Monday, May 30, 2011

Dear C. J. Mahaney...

Dear C. J. Mahaney...

I really WANTED to like your book (Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God)—after all, I did pay $7.99 for it. I actually think I WILL like your book, unfortunately, the wheels came off from the get go. You give me five reasons why you are going to try and persuade me that the Song of Solomon is all about sexual intimacy within the covenant of marriage.

Reason One: Solomon's topic was obviously sex.

Um, C. J. did you take a lit course in college? Have you ever read "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost? It's all about stopping by the woods on a snowy evening and watching snow flakes, right? No! It's poetry. Stopping by the woods is a metaphor for life and the ever present pressure of time and life moving on and...well, I won't bother with a literature analysis but you (don't) get the point. It's poetry! It's metaphorical. Poetry is SUPPOSED to be metaphorical. It's supposed to reach below the surface to some deeper meaning (and no, I do not spiritualize every little part of the Song of Solomon).

Reason Two: The Bible never suggests that this book isn't primarily about sex.

Seriously? An argument from silence? The Bible never suggests that it IS all about sex because the rest of the Bible NEVER REFERS TO IT! This is a terrible argument, you should have just stuck with four.

Reason Three: God's relationship with man is not sexual.

Point granted. Let me see, if I were the wisest man who has ever lived, specially gifted by God with wisdom and I wanted to come up with some type, some metaphor that best worked out the intimate relationship between Israel and God, what might I think of? Wait a minute. There is one that is all around; that everyone immediately identifies with; that everyone intuitively understands, the relationship between a man and a woman. What a perfect metaphor!

Reason Four: Spiritualizing the book doesn't work.

Agreed, and as anyone who has ever studied poetry knows, one doesn't have to make metaphors of every possible word in the poem. Indeed, one of Robert Frost's poems hung metaphorically on one line of perhaps 25. Were it not for that line, we might really think that Mr. Frost was speaking of orchards, and autumn leaves, and the smell of apples; as my English Lit professor correctly pointed out, Robert Frost won't let us take his poem literally. If thus Robert Frost, even more so Solomon.

Reason Five: We Need Instruction on Sexuality.

But, this C. J., is the brilliance of the Song of Solomon. We receive a beautiful look at the intimacy involved in marriage—and are thereby instructed—when the metaphorical meaning of the eastern love poem goes far deeper. It's brilliant! Only Solomon could have come up with it and carried it off, but then you missed the deeper meaning. So sad.

Oh, and by the way, I have a couple of questions for you.

Question one: Can you name one commentator who agrees with your position that was born before 1900?

Question two: Solomon uses the term "my beloved" again and again in the Song of Solomon. Did you bother seeing how that term is used in the rest of the Old Testament. I'm willing to bet you didn't. I've never heard anyone who holds the "Marriage Manual" interpretation of the Song of Solomon address it.

I'm going to finish the rest of the book, and I suspect I really will like it. But here we have the wisest person who has ever lived write poetry and he does not have any metaphorical purpose in mind at all? Really?

Your friend,


Peter Day said...

Ha ha -- excellent!

I'm Sheila Atchley. said...

As usual, Dan, wonderful content. Just spent a good half hour with your blog, and once again come away refreshed. I wanted to leave a word of encouragement!

Anonymous said...

"The Song of Songs was written circa 900 BC, in the northern dialect of ancient Hebrew, by an author of unsurpassed literary ability, adept at the techniques of alliteration and polyprosopon, able to create the most sensual and erotic poetry of his day..."

- Noegel and Rendsburg, Solomon's Vineyard: literary and linguistic studies in the Song of Songs,

"Although it is commonly held that an allegorical interpretation justified its inclusion in the Biblical canon, scholarly discussion has not reached any consensus yet on Song of Songs and leaves other possibilities open."

Wikipedia, citing Garrett, Duane A. Song of Songs. Word Biblical Commentary 23B.

Just a cursory glance through materials available on the internet makes it clear there is no consensus at all on the question of interpretation. Early church leaders made the interpretation that it was allegory referring God and Israel, but they didn't get everything right. Your comment about finding a commentary before 1900 that agrees with him is simply chronological snobbery.

Also, to say that the rest of the Bible never refers to the Songs is completely inaccurate. There are several New Testament references to it...mainly by the Apostle John. In your eagerness to disagree with CJ, you seem to be resorting to some terrible arguments yourself.