Solomon Song of Songs

            Come, my beloved

let us go out into the fields
and lie all night among the flowering henna.

Let's go early to the vineyards
to see if the vine has budded,
if the blossoms have opened
and the pomegranate is in flower

There I will give you my love.

The air is filled with the scent of mandrakes
and at our doors
rare fruit of every kind, my love,
I have stored away for you.

--- Song of Solomon 7: 12 - 14
Ariel and Chana Bloch ( 1 )

Two lovers meet in the countryside,

under the cover of darkness, and part at dawn. He calls her his sister and his bride, but there is only one wedding in the Song of Songs -- the wedding of King Solomon, in verse 3: 11:

Come out, 0 daughters of Zion,
and gaze at Solomon the King!
See the crown his mother set on his head
on the day of his wedding,
the day of his heart's great joy.

But the Song's young Romeo is not Solomon. Solomon is the master of a harem that has to be guarded day and night, like the vineyard in verses 8: 11-12.

King Solomon had a vineyard
on the Hill of Plenty.
He gave that vineyard to watchmen
and each would earn for its fruit
one thousand pieces of silver.

My vineyard is all my own.
Keep your thousand, Solomon! And pay
two hundred to those
who must guard the fruit.

Unlike Solomon, the Song's Romeo has only one love, and there is no need for gaurds: Her heart belongs to him alone. She is his vineyard: his source of love and winelike erotic pleasure. Verses 6: 8-9 provide further evidence of the exclusive devotion that distinguishes our protagonist from King Solomon :

Threescore are the queens,
fourscore the king's women,
and maidens, maidens without number.

One alone is my dove,
my perfect, my only one,
love of her mother, light
of her mother's eyes.

From beginning to end then, the Song's young lovers remain unmarried. That is why, in the ( frequently mistranslated ) final verse, we find her urging her love to hurry away, to avoid discovery and capture.

Hurry, my love! Run away,
my gazelle, my wild stag
on the hills of cinnamon.

--- Song of Solomon 8:14

What, we might ask, is this story -- celebrating two passionate adolescents who meet and make love sub rosa -- doing in the midst of holy scriptures? And in what way -- if any -- does this illicit relationship reflect our relationship with God (according to traditional interpretations of the Song ) ?

Trouble in Paradise

The Song is a joyful celebration of love and eros. Yet it is a composition of both light and shadow. In its shadows there is an understated conflict between the girl and her brothers. We can see this drama more clearly if we focus on their interactions. The first hint of conflict can be found in verse 1: 6:

My brothers were angry with me
they made me guard the vineyards.
I have not guarded my own.

--- Song of Solomon 1: 6

The Song's young Juliet has been charged with the responsibility of guarding her brother's vineyards against foxes and other intruders. In verse 1: 6, she draws an analogy between her brother's vineyards and her own body. Her arms and legs are vines, and nestled in this vineyard are the soft petals of flowering blossoms and ripening fruit. Her breasts are "bunches of grapes." According to the Law, she is expected to guard this metaphorical vineyard with the utmost care. But instead of doing so, she meets with her lover in secret to savor the intoxicating wine of erotic pleasure.

Kiss me, make me drunk with your kisses!
Your sweet loving
is better than wine.

--- Song of Solomon 1: 2

Her friends are burning with curiosity to know who her lover is, but she protects him, using the language of metaphor to conceal his identity. Speaking of her lover as a "branching apricot tree" she confides: "In that shade I have often lingered, tasting the fruit," thus revealing the frequency and unbridled passion of their erotic encounters.

Her job in the vineyard is to watch for foxes and other intruders. At one point, she takes her lover by surprise, emerging from the shadows of a cliff and catching him as if he were a fox. This game of hide-and-seek is playful and light-hearted, but the danger from her brothers is real. If her lover's presence were known to them, they might chase him down, like a fox.

The depth of her anxiety is revealed in a troubled dream where she is beaten and bruised by the guardians of the city -- the "watchmen of the walls." Her mixed feelings come to the surface in this passage, with its thinly disguised reference to her brothers. She is threatened by the very ones whose duty it is to guard her.

In the entire poem, her brothers speak only once -- immediately following her impassioned monologue about the durability of love and the folly of those who think they can buy it -- a rather unflattering introduction to her guardians:

If a man tried to buy love
with all the wealth of his house,
he would be despised.

