restricted access Two Kinds of Sexual Relationships in the Hebrew Bible
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TWO KINDS OF SEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS IN THE HEBREW BIBLE Daniel Grossberg The University at Albany State University ofNew York Song of Songs and Proverbs 7 share the subject of erotic love, linguistic locutions , and literary themes. The former is a representation of popular love language and the latter is an adoption of aspects of the genre for an arresting wisdom lesson. Song of Songs celebrates a joyful and ideal sexual relationship whereas Proverbs 7 warns against a perverse and ominous liaison. The Proverbs admonition is compelling precisely because the teacher exploits the love lyrics in his didactic narrative poem and then subverts their charm by having the action of the narrative lead to disastrous results. The texts, employing much the same amatory language and actions, create entirely different tones and convey a rich array of ideas about sexual relationships. Canticles is replete with language, imagery, and themes about the love of man and woman. Proverbs 1-9, particularly chap. 7, utilizes much of the same erotic language, imagery, and themes with a decidedly different purpose and consequently different tone. Proverbs 7 evokes the cliches of love lyrics on the one hand as it undermines their appeal on the other. The wisdom writer incorporates the popular love language of the Song into a didactic, narrative poem, but subverts the charm of the love imagery by concluding the poem with fateful consequences for the young male character. Seen within this framework, the differing characterizations in Song of Songs and Proverbs take on added significance. Claudia V. Camp maintains that the Song probably "represents a realistic, if idealized, portrayal of the Israelite attitude toward love."1 Along with many recent scholars, Camp claims that the Song was preserved in the wisdom circles of the post-exilic period.2 If this be the case, Song of Songs 1 Claudia V. Camp. Wisdom and the Feminine in the Book of Proverbs. Bible and Literature Series II (Sheffield: Almond Press, 1985) p. 98. 2 Camp. Wisdom. p. 100; and John Bradley White. A Study of the Language of Love ill the SOllg of Songs and Ancient Egyptian Poetry. SBL Dissenation Series 38 (Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1978) pp. 5556 .81, 133f; Jean·Paul Audet. "Love and Marriage in the Old Testament," Scripture 10 (1958) p. 80; Roland P. Murphy. "Form·Crilical Studies in the Song of Songs," Interpretation 27 (1973) p. 422; M. Sadgrove. "The Song of Songs as Wisdom Lileralure" in Studia Biblica 1978. Papers on Old Testament and Related Themes. Sixth International Congress on Biblical Sludies, JSOTSup 11. E. A. Livingstone, cd. (Sheffield: JSOT, 1979) pp. 245·248; Nicolas J. Tromp. "Wisdom and the Canticle" in La ancient Hebrew Studies 35 (1994) 8 Grossberg: Sexual Relationships and Proverbs proceed from the same intellectual environment. The two echo one another, share images, and address similar issues of sexuality, albeit from differing perspectives. The strong affinities constitute support for Roland E. Murphy's contention that "reciprocal influence is at work among all the Old Testament traditions. No one lived sealed off from other writers and traditions."3 Although Proverbs 5, and to a lesser degree Proverbs 2, also treat the image of the seductive, loose woman who is the personification of folly and her wiles, I shall concentrate on chap. 7. The latter is the most extensive account and presents a tightly structured narrative poem, vividly demonstrating the perils of following the temptress. The other depictions of Folly are more aphoristic and emblematic and seem to await the fuller treatment in chap. 7. Look, for example, at Prov 2:16-19: It [wisdom] will save you from the strange woman, From the alien woman whose talk is smooth, Who forsakes the companion of her youth And disregards the covenant of her God. Her house sinks down to death, And her course leads to the shades. All who go to her cannot return And find again the paths of life. These words warn of dire consequences, but it is chap. 7 that enables us to hear the smooth talk of the alien woman, to learn where her companion is, to understand how her house sinks to death, and finally to grasp why her followers cannot return to life...


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