Aimee Byrd

Inside the word. Outside the box.

During times of trial, many Christians rightly find comfort in the Psalms. I have been turning to the Song of Songs. It’s led me to read a lot of commentary and sermons on the Song as I have been studying it. The latest issue of Credo Magazine is out and I have a review published of Ellen Davis’s excellent commentary on the Song of Songs. Here’s a short intro. excerpt:

What do we do with the Song of Songs? Many scholars have differing interpretations on its writer, when it was written, and why it was written. Is it one, unified song or a compilation of songs? This book found right in the middle of our Bibles is thought by some to be the most secular book in Scripture and by others the most biblical of Old Testament texts. Although the Song has enjoyed much popularity in the past—many have even looked to the Song to help them interpret other parts of Scripture—today many avoid it. How often do you quote from the Song of Songs to encourage, exhort, or teach a brother or sister in the faith? This year, it was even parodied in the popular Babylon Bee featuring imaginary Valentine’s Day Sweetheart candies with messages such as “UR Breasts = Fawns” and “Hey, Tower Neck!” It’s funny because it really speaks to our awkwardness with handling the language in the Song.

There are many contributions published that teach from the Song of Songs. We have Bernard of Clairvaux and Gregory of Nyssa’s beautiful sermons, and later Charles Spurgeon’s sermons. We have the edition of The Church’s Bible, edited by Robert Wilken, which is a collection of highlights from early Christian and medieval commentators on the Song. Michael Fox analyzes the parallels between the Song and Ancient Egyptian love songs. Jill Munro has an excellent book studying the Song’s poetic language. David Dorsey published fascinating work on the “Literary Structuring of the Song of Songs.” And we have a plethora of commentaries on this superlative Song. As I am studying the Song, one of my favorite go-to commentaries is in Ellen F. Davis’s Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs (Westminster John Knox Press, 2000). It’s only 71 pages of commentary, but she unearths some of the richest treasures in the Song. I wish it were longer and yet I like how it provokes my own study to build upon it.

Read the rest here.

7 thoughts on “What Do We Do with the Song of Songs?

  1. janetlynnem says:

    Aimee, thanks for this taste of what to expect in your new book!

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  2. Cynthia W. says:

    There’s a lot of food for thought here. I was particularly caught by the idea that the use of Solomon had theological meaning for the original author and readers, rather than being a simple point of fact.

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  3. A prominent comp sexuality speaker seriously ruined the Song of Songs for me in her book. Comparing the Virgin bride to a smokin hot momma and stating that the brides nightmare of the watch keepers was a punishment for rejecting her husbands sexual advances. Same woman who stated that the “core of a mans masculinity is in his penis…the taking of his wife” and a “woman’s femininity is her ability to bear children”.

    I’m still trying to dismantle all of it. But Song of Songs still leaves a bad taste in my mouth from all this spiritual trauma.

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    1. Cynthia W. says:

      My first reaction is to cringe and retch, too, but one can get something out of the allegories and the Temple and eschatological imagery, with effort.

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  4. Beth Austin says:

    Hi Aimee. I’m intrigued by your analysis of this book. This reading of Songs, along with the hints of a more comprehensive theology of gender that you scatter throughout your blog, are both encouraging and to some degree confusing. I grew up in very conservative Baptist circles and after “reforming” as a young adult eventually joined the OPC almost 11 years ago. Though there were definite instances of overt misogyny that I have experienced over the years, the far more insidious and damaging characteristic of conservative Christianity has been an undercurrent of “female=less than” that I have internalized and that I cannot get past.

    I have kept tabs on your situation with GC and the PSE, though I have not delved very deeply into all the ins and outs of it. It is very much “more of the same” that I have observed and experienced in my lifetime as a woman practically born at church. Alas, none of it is surprising (except for maybe your courage in speaking out at all!), but no less hurtful because of its predictability. I am so appreciative of your willingness to speak the truth as you find it. Thank you.

