Well, I said we were going to start talking about wisdom literature, but it turns out that’s not quite right. It would have been more accurate to say we are going to talk about the Solomonic corpus, books that are attributed to Solomon. Of course, it is likely that little to none of these books was actually written by Solomon, but the tradition gives these books some gravitas. That may be the only reason they are included in our canon or our deutero-canon. The books have a vague constellation of traits in common, but are mostly dissimilar. However, the one thing they do share is a concern with the things of this world, perhaps none more than the Song of Songs.
The first question one must ask about the Song of Songs is: Why? Why is it in here? Why is it Scripture? It does not mention God at all. Much of the material is euphemisms for sex and poetic, imaginative descriptions of male and female anatomy. It contains the story of a very human pursuit, the erotic longing between two (or possibly three) lovers. Even the structure and genre of the text is unclear. That is, some see a collection of love poems ranging in number from six to thirty, while others see the remnants of a fertility cult. It may be an ancient pop song or even softcore pornography. It might be the Skinemax of the ancient world. And yet, one ancient rabbi called it “the Holy of Holies.”
Its inclusion in Scripture has always been a concern for both Jews and Christians. Consequently, both groups have tried to construe it as a metaphor of God’s love. For Jews it is God’s love for Israel; for Christians it is Christ’s love for the Church. This interpretation constrains the text to be about marriage because God’s love must rest in absolute fidelity. God is the groom and Israel or the Church is the bride. This ignores the fact that the characters in the book are not married, sneaking off to have sex away from prying eyes. It is not so much about constructing an appropriate, society-approved coupling, but sheer passion for one another, the bliss of pure desire and its fulfillment.
However, because it is in Scripture, it is assumed to have some spiritual purpose. Aside from the metaphors mentioned, it has been a touchstone for erotic Christian mysticism. Yes, that is a thing. When nuns say they are “brides of Christ,” some of them mean that in all ways. That is, they understand their love for Christ as erotic just as much as the more tame kinds of love we often associate with God. Spirituality, it turns out, is embedded in the reality of bodies and expressed in the meetings of those bodies, even if one of those bodies is God’s. The Song of Songs, if it is about God, speaks to a passionate desire for the Divine that is experienced in one’s body. Perhaps even more so, it is experienced in the bodies of people together without regard for what other people might think of those assignations. Desire, as we all know, overcomes good judgment.
Maybe that is how the Song of Songs ties back to wisdom literature. The paradigmatic piece of wisdom literature is Proverbs, which we might see as a nag, full of pithy sayings that do not come close to coping with lived reality. But Job and Ecclesiastes call that rigid cause-effect morality into question. Proverbs is like the Highlights Magazine series, “Goofus and Gallant,” read in elementary school, but Job and Ecclesiastes are like Camus and Nietzsche in first-year philosophy. Maybe the Songs of Songs functions that way, too, but gives some detail and inspiration – some va-va-voom! – to Ecclesiastes’ “eat, drink, and be merry” philosophy. If we’re all going to die anyway, perhaps desire for one another, even when frowned upon by the culture war wags, is the best way to spend the time we have. And maybe in that bodily experience of mutual desire, in being passionately drawn to one another, we are drawn closer to God and the world of God’s dreams.
Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we talk about embodiment, eroticism, and God.
Grace & Peace,