We have a little sister
and she has no breasts.
What shall we do for our sister
when suitors besiege her?

If she is a wall, we will build
a silver turret upon her.
If she is a door, we will bolt her
with beams of cedarwood.

I am a wall
and my breasts are towers.
But for my lover I am
a city of peace.

--- Song of Solomon 8: 7-10

The same theme is taken up immediately afterword by her lover, significantly locating her imaginary argument with her brothers between two admonishments of foolish people who value wealth more than love.

The connection between her brothers and the menacing watchmen who guard the city walls in her dream is made explicit in this interchange. Because of her need for secrecy, this confrontation should be seen as a flight of the imagination -- a poetic device designed to say, in poetic form, what it would be too dangerous to say in reality. Her brothers wonder what they are going to do when she is completely beseiged by suitors: "We have a little sister and she has no breasts," they say; and they make it clear that they will "bolt her with beams of cedarwood" if she should open her door to the anticipated throng of hopeful admirers. Taking up her brother's metaphor -- in which she is seen as a city under seige -- she tells them: "I am a wall and my breasts are towers. But for my lover I am a city of peace." Here -- as a creature of the storyteller's art, and an ambassador of Love -- the Song's Juliet gives a voice to normally unspoken thoughts: confronting authority, and defending a woman's right to choose her own mate.

Then, in the final passage, her lover tells a little parable about Solomon, who has to pay watchmen to guard his vineyards. The vineyard, as we have seen, is one of the Song's central metaphors -- signifying the young woman's body. In this context, however, the vineyards represent Solomon's harem, which has to be guarded day and night because his many wives and concubines have been accumulated for reasons that have little to do with love, and much to do with the acquistion of wealth and power, through the formation of political alliances. By contrast, our protagonist's lover is wholly devoted to him, and he to her.

Speaking on behalf of these lovers -- who are about the same age as Romeo and Juliet -- the author of the Song seems to be pleading their case in a "court of love," arguing poetically that we should look with favor on their courtship and betrothal, and celebrate their profound love for each other. In verse 5: 9, for example, their love is called to account, and passionately defended...

How is your lover different
from any other, O beautiful woman?
Who is your lover
that we must swear to you?

My beloved is milk and wine,
he towers
above ten thousand...

The evidence of their maturity and readiness for betrothal is presented throughout the poem as we witness their passion for each other and their wisdom regarding the nature and value of true love...

Great seas cannot extinguish love,
no river can sweep it away.

If a man tried to buy love
with all the wealth of his house,
he would be despised.

But all this evidence seems to fall on deaf ears. In a time when females were defined by law as the property of one man or another, the girl's father would be the one to decide this issue, but her father is conspicuously absent. Instead she is engaged in an archetypal struggle with her brothers, claiming that her breasts are like "towers," against their claim that she has no breasts at all. In her brother's opinion, she is barely ready for courtship, let alone betrothal and marriage. They give no sign of approval, and in the final scene she urges her lover to hurry away to avoid discovery and capture.

Hurry, my love! Run away,
my gazelle, my wild stag
on the hills of cinnamon.

--- Song of Solomon 8:14

In the commentary on their new translation, Ariel and Chana Bloch point out that this final verse is frequently mistranslated:

Coming at the end of the Song, this request by the Shulamite -- "Run away" -- has caused difficulties for many translators, who prefer to read "flee with me," or "flee to me," or "come into the open," or the like. All these readings are unacceptable, since barah can only mean "to flee away from" someone, or something; nor is there any textual support for the suggestion that she asks him to run away with her. Rather, this final exchange between the two lovers, 8:13 - 14, evokes a familiar setting: the young man asking the Shulamite to let him hear her voice, as in 2:14, and she urging him to run away before sunrise so that he will not be caught, as in 2:17 ( where sob "to turn" is likewise meant in the sense of "to turn away from speaker"). The Song thus ends with the motif of the lovers parting at dawn, as in the aubade of later traditions -- an ending that looks forward in anticipation to another meeting."

The final verse is the last resounding piece of evidence that the Song's Romeo and Juliet remain unmarried, right to the end of the poem. And because of the pattern of meeting and parting that is established throughout the story, we are left with the impression that they will continue to meet and make love in secret, in defiance of her brother's authority.

