Notes on How to Read the Song of Songs

Yakov Eidelkind
independent researcher

For citation: Eidelkind, Yakov “Notes on How to Read the Song of Songs”. Bible and Christian Antiquity, No 3 (7), 2020, pp. 163–196 (in Russian). DOI: 10.31802/BCA.2020.7.3.005

Abstract. This article is an attempt to formulate some principles of reading the Songs of Songs that would take into account its genre and poetic features. Being a collection of lyric po- etry, the Song of Songs works primarily with sound and has no plot. An important role in its com- position plays the principle of diversity and contrast. A serious tone gives place to a humorous one, and vice versa. Female voices alternate with male ones; gender stereotypes in some cases retain their power, but in others are subverted. Sexual physiology, contrary to a widespread belief, is not in the foreground — much more important are emotions. This fact belies both “spiritual” and “carnal” readings. The Song of Songs involves an identification of the reader with the lyrical speaking voice and provokes subjective interpretations. These are legitimate as long as they do not pretend to be the only true ones. Three contexts help to understand Song of Songs: ancient cultural context, a narrower Old Testament context and the context of the lyrical tradition from antiquity to the present day.

Keywords: Song of Songs, Canticles, ancient Hebrew poetry, Biblical philology, lyric, gender studies, feminism.
Bible, exegesis, hermeneutics, philology