August 08, 2007
by: jovial_cynic
Each week, I meet with friends to study the Scriptures. By doing this, we get to dig into the text and both challenge it and allow it to challenge us. In many ways, it has caused us all to grow closer together, because we're all working towards a common goal -- greater understanding of the text and of one another.

Over the last several weeks, we've been trekking through the Song of Solomon. We've got one more section to go before we complete the text, and this far into it, our only point of certainty is that nobody is certain what's going on. I mean, there's a basic plot that's fairly easy to follow (love, desire, sex)... but between various translations (the New American Standard, the New International Version, and the New King James are all represented in our group) and various commentaries, scholars disagree about pretty much everything that's going on.

The confusion starts with the first line of the text:

The song of songs, which is Solomon?s. (NAS)

The word translated as "which" is the Hebrew word 'aher, and it can be translated into a great number of things. According to the Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon, the New American Standard (NAS) uses the word 'aher 3,983 times, and in quite a few ways. Here's the list:

although 1, anyone 1, because 45, because* 73, before* 3, concerning* 1, deadly* 1, everything* 2, everywhere* 2, how 24, how* 6, if 8, inasmuch 1, inasmuch* 2, just 1, just* 6, much 1, powder* 1, reason 1, set 1, since 3, since* 5, so 9, so* 1, steward* 4, storehouses 1, such 8, such* 2, than* 1, therefore 1, these 2, this 1, though* 1, unless* 1, until* 35, what 166, what* 8, whatever 16, whatever* 40, when 44, when* 1, whenever 1, where 49, where you how 1, where* 136, whereas* 1, whereby 1, wherein 1, wherever 4, wherever* 27, which 1925, which he and how 1, which* 1, whichever 1, while 1, while those who 1, who 1, who 850, whoever 4, whoever* 13, whom 345, whom* 1, whomever 1, whomever* 3, whose 80, whose remains when 1, why 2

That's quite a list of uses for the word, none of which help to explain the relationship between the song and Solomon. Is it by Solomon? Is it for him? Is it about him? The text isn't clear, and scholars disagree. And from there, the text becomes even more muddy.

I won't go into it all, because I don't want to copy/paste the entire book. You should just pick up a bible and read it. However, I'm sure that without a commentary attached to your bible, you're going to be terribly confused. And if you lay several commentaries side by side and read through them all, you're going to be even more confused, because they're only going to present additional conflicting interpretations.

I think that the Song of Solomon is the great embarrassment of Christianity. For many Christians who feel like they have the edge on "truth" and fully understand the will of God (Lord forgive them), this book must just irritate them to no end, because if they've studied several commentaries, they have to realize that the text simply isn't clear. Or perhaps they, like many commentators, come up with their own interpretation and strangle the text until it matches their own theology.

When approached by an inquisitive soul in regards to the text, a humble believer is forced to admit that they don't know what it all means. And I'm not even talking about trying to understand the colorful metaphors. Metaphors that describe beauty have little consequence if misinterpreted; we can agree that whatever they literally meant at the time, they're somehow being used to describe a person's beauty or splendor. The true confusion revolves around the fact that scholars disagree about who is speaking through huge chunks of the text. This is quite problematic, as mainstream Christianity views the relationship between Solomon and the Shulamite as a parallel to the relationship between Christ and the Church. In a given text where one is supposed to be speaking, the question of "who" is quite important. Additionally, there are sections which some scholars believe to be dream sequences, while other scholars disagree... and even sections that some scholars believe are not in chronological order. Naturally, there are no clues in the text either way, making it quite difficult to navigate.


This actually ties well to a recent post by nakedpastor, who address the issue of those that feel like they know the truth:

I'm not pointing fingers at anyone but myself and anyone who's willing to stand with me to admit that we do not have a corner on the truth. Can we please admit that just because we own a bible and know the words that we can be miles away from knowing and speaking the truth? When will we realize that when we say we know something, we don't know as we ought to know? Can we ever graduate to the place where we no longer need to search for him and seek the truth? As another religion rightly insists, if you meet the Buddha, kill him. Insert truth for Buddha everyone. Blessed are they who's hearts are set on pilgrimage.

For clarification, the thing about killing the Buddha means that if you find someone who claims to know ALL the truth, they are a liar and are trying to deceive you. And I feel like much of today's Church dances dangerously close to that line -- they're uncomfortable with not knowing something, so they deny their lack of understanding and instead squeeze the problem into their theological box and hope it fits.

The pastor at the church I attend says the most beautiful thing: "Let the plain things be the main things." The parts that are simple to understand are the most important parts. The central theme to the scriptures is, as summed by Christ, to love God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and to also love your neighbor as you love yourself. That's easy to understand. We make it complicated and useless when we try to define love and create lists of ways that love should be exercised.

And perhaps that's the hidden truth behind the Song of Solomon. The central story is of two lovers who desire one another, shower one another in praise, and have sex. It's simple. The rest is vague and difficult to pin down, and just as in any biblical relationship (husband/wife, parents/children, Christ/church), any attempt to create a list of what it means to love in this context only results in greater confusion.
np category: theology


Carman said:
Good Post! I think it's when we admit that we don't know that we move into a place where the Spirit can teach us.
August 08, 2007

Kristen said:
I have so many responses to this post (all "yes and amen" type things), but I'll just say one: I always thought it was odd when people tried to make S of S about Jesus. Sex is good, people; stop trying to make it a metaphor. Just too funny.
August 14, 2007

jovial_cynic said:
Kristen - I think it's possible that it's both. Yes, it's about sex, and sex is good (fantastic, I'd argue), but I think that there is a spiritual implication about sex (one flesh) that points towards being close to Christ (one spirit).
August 14, 2007

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