In this discussion of the medieval exegesis of the Song of Songs, the main focus is on the feminist approach to the book, as seen in chapter 7. Evidently, a wide variety of the description of the woman by her lover in the book of Songs of Songs proves to be difficult for most interpreters that have taken a scholarly analysis of the implication of ideas in the chapter. Symbolism drawn from the spheres of nature and human activities makes little when put in the circumstance of the female form, as lateral. In most cases, there is a presumption on the complimentary description. It seems somewhat uneasy about the descriptions (Brenner and Fontaine 74). This is either because the analysts encounter the female body in an erotic context, or find the presentation of the apparently desirable woman repelling as opposed to being attractive.
The scholarly curiosity and unease bring about a wide range of diverse interpretive strategies. On the one hand, allegory, the search for ancient Near Easter resembles, and in most cases with humor, finds the over-explanations of the poetic comparisons in the book irrational (Brenner and Fontaine 91). Attempts to understand the images or subvert their explicative nature build the body in these texts in a specific manner, so as, when read as a description of the female form, the body described appears to be distorted and compromised. This implies that one should not take an interpretation of the Song’s imagery from a gender-critical point of view. This discussion compares and contrasts the two feminist readings of one of the descriptions of a female body, Song of Songs 7:1-8, as explored by Athalya Brenner and Carol Meyers, against the perception of two medieval allegorical readings of the same text explicated by Rashi, Nicholas of Lyra.
The chapter describes the body according to a particular order (from the feet upwards), focusing on the feet, thighs, stomach, breasts, neck, head, nose, eyes, and hair. On the other hand, objects of comparison in this case vary from the jewels to a wide range of military paraphernalia to animals. This text offers a comprehensive and focused image of the female structure and provides a strong impression that the woman is central and on the display, bringing out the aspect of an object to view (Brenner and Fontaine 100). From the four readings used to analyze the book, it is clear that there are disparities in interpretations. However, they offer a common ground on the striking nature and presentation of the female structure. The allegory’s fanciful and distorted images reveal problems of interpretation that affect the feminist critical reading of the book of Song of Songs.
Just like most biblical readers have brought out, it is imperative to negotiate imagery that is unclear or cryptic, so as to encounter a different type of conflict. In this book, the manner, in which the female body is described, is essentially ridiculous or otherwise comical; since a description of the body is painted as an unflattering picture. Such an imaging brings out a number of implications for the woman in focus, especially in the manner, which her body is seen, and in terms of her liberty from being objectified. It is critically believed that a ridiculed and objectified woman might not raise conflicting perceptions from the feminist point of view as such, specifically, if it is something meant to be exposed and debunked (Turner 57). On the contrary, there are those feminists that celebrate the woman in Song of Songs as an autonomous creature that articulates her personal story and appears to control her individual sexuality as revealed from the manner, in which her body is imaged. This poses a potential conflict though to the way the book is estimated.
The conflict may come about in that the images that describe the female body are poetic language rather than just speaking of them as a literal description. Most authors may view this language as comical, puzzling, bizarre, if not grotesque. If the language in the book was simply excused as being poetic, then the type of analysis would not be imperative. It is not possible as well to take the imagery as a repeated site of scholarly visitation and inquiry.
I find it not a coincidence that a number of biblical experts have referred the imagery grotesque, since, as a literal construction. This is because the grotesque offers a vital mirror, through which the readings of the descriptions of the female form might be perceived. This is all about registering and negotiating the unease with particular subjects or activities. It depends on the sudden juxtaposition, the shocking presentation of unexpected and specific presentation of images that play on human attraction to the comical ugly (Turner 141). The description allows for the representation of things that might not comfortably be shown, like the female structure in an erotic context, most importantly in the biblical text. Its realization is finally an activity of the reader; hence, it will reveal a surety readerly unease with something in a text.
Regarding the hard nature of the Song of Songs’ symbolism and the interpretive tendency to cover it up or alter it, allegorical interpretation of this book evidences to be elucidating and entertaining reading. Allegories stand for one extreme of fancy footwork around the symbolism in this text in the interpretive convention. Most scholarly readings reveal that allegorical interpretation of the book offers a stereotypical description, as it suppresses the eroticism of the book. The interpretation mainly offends its theological sensibilities.
A close look at the text reveals the two diverse, though likely not mutually exclusive concerns, cultic and didactic, when taken from an allegorical point of view (Turner 44). This is because the woman is being associated with through her particular body parts with a wide range of cultic furniture and scholarly endeavors. For instance, the meeting of the thighs indicates the reunion of Jew and gentile in one church. It follows, therefore, that the woman’s belly indicates that the church is fertile in children begotten by Christ. The woman’s breasts, on the other hand, show the two Testaments, from which these children draw milk, which is an attribute reiterated in Songs 7:8.
The question that comes to mind is whether this vehicle, the woman, is worthy of such procreative responsibility or not. The rest of the body parts allegorically suggest that she is indeed. Her feet are protected by sandals that are made from the hides of dead animals and are reminiscent of the martyrdom of Christ. The woman stands erect in justice and is drawn up to the height of devout contemplation. Her stomach is encircled by marital chastity. In this case her neck indicates faith that is strengthened by charity, and as a result, supports her crowning glory; her head is Christ (Turner 61).
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