Love’s Lyrics Redeemed

Phyllis Trible

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Phyllis Trible, God and Rhetoric of Sexuality (Overtures to Biblical Theology). Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978. P. 163ff.

Using Genesis 2-3 as a key for understanding the Song of Songs, we have participated in a symphony of love. Born to mutuality and harmony, a man and a woman live in a garden where nature and history unite to celebrate the one flesh of sexuality. Naked without shame or fear (cf. Gen. 2:25; 3:10), this couple treat each other with tenderness and respect. Neither escaping nor exploiting sex, they embrace and enjoy it. Their love is truly bone of bone and flesh of flesh, and this image of God male and female is indeed very good (cf. Gen. 1:27, 31). Testifying to the goodness of creation, then, eroticism becomes worship in the context of grace.

William Blake: Satan, Adam & Eve
William Blake: Satan, Adam & Eve

In this setting there is no male dominance, no female subordination, and no stereotyping of either sex. Specifically, the portrayal of the woman defies the connotations of “second sex.” She works, keeping vineyards and pasturing flocks. Throughout the Song she is independent, fully the equal of the man. Although at times he approaches her, more often she initiates their meetings. Her movements are bold and open: at night in the streets and squares she seeks the one whom her nephesh loves (3:1­4). No secrecy hides her yearnings. Moreover, she dares to describe love with revealing metaphors:

My lover put his hand to the latch,
and my womb trembled within me. (5:4)

Never is this woman called a wife, nor is she required to bear children. In fact, to the issues of marriage and procreation the Song does not speak. Love for the sake of love is its message, and the portrayal of the female delineates this message best.

Though love is fulfilled when the woman and the man close the circle of intimacy to all but themselves, my imagination posits a postlude to the poetry. In this fantasy “the cherubim and the flaming sword” appear to guard the entrance to the garden of the Song (cf. Gen. 3:24). They keep out those who lust, moralize, legislate, or exploit. They also turn away literalists. But at all times they welcome lovers to romp and roam in the joys of eroticism:

Arise, my love my fair one,
and come away;


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