Book review: “The Sun Has Burned My Skin: A Modest Paraphrase of Solomon’s Song of Songs”

Ah, the Songs of Solomon. When I turned 8, I got my first set of scriptures, a quadruple combination. I was so excited to be a grown-up and read the scriptures. But all of the books, they were so long! In my 8-year-old mind, I decided I would find the shortest one to read first. So I turned to the Songs of Solomon and highlighted the entire thing. Solid red colored pencil all the way through. Good thing I got all the important stuff in the scriptures covered.

Mormons don’t do a lot with Songs of Solomon. It’s usually entirely left out of seminary study manuals and Sunday School lessons. Part of that probably has to do with the oft-quoted note attributed to Joseph Smith: “The Songs of Solomon are not Inspired writings.” Interesting though that the famed quote “Terrible as an army with banners” is used to describe the church in D&C. Apparently the language in Songs of Solomon is too good to give up!

What’s not to love about Songs of Solomon, then? Well, the fact that it’s all about love. Some have described it as “canonized pornography.” Miller argues here that the Songs have inherent value for several reasons, one, re-emphasizing that love is sacred, and two, the Songs is one of the only places in scripture where we here a strong female voice. It’s a good short read to give you a change in perspective, and perhaps help you to appreciate something you have overlooked before.

songsofsolomon

 

Here’s a few quotes:

The songs are themselves a collection of age-old Israelite love songs, searing and intense, sung principally by a young woman who is bold, confident, and only just exposed to the tidal pull of love and sex. But what you’ll find in this paraphrase is something else. What you’ll get here is that ancient, feminine voice refracted through the heart of a long-married, middle-aged, bourgeois, first-world, twenty-first century white guy with literary pretensions and three kids. Such refraction comes with real costs. My renderings are, inevitably, skewed by my masculinity and tinged by my domesticity. Important parts of the original are lost along the way. However, despite the great distance between us, I refuse to believe that these songs cannot still ring in my own heart and mind. I refuse to believe that these are songs I cannot, at least in part, sing.

[Quoted from Ariel and Chana Bloch]: “In the Bible, written for the most part from a male point of view, women are by definition the second sex. History is traced through the line of the fathers, as in priestly genealogies (“ And Enoch begat Methuselah”), and the typical formulas for sexual relations (“ he knew her,” “he came into her,” “he lay with her”) make the woman seem passive and acted upon. But in the Song, where the lovers take turns inviting one another, desire is entirely reciprocal. Both are described in images that suggest tenderness (lilies, doves, gazelles) as well as strength and stateliness (pillars, towers). In this book of the Bible, the woman is certainly the equal of the man. Indeed, she often seems more than his equal.”

LaCocque argues that the book’s songs are straightforwardly a celebration of the human experience of love and sex. But he also argues that they are, at the same time, deeply religious. While the songs are not allegorical, they do, he contends, intentionally and persistently reappropriate biblical language and prophetic metaphors used elsewhere. Where Israel’s prophets adapted the profane language of marital intimacy to describe the sacred character of Israel’s relationship to God, these songs work to systematically bend that now prophetic language back around to describe human love itself as sacred and divine.

[From the paraphrased text itself]:
Love is fierce as death, a raging fire against the falling night. No ocean is as vast, no hunger as keen, no promise as true. It cannot be bought.

Image credit: ProclaimHisWord

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