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Journal of the Centre for Biblical Studies

The Centre for Biblical Studies of the Babe-Bolyai University, Cluj, Romania
Stelian TOFAN (Babe-Bolyai University Cluj, Faculty of Orthodox Theology)
Gyrgy BENYIK (Catholic Theological Institute, Szeged)
Ioan CHIRIL (Babe-Bolyai University Cluj, Faculty of Orthodox Theology)
Erik EYNIKEL (Radboud University Nijmegen, Faculty of Theology)
Marius FURTUN (Babe-Bolyai University Cluj, Faculty of Greek Catholic Theology)
Hans KLEIN (Lucian Blaga University Sibiu, Faculty of Lutheran Theology)
Lehel LSZAI (Babe-Bolyai University Cluj, Faculty of Reformed Theology)
Ulrich LUZ (University of Bern, Faculty of Old Catholic and Protestant Theology)
Tobias NICKLAS (University of Regensburg, Faculty of Catholic Theology)
Sorin MARIAN (Babe-Bolyai University Cluj, Faculty of Greek Catholic Theology)
Jnos MOLNR (Babe-Bolyai University Cluj, Faculty of Reformed Theology)
Zoltn OLH (Roman Catholic Theological Institute, Alba Iulia)
Joseph VERHEYDEN (Catholic University of Leuven, Faculty of Theology)
Korinna ZAMFIR (Babe-Bolyai University Cluj, Faculty of Roman Catholic Theology)
Old Testament:
Jrg JEREMIAS (Philipp University Marburg, Faculty of Protestant Theology)
Ed NOORT (University of Groningen, Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies)
Martti NISSINEN (University of Helsinki, Faculty of Theology)
Walter DIETRICH (University of Bern, Faculty of Old Catholic and Protestant Theology)
New Testament:
Reimund BIERINGER (Catholic University of Leuven, Faculty of Theology)
Joannis KARAVIDOPOULOS (University of Thessaloniki, Faculty of Theology)
David MOESSNER (University of Dubuque, Dubuque, IA)
Armand PUIG I TRRECH (Faculty of Theology of Catalonia, Barcelona)
Gerd THEIEN (Ruprecht Karl University of Heidelberg, Faculty of Theology)
Urs VON ARX (University of Bern, Faculty of Old Catholic and Protestant Theology)
Universitii 7-9
400091 Cluj-Napoca
Phone: + 40 264 450184
The journal is accessible via the Central and Eastern European Online Library:
and via EBSCO/Academic Search Complete/Journals and Magazines/page 158
ISSN 1584-7624

Centre for Biblical Studies


Journal of the Centre for Biblical Studies

Year X, 2012/2



Robert D. MILLER II : The Song of Songs: A Plea for an Aesthetic Reading..... 113
Hans KLEIN: Paulus als Apostel, Prophet und Lehrer in seinen unumstrittenen
Briefen (Homologoumena) ................................................................................ 120
Csaba BALOGH: Schpfung und Geburt: Anthropologische Begrifflichkeit
in Psalm 139,13-16


Gerd THEIEN: Das Leiden und Sterben des historischen Jesus und
deren Transformation in der Passionsgeschichte.............................................


Korinna ZAMFIR: Once More about the Origins and Background of the
New Testament Episkopos...


Alexandru MIHIL: The Prayer against the Enemies: A Hermeneutical Problem

in the Orthodox Exegesis . 223
Walter AMELING (Hrsg.) : Topographie des Jenseits. Studien zur Geschichte
des Todes in Kaiserzeit und Sptantike (Imre Peres).......................................... 242
Amy-Jill LEVINE & Marc Zvi BRETTLER (Hgg.), The Jewish Annotated
New Testament. New Revised Standard Version Bible Translation
(Alexandru Ioni ) 249




Abstract. Although recent scholarship on the Song of Songs has turned to
literary approaches, these have not reckoned with literary criticisms return to
aesthetics. This essay outlines current theory of aesthetic criticism and
suggests ways in which it could be applied to the Song of Songs.
Keywords: Song of Songs, aesthetics, literary analysis, poetics

Recent Song of Songs scholarship has been increasingly concerned with

literary analysis.1 Such work no longer strictly seeks the historical context for the
Songs composition, but explores the text itself synchronically. Studies that focus
on the text as an object often explicitly invoke schools or trends in the field of
literary criticism itself, including structuralism,2 semiotics,3 formalism,4 and New
Criticism.5 Yet the lament of Clines and Exum decades ago holds true: It is not
surprising, nor even especially unfortunate, the Old Testament studies should adopt
the methods of general literary criticism only a decade or two after they are
developed outside our own discipline.6 What is absent in recent literary
investigation of the Song of Songs is literary criticisms return to aesthetics.
Aesthetics, the study of sensory values or judgments of sentiment and taste
that derive from the senses, was roundly rejected for some time in literary studies,
derided as the artsy luxury of the bourgeoisie.7 But in recent years, an aesthetic turn
has asserted that it has become an intellectual necessity to rethink the aesthetic and


