December 11, 2016
The Tiqqun Of The Shulammite : The Fixings Of A Country Girl

Original English Paper Written For A Bible Class At Spertus.edu, Fall 2016
Authored By Mike Furey

Note to Christians: This paper is written from the perspective of a Jew and may assist you in understanding how Jews think; I hope it proves helpful. My personal policy is to understand Judaism as backgrounds to the New Testament and not to proselytize Jews. In order to be wise, one should learn from all people. We are living in a dangerous world where no one listens to those who disagree with them.

Somewhere in the 5th century part of a conversation from a council sub-committee session assigned to discuss the merits of Shir Shirim somehow made it to this day. The extant manuscript contains the voices of the stringent Rabbi Peloni[1] and a student from the Hillel tradition, Michael. The document was discovered in a genizah amid the ruins of an Anatolian synagogue in old Ephesus, Asia Minor, (modern day Turkey). Technically, there is no Jewish dispute regarding the biblical canonicity[2] of Shir Shirim; "the question was whether or not it ought to circulate."[3] In the early centuries of the common era, Judaism reacted on numerous occasions to Christianity.[4], [5]

Michael: We are still strong because of our holy writings. Iím inspired by "Vast floods cannot quench love."[6]

Peloni: A holy book!? I canít see how the Song of Songs is the holiest of all (qadosh qedoshim)![7]

Michael: Why not?

Peloni: For one, like some Egyptian[8] in a tavern, every time I see the word shad (breast)[9], I think of "El Shaddai" Ė it seems to blaspheme a name of God by turning him into "the God of breasts" or worse making him into a set of "boobs."

Michael: You have too much gezeirah shavah and yetzer hara going on.[10] The imagery suggests God as a nourishing being.

Peloni: Huh! (In disagreement) But, it does start with a wish for wet lips and goes all the way into the bed![11] It practically defines love as sex. And the lovemaking never stops![12] This is not what the first mitzvah to humanity ,"Be fruitful and multiply" means![13] At least, there is no genitalia mentioned.[14]

Michael: Donít you see the wisdom of the Holy One here? Weíre living in a time when Christians are spreading their Platonic-Gnostic based heresy against the corporeal, believing that matter is evil, that the body is evil.[15] Look at the size of the church in Ephesus![16]

Pause.

Furey: These new places called monasteries are cropping up all over the place. Cappadocia has carved out stone hillsides and even a multilayered underground city full of these followers. Here we have a book declaring the flesh good. Our flesh is created by God and it is with our body that we fulfill mitzvoth. Sex is a gift from the creator as the Song implies!

Peloni: (Thinking out loud and talking to himself) Will Jews become extremist in their views on sex like the others?[17] ... Uh, I did hear about this Origen guy who castrated himself. I guess he has a problem with "the first commandment" [to procreate].

Michael: But Origen did accept the book into the Christian canon as they call it.[18]

Peloni: I donít get that; maybe he found a good rabbi, or maybe he just matured. Maybe the Song helped him grow. H-m-m? Anyway, I also heard about this Augustine of Hippo and his very unjewish notions regarding original sin. Christianity exhibits a mega tendency towards extremism. They even turned the alleged virgin into a god. They appear to have this tendency to create legends, gods and - (Gets cut off.)

Michael: - And to become more stringent. Hint. Hint. It is not just a Christian problem. There is a rabbinic tendency to aggrandize by building more and more fences around the law. I think the Song is a tiqqun (corrective) to this tendency.[19] With its healing power, I think the Song meets a heart felt need.[20]

Peloni: But I think youíre saying that the rabbis are overmeticulous in halakha regarding relations with women?

Michael: Yes, I do. And the destruction of the second temple proves our overscrupulous keeping of the law.[21] We need fixing in all areas of the law. I mean, what business do men have with menstruation laws!?[22] We donít know anything about periods, period!

Peloni: We have to watch where we sit, be careful not to touch the menstruant. Tahor matters.[23] Which is why the Song shouldnít be in circulation. Ben Sira rejected it.[24] It defiles the mind, speaking freely of romantic trysts.[25] It leads to promiscuity Ė with this woman wandering the streets at night! It has no concern for Torah; there is no mention of the law[26], no mention of God[27], no mention of marriage - oh, maybe a partial reference.[28]

Michael: Youíre taking it too literally. The stringent Jews of Qumran have at least 3 copies of this text.[29] Josephus includes it.[30] Melito the Bishop of Sardis includes it.[31] Jerome of Bethlehem includes it.[32] It is a beautiful text to explain that which is difficult to say. For one, she is wandering in a dream. It is a poetic and almost magical[33] way to express things we donít feel comfortable saying out loud. The city guards and the women of Jerusalem seem to represent a fence to the young loversí expressions.[34] But this text goes beyond the jaws of the law. It takes us to the joys of human love. It shows how it is normal to dream about oneís lover. Havenít you ever dreamed about your woman?