    That said, all of these very predictable reactions would be easier to bear if I were convinced that the Bible made an open-and-shut case against misogyny and that there was hope that the church truly could pull out of this millennia-long funk in which women have been marginalized, devalued, and excluded from what you so eloquently describe as the center of spiritual life and creativity in the church.

    Though many (not as many as there could or should be however) have written to explain why some of the most puzzling passages are like Spook Hill that you describe in Recovering from Biblical MW in which our perspective is what is off, I still find that when I read the scriptures I draw the overall conclusion or at least come away with the impression that the Bible is written for men, redemption is most fully for men, and that the female Christian existence is one not of freedom but of restriction: God-imposed limits on nearly every area of life, and only barely overcoming the female nature that is inherently and ever more fatally flawed than that of men. And this differentiation will continue into eternity (as one reviewer of RFBMW was so good as to point out in his article in New Horizons). I think so often of Animal Farm, in which all are equal but some are more equal than others.

    I wish I could believe that the whole counsel of God reinforces the picture you paint in this reading of Songs, but it seems that no sooner than I think such an interpretation is plausible, I find myself skipping a sentence during my daily Bible reading with my children because men under God’s judgment are cursed with becoming “like women,” or nations are cursed with having women and children lead them, or women are silly or prone to either deceive or be deceived, or Barak was a weak man lacking faith because he was too afraid to go out to war without a woman to lead him, or the blessings of the Palms are written explicitly to men, who are promised a wife and children in their home if they fear the Lord and serve Him.
    No matter how I try to read the Bible – and even those passages that seem to have alternate readings that say something a bit more hopeful – it seems that ultimately, what I come away feeling is that women are “necessary” in so far as this human endeavour needs a way to keep going from generation to generation, and that instead of full, free, and unqualified acceptance in the Beloved, the take away is more along the lines of, Well, I suppose you can join in the redemption story too, if you must, woman.

    So many times I feel like Peter: These are hard sayings, LORD, but no, I cannot leave, because You have the Words of life.

    Do you understand where I’m coming from, and if so, how do you reconcile your much more generous interpretations of “the big” passages with what can so often seem to be a preponderance of evidence that the Christian faith has a masculine feel, as one of our ….friends? has once said.

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    1. Aimee Byrd says:

      My heart breaks to read this, Beth. It is exactly why I am writing. There is so much work that needs done in the church about what the woman represents. I see the Song of Songs as a microcosm of Scripture, enfleshing the whole story. And in it, we see Christ’s spousal love for his bride, and the typology of woman as mother/Zion/bride/sister. She represents the second order. If we don’t get the women’s representation, then we aren’t going to get economy or ethics. How we treat our women reveals our eschatological anticipation of joy.

      And it affects the way we read Scripture. The ugly in in there to show us the utter darkness and destruction of sin. WE are supposed to be appalled when we read certain parts of it.

      There’s so much more to say, I attempt to scratch the surface of it with my next book. I hope more join in. I hope it will be edifying. I do have a whole category on the Song on this blog.

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      1. Beth Austin says:

        Thank you, Aimee. Life has been busy the last few months so I am just now getting to your blog. I will read your posts on Songs and definitely am looking forward to your new book.

        I am so glad you are doing the heavy lifting on the work that does need to be done. Honestly, my biggest fear – my greatest heartbreak – is that I don’t want my children to grow up with the same dismal outlook that I have, but I don’t know how to avoid it. These are not first order theological issues, so I could never justify leaving a church that is right on the first order things for one that is off on those but less abrasive on the issue of women. But, it IS abrasive and sometimes very discouraging.

        I am so glad you are speaking out. The men who signed the open letter supporting you are encouraging too. This will never change until good men get on board. But, I have such a hard time even convincing my husband that this issue is real and not merely a personal problem for me! That’s one of the harder parts, I think: trying to get the good men to listen and to be concerned about the issues. Hopefully, they will not be deterred from reading your books by uncharitable “reviewers” (about whom the most charitable thing I can say is that they must not have read the books before writing their reviews.)

        Thank you again. Keep up the good fight. I will pray – for you, for the OPC, for good men to rise to the occasion and defend truth even when it’s uncomfortable to do so. May God bless you.

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