What, we might ask, is this story -- celebrating two passionate adolescents who meet and make love illicitly -- doing in the midst of holy scriptures ? In what sense, if any, can an illicit love affair be understood as a metaphor for our relationship with God? One would expect such a chronicle of misbehavior to be attended by strong words of disapproval and stern warnings. In ancient Israel, circa 300 BCE, a woman who lost her virginity before marriage was treated as damaged merchandise -- significantly reduced in value -- and there were serious consequences.

Indeed there is a warning in the poem, but its tone is gentle and plaintive, and it is articulated by the girl herself for the benefit of her own sisters, the "daughters of Jerusalem."

Daughters of Jerusalem, swear to me
by the gazelles, by the deer in the field,
that you will never awaken love
until it is ripe.

The difficulties associated with a precocious awakening of love and eros are illustrated by her own story; but these are not the unhappy consequences of pre-marital sex that one reads about in guidebooks for teens. What troubles the girl is that, since her brothers think she is too young to marry, she and her lover must meet in secret and live with the danger of being discovered and punished. On those nights when they are unable to meet, she sleeps alone, longing for his company.

"I am in the fever of love," she says. Erotic desire has often been characterized as a kind of madness or sickness. In the Song's natural philosophy, this "lovesickness" tends to make her less accountable for her reckless behavior, effectively arguing for compassion and sympathy in the reader's response to her. Her passion is presented as something perfectly normal, and all of nature seems to come to her defense as her story unfolds in the timely season of flowering and ripening.

Her disagreement with her brothers is centered on the question of her physical maturity. "She has no breasts," they say, and in their opinion she is barely ready for courtship, let alone marriage. Taking up her brother's metaphor -- in which she is seen as a city under seige -- she tells them: "I am a wall and my breasts are towers. But for my lover I am a city of peace." Because of the need for secrecy, this confrontation would have to be a flight of the imagination -- a poetic device designed to give a voice to unspoken thoughts.

But who should we believe? The girl or her brothers? Is she really too young? Even for courtship?

Although her brother's may mean well, they also want to control access to her, as if she were a city under seige. In the patriarchal system of arranged marriage that existed at that time, they would have been in a position to favor suitors who could bring property and prestige to the bargaining table. Although her precocious love has brought trouble into her life, being locked into a loveless marriage would be far worse. As far as she is concerned, these circumstances have forced the issue. Being a spirited girl with a mind of her own, she is determined to resist their control and choose her own mate.

My brothers were angry with me
they made me guard the vineyards.
I have not guarded my own.

The Guessing Game

The Song of Songs begins with a guessing game. The young woman speaks of her lover as her "king." She entreats him to run away with her to his royal chambers. She describes herself with regal pride:

I am dark, daughters of Jersusalem,
and I am beautiful !
Dark as the tents of Kedar, lavish
as Solomon's tapestries.

But who is this king and his dark consort ? As the initial verses unfold, clues to their identities are carefully measured out. For the Song's original audience, her reference to the king's numerous female admirers might conjure the image of a harem, and -- even before mention is made of Solomon's tapestries -- those who were familiar with Solomon's reputation as a great lover might guess that he is the noble king in question. Then, with the young woman's proclaimation that she is dark and beautiful, their identities seem to crystallize. She must be Solomon's dark-skinned queen, Sheba -- and he is the King.

But the Song's author has played a little trick on us. Before this impression can take root, the young woman's daydream flickers, and the truth is out. She is not Solomon's black beauty -- only a shepherdess, darkened by the sun, laboring in her brother's vineyards as a guard.

Do not see me only as dark:
the sun has stared at me.

My brothers were angry with me,
they made me guard the vineyards.
I have not guarded my own.

Then, for a brief moment, we see them as they really are -- a shepherd and a shepherdess making secret plans, arranging their next tryst. The king's chamber -- alluded to in verse 1:4 -- turns out to be any one of their secret hiding places in the countryside, where they go to make love and play lover's games:

You are beautiful, my king,
and gentle. Wherever we lie
our bed is green.
Our roofbeams are cedar,
our rafters fir.

--- Song of Solomon 1:16 - 17

So here, for a brief moment, we see them as they really are. She worries about getting lost along the way, and he tells her where to wait for him: "graze your goats in the shade / of the shepherd's tents," he says. And when the appointed time arrives, they are back in their dream world, and we find him fashioning precious gifts for her, out of the rich resources of his imagination.

