- Interpretive Images in the Song of Songs: From Wedding Chariots to Bridal Chambers
This interesting study on the Song of Songs seeks to clarify its complex imagery and rhetorical framework with a view to aiding an understanding of the text within its original context, in particular by identifying a paradigm of bridal chamber images which serves, it is claimed, as an interpretive framework for understanding the Song’s erotic love lyrics, metaphors and motifs. After a brief Introduction (pp. 1–12) the author launches directly into his first substantive chapter, on the interpretive history of the Song (pp. 13–45). His particular interest here lies in showing how, in contrast to much recent interpretation of the Song, marriage has typically been understood to be the context of the love relationship described therein, and the presence of bridal chamber images has historically been noted at numerous points. Chapter 2 (pp. 47–72) proceeds then to introduce the proposed methodology for the project, described as “integrative literary” methodology, which is advanced as a synthesis of elements from both traditional and conceptual-metaphorical approaches and an improvement on both. This method engages first in genre identification, and then in the determination of primary imagery; the elucidation of an imagery paradigm based on the identification of primary organizational imagery; the determination of secondary imagery or motifs; and the analysis and synthesis of significant literary relationships. Chapter 3 (pp. 73–121) analyzes the primary interpretive imagery of the Song, and Chapter 4 (pp. 123–164) its secondary imagery, before the author moves to his Conclusion (pp. 163–169) and offers his own translation of the text (pp. 171–181). The bridal chamber is identified as primary imagery, since it constitutes the central metaphor of the Song—much emphasis here is laid upon the Song’s introduction as a proleptic summary to the work as a whole and on the particular connection between the beginning and the end of the book (8:13–14). This then helps us to understand other of the Song’s imageries and metaphorical expressions, such as the bridal carriage images. [End Page 149]
There are many useful things to be learned from this book. Its main weakness, however, is that it appears to assume rather than seek to demonstrate that we are indeed dealing with two main characters in the Song of Songs; and it further assumes, therefore —rather than seeking to demonstrate—that all the wedding imagery that undoubtedly saturates the book refers to precisely the same reality, i.e., the marriage relationship between the “king” and his beloved. Only thus is it possible to understand how the author feels able to assert, for example, that “the literary features in the Song’s introduction establish its context as a wedding celebration” (p. 73)—that is a large claim to rest upon the analysis of a few verses. He likewise simply assumes, rather than argues, that the gardens in 8:13–14, because that passage can plausibly be argued to draw upon imagery from within the sacred marriage ritual, speak of the same reality as 1:1–4. To demonstrate that imagery often associated with marriage saturates the Song is not, however, to demonstrate that only one “marriage” is the subject of the Song, nor to say anything about what kind of “marriage(s),” precisely, we are dealing with. It would have been much better if all the interesting work on metaphor that this book contains had itself not been wedded quite so monogamously in this way to this one particular reading of the book, or at least had sought to justify this particular reading in a serious manner. As things stand, the volume unfortunately leaves the impression that its overall conclusions owe as much to the presuppositions with which the author begins (and especially to a clear desire to demonstrate that a biblical text does not sanction “free love”) as to the often insightful analysis that he offers.
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