24. Song of Songs

 

Eros is originally a "specialised form of the Ker" (Jane Harrison [1]) the Greek parallel to the rephaim, "little spirits of life" (ibd.) "…his dwelling among flowers … in the place of fair flowers and fair scents there he sits". The symbolism around Psyche ("soul") and her heavenly bride, Amor/Eros ("love") is the Hellenistic parallel to the young couple, "the King" and Sulamit followed by the daughters of Jerusalem (Song of Songs). The beautiful tale about Amor and Psyche is found in the Hellenistic novel Methamorphoses by Apuleius: Psyche experienced the union with Amor. But due to some fatal act, she has lost him, and now she must seek the bridegroom who disappeared. A parallel situation is found Cant. 5,6-7; 6,1: "Where has your beloved gone? We will seek him together with you". "To this invisible bridegroom the soul must be faithful in all troubles and temptations. Then after the death of the body, she shall see him in reality and celebrate her heavenly wedlock" (R.Reitzenstein [2]). "Therefore it can be no mere coincidence that the picture of this young couple in love is so popular on memorials, and is seen again and again on both Christian and heathen sarcophagi and tombs" (ibd.).

In the Song of Songs we find the women seeking the same heavenly bridegroom, as already pointed out by Dr.James Bennet in Congregational Magazine 21,1838 [3]. That this is not a song of human loves is clear from the beginning to the end. It opens with the statement of a female: "Let him kiss me", it is full of her solitous seeking after him; it abounds with praises of his person, and dispraises of herself, of her person and conduct; it invites other females to love him, and it speaks of him as her brother and her as his sister..." Bennet also stresses the fact that a man, if he had to write poetry about his love, would probably not start by describing his girl as the active part and himself as rather unattainable.

"It would be… abhorrent from the secluded, submissive character of eastern brides to ask the gentlemen to come and kiss them… We are told by the first word, that a greater than Solomon is here, one who must be courted…"

But all this becomes understandable if the speaker here is the soul thirsting to be filled with the divine fullness. It is the all too human, rejected, scorned, bruised soul giving herself in ecstasy in senseless passion to the invisible bridegroom. 5,7: “They struck me, wounded me. Took my veil from me”. Like Isis seeking the disappeared Osiris there is also zétesis & heúresis  ("seeking and finding") in the Song of Songs cf. Hos 5,15: "And they shall seek me before my countenance, seek me in their tribulation" with heúresis in Hos 6,3: "Then he will come to us as rain, as the rain of spring who makes the earth moist".

Interesting is 3,4: "When I found the one I love, I grasped him and would not loose him till I brought him into my mother´s house, to the chamber of her who conceived me." This is purely erotic fantasy and has nothing to do with reality: the young girl will force him to have love with her in her mother's bed. The chamber spoken of is, acc to Pope (p.303), the inner private room reserved for the privacy of the mother. The passion is so strong that it goes beyond every limit of good sense and morals. Her own honour and reputation is nothing, if only she can have him. The language is coloured by the orgiastic atmosphere of the Phoenician spring festival. An annual festival in Tyre was dedicated to the two brothers Hypsuranios and Usoos living at an early stage in man´s history where "women mated indiscriminately with whomever they chanced to meet" (Philo I,10,9). But here sublimated to a purely spiritual love affair with "the King" of blossoming spring, described as a shepherd and as the stag on the paradise mountain. His epiphany is in the splendour of gold and sapphires, and surrounded by myrrh and balsam. The beloved lives in the gardens (cf "Aphrodite in the Gardens") 8,13. The woman, Shulamite, comes from "lions and leopards", she is "frightening as armies" like the typical Near Eastern goddess for war and love. She is the representative of the black earth. "I am black, yet graceful". (Pherecydes Syros tells us about the primeval wedlock between Zas (Sandan) and Xthonie (= "Earth"). The main gods of Ebla were Kura and Adamma, of ´adamah = earth). Her beloved has, like Adonis, some clear relations to the Myrrh-tree: "Thuraq oil is your name", 1,3. Thuraq is in Syrian translated by myrrh. This phrase means "You are the perfume". Like Adonis he is closely linked to the Myrrh-tree and the flowers: "I am the Crocus of the plain, the lotus of the valley". Ch 3 in Song of Songs shows the women seeking the "bridegroom taken away". His epiphany is described in 3,6ff:

"Who is this ascending from the steppe like columns of smoke, redolent with myrrh and incense... Behold Solomon´s bed, 60 heroes round it… each with a sword at his side against night terror. A litter he made for himself did king Solomon." G.Kuhn [4] has shown the parallels to the Exodus tradition: The desert, the Ark carried like a litter, the column of smoke. The Song of Songs pays no tribute to the hunter, but to the god of the Sinai desert. He is described as the sun warrior. Like the sun hero, Samson is surrounded by 30 "best men", he is surrounded by 60 heroes guarding his litter against "night terror". Himself the symbol of light, his female partner is often seen as the symbol of darkness, and even some immorality ("My own vineyard I did not guard"). In India the ideal partner of the tantric seeker of the light is the plain washerwoman.

In the Hellenistic Syrian religion Eros-Resheph comes from the underworld, and the meaning of Resheph is "flame". This gives some explanation to the strange verse: "Love is strong as the realm of death, its flames are Ya´s Resheph". "Mighty flooding can not drench it" (8,6f). Here we find the typical theory of cosmic balance as a balance between the flooding of winter-rain balanced by the burning heat of summer. But we should note that Resheph is no independent god, but a power in total submission to Ya.

The background to the Song of Songs is a spring festival celebrating the wedlock of Earth and Heaven. It is the song of the women to the Shepherd, the Lord of vegetation. "The Canticles is the spiritual joy of saintly souls at the nuptials of the King and Queen of the City".[5] The first well-known Christian mystic is Origen, and it is no coincidence that his mysticism is most obvious in his exegesis of the Song of Songs. G.Quispel has stressed the fact that mysticism is not a take-over from Hellenistic thinking:

"The mysticism of Macarios has flourished on a Syrian basis, a mysticism which has so strongly influenced the whole of Christianity, first Gregor of Nyssa, but mostly pietism".



[1] Prolegomena, pp.630-35.

[2] Das Märchen von Amor und Psyche bei Apuleius,1912, p.25.

[3] p.148f., here quoted after M.Pope, Song of Songs,p.135f.).

[4] "Erklärung des Hohenliedes", Neue Kirchliche Zeitschrift 37,501-10,521.72.

[5] St. Augustine, de civ. dei XVII,20.