Saturday, June 27, 2009

Song of Songs: Response to Chris Carter, Part 1

Chris raises the valid question of whether or not I have made a false dichotomy between literal and allegorical interpretation of the Song of Songs. In a certain sense, he is correct, as I deliberately omitted what is usually called the typological or symbolic approach, which seems to be what Chris is pushing. That is the view that E. J. Young argues for in his An Introduction to the Old Testament. In this view, sexual union is a type of spiritual union. To quote Chris, "between both the man and wife, and therefore simultaneously preaching the same between Christ and the church to the believing participants." The problem I have with that is that I don't think Chris's "therefore" follows. What it says is that sex is a type of the spiritual union of man and wife, and that the spiritual union between man and wife is a type of the relationship between Christ and the church. Thus, the sex is a type of a type of the real thing. This, I think, further weakens the connection between the apparent eroticism of the text of the Song of Songs and the "spiritual" meaning of the text.

I avoided the typological approach in my post because I wanted to focus on what I see as the real problem with the literal reading: the problem of authority. If the Song is literally about sex, then in what way is it authoritative for the believer? Are the practices described in the text "law"--in other words, we married believers are required to repeat them in our own lovemaking? Or are they merely observations about one particular couple, thereby reducing the Song to a narrative.

Another problem I have with the typological approach is as follows. Once we have said that sex between a married couple is a type of the spiritual union they enjoy, and (following Chris's argument) that spiritual union is a type of the relationship between Christ and the church, then what do the details of the text have to say? For example, Song 3:7 says, "Behold, it is the litter of Solomon! Around it are sixty mighty men, some of the mighty men of Israel." How does this connect with sex? How does this connect with the spiritual union of man and wife? In other words, what is the type here?

To be continued.

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