My love, I dreamed of you
as a mare, my very own,
among Pharaoh's chariots.

Your cheekbones,
that string of beads at your throat!

I will make you golden earrings
with silver filigree.

Her lover's intentions are crystal clear : in his mind, they are already married. As mentioned earlier, verse 3:11 is traditionally interpreted as a real wedding. However, this passage makes more sense as yet another instance of their role-playing game, where they take up the personae of Solomon and Sheba. As King Solomon and his regal consort they are only pretending to marry:

Come out, O daughters of Zion,
and gaze at Solomon the King!
See the crown his mother set on his head
on the day of his wedding,
the day of his heart's great joy.

Soon after this imaginary wedding, he begins to refer to her as his sister and bride.

"An enclosed garden
is my sister, my bride,
a hidden well, a sealed spring."

--- Song of Solomon 4:12

In reality, she is no more his bride than she is his sister. He uses these epithets as terms of endearment. However, on this point, there is a curious lack of symmetry: she never refers to him as her "husband" and "brother." Instead of assuring her lover that she shares his sense of kinship, she can say only that she wishes he were her brother:

If only you were a brother
who nursed at my mother's breast
I would kiss you in the streets
and no one would scorn me.

--- Song of Solomon 8:1

But as long as she's wishing, why not wish for a husband? Why wish for a brother if she delights in their erotic intimacies and looks forward to marriage?  

In their commentary on the Song, Ariel and Chana Bloch point out that the first line is actually a simile. Translated literally, it reads: "If only you were like a brother." So why not render it literally, as some of the other translations do? Probably because, in the context of Jewish law, the mere semblance of brotherhood would not be sufficient to permit kissing in public. 

However, customs varied from region to region, and over the course of time. In a culture where it was common to arrange marriages while people were still children, there is one relationship that might have been equated with that of a physical brother, namely that of one's betrothed. And for males and females born close to the same time and place, there may have been a certain sense of divinely ordained inevitability in their union. In that case, our Juliet is saying, in effect: If only you were my betrothed, then I would kiss you in the streets, and no one would scorn me. Of course, this interpretation implies that they are not betrothed. Nor does she seem to share her lover's assurance that their marriage is a fait accompli. Which is why, just before they part at the end of the poem, she speaks of the bitterness of jealousy, and entreats him to bind her as a seal upon his heart, and a sign upon his arm.

However, the next passage adds a whole new level of meaning to the poem, and deepens the mystery of their relationship:

I would bring you to the house of my mother
and she would teach me.
I would give you spiced wine to drink,
my pomegranate wine.

--- Song of Solomon 8:2 

His left hand beneath my head,
his right arm
holding me close.

--- Song of Solomon 8:3

Bear in mind that these are conditional propositions. If, by "brother" she means "betrothed," then she is saying: If you were my betrothed, I would take you to my mother's house. If you were my betrothed, I would give you spiced wine. But what exactly would her mother teach her, if he were her betrothed? And what is this spiced pomegranate wine, that can only be given to one's betrothed? 

The translators point out that spiced wine is "a poetic term for wine and intoxicating juices in general." But the wine of erotic pleasure is a delight they share throughout the poem. In verse 5:1, for example:

I have come into my garden,
my sister, my bride,
I have gathered my myrrh and my spices,
I have eaten from the honeycomb,
I have drunk the milk and the wine.

This passage employs the Hebrew "perfect" verb. According to the translators, the most typical role of the Hebrew "perfect" verb "especially in the Song -- is to denote a narrative past, and a completed action ... In this case, the perfect implies consummation." In other words, this erotic encounter is real (not merely wished for, as some commentators would have us believe) and it occurs prior to the passage in which the young woman wishes that she and her lover were betrothed. To put it plainly, if she has already given herself to him -- if he has already "come into his garden" -- what is this mysterious pomegranate wine that she can give only to her betrothed? 

This reference to pomegranate wine is one of several clues that links the Song with the ancient rite of Sacred Marriage: 

The pomegranate with its red juice and many seeds was a primary symbol of uterine fertility... the fruit always opened in an oval orifice to show its moist red interior. 

...pomegranates were eaten by souls in the underworld, to bring about rebirth...

