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Song of Songs [12/15]; The queenly maiden

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posted on Aug, 11 2013 @ 05:29 PM
I’m still exploring the intended meaning of the Song of Songs.
The next passage I’m considering is part of the seventh chapter, ch7 vv1-9.
(The translation being used is the RSV)

I need to explain my naming of the “speakers” in these passages.
The two main characters of the Song are frequently called “the Lover” and “the Beloved”, giving the first name to the male.
Those labels make the male the active pursuer, following the conventions of romance.
They mask the reality of this poem, that the woman is patently doing most of the pursuing.
That should be one of the clues that this is not a conventional romance.
So I’m calling these characters “the Woman” and “the Loved One” in that order.

This poem has been describing the relationship between the Woman and her Loved One.
I’ve already proposed that this is the relationship between God and his people.

vv1-3 The Loved One continues to praise the Woman, as he was doing in the previous chapter.
He addresses her as a “queenly maiden”, the member of a royal family.
This is sharply contrasting with her own self-image as a poor girl of low status, which was how she presented herself in the first chapter.

When he was praising her in the fourth chapter, he began the description at her eyes and moved downwards.
This time he begins at the bottom of her figure and works upwards.
She might be dancing, it’s been suggested, in response to the request at the end of the previous chapter.

The starting point is the Woman’s feet, which are graceful. They are also enclosed in sandals, an important detail of luxury, and this may be one of the marks which identify her as a queen.

Her thighs and her navel and her belly are appropriately rounded.
Her thighs are like jewels shaped by a master workman.
In the case of the belly, the resemblance to wheat and lilies may be partly in the colour.
The comment about the navel is an example of what I’m calling “equal excellence”.
Clearly her navel is not really filled with wine (we assume that she’s standing up), but the navel is excellent as a navel to the same degree that a bowl filled with wine is excellent as a bowl.
This comparison is not suitable for teetotallers.

The praise of her breasts repeats what was said in ch4 v5, though the reference to “lilies” has been transferred to the previous line

vv4-5. Her neck is like ivory in colour, and like a tower in strength and firmness.

This time round, the description of her head is filled with geographical references.

Her eyes are like pools in Heshbon, part of the long-lost eastern territories then occupied by the Ammonites.
Her nose is like a tower in the northern territories of Lebanon, a watchtower standing over against hostile Damascus.
This may be more about the colour of the tower, than about the shape.
Finally, the hair that crowns her head reminds him of the forests which crown Mount Carmel in the west.

Once again, then, the poem is marking out the extent of the old kingdom of Solomon.
Only in three directions, of course, but the only real landmark in the south has been mentioned once already (En-gedi, ch1 v14)
She deserves to be a queen, because she has captured a king.

v6 can be taken as the conclusion of that passage of praise, or as the beginning of the next one.

vv7-9 The Woman is tall and stately as a palm tree.
Her breasts are as bountiful as the produce of a palm tree, or like the clusters of a vine.
Her breath should be sweet as apples, and her kisses like wine.

There’s a puzzle in the wording of v9.
The Hebrew text says “the best wine for my beloved going down”, but it seems odd that he should refer to his beloved while he’s in the middle of addressing the same person.
Some translations simply leave out the word “for my beloved”.
Others try to cure the anomaly by ending the sentence at “wine”, and making the rest a new sentence with a different speaker.
For me, this makes things worse, because it means that “going down” is left hanging in limbo, not attached to any subject. Unless they cheat by repeating the word “wine” (NIV), which gives away the fact that a sentence has been broken apart.
The best suggestion I can make is that “for my beloved” is a phrase which labels a particular quality of wine, reserved for special purposes.
In which case his beloved is being compared with wine of that quality.
(It would be like telling the Duke of Cornwall that he resembles a plate of Duchy of Cornwall biscuits- “It’s because you’re crunchy and sharp, Your Grace”)

The Loved One declares his intention of climbing the palm tree and grasping hold of the branches.
So the time has come to grasp the nettle and consider the “erotic” aspect of the Song of Songs, which for some people is an obstacle to understanding the poem in a spiritual sense.

The poem is undoubtedly sensuous.
At different times, it caters for each of the five senses.
When it calls for the enjoyment of the land, it appeals to the sight, the hearing, the taste, and the sense of smell, and the erotic side brings in the sense of touch.
And why not?
There is no Biblical objection to a man’s eroticism with his own wife, and we need to remember that this couple are man and wife.
Which makes the time of separation all the more poignant.

And the use of sensuous imagery need not be a bar to spiritual interpretation.
How else should we interpret the diatribes in the sixteenth and twenty-third chapters of Ezekiel ?
The language in those passages is so bluntly and brutally sexual that they cannot be read out in church services. They are represented by gaps in the lectionaries.
Yet nobody who reads those chapters can have any doubt that they’re intended as religious allegory.
The Lord, through Ezekiel’s mouth, is complaining about the multiple idolatries of the old Israelite kingdoms.
But his angry condemnations, as the “husband” of these kingdoms, are expressed in the language of sexual jealousy.
If all this can be understood as a religious allegory, then so can the gentler sensuousness of the Song of Songs.
It’s even possible, I’m beginning to think, that this poem was consciously intended as a more benign and optimistic version of the allegory in Ezekiel.

This passage completes a long section presenting the Loved One’s praise of the Woman, and the most significant feature of this praise is the timing.
Since the crisis in the fifth chapter (which represents, I’ve suggested, the Babylonian Exile), the Woman believes herself to be separated from the Loved One.
Yet in this praise the Loved One demonstrates that his love towards her is undiminished.
He is hidden, but he is not absent.
In reality the Covenant relationship, the marriage bond of the Woman and the Loved One, remains unbroken.

posted on Aug, 13 2013 @ 05:14 PM
My interest in the Song of Songs was originally inspired by the reading of the sermons of Bernard of Clairvaux.
Especially by his comments on the words “I am black, but beautiful”, as applied to the spiritual state of the church or the individual soul. The idea of being sinful and imperfect, but still beloved by God.
Knowing the history of the church, I was very conscious of its imperfections, so it all rang very true.
However, my own interpretation obviously strikes out a very different line from Bernard, in all sorts of different ways.
Nor is there space for me to take the devotional approach.
But I would argue that gaining a good sense of the writer’s conscious intentions would provide the most sure foundation of any approach, including the devotional.

posted on Aug, 14 2013 @ 05:24 PM
"Grasping the nettle";

I understand that the internet gets confused by this phrase.
The nettle in question is the stinging nettle, a plant which grows in the British countryside.
A casual touch with the hand can be painful.
The origin of the proverbial phrase is the theory that the way to avoid being "stung" is to grasp the nettle firmly, which has the effect of crushing the source of the sting.
This is then applied metaphorically to dealing with tricky problems and tricky questions;
"grasping the nettle" means that it is better to handle them delberately and firmly, than to deal with them tentatively.

posted on Aug, 16 2013 @ 05:24 PM
For information;

The next thread in the series will complete the seventh chapter (at least).

posted on Sep, 12 2013 @ 04:36 PM
This whole series is now indexed at the following location;

The Unseen Husband

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