Transitioning into Song of Solomon

Aharon April, The Song of Songs-Last 2005 Shared under Creative Commons-SA 4.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Song_of_Solomon#/media/File:Aharon_April_Song_of_Songs-Last.jpg

Psalm 62 may seem like a strange place to pause in the midst of the psalms, but there is a logic behind pausing here. The book of Psalms is subdivided into five books, with book two ending at Psalm 72. My pattern has been to do roughly 10 psalms between other books, and this sets me up to complete book two of the psalms following the next book I work through. I planned to work through Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs, prior to beginning Matthew but that project refused to wait. So now, after a long delay, I am finally turning to this strange love song which falls in the heart of the bible.

Song of Solomon has always been a controversial book within the scriptures. When our Jewish ancestors were debating which books would be included in their sacred scriptures opinions were sharply divided on this book. Ultimately its attribution to Solomon and the allegorical interpretation of the book’s poetry allowed Rabbi Akiba (ca. 50-135 CE) to defend it stating, “all the scriptures are holy, but the Song of Songs in the Holy of Holies.” (Paulsell 2012, 172) Within Medieval Christianity it was one of the most frequently read and written about book with over one hundred commentaries appearing by the year 1200. (Davis 2000, 231) Yet in modern times the Song of Solomon has fallen into disuse and many modern interpreters struggle once again to find an appropriate way of integrating this poem into the broader library of scriptures.

On the one hand, Song of Solomon is poetry about two lovers and their passionate desire for the other. Unique among the bible is the prevalence of the feminine voice throughout the poetry and it gives voice to a female perspective on desire in relationships in the bible. Like Esther, God is not mentioned in this book nor are there allusions to any religious traditions. On the other hand, the placement of this love poem within the scriptures assumes that it has something to speak about God, the world, relationships, and the people of God.  Within the organization of Christian scriptures, Song of Solomon is the final book of Wisdom Literature and like Ecclesiastes, which precedes it, it is not a religious or churchy type of wisdom.

Eighteen years ago, I was asked to give my senior sermon before the worshipping community at my seminary on a text from the Song of Solomon. I was struck then by the placement of this very unique book near the geometric center of the bible. I was fascinated by imagining God in the person of the lover leaping like a stag or looking through the lattice. (2:9) My intention as I go through this short book is to hold the sensual literal reading and the church’s historical reading alongside each other. I think there is wisdom in reading this book as simply a passionate poem of love and allowing it to rekindle some of the desire within us. Yet, I also believe that our own experiences of love at its best come from and in some way shape our understanding of God’s love for us as well. I’m curious to see where this unique book takes me over the next couple months.

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