Peloni: Youíre going too far! Are you going to crawl under my bed, too?!!![35] (Crescendo)

Michael: (LOL) Well, dear patriarch, hear this one. It is the only book in which we hear the voices of a man and a woman as equals.[36] (Shuts eyes, expecting to be smacked.) A woman looks at a manís body and sees him as a gift. (Opens one eye.) A man looks at the womanís body and sees the glory and beauty in her. (Opens other eye with pleading look to accept his words.) Ezra and Nehemiah seem to represent the voice of the excessive stringency we find in "ultra-traditional, fundamentalist" frameworks. I canít believe how they forced those men, who were married to foreign women, to divorce and break up their families. The other scroll, Megillat Ruth, as a counterpoint, shows us another tiqqun.[37]

Peloni: You talk like a ger toshav.[38] If Solomon hadn't married so many foreigners and brought us down ...

Michael: If there is one reason not to keep this book in circulation or even in the collection, as "a book that defiles the hands,"[39] it may be that the story is hard to interpret. It seems to just be a boy meets girl story and no more. I wonder if thatís enough? Theodore of Mopsuestia is in favor of a literal interpretation like me, but his works are being called into question by his Christian authorities.[40]

Peloni: I read in a [proto-Targum] version that the history of Israel from Abraham to the last day is given in it.[41] I also heard an interpretation that it is Solomonís experience of rejection by a country girl. She sent him packing and kept steadfast in love with her simple shepherd boy, which leads to the kingís spiritual awakening and repentance.[42] In his other book, Qoheleth, he confesses himself as וְחוֹטֶא אֶחָד יְאַבֵּד טוֹבַה הַרְבֵּה, that is, he round-aboutly describes himself with the phrase "one sinner destroys much good."[43] Others say it is an allegory of the love between God and Israel. The competition say it is the love between the christ and the church.

Michael: Now see, thatís why I am worried about midrashic and allegorical interpretations. An overemphasis of them leads to darkness. Even dumbness! You can make the text say whatever you want. Peshat should be supreme. (Quiet for a second) But then again, this is poetry, so it requires a whole "garden" approach.[44]

Peloni: You know the scroll does have practical applications for weddings[45] and obviously kabbalat Shabbat and Passover.[46]

Michael: True.[47]

Peloni: In fact, this book has more commentary on it than any other besides sepher Torah.[48]

Michael: Which means it is important. "Every part of you is fair, my darling, there is no blemish in you."[49]

Peloni: Or that it is a problematic text! Like "a little sister!"[50]

Michael: (Smiling) Funny. Well, I need to get home to my "Shulammite." (Sounding old fashioned and sing-songy like a "Chabadnick") I adjure you[51] to drink deep[52] from this scroll and so I conclude with a quote. "R. Huna and R. Halafta of Caesarea said in the name of R. Simeon b. Lakish: Just as a bride is adorned with twenty-four ornaments, and if one is missing she cannot pass for a bride, so a rabbinical scholar should be conversant with the twenty-four books (of Scripture), and if he is found lacking in so much as one of them, he cannot pass for a rabbinical scholar."[53]

Peloni: But Rabbi Jose and Rabbi Meir declared that the status of the Song was still in dispute.[54]

Pause.

Peloni: Well, I reckon we donít exactly agree about the Song. !תֵּיקוּ (Teiqu !)[55]

Bibliography:

Berlin Adele, and Marc Zvi Brettler, Editors, The Jewish Study Bible, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2nd Edition, 2014. Published.

Biblehub.com, Song of Solomon, http://biblehub.com/songs/ Accessed December 10, 2016.

Brettler, Marc Zvi. How To Read The Bible, Philadelphia, PA: Jerusalem Publication Society, 2005. Published.

Carr, David M., The Formation of the Hebrew Bible: A New Reconstruction, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011. Published.

Collins, John J., Introduction to the Hebrew Bible And Deutero-Canonical Books, Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2nd Edition, 2014. Published.

Exum, J. Cheryl, Song of Songs: A Commentary, James L. Mays, Carol A. Newsroom, David L. Petersen, Series Editors, The Old Testament Library, Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005. Electronic copy.

