The Silences of Job
Evolution of Satan
First Lesson --Intro
Fifth--To the End
Putting it Together
Putting it Together II
SONG of SOLOMON
The Lovers--ch. 5
Lovers VI--ch. 8
Sex, Rape and Learning in S of Solomon
Bill Long 12/24/08
The Encounter in 5: 2-8; 8: 3-4 (First Essay)
There is no Biblical book, with the possible exception of Nahum, more ignored than the Song of Solomon. This is unusual because Christians of all stripes, especially conservative Christians, say that this book is an "allegory" of Christ and the Church. Thus, they should be able to find all kinds of wonderful things there and want to spend all their time studying it. But they don't. So, instead of trying to play the "allegory game" here, a mode of interpretation that works for me with Pilgrim's Progress but not with the Bible, in general, I will tell the story of one encounter between the lover and beloved in the Song of Solomon (in ch. 5), along with an additional two verses from ch. 8 . My contention is these texts are a great teaching tool for the importance of "waiting" for sex until the time is right, until the time is proper. However, in in order to get to that message, we have to go through some pretty dirty gutters. That, is the marvel of the Bible for me; it takes us from the grittiest and earthiest of human experiences all the way to the celestial wonders of divine life. It doesn't give up its secrets easily; we are often put off from reaching them because of the difficulty of the journey. But let's try to take that journey in these several essays.
Setting the Context: The "Encounter" of the Lovers
The passage I interpret here really has two possible interpretations to it--one is a mild one, an interpretation that won't even turn too many heads, and one is a racy, erotic and utterly breathtaking interpretation. I favor the latter, but I want to start with the first. I hope you don't turn away with boredom. The first interpretation comes out of the translation of the Jerusalem Bible, a Catholic Bible, so let's present it and then comment:
"I sleep, but my heart is awake.
I hear my love knocking.
'Open to me, my sister, my beloved,
My dove, my perfect one,
for my head is wet with dew,
my hair with the drops of night.'
--'I have taken off my tunic,
am I to put it on again?
I have washed my feet,
am I to dirty them again?'
My love thrust his hand
through the hole in the door;
I trembled to the core of my being.
Then I got up
to open to my love,
myrrh ran off my hands,
pure myrrh off my fingers,
on the handle of the bolt.
I opened to my love,
but he had turned and gone.
My soul failed at his flight,
I sought but could not find him,
I called but he did not answer.
The watchmen met me,
those who go on their rounds in the city.
They beat me, they wounded me,
they took my cloak away from me:
those guardians of the ramparts!
I charge you,
daughters of Jerusalem,
if you should find my love,
what are you to tell him?
--That I am sick with love," (5:2-8).
"His left arm is under my head
and his right hand embraces me.
I charge you,
daughters of Jerusalem,
do not rouse, do not wake my beloved,
before she pleases!" (8:3-4).
The translation that I give in the next essay, from the NRSV, will differ from this in some particulars, but let's just take this one and see what their interpreters do with it.
It tells of an encounter between the lover and the beloved. The interpretive tone of the JB is set in the first note (b):
"This delightful scene has the same setting as 3:1-4: night, the search through the city, the watchmen--but there is a reversal of roles: this time, the Lover is outside, wanting to come in, cf. 2:9, while the Beloved teases him, making futile excuses which in fact belie her eagerness to open the door. And when she does so, it is too late."
So, the JB sees this as a sort of delightful and playful scene, where lover boy comes to the door, wants "in," she wants him in, but doesn't let him in. So, he goes away, and she goes searching for him in the city. The notes get more specific. With respect to the "hole in the door" reference near the top of the passage, the JB says:
"The Lover tries to get in by raising the latch, which from outside had to be done with a wooden key."
So, now we are told all about the construction of doors in the poetic imagination. Seems that the editors know too much here... Then, in trying to deal with the wet stuff on the fingers, the confused editors say:
"Either the Beloved has scented herself, or the Lover has left this trace of his attempt and this is all she finds of him!"
So, the editors say we are really in the world of perfumes which one or the other may have put on. Finally, with respect to the watchmen, the editors say:
"The watchmen, as in 3:3, but in another role: they mistake the girl for a prostitute."
Commenting on the JB's "Reading"
So, in the minds of the editors of the Jerusalem Bible, this is a delightful little passage of playful love, love that doesn't get too far because the lovers are playing a game of hide and seek, and he can't get in to see her. It is all so playful. But then, when she says that her game is over, he isn't there (why?). She goes and looks for him and is mistreated by the watchmen. But, the JB takes pains not to tell you what the guards do to her. And they have nothing to say about what the last verse means, 5:8.
I think this is not only incorrect exegesis, it is horrible exegesis. It gives the impression that this is "delightful," but what really happens is that a rape is being committed here. Pure and simple. Rape is being committed. How "delightful" is that? It is a rape because the lovers didn't consummate their love (I will get to that in the next essay), she is "turned on" by the partial encounter, she runs out to look for her beloved, and she is raped by the guards because they perceive she is "ready" for a sexual encounter. Crucial to the JB's interpretation is the fact that the lovers never touch; that the 'opening' or 'hole' of which the text speaks is of the door to her place; and that the 'bolt' of the next verse is the bolt of the door. Playing games--that is what these lovers are doing. That is what is happening.
My argument in the next essay is that the word "opening" or "hole" is ambiguous, and that it is best understood as referring to the girl's "opening." Well, since this will become "R" or "X" rated, you can decide whether you want to read the next essay.
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long