The Bible says the pillars of Solomon's temple were ornamented with the female-genital symbols of lilies and pomegranates ( 1 Kings 7:18-20 ). Solomon himself impersonated the phallic god Baal-Rimmon, "Lord of the Pomegranate," when he was united with his divine bride, the mysterious Shulamite, and drank the juice of her pomegranate (Song of Solomon 8:2)... Rimmon, "pomegranate," was a biblical name of the Goddess's genital shrine (2 Kings 5:18), from rim, "to give birth."

--Barbara G. Walker, 
The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

For reasons given earlier, I think it is a mistake to accept the tradition -- as Walker does -- that the Shulamite's lover is King Solomon. However, it must be admitted that, here in verses 8:2 and 8:3 -- more than anywhere else in this loosely woven, ambiguous poem -- the poet has left an awful lot up to the imagination. One moment, our Juliet is enticing her lover with mysterious, magical pomegranate wine, and the next, she is locked in his embrace. 

She has slipped back into the character of Sheba, resuming their role-playing lover's game. In character as Sheba, she escapes from a world where women are powerless to choose their own mates. In the realm of the imagination, she is Sheba the high-priestess: repository of esoteric knowledge, and guardian of ancient secrets. With the words, "If only you were like a brother," she entices him into a fantasy where he can be reborn as her twin brother, and nurse with her at her mother's breasts. This is an image of psychological and spiritual rebirth -- rebirth in the arms of the ultimate teacher of love: the Goddess of love.

Particularly revealing is the image that the poet has chosen to describe their coital embrace:

His left hand beneath my head,
his right arm
holding me close.

--- Song of Solomon 8:3

This stylized image of lovemaking -- with the left hand and the right arm -- is an unmistakable reference to the rite of Sacred Marriage. There is a similar verse in the Sumerian poetry of hieros gamos : "Your right hand you have placed on my vulva, / Your left stroked my head." And archaeologists have uncovered an ancient Mesopotamian plaque showing two lovers embracing in this posture. Furthermore, this image, with its sacred sexual connotations, has been preserved as such in Jewish mysticism. The historian and anthropologist, Raphael Patai, notes one example of this continuity in the Zohar -- the magnum opus of 13th century Spanish Kabbala -- describing, as he says: "a veritable hieros gamos" :

After singing a song of praise to the King, the Matronit's maidens withdrew, and so did the youths who accompanied him. Alone, the King and the Matronit embraced and kissed, and then he led her to the couch. He placed his left arm under her head, his right arm embraced her, and he let her enjoy his strength. The pleasure of the King and the Matronit in each other was indescribable. They lay in tight embrace, she impressing her image into his body like a seal that leaves its imprint upon a page of writing, he playing betwixt her breasts and vowing in his great love that he would never forsake her. ( 2 )

In its ancient form, the rite of Sacred Marriage was an annual ceremony involving an act of sympathetic magic in which two earthly representatives or embodiments of the god and goddess would engage in sexual intercourse in order to stimulate the regeneration of Nature. As embodiments ( filled with the spirit ) of the god and goddess, they partook of a primal relationship: being at once brother and sister, and also husband and wife -- like Adam and Eve, and like the first sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.

The poet appears to be drawing this parallel in order to clarify that the lovers are brother and sister in a way that does not preclude a sexual relationship and marriage. Their profound affinity and rapport is the evidence of a kind of mystical kinship. They are "kindred spirits," "soulmates," or, in Shakespeare's phrase, "star-crossed lovers" -- like Romeo and Juliet. They were born for each other and their lives are meant to be interwoven, just as surely as if they had been born of the same mother and nursed side-by-side at her breasts.

The Song's references to the Sacred Marriage might seem inconsistent with monotheistic Judaism, but evidence has been accumulating that there was a long period in Israel's history when the goddess, Asherah, was venerated as Yahweh's female counterpart. In Solomon's time, for example, the Ark of the Covenant rested in the Holy of Holies -- inner sanctum of the Jerusalem temple -- under the protection of two winged cherubim in sexual embrace, symbolizing the male and female elements of the Source of Life -- a Hebrew version of yin and yang.

According to Patai...

[ The Hebrew Goddess ] was deeply established in the lives of the Hebrew people, in various forms, from the conquest of Canaan to the Babylonian Exile. From about 400 BC -- after the post-Exilic reforms of Ezra -- she seems to vanish, although, curiously, her image still remains in the Holy of Holies of the Second Temple."