Thus, E. ASSIS, Flashes of Fire: A Literary Analysis of the Song of Songs, Library of the Hebrew
Bible/Old Testament Studies 503, T & T Clark, New York, 2008; P. HUNT, Poetry in the Song of
Songs: A Literary Analysis, Peter Lang, Frankfurt, 2008.
A. MARIASELVAM, The Song of Songs and Ancient Tamil Love Poems, Pontifical Biblical
Institute, Rome, 1988, 2832, 5052.
D. LOMBARD, Le Cantique des Cantiques (3,65,1), in Semiotique & Bible 66, (1992), 4552.
S. FISCHER, Das Hohelied Salomos zwischen Poesie und Erzhlung, Forschungen zum Alten
Testament 72, Mohr Siebeck, Tubingen, 2010, 1920 and passim.
Y. ZAKOVITCH, Shir Ha-Shirim, Mikra LeIsrael - A Biblical Commentary for Israel, Magnes
Press, Jerusalem, 1992.
J. C. EXUM and D. J. A. CLINES, New Literary Criticism and the Hebrew Bible, JSOTSup 143,
Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, 1993, 12.
I. ARMSTRONG, Radical Aesthetic, Blackwell, Oxford, 2000, 3032.


remake aesthetic discourse.8 A return to aesthetics has sought to read poetry as

linguistic enactment of sensations, emotions, or thoughts with inversible
structures whose invitations to simultaneous apprehension make a unique
contribution to aesthetic experience.9 Aesthetic analysis explores the role of
emotion, tied intimately to the poetry itself, in appreciation. For example, are the
emotions felt in appreciation justified by the propositional content, or are those
emotions justified, but not justified by the propositional content?10
In order to understand this new aesthetic criticism, it is useful to distinguish
it from earlier literary approaches with which it has both similarities and
differences. Even with so-called aesthetic approaches of a century ago, there are
affinities and divergences. Thus, this is not the ars gratia artis aestheticism of
Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde, an autotelic philosophy where the intrinsic value
of art lies in ignoring any didactic, moral, or utilitarian function. The new aesthetic
turn is closer to the modernist aesthetics of Roger Fry, with his emphasis on formal
properties, Wassily Kandinskys focus on arts role in spiritual evocation,
especially through its use of mythic imagery, and Gilles Deleuze, who highlighted
how artistic works create novel qualitative combinations of sensation and feeling;11
it is therefore closer to Sturm und Drang than to Romanticism.12
The aesthetic approach is thus not a wholesale return to content over form
and structure.13 It continues to distinguish between what is represented or depicted
(subject, content) and how it is represented or depicted (form).14 As Daniel
Soneson writes, Form is important, but an understanding of forms effect evolves
from a response to the work itself.15 Structure, or rather the perception of






ARMSTRONG, Radical Aesthetic, 3, 29, and passim; A. C. DANTO, The Future of Aesthetics, in
F. HALSALL, J. JANSEN and T. OCONNOR (eds.), Rediscovering Aethetics, Stanford, 2009, 105.
The details of this decline and rise are beyond the scope of this essay and are explained well by
A. STIBBS, Can you (almost) read a poem backwards and view a painting upside down?
Restoring Aesthetics to Poetry Teaching, in Journal of Aesthetic Education 34, (2000), 41.
D. MATRAVERS, Art, Expression and Emotion, in B. GAUT and D. M. LOPES (eds.), The
Routledge Companion to Aesthetics, London, 22005, 45253.
C. KUL-WANT, Introducing Aesthetics, Totem Books, New York, 2003, 7374, 168; D.
WHEWELL, Aestheticism, in A Companion to Aesthetics, 2nd ed., Blackwell Companions to
Philosophy 3, Malden, MA, 2009, 129.
M. PATON, Schiller (Johann Christoph) Friedrich von, in A Companion to Aesthetics,
Blackwell Companions to Philosophy 3, Malden, MA, 22009, 517. See, i.a., Wassily Kandinskys
criticism of Pater in his 1910 Concerning the Spiritual in Art .
MATRAVERS, Art, 453.
V. SESEMANN, Aesthetics, trans. M. DRUNGA, On the Boundary of Two Worlds 8, New York,
2007, 75.
D. B. SONESON, Aesthetic Response to Lyric Poetry, in Die Unterrichtspraxis / Teaching
German 24 (1991) 34; italics added. Cf. SESEMANN, Aesthetics, 76.



