July 2010

The Song of Songs (part seven)

Sometimes it seems powerfully geeky to get excited about the clever intellectual flourishes of biblical texts, but when a particularly stunning turn of phrase or layered reference pops up in a reading it's just too interesting to ignore. In chapter six of the Song of Songs there is an amazing reference. It's impressive not just because it has a many-layered implication for the poem and the time in which it was written, but also because it's remarkably easy to miss.

The Song of Songs (part six)

After The Song of Songs passes its halfway point, it takes on a certain air of melancholy. The language which began the poem as luxurious and exuberant slowly becomes desperate and oppressive. The most shocking turn happens in Chapter 5 when the narrative strays from the disconnected dialogue between the two lovers and starts to include an entreaty to outsiders for help, sympathy and understanding. Most tragically, the story's protagonists, especially Rayati, find none of those things.

The Song of Songs (part five)

In Chapter 4 of The Song of Songs we learn a lot more about Rayati, specifically that she lives in Lebanon. We must remember the era in which The Song was written before we can understand the implications of this. Modern scholars have dated the text to approximately 900 BCE, though its exact date would determine much of its influence. If it was written prior to 875 BCE, The Song would have come from the height of the Phoenician Empire when the region known as Lebanon was a cultural powerhouse. If it came after 875, it would have been born in a highly contentious period when Assyrian Greeks conquered much of the region and began oppressing the local population considerably. The city of Tyre, then a major sea port and the most important economic city in southern Lebanon, was one of two to rebel against the Assyrians and would have been the closest major city to Rayati's home, provided she didn't live in Tyre itself (or possibly the city of Dor which was nearest to the Israeli border).

The Song of Songs (part four)

The third chapter of The Song of Songs is perhaps the strangest of the entire book. It has two distinct parts divided by the quasi-chorus ("do not stir up love until it pleases") that appears in some form or another throughout the entire poem. The first half details Rayati's search for Dodi, or perhaps a dream of her search for him, while the second half pulls away from the lovers entirely to describe a procession of King Solomon. These two segments at first seem entirely disconnected, but there is a tenuous narrative strand between the two.