...even from the beginning there were two images of divinity in the Ark: both Yahweh and his consort -- possibly the Canaanite goddess [ Asherah / Astarte ].

After the destruction of the First Temple and the building of the Second Temple, the cherubim in the Holy of Holies were believed to reflect the male and female aspects of Yahweh. Later still, before the destruction of the Second Temple, figures of the male and the female cherubim embracing, which stood in the Holy of Holies, reflected the union of Yahweh with the Community of Israel, his bride. ( 2 )

[According to Philo] one of the Cherubim in the Temple represented a male, the other a female figure. This is consonant with the Talmudic tradition.... according to which the Cherubim couple was shown in marital embrace in a sculpture which stood in the Holy of Holies of the Second Temple.(p. 78)

Raphael Patai, "The Hebrew Goddess"

The idea that the Source of Life encompasses both male and female in its nature underwent a long and complex evolution in Jewish mysticism. In the medieval Zoharic cosmology:

The King and the Matronit were not only brother and sister, but twins; in fact, Siamese twins, who emerged from the womb of the Supernal Mother in the androgynous shape of a male and female body attached to each other back to back. Soon, however, the King removed his sister from his back, and she, after a futile attempt to reunite with him in the same position, resigned herself to the separation and to facing the King across a distance.

By human standards a marriage between brother and sister would have been incestuous; not so in the heavenly realm: there, a Zoharic text informs us, no incest prohibitions exist, and thus it was completely proper and licit for the King and the Matronit to marry. ( 2 )

The synthesis of goddess and god, as facets of one all-encompassing Source of Life, was complicated by the goddess Asherah's association with Canaanite religion and matriarchal social structure. Thus the worship of Asherah was opposed by a faction of kings and prophets who were devoted exclusively to Yahweh, and during those periods when they held power, they attempted to abolish the worship of other deities, including Asherah. Over the course of several hundred years, the statue of Asherah was repeatedly removed and reinstalled in the Solomonic temple. Despite the sometimes violent opposition, her statue stood in the temple for 236 years, nearly two-thirds of the time that the temple stood in Jersusalem. According to Patai...

...her worship was a part of the legitimate religion approved and led by the king, the court, and the priesthood and opposed by only a few prohetic voices crying out against it at relatively long intervals.

...this elusive yet tenacious goddess to whom considerable segments of the Hebrew nation remained devoted from the days of the conquest of Canaan down to the Babylonian exile, a period of roughly six centuries. In the eyes of the Yahwists, to whom belonged a few of the kings and all of the prophets, the worship of Asherah was an abomination. It had to be, because it was a cult accepted by the Hebrews from their Canaanite neighbors, and any and all manifestations of Canaanite religion were for them anathema.

How are we to explain the extraordinary hold Asherah exercised over the people of Israel: We can only make an informed guess to the effect that she answered the psychological need for a mother-goddess which was keenly felt by the people and its leaders alike throughout the centuries following the conquest of Canaan. Equally intriguing is the question: why was the Yahwist opposition to the Asherah worship so much milder and, at any rate, so much less effective than the struggle against Baal ?

Could it be that even in the eyes of those with the strongest pro-Yahwist sentiments, who were ready to put to death every Baalist and eradicate all physical traces of Baal worship, the cult of Asherah did not appear as an equal ritual sin? Was the goddess perhaps regarded as complemenary to, rather than competitive with, Yahweh, and her worship therefore tolerated? Or was the cult and the accompanying belief so strongly entrenched in the populace that even zealous Yahwists like Elijah, Jehu, and the Rechabites, however offensive Asherah was in their eyes, did not dare take action against her? Wherever the answer lies, the continuity of Asherah worship in Israel is a fact which must be recognized and remembered in any attempt to trace the subsequent role played by the concept of a female divinity in the popular religion of the people of Judaea and their heirs, the Jews. ( 2 )

The Song uses the imagery of the ancient rite of Sacred Marriage to convey the idea that these two lovers are kindred spirits and soulmates -- thus their true love ought to be held sacred by the community, and validated -- not violated -- by its laws and customs. As readers -- and attendants in the "court of love" -- we are invited to count ourselves among their friends, and join the chorus with those who celebrate their ecstatic union...

