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 and Rape in the S of Solomon II
Bill Long 12/25/08
Learning the Hard Way in 5:2-8
As I argued in the previous essay, I think the Jerusalem Bible interpretation is almost sacrilegious, and certainly incorrect, by saying that this is a "delightful" encounter. In fact, what happens here is that a couple becomes sexually very aroused, that the love is unconsummated even though, as is likely (though the language is murky) he probably ejaculates, and that she, in her unfulfilled longing, makes the mistake of looking for her lover in the night and is raped by the night watchmen. Then, to top it off, she dissociates from her experience, in v. 8, which is a common first response to rape. Only in 8:3-4, which I will get to in a later essay, is there a "sober" response to the overheated eroticism of 5:2-8. That, in a nutshell, is where I am going in these essays. Let's begin, then, by walking slowly through the text of the NRSV, with some comments on Hebrew words along the way.
Song of Solomon 5:2
Here we have an encounter between the Lover and the Beloved. They have had other meetings previously and indeed, if I was writing a commentary on the whole of the Song of Solomon, I would probably show how the previous meetings were a kind of "foreplay" to this great consummatory scene. Therefore, we should recognize that the "erotic tone" of the passage is relatively "hot" even before we begin. These are young lovers, caught up in everything about each other. They seek, they long for, consummation. But the problem is that consummation happens here in a way the couple couldn't have imagined and in a way that is terribly harmful--she is raped. So, let's begin, verse by verse:
"2 I slept, but my heart was awake.
Listen! my beloved is knocking.
‘Open to me, my sister, my love,
my dove, my perfect one;
for my head is wet with dew,
my locks with the drops of the night.’
The Lover (female) is the one who is the "I" in this passage. She is sleeping in her bed, but even as she sleeps, she is consumed with desire and with thoughts of the Beloved (male). At this point I would love to find a passage from literature that describes the intensity of love between a couple, an intensity that is so strong that it rivets her mind even as she sleeps. Is it unusual for a girl/woman to be so absorbed by thoughts of the Beloved that her heart is awake to him even while she is sleeping? Of course not. That is the essence of love. She wants to be one with him, in every way. She is consumed with desire for him. We later discover that he feels the same way, but we are looking at the encounter from her eyes in this passage. Finally, we have the "women's view" on sex; why do we have to wait for the "women's erotica movement" in the 1980s to get this? We have it 2500 years ago.
She hears a knock on the door. Or is it only a dream? Is it real or not? Reality and unreality merge; dream and imagination and real historical fact vie with each other. Who hasn't had the experience of being asleep an "hearing" something in the dream? Sometimes it is real; sometimes it is just in the dream. The first verse, then, not only takes us into the fiery world of passionate love but also into the eerie state halfway between waking and sleeping, when images and sounds come, when we are open and vulnerable in ways we might not be when awake.
But then, she hears a voice; she knows it is the Beloved. Well, she even knew it was him before he started speaking. Maybe she knew his "knock." Did they have a "code" to separate his knock from others? If so, it would allow her the kind of freedom to fling open the door, and the lovers could get "right to it" without the constraints of formally going through an identification process, etc. In any case, she knows it is him. And then, she hears his voice! Oh, my! What does the sound of the Beloved's voice do to the Lover? Lots of things, but I think I wouldn't be too far off base to say that it "primes the pump." It lubricates her desires. It heightens all the senses. It makes her so desirous of his presence.
Then he tells her to open the door. He goes through four different "titles" for her, each one having an intimate dimension to it. She is, indeed, the "perfect" one. When lovers are fully committed to each other, they do see each other as "perfect," even as they recognize the imperfections of each other. In the act of love-making, in the intimate sharing of breath and space and body and soul, the other simply is perfect. Thus, when the Beloved tells her she is his "dove" and "perfect one" [and the Hebrew term for "perfect" is the same one God uses to speak to Abraham in Gen. 17:1, to describe the covenant relationship between God and Abraham], we are privileged to enter into this most intimate space between lovers. Indeed, so intimate are these words and the encounter that we almost want to turn aside and just let the lovers enjoy each other and their intimacy. In fact, we are entering into the most sacred space of love here, where lovers are free to do anything to each other and to receive anything from each other, where voices and noise and words and breath are so commingled that the lovers can understand fully how two can become one.
Entering The Lovers' Intimacy
Now that we are in the most intimate space between the two lovers, most people may want to quit reading. Shouldn't we just leave them their "privacy?" Why doesn't the text just draw the veil or curtain and let them express their love without our voyeuristic inspection? I don't know, but perhaps as we press on, we will learn. So, I press on here. The first verse of this passags ends with a very visual and sensual image--the Beloved is "damp." Well, the dampness he feels is that of the evening dew. To turn the metaphors on their head, he is "dripping" for her. Now we are in the realm of lust stimulated. She should be "wet" and he should be "hard," but the first image we get is of him "wet." The "female" in him is coming out as the lovers are about ready to come together.
Should we continue? It gets hotter, and harder, and like love itself, more complex from here. Let'st continue in the next essay.
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long