Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Song of Songs: Who's being allegorical eh?

Ellen Davis, in a book review observes:
"a sexual interpretation of the Song is allowable, but scholars interested in the poet’s original intention must in honesty admit that such an interpretation is metaphorical, indeed allegorical."
Very daring for her to throw the accusation hurled against the mainstream back at these modern critics: Historical and Literary study of The Song says it's allegorical to say it's just about human love!!

These are days when many resist any interpretation of The Song as about the love of God for his people... following the footsteps of Mahaney, Driscoll and Marcia Falk etc. One has to ask why?!

The mainstream historical approach held by the church for centuries (millenia) is not dead today. See it maintained by many - such as Ellen Davis, Robert Jenson... along with the Church Fathers, Reformers and Puritans. Catch it as Tim Hughes writes "altogether lovely" into Here I am to Worship (yes: that's a quote from the Bible!), or in Prosch's 'His Banner over me is love".... charismatic worship songwriters haven't been afraid to embrace the language of this song. They're not prudes, neither were the puritans. Not embarrassed to have a god of whom we cannot speak fully without the language of eros.

In her commentary on The Song of Songs Davis echoes others who've said it is the most Biblical of books. Though you'd think it the least, for the lack of modern preaching of it...
“The Song is thick with words and images drawn from earlier books. By means of this “recycled” language, the poet places this love song firmly in the context of God’s passionate and troubled relationship with humanity (or, more particularly with Israel), which is the story the rest of the Bible tells. Far from being a secular composition, the Song is profoundly revelatory"
The examples of recycled language are almost endless, shepherds and kings, all the talk of Lebanon which evokes the temple and Solomon's curtain, love better than wine, garden language evoking Eden... the one whom my soul loves etc. And:
"The Song of Songs answers that tragic history, stretching all the way back to Eden. What we hear throughout – and only here in the Bible – is mutual love speaking at full strength."
Have the Song as part of your Christian Scriptures and you'll be able to derive an allegorical interpretation that will be useful to think about marriage (not that the Bible is short on valuing marriage!). Have it read as literature laden with the gospel and you'll have categories and language and encounter with God that can handle intimacy and jealousy and passion and love strong as death. No cold submission to a lord, no dispassionate love that lets us go, but the burning passionate heart of the God who truly loves.

Further consideration of Ellen Davis approach, interacting with Origen, in Jason Byasse's Roomy Hearts in a More Spacious World.