Feast, friends, and drink
till you are drunk with love !

However, this mystical kinship is not validated by the authorities. And on this additional level of meaning -- in the context of the Sacred Marriage -- this could be another reason why she is disinclined to use "brother" as a term of endearment. Her reticence makes a critical point. She is wishing for official recognition of their mystical kinship. When she says ( in the literal translation ), "If only you were like a brother to me," she is saying, in effect: If only you were seen by others as being like a brother; if only you were recognized by the community as my soul brother -- my kindred spirit, my soulmate. If our true love was honored by the community as something sacred, our future as husband and wife could be taken for granted, and we would be able to express our affection for each other as openly as brother and sister. "I would kiss you in the streets, and no one would scorn me."

As mentioned earlier, the Song of Songs is a celebration of love and eros. But it is also a work of light and shade. In its shadows there is an understated conflict, and a subtle but passionate call for social change. Writing in a time when marriages were arranged by the male head of the household, the author of the Song argued poetically that love -- not the desire for wealth, power, and prestige -- should be the foundation of marriage and the renewal of life. Men and women, should be free to choose their own partners according to the laws of the heart.

At the same time, there is an ingenious parallel between the mystical kinship of the Song's true lovers and the primordial partnership of the god and goddess. Without official sanction, both relationships were illicit. As the veneration of Asherah was suppressed, the yin/yang symmetry of god and goddess could no longer be celebrated in public. Those who wished to celebrate this fair and balanced conceptualization of the Source of Life were forced, at times, to meet like illicit lovers. The parallel seems obvious. As the author of the Song pleads the case for her protagonists in the "court of love," she is also pleading for open recognition of the marital partnership of the god and goddess -- Yahweh and Asherah -- as two aspects of the Source of life.

The Song of Solomon has long been treated as an analogy between human and divine love. A correlation can be made between  yearning for a lover and yearning for God. But, in the Western spiritual tradition, something has gotten lost in the shuffle of history. Missing is the insight that human lovemaking can actually induce the experience of mystical union. As Alan Watts pointed out in an exposition of Tantric yoga: an embrace of this kind, all considerations of time and place, of what and who, drop away ... and the pair discover themselves as the primordial 'love that makes the world go round.' There is an extraordinary melting sensation ... and, 'seeing their eyes reflected in each other's, they realize that there is one Self looking out through both... The conceptual boundary between male and female, self and other, dissolves, and -- as every spoke leads to the hub -- this particular embrace on this particular day discloses itself as going on forever, behind the scenes."

--Alan Watts, "Erotic Spirituality"

Through lovemaking and procreation we participate in the creative activity of the Source of Life. In a flash of insight, two lovers may even realize that they are one with that Source. Beneath the illusion of separateness, there is only one universal Self. Following a more ascetic path, Christian mystics, like Meister Eckhart and Teresa of Avila, made the same discovery, as did the mystics of other great spiritual traditions:

The mystics are not content to have a relationship with God via priests and institutions, but look inside themselves to know God directly. When they do, God is revealed as an all-embracing love that unites the universe into one indivisible whole. In communion with God, the mystics no longer experience themselves as separate individuals but as expressions of the Oneness.

--- Timothy Freke, "The Wisdom of the Christian Mystics"

As in the ancient rite of Sacred Marriage, the Song's archetypal lovers are filled with the spirit of the god and goddess -- that is to say, the spirit of mutual Love -- and deified by it. Which is why the young man praises his lover literally "to the high heavens" using images that link her with Venus -- the morning star, and goddess of love:

"Who is that rising like the morning star,
clear as the moon,
bright as the blazing sun,
daunting as the stars in their courses!"

The Song describes the Sacred Marriage in its most primordial form. We have here two lovers immersed in wonder, searching their identities, shape-shifting like magicians from human to plant to animal, explorining the mystery of being. Who are they? The question arises again and again: "Who is that rising like the morning star?" (6:10) "Who is that / rising from the desert / her head on her lover's shoulder?" (8:5) "Who is your lover that we must swear to you?" (5:9) Significantly, the Song begins with a guessing game, and their role-playing is of-a-piece with their wondering; it is the dawning realization that they are more than they seem. It reflects a deeper, more subtle game -- a game of hide-and-seek with the Source of Consciousness. In their sensual and psychic blending they begin to discover that they are two branches connected at the root with something even greater than they had imagined: They are the Love that defies death:

for love is as fierce as death,
its jealousy bitter as the grave.
Even its sparks are a raging fire,
a devouring flame.