Greenspoon, Leonard J., The Bible and the Ancient Near East, Class Lecture. Accessed December 3, 2016.

Hupping, Carol, The Jewish Bible, Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society, 2008. Published.

Jenson, Robert W., Song of Songs, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, James Luther Mays, Series Editor, Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2005. Printed.

Labuschagne, Casper, "The Rise and Demise of the So-called Deuteronomistic History: A Plea for the Compositional Unity of Genesis-Kings," Klaas Spronk, Editor, The Present State of Old Testament Studies in the Low Countries: A Collection of Old Testament Studies Published on the Occasion of the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the Oudtestamentisch Werkgezelschap, Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2016. Published.

Leiman, Sid Z., The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture: The Talmudic and Midrashic Evidence, New Haven, CT: The Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2nd Edition, 1991. Published.

Lim, Timothy H., The Formation of the Jewish Canon, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013. Published.

Maier, Paul L., Eusebius - The Church History: A New Translation With Commentary, Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1999. Published.

Murphy, Roland Edmund, O. Carm., and Elizabeth Huwiler, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, New International Biblical Commentary, Robert L. Hubbard Jr. and Robert K. Johnson, Old Testament Editors, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1999. Published.

Murphy, Roland Edmund, O. Carm., Wisdom Literature: Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Canticles, Ecclesiastes and Esther, The Forms of the Old Testament Literature, Volume XIII, Rolf Knierim and Gene M. Tucker Editors, Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1981. Published.

Sanders, James A., Torah and Canon, Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1972. Published.

Steinsaltz, Adin Even-Israel, and Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Editor-In-Chief, Joshua Schreier, Executive Editor, Koren Talmud Bavli, The Noť Edition, Volume 25: Tractate Bava Metzia, Part One, Jerusalem, Israel: Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd., 2016. Published.

Wikipedia, List of the Dead Sea Scrolls, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_Dead_Sea_Scrolls Accessed on December 3, 2016.

Wright, J. Robert, Editor, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament, Volume IX, Thomas C. Oden, General Editor, Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2005. Published.

End Notes:

[1] Peloni means something like "[Mr.] So-and-So."

[2] Lim, Formation, p. 2. Canon "is not a designation that an ancient Jew would recognize" as valid.

[3] Leiman, Canonization, pp. 80, 105. Cf. Mishnah Yadayim 3:5.

[4] Exum, Song, Location 1255. From about 160 C.E. onwards, there is barely any evidence of any dispute over the Song in the rabbinic tradition.

[5] Lim, Formation, p. 182. "The closing of the Jewish canon may be seen as part of the Jewish reaction to knowledge of books of the New Testament and the increasing influence of Christianity."

[6] In referring to the context of Song of Solomon 8:8-9, I allude to the belief that the holy writings of Israel, even the Song, erects an impregnable fortress around the people of Israel. The many enemies of Israel cannot stop Israel from existing.

[7] Leiman, Canonization, pp. 105-106, citing Rabbi Aqiba.

[8] Euphemism here for an Israelite, heeding Rabbi Aqibaís curse against those who sing the Song in a tavern. Murphy, Wisdom, pp. 102-103 speaks of the Egyptian influence on the Song, but no Canaanite influence.

[9] About 8 times: Song of Solomon 1:13; 4:5; 7:4,8,9; 8:1,8,10.

[10] Gezeirah shavah is the intertextual principle of interpretation that wherever similar words or phrases occur in texts, the similarities link the texts and allows for comparisons to bring out new meaning. Yezter hara is the "evil" inclination; not necessarily evil but the less spiritual and somewhat darker side to our being that keeps us in balance.

[11] Collins, Intro, p. 502. Verse 5:4 refers to the sexual act itself according to Collins.

[12] Exum, Song, Location 369. "Its resistance to closure is perhaps the Songís most important strategy for immortalizing love."

[13] Genesis 1:28

[14] Jenson, Interpretation, p. 7.

[15] Labuschagne, The Rise, p. 122. Gnosticism is a major fad during early rabbinical Judaism of the first century against which Judaism solidifies itself.

[16] One of the largest archaeological sites in Turkey, maybe in the world.

[17] . HaAcharim : Christians.

[18] Maier, Eusebius, pp. 224-226.

[19] Jenson, Interpretation, p.14 "Just as in general our faulty righteousness can nonetheless be an anticipation of our eschatological sharing in Godís own righteousness, only so to be righteousness at all, so our frail eroticism can be an anticipation of final sharing in the fulfillment of Godís and his peopleís desire for one another."

