the problem of the Song being used both as a descriptive and, even more frighteningly, as a prescriptive sexual text.
Part 2 points out that just as the Song is deliberately euphemistic so preaching of the Song should avoid frankly erotic and pornographic content.
In Part 3, while denying the validity of the allegorical method of interpretation, MacArthur points out that the ‘literal’ approach can have its problems too. This post deals with a particularly offensive, and I would say downright blasphemous, “joke” that has been used to illustrate the problem with using a sexual analogy for the relationship between Christ and the church. It’s blasphemous because, as MacArthur observes, even if you don’t think the analogy is there in the Song, it’s certainly there in other parts of Scripture.
Part 4 is a question and answer session dealing with some of the issues raised by the earlier posts.
The counterexamples MacArthur uses are really shocking, both because of their content and their source. Because of this, this discussion is about propriety and purity in preaching at least as much as it is a discussion about the interpretation and application of the Song. There are some comments on MacArthur’s own blog, but the discussion at Tim Challies’ blog is also worth checking out.
Challies raises some interesting questions about the nature of poetry (and especially the lyric poetry of the Song) and preaching:
So here is what I am wondering. Don’t we do damage to the Song of Solomon when we seek to interpret and explain every line? To use an old cliche, don’t we miss the forest for the trees? Isn’t it better to leave some mystery in the Song, understanding themes but ultimately finding satisfaction not in drawing a one-to-one comparison between metaphor and act, poetry and body part, but rather in seeing it as one man’s attempt at expressing the joy, the wonder and the mystery of sex and sexuality? Isn’t the very reason he had to use poetry was that prose just couldn’t express the wonder? The beauty and the mystery of the Song go hand-in-hand. To remove one is to remove the other.
I think that what Challies is grasping for when he talks about ‘leaving some mystery’ is the very nature of poetic communication – ambiguity, multivalency, layer upon layer of meaning and resonance. A poem can’t be ‘explained’, it can only be experienced and expressed. Now there’s a challenge for you preachers.