The greatest mystics have assured us that there is a part of us that survives death. Every night, in dreamless sleep, we rest in that undying Self.

In dreamless sleep, there is no world, no ego, and no unhappiness, but the Self remains. In the waking state there are all these; yet, there is the Self. One has only to remove the transitory happenings in order to realize the ever-present beatitude of the Self. Your nature is Bliss. Find that on which all the rest is superimposed and you then remain as the pure Self.

-- Talks with Ramana Maharishi

First, "Be asleep to all things": that means ignore time, creatures, images. And then you could perceive what God works in you. That is why the soul says in the Song of Songs, "I sleep but my Heart watches." Therefore, if all creatures are asleep in you, you can perceive what God works in you.

--Meister Eckhart

The Source of Love is deep within us, and we embody it -- especially when we allow that love to flow unimpeded, as lovers do.

Falling in love provides a glimpse of the real gold that lies at the heart of our humanness. In love's early stages, powerful qualities of our being -- openness, peace, expansiveness, delight -- simply emerge, unbidden, out of the heightened sense of presence we experience with our partner.

--David Frawley, Vedantic Meditation

Genuine love for another has the potential to lead us into the most profound communion with God, sweeping away the illusion of separateness and uniting Heaven and Earth in a primordial Sacred Marriage.

This union is beautifully illustrated in verses 4:1 through 5:1, where the young woman's body is first represented "as a mountainous landscape teeming with animal life." Then suddenly she emerges from this landscape, and we find her standing with her lover on a mountain peak, in the rocky domain of wild animals. Sensing danger, he urges her to return with him to the valley, and, after following him down, she melts, once again, into the landscape. A "fresh-running" stream traces their path from that panoramic vista in the mountains to a secret garden in the valley, thus bridging the gap between Heaven and Earth. This stream brings life-giving water from the sky and surges like a fountain in the Earth's fertile recesses. As they make love, she is both the woman in the garden and the garden itself. 

This is a familiar metaphor in the native American spiritual tradition, evoking the lovemaking of Mother Earth and Father Sky. It is an archetypal image, and here in the Song of Songs, it conveys the experience of two lovers who have dissolved each other's boundaries, and spilled out into the world around them, merging with the land and its life; merging with nature and its androgynous Source. Thus their lovemaking is often blended with that of Mother Earth and Father Sky -- who comes to Earth in the wind, and the rain that streams down from the mountains:

Your branches are an orchard
of pomegranate trees heavy with fruit,
flowering henna and spikenard,
spikenard and saffron, cane and cinnamon,
with every tree of frankincense,
myrrh and aloes,
all the rare spices.

You are a fountain in the garden,
a well of living waters
that stream from Lebanon.

Awake, north wind! 0 south wind, come,
breathe upon my garden,
let its spices stream out.
Let my lover come into his garden
and taste its delicious fruit.

I have come into my garden,
my sister, my bride,
I have gathered my myrrh and my spices,
I have eaten from the honeycomb,
I have drunk the milk and the wine.

Song of Solomon 4:13 - 5:1

Then I went down to the walnut grove
to see the new green by the brook,
to see if the vine had budded,
if the pomegranate trees were in flower.

And oh! before I was aware,
she sat me in the most lavish of chariots.

Song of Solomon 6:11 - 6:12

Come, my beloved,
let us go out into the fields
and lie all night among the flowering henna.

Let us go early to the vineyards
to see if the vine has budded,
if the blossoms have opened
and the pomegranate is in flower.

There I will give you my love.

The air is filled with the scent of mandrakes
and at our doors
rare fruit of every kind, my love,
I have stored away for you.

Song of Solomon 7:12 - 7:14




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(1)-All quotations of the Song of Songs are from the new translation by Ariel and Chana Bloch.

(2)-Raphael Patai, "The Hebrew Goddess"

(3)-This is Robert Alter's phrase from the Afterword in the Bloch translation.

For an illuminating discussion of the historical context in which the Song was written, read: Official Religion and Popular Religion in Pre-Exilic Ancient Israel, by Jacques Berlinerblau

Copyright Call 1998