[20] Sanders, Canon, pp. 118-119. Sanders emphasizes a post-exilic need to feel loved by God as a nation, "the experience of Israelís destitution and transformation." On a different note, the diversity in the canon, he adds, shows "an inherent refusal to absolutize any single stance as the only place where one might live under the sovereignty of God." On pp. 102-103 Sanders sees Job as a response to the destitution of the pre-exilic state. I think Jobís 10 children represent the 10 tribes.

[21] Hatred for one Israelite for another was one reason for the destruction of the second temple. But also, during the Second Temple period there was excessive concern about the lawís demands and not about the balancing concern for mercy and compassion.

[22] Tractate Niddah.

[23] Being clean as opposed to being unclean, impure, defiled.

[24] Leiman, Canonization, p. 29.

[25] Murphy and Huwiler, Commentary, p. 233.

[26] Murphy and Huwiler, Commentary, p. 221.

[27] Exum, Song, Location 1146. There may be one poetic mention. Verse 8:6 says "the flame of Yah." Leiman, Canonization, p. 132, says the name of God does not appear in the Song.

[28] Murphy, Wisdom, p. 103.

[29] Wikipedia, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_Dead_Sea_Scrolls

[30] Leiman, Canonization, pp. 31-33.

[31] Ibid, pp. 41-42.

[32] Ibid, pp. 45-47.

[33] Exum, Song, Location 912.

[34] This idea came to me somewhere while reading Exumís commentary.

[35] Like Rabbi Kahana did to Rav.

[36] Exum, Song, Location 1226.

[37] Greenspoon, Leonard J., Bible, Class Lecture, Lesson 14, Part 2. Among other points there was a discussion of Ruth as a counterpoint to Ezra and Nehemiahís command to divorce foreigners.

[38] A non Jew living among Jews who has not converted but does keep some mitzvoth.

[39] Leiman, Canonization, pp. 80, 103. Brettler, How to Read, p. 275.

[40] Wright, ACC, p. XXV. The views of Theodore of Mopsuestia (360-429 C.E.) would be condemned "later" at the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553 C.E.). According to Exum, Song, location 1290, Theodore interpreted that Solomon sought to justify his marriage to the daughter of Pharaoh.

[41] Jenson, Interpretation, p. 4. Targum Canticles, circa 7th century, gives such an interpretation.

[42] http://biblehub.com/songs/

[43] Ecclesiastes 9:18.

[44] Mnemonic of Jewish exegesis for the word garden or orchard - Pardes: peshat, remez, drash, sod. Also, Collins, Intro, p. 501 says the word pardes is found in Song of Solomon 4:13, which indicates a post-exilic date.

[45] Murphy, Wisdom, p. 103. Murphy writes that 24 of 39 units refer to aspects of an Israelite wedding according to WŁrthwein, though the sole reference to marriage is 3:6 according to Rudolph Ė though I struggle to see marriage there.

[46] Berlin, and Brettler, JSB, p. 1562.

[47] Song of Solomon 2:16, 6:3, 7:11, et als.

[48] Exum, Song, Location 1290.

[49] Song of Solomon 4:7.

[50] Song of Solomon 8:8. According to Berlin and Brettler, JSB, p. 1566, in the Song, the reference to "sister" is not meant to sound incestuous, but merely refers to the intimacy found among close family members and biological siblings. I use it here to also hint at how younger sisters can be a nuisance, and also to the fact that the Song is part of "the little books" (ketuvim qetonim) according to Berakhoth 57b as per Leiman, Canonization, p. 58. Ketuvim qetonim designates the Song, Ecclesiastes and Lamentations, even as "the big books" (ketuvim gedolim) designates Psalms, Proverbs and Job.

[51] Song of Solomon 2:7, 3:5, 5:8, 8:4.

[52] Song of Solomon 5:1.

[53] Leiman, Canonization, p. 55. He cites Shir Ha-Shirim Rabbah 4:11.

[54] Leiman, Canonization, p. 123. In Leimanís conclusion on p. 135, the biblical canon was closed in the Maccabean period (2nd century before the common era) largely based on Qumran. He shows that the canon was debated even as late as R. Meir but no book was ever removed.

[55] Steinsaltz, Noť Edition, Bava Metzia, Part One, p. 193. It means it shall stand unresolved. "Tishbi yetaretz kushyot uveíayot." The Tishbite Elijah will resolve questions and dilemmas in the messianic age.

 
Home | Translations | Both J-E | Chapel | Email