Friday, September 22, 2006

Singing the Song of Songs

I was disappointed when we skipped the Song of Solomon last week in Gospel Doctrine. Of course, I wasn’t surprised. As we study the Old Testament every four years, if the book is even mentioned, it is to summarily dismiss it with the notation in the Joseph Smith Translation that the Songs of Solomon are not inspired writings, and thus do not belong in the Biblical canon. Nonetheless, the Song seems to me to have some commonality with the D&C and deserves a closer look.

I first noticed a similarity in language between Solomon’s Song and the D&C when I came across these words, “Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?” This verse comes from Song 6:10 and describes Solomon’s Shulamite princess to whom his song of love is directed. To D&C scholars these words call to mind Section 5:14 and 109:73 where the Church comes forth from the wilderness of darkness “fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.” I’m not the first to blog about this similarity. But to me, the appearance of these verses in the D&C gives credence to the view held by some Christian theologians that Solomon’s love song to the Shulamite is an allegory or type of Christ’s relationship to the Church. Solomon is not the only one to use this poetic form. Jeremiah tells his readers, “I have likened the daughter of Zion to a comely and delicate woman.” (Jer. 6:2) In Isaiah and Jeremiah the “daughter of Zion” is a figure meaning “the covenant people.” Thus Jeremiah, Isaiah, Solomon, and others liken the Church to a beautiful woman.

In my view, the Latter-day Saints, with the interpretation of this allegory plainly stated in the D&C, are uniquely placed to understand and appreciate the Song of Solomon. Many images which appear within the verses seem fruitful for further study. For example, a familiarity with the Old Testament Temple calls this edifice to mind while reading these verses from the Song:

King Solomon made himself a chariot of the wood of Lebanon. He made the pillars thereof of silver, the bottom thereof of gold, the covering of it purple, the midst thereof being paved with love, for the daughters of Jerusalem. (Song 3:9-10)

Here we see the Temple as a chariot, built to bring the covenant people into the presence of Deity. Other interesting images found in the Song include fruit that is sweet to the taste, the adornment of the bride, the banquet, the fig tree, the vineyard, frankincense and myrrh, seeking, washing of the feet, the entreaty to “return,” and the “sealing” of love. These themes are repeated often enough in other, more acceptable scriptural passages that it is difficult to understand why they have been neglected and rejected by Latter-day Saints.

Mormons seem to find it uncomfortable to uncover a celebration of sexuality in the scriptures. They hesitate to compare these images of love to their chaste conception of Christ’s love for his Bride. This may have as much to do with our dismissal of this unusual book as the note in the JST. But to me the Song is a spiritual enticement. It seems to call to me with the voice of an ardent suitor. I place the Savior in the role of the beloved lover in the Song and thrill to these words: “I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me…”


Eric Nielson said...

Interesting thoughts.

There is a lot to rush through in the OT if you want to do the whole thing in a year.

Loyd said...

I remember years ago being surprised to see Songs quotes in McKonkie's Messiah series.

Mormons (and most Christians) tend to have a rather naive reading of the Old Testament - and the whole Bible. Too often we want to read the texts through a 19th and 20th century lense (I don't think a 21st century lense has been developed yet). There is a lot more beauty in the texts when they are seen for what they really are - carefully crafted traditions from very different cultures attempting to describe their religious experience and heritage.

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Bored in Vernal said...

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Anonymous said...

This was faster.

Plus we all know how your memory goes as you age!