The Song of Songs: Studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry

Dianne Bergant

The Song of Songs: Studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry
The Song of Songs: Studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry

Book Details

Series: Berit Olam
Categories: Song of Songs
Tags: Technical

Book Information

Among all of the books of the First Testament, the Song of Songs is one of the most intriguing. On the one hand, its unabashed sensuality has captured the imagination and has endeared it to those who appreciate passionate human love. On the other hand, more demure readers have frequently been chagrined by their own fascination with its erotic character and have cloaked their interest under the guise of metaphorical reading. Both interpretations of the Song of Songs have been endorsed. Down through the ages, both Jewish and Christian interpreters have delighted in the exquisite imagery of the book's songs, but they have also frequently reverted to allegory in their interpretations.

This commentary views the Song as a collection of love poems and carefully examines features of Hebrew poetry in order to uncover the delicacy of their expression. It is unique not only in the attention that it gives to the obvious feminine perspective of the poems but in their ecosensitive character. Although it is a tribute to mutual love, the principal frame of reference is the amorous disposition of the woman. Her words open and close the Song and her voice is dominant throughout.

The imagery that the lovers use is drawn from nature. Whether it is the woman in awe of the strength and splendor of her lover or the man glorifying her physical charms, the descriptions all call on elements from the natural world to characterize the feature being described. Whatever they experience or know or even desire is somehow rooted in the natural world.

Chapters are "Superscription," "Mutual Yearning (1:2-2:7)," "An Opportunity Lost, Then Found (2:8-3:5)," "Ravished By Beauty (3:6-5:1)," "One of a Kind (5:2-6:3)," "The Admiration of a Lover (6:4-8:4)," and "Love Affirmed (8:5-8:14)."


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4.66666666666667 out of 5 based on 6 user ratings
Marcus Maher January 27, 2013 5 5
For discussion of metaphor and simile in the Song, Bergant's work stands head and shoulders above the rest. In general she is very sensitive to literary elements of the text. This commentary is a bit briefer than most so discussion of ANE background is limited, but she does explicitly draw on it from time to time to explicate particular interpretive decisions. Like Exum she does an excellent job at drawing out how the poem is erotic without being explicit, though once in a while I do think she finds more sexual imagery than I am convinced is present. Along with Exum, Bergant utilizes feminist scholarship productively. For the lay person who is intimidated by Exum's commentary, I think this would be a great commentary to start with. It has enough detail without being too technical. [Full Review]
Literary insights and analysis. [Full Review]
Denver Seminary Journal June 16, 2008 4 5
Literary insights and analysis. [Full Review]
As part of the Berit Olam series, this commentary on the Song of Songs (according to the dust jacket) focuses on the final form of its Hebrew text, approaching it as a literary work. The Berit Olam series purports to bring to all interested in the Bible, be they lay people, professional biblical scholars, students, or religious educators, the latest developments in the literary analysis of these ancient texts. With reference to this particular volume by Bergant, the following is claimed on the inside flap of the dust jacket: This commentary views the Song of Songs as a collection of love poems that pays tribute to mutual love, and it carefully examines features of Hebrew poetry in order to uncover the delicacy of their expression. It is unique in the attention that it gives to the obvious feminine perspective of the poems and to their ecosensitive character. Whether it is the woman in awe of the strength and splendor of her lover or the man praising her physical charms, the descriptions all call on elements from the natural world to characterize the feature being described. This commentary fairly lives up to this claim with respect to the examination of Hebrew poetry and its expression in the Song. However, the same cannot be said of its claim to be unique in its attention to th e feminine perspective and ecosensitive nature of the poems. [Full Review]
Dianne Bergant’s commentary on the Song of Songs, like other contributions to the BeritOlam series, is a final-form, literary reading of the text that concerns itself very little withmatters that preoccupy more traditional commentaries, such as date, provenance, andgenre. Its object is to communicate the beauty of the poetry, to explicate its images, topoint out its problems, and to give some cultural background. A brief introduction isdevoted to questions of authorship, the history of interpretation, and the techniques ofbiblical poetry.Bergant’s approach is broadly literary, paying a great deal of attention to parallelism,chiastic structures, and wordplay. She divides the Song into six poems, often delineatedon the basis of correspondence between their conclusions, or framing devices such asinclusio. It is not clear, however, whether she regards these as originally separatecompositions or as contributing to an overall unity; frequently her divisions seemarbitrary, and she often uses the term poem for small subunits. She treats the Song as asecular love poem, but one that was preserved within the wisdom tradition, which sheregards as the ancient equivalent of humanism (4). For this tradition, she claims, the Songcontained “insights beneficial for right living” (5). On the whole, however, Berganteschews religious interpretations and interconnections, even downplaying thesignificance of the comparison between love and death in 8:6 (98). [Full Review]
This volume on the Song of Songs occurs in a series, Berit Olam, whose stated aim ispresenting “the latest developments in the literary analysis” of the Bible in its final formto a wide audience of scholars, students, and general readers. Nevertheless, unlike someother volumes in the series (e.g., Tod Linafelt on Ruth and Timothy K. Beal on Esther, intheir Ruth and Esther [Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1999]), the literary analysisdone here does not include developments in literary studies over recent decades. Instead,the commentary focuses on various translation issues and identification of poetic featureswithin individual pericopes of the Song of Songs (hereafter the Song).The volume begins with a brief (nine and one-half page) introduction in which Bergantpresents her judgments regarding the background of the Song, its history of interpretationin religious communities, and the character of Hebrew poetry, particularly in the Song.Bergant contrasts interpretations of the Song “from outside” (e.g., the allegorical ordramatic approaches) with “a literal reading of the Song of Songs” that has beenrecovered by critical scholarship and will be pursued in the commentary. The discussionof “Hebrew Poetry” mostly comprises Bergant’s summary of the character of metaphorand Hebrew parallelism. She devotes only a page to her position on larger structures,such as Hebrew forms or the structure of the Song as a whole. [Full Review]

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