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Other editions. Enlarge cover. Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. The former acknowledges that there are several levels of understanding of the sacred text, any given level not being in conflict with another level but complementing it. By contrast, as stated above, exegetical allegory claims that its reading is the only one possible. In other words, while allegoresis is not helpful because it distorts the text that it alleges to explain, the discovery of a mystical meaning grounded in the plain sense of the text simply acknowledges the plurivocity of meaning of the Canticle.

Now, if a text, so to speak, "hides and reveals" such a sod, all other levels of understanding of that text, including the p sat plain , may not and cannot be used in a profane way, for the different levels correspond to each other. In other words, in the plain meaning the secret e Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, p. Hence, in what follows, the references to the allegorical school of interpretation are to be understood as applying to an exegetical method, not to the mystical reading of the Song of Songs.

Let us note in passing another allegorical reading of the Song that seems to show how anything becomes possible according to that method: Stadelman Love and Politics sees in the Canticle a covert political pamphlet expressing in a language purposely cryptic for Persians in ca. Judean hopes for the restoration of the Davidic dynasty. N o bridge, however, exists between the naturalist approach and allegorical exegesis because they compete for the same bank of the river.

Excursus: Origen's Reading of Song of Songs Christian allegoresis starts with the old Alexandrian school and particularly with Origen born in In the prologue to his Commentary on Song of Songs written ca. She is the soul made after His image or the C h u r c h. Along the same line, he speculates that it is called the most beautiful song because it used to be "sung of old by prophets or by the angels.

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In Origen's 2 1. Furthermore, says Landy, Aqiba's condemnation of trilling the Song in taverns "may well not imply a rejection of its literal meaning, but the vulgarization of its essential mysticism" Paradoxes of Paradise, p. For a handy translation in English of the text under consideration, excerpts of which are quoted in what precedes, we refer the reader to Greer, Origen, pp. Romance, She Wrote 12 view, Proverbs deals with morals, Qoheleth with the natural, and the Canticle with contemplation, "urging upon the soul the love of the heavenly and the divine under the figure of the bride and the bridegroom.

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Urbach states that the rabbinic exegesis of the Song of Songs deeply influenced Origen's approach. M y opting for the naturalist reading of the Song of Songs is nothing novel in the field of scholarship. But less customary is the exploration of the problem as to what there is within the p sat of the text that "hides and reveals" its sod? The problem, differently formulated, is whether there is in the Song of Songs a surplus of meaning that allows it to be read mystically. This issue looks all the more paradoxical as the Canticle is areligious in its expression and, therefore, would hardly seem conducive to a mystical and theosophical understanding, let alone to Rabbi Aqiba's considere ation of it as the Holy of Holies of Scriptures!

Its patent praise of the erotic seems refractory to an ethical or theological interpretation.

Romance, She Wrote a Hermeneutical Essay on Song of Songs

But furthermore, the areligiosity of the Song of Songs does not remain on neutral ground, for, as I show in the body of this study, the author of the Canticle produced not just a secular love song but, more embarrassingly, a defiant, irreverent, subversive discourse, which at times constitutes a satirical pastiche of prophetic metaphors and similes.

Thus, whereas with any other biblical text the passage from one level of understanding to the next poses each time a grave hermeneutical problem, as regards the Canticle the issue is much aggravated at both ends, so to speak. For, as we saw above, the vexing problem of its literary Gattung renders the question of its interpretation difficult at the extreme, and the stakes as defined by Rabbi Aqiba among others are the highest possible! In other words, the text under consideration may be nontheological and areligious, but the traditional 2 3.

See Urbach, "The Homiletical Interpretations. In fact, no other biblical book is more "unbiblical" Carol Meyers , and no other interpretive reading is more sacred Rabbi Aqiba.

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That combination of opposites is unique. It constitutes the challenge par excellence to the hermeneut. The question of legitimacy arises from the outset. Was it legitimate to include the Song into the c a n o n? Is it legitimate to interpret the Canticle Midrashically? And if legitimate, does it bar the road to a critical-historical reading? Text is plurivocal, innerly dialogical. To reduce the Song's meaning to the allegorical is unwarranted.

To read it as exclusively naturalistic is another aspect of the same mistake. However, the hermeneut raises, at the minimum, the problem of the relationship between one reading and the other and, at the maximum, whether one of the two is at all legitimate. The difficulty is compounded by the presence of still another traditional approach to the Canticle, namely the Midrashic. We have already distinguished between the mystical and the allegorical. Rabbi Aqiba's reading does not shun the plain meaning of the text, as does allegory Origen, for instance.

But at this point, we must proceed further and stress with Daniel Boyarin that "[tlhe direction of Origen's reading is from the concrete to the abstract, while the direction of midrash is from abstract to c o n c r e t e. We ought to be able to furnish a fitting interpretation. Boyarin, Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash, p. The signifiers are in cross-reference with one another; 27 there is no discarding of signifier as if it were the shell around the signified.

Allegory and Midrash belong to opposite anthropologies and cosmologies. In Israel's anthropology and cosmology, the truth supreme is not the ideal or the intelligible but belongs to "emotion and sentiment rather than proposition and argument," as says J a c o b Neusner. Having clarified the incompatibleness of allegory and Midrash, we now turn to the issue of whether the Midrashic and the historical-critical readings of the Canticle can coexist.

I find an astute statement by Neusner most helpful. It is read phrase by phrase, or, at most, verse by verse. In that way, the received poem is taken out of its original context, which is treated as inconsequential. Suffice it to read CantR and to let oneself be guided by Neusner or Boyarin, 30 for instance. That also on that score the Canticle is part of the canon was self-evident to Rabbi Aqiba, "for the entire age is not so worthy as the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel" mYad 3.


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To him, the Song was not just part of the canon, but its center, its tower of control. The rationale for such a consideration of the Canticle-as-Midrashof-Exodus provides by ricochet the solution to our other problem 2 7. See Boyarin, Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash, p.

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It is true, adds Boyarin, that such a Midrashic reading was later replaced by allegoresis, and already during the Midrashic age by someone like Philo. Neusner, Israel's Love Affair with God, p. Boyarin, Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash. For what actually stirs Rabbi Aqiba's enthusiasm is that "for our sages, the starting point of all love is love of God for Israel, love of Israel for God, and from there, their work commences.

God-Israel mutual love invites us in return to reflect upon the love between the Canticle's human lovers. In doing so, we will not take the Song apart and deal with discrete decontextualized bits and pieces, as the Midrashic explanation proceeds to do. Indeed, keeping in mind that the foundation of all love is the mutual love of God and people, we shall turn our attention to its reflected image in the love of the Song's protagonists as we find it shining in the poem as a whole.

The task of the modern hermeneut will not be easy, precisely to the extent that the Midrashic kerygma is carried by a vehicle so refractory to any theological or religious interpretation. In the course of this inquiry, I will show that absence is but camouflaged and subversive presence.

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The poet protests; she writes a manifesto purportedly devoid of religious jargon. We dare not forget it when the Midrash and the allegorical interpretation transform it into an apologue. Thus we find ourselves on a tight rope, caught between opposites. Earlier, we identified them as secular versus sacred. N o w their specificity appears to us more sharply; they are subversion versus apologia. Is there any bridge between the two? What happens to the subversive when it is turned into apologetic? Subversion is itself subverted.