Posts Tagged ‘Tirzah’

Love, Sex and the Song of Solomon

May 2, 2013

The Old Testament Reading at the beginning of March this year (2013) was from The Song of Songs/ Song of Solomon

This is hot stuff. When I was at College studying the Old Testament, we were told by the lecturer that because of its sexual nature, the rabbis would only let people over 30 read it. It was accepted into the Christian canon of scripture – the Bible – because it was seen as an allegory of Christ’s love for His bridge, the church. The 3rd century theologian Origen in his Homily on the Song of Songs states that it was one of four Biblical texts that the Jews would only allow people to read after they had completed their religious education. These other reserved texts included the Creation story from Genesis and the visions of the strange creatures in Ezekiel. These were kept back for advanced religious students because they could be the subject of heretical and bizarre mystical speculation.

Plot of the Song of Songs

Origen himself believed that the Song of Songs was a play written by Solomon in the form of an epithalamium, a wedding poem. Contemporary scholars also believe that it contains love songs sung at weddings. The passage from chapter 4:1 to 5:1 has been described as a wasf, a type of song still sung at Syrian weddings today. This chapter is a love song by Solomon praising the book’s heroine, the Shulammite. The book is about how she has been abducted from her home in the village to become part of Solomon’s harem. She resists his attempts to seduce her, and remains faithful to her true lover, a shepherd. Eventually Solomon realises that he can never have her, and releases her. The Song ends with the Shulammite reunited with her beloved shepherd.

God’s Love for Humanity, The Song of Songs and Monogamous Relationships

Modern commentators on it have stated that it needs to be read more as God’s instruction on the proper nature of sexual love between man and woman rather than as the tradition allegory about Christ and the Church. Nevertheless, there are sections, which may be read as God’s declaration of His steadfast love for sinning humanity. The physical description of the two lovers’ and their respective beauty – the Shulammite’s in 4:1-7 and the Shepherd 5:9 – 16, also show that God is also the God of beauty, who works are to be admired. The beauty of the human body is not something of which to be ashamed. Christians are frequently accused of being against sex and despising the human body. The Church since the earliest times placed a very high value on celibacy and sexual continence. Modern theologians since the sexual revolution of the ’60s are keen to show that Christianity is not against sex, but against its abuse and exploitation outside of an exclusive, monogamous relationship. The Shulammite in 4:12 describes her love as a locked garden. This shows that love most be monogamous in the heart as well as under law. Her rejection of Solomon’s blandishments also show that true love is not to be produced artificially, but only awakens when it pleases. The commentary I read for this talk states that the book is a censure on lust, polygamy, and infidelity, but endorses physical love within a legitimate, monogamous relationship.

Verse 8:7 where the shepherd and his friends ask the Shulammite to speak because they long to hear her voice also shows us the strength of Christ’s love, and how He delights to hear the prayers of His church, as well as the church’s own yearning for His presence.

Biblical God of Love against Graeco-Roman Values and those of Philosopher Nietzsche

Origen in his Homily also shows how the Song of Songs and other passages in the Bible show that God is a God of love, love for whom is shown is acts of kindness like the Good Samaritan in Christ’s parable. Although this is very much a cliché now, in the ancient world it was massively contrary to Graeco-Roman values. The Roman morals accepted and praised clemency, but found the Christian values of mercy incomprehensible and alien. Some Stoic philosophers, such as Seneca, rejected compassion. This attitude was taken up again the 19th century by the anti-Christian atheist German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche was an admirer of what he saw as the heroic, tragic values of pagan Greece. He despised and attacked Christianity’s doctrine of compassion as ‘slave morality’.

Song of Song’s Message on Love Needed for Today’s Youth exposed to Pornography

Commentators on the Song of Songs have also stressed that a proper Christian emphasis on the true meaning of marriage and sexual love is needed more than ever. Since the 1960s western society has been faced with the increasing problems of divorce and breakdown in relationships, and the sexualisation of the young. The Independent newspaper a month or so ago reported a debate between two women writers at the Bath Festival of Literature. While keen not to be seen as anti-sex, they were concerned about the immense pressure now placed on teenage girls to perform degrading and perverted sexual acts due to the influence of increasingly extreme porn on teenage boys. A return to the morality expressed in the Song of Songs – of pure, ennobling love – is surely needed.

The Shulammite’s beloved shepherd, in 6:4 tells her that she is as beautfiul as Tirzah and as lovely as Jerusalem. Tirzah was the capital of the Northern Kingdom from the time of Jeroboam, so this is also a celebration of one of Israel’s greatest cities at its height. Archaeologists have discovered and mapped the location of some of the houses around its north wall from this time.

The Song of Songs is thus a celebration of both God’s love for humanity and His church, and earthly sexual love. It directly attacks both the aristocratic values of Roman paganism, and the modern degrading attitudes towards sex and relationships.

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