structure, is one of the key elements that give us aesthetic satisfaction.16

Nevertheless, one must distinguish structure from significance, with which
structure may or may not coincide either directly or metaphorically.17
Meter, too, is of concern to the aesthetic critic.18 Meters are plausible
candidates for causes of feeling that figure in the experience of reading the poems,
yet metrical arrangements are not easily seen as providing a reason for having a
certain feeling.19 But a formulaic exploration of the mechanics of Hebrew poetics
can be scarcely ever more than verbal; while the method pursued, whether a priori
or empirical, turns out to be sophistical or arbitrary.20
The words themselves also figure into this operation, and so a semantic
element is essential to aesthetic criticism.21 But the denotations and connotations of
words in a poem such as the Song of Songs (or its constituent poems, if you prefer)
are contextual, they begin to act on each other forwards and backwards. 22 A
catalogue-like lexicon of the vocabulary of the Song will be of value only when its
spatial sequence is subordinated to a sense of the poems instantaneously
apprehended structure and significance.23 Of greatest importance in such semantic
study will be the metaphors of the Song. It is visual metaphor that most stimulates
the listeners intellectual and emotional imagination.24 But many of the Songs
metaphors are not visual, or not merely visual, but suggest a feeling or idea and
allow the reader a personal interpretation.25
But the sound of the words is also quite important.26 The phonology
determines the qualities of the poetic language and provides what Sesemann calls
the instrumental scoring of the words.27 The abundance of hapax legomena in the
Song attests to this importance: the less familiar a word is to the reader/listener, the





STIBBS, Can you (almost) read?, 4243; G. SIRCELLO, Beauty and Anti-Beauty in Literature
and its Criticism, in Midwest Studies in Philosophy 16, (1991), 109.
STIBBS, Can you (almost) read?, 43. Sesemann holds that aesthetic content is always
indissolubly tied to its form, although this is by no means universally held; Sesemann,
Aesthetics, 77.
SIRCELLO, Beauty, 109.
MATRAVERS, Art, 45354.
C. LALO, The Aesthetic Analysis of a Word of Art: An Essay on the Structure and Superstructure
of Poetry, in Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 7, (1949), 275.
SESEMANN, Aesthetics, 153; LALO, Aesthetic Analysis, 27778.
STIBBS, Can you (almost) read?, 45.
STIBBS, Can you (almost) read?, 46; J. L. MURSELL, Aesthetic Analysis of Poetry, in J. L.
MURSELL (ed.), Education for Musical Growth, Boston, 1948, 323.
SESEMANN, Aesthetics, 24, 153, 157; SIRCELLO, Beauty, 109.
J. D. CAVALLARO, Poetry, Myths, and Aesthetics, in English Journal 72 (1983), 28.
SIRCELLO, Beauty, 109.
SESEMANN, Aesthetics, 24.



less closely its sound is connected mentally with its meaning, and the more
attention will be paid to its audible phonology.28
The aesthetic experience of the poem involves apprehending all of these
elements combining to produce the overall significance.29 No single element
dominates the others.30 And repeated readings or discreet examinations of the Song
will reveal subtle recesses and previously unrecognized meanings. 31
But is this, then, simply reader-response criticism?32 Or some modified form
of both reader- and text-centered synchronic criticism, akin to Jan Fokkelmans
dialogue of the text with the reader who, if reading sensitively will find what is
always already in the text?33 Thirty years ago, Francis Landy explored the Song for
structural unity [that] corresponds to and expresses outwardly the unity of action
i.e. the union of lovers, and also to the fusion through metaphor of the lovers and
the world,34 and then used the theories of Jungian and Freudian psychology to
explain the reader's construction of meaning in the text.35
Yes and no. It is true that the text as object is not completed, but only
finished in its aesthetic apprehension.36 Appreciation is a personal and relative
matter.37 As for Jan Fokkelman, the aesthetic approach differs from strict readerresponse (and from Landy) in that it holds some reader attitudes (like pure
observation) will be less able to apprehend the significance that is nevertheless
dependent on apprehension.38 The first person mode used by the Song in particular
invites a personal mode of engagement with the content of the work such that the
ideal engagement involves some level of identification on the part of the listener or









SESEMANN, Aesthetics, 22. Certain words, such as the Songs various terms for love (and
death), would not be deprived of their emotional value by any amount of familiarity.
STIBBS, Can you (almost) read?, 44; MURSELL, Aesthetic Analysis, 321; SIRCELLO, Beauty,
106; SIRCELLO, Love and Beauty, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1988, 225 n. 33.
MATRAVERS, Art, 454.
J. COULSON and P. TEMES, How to Read a Poem, in J. COULSON and P. TEMES (eds.), Modern
American Poetry, Chicago, 2002, 5.
Cf. E. V. MCKNIGHT, Reader-Response Criticism, in S. L. MCKENZIE and S. R. HAYNES (eds.),
To Each Its Own Meaning, Louisville, 1993, 197219.
J. P. FOKKELMAN, Narrative Art and Poetry in the Books of Samuel, Van Gorcum, Assen, 1981,
2.2, 419.
F. LANDY, Paradoxes of Paradise, Bible and Literature Series 7, Almond Press, Sheffield, 1983,
LANDY, Paradoxes, 63114.
SESEMANN, Aesthetics, 36.
R. CORBIN, The Aesthetic Experiencing of a Poem, in The English Journal 46 (1957) 566;
SIRCELLO, Beauty, 107, 110.
SESEMANN, Aesthetics, 54; Sircello, Beauty, 110.



reader.39 Yet aesthetic criticism insists on attention to the verbal incarnation that
allows the reader to experience and feel.40 And unlike pure reader-response or even
text-centered synchronic criticisms (e.g., New Criticism), aesthetic criticism
includes a concern for the authors own intention to provoke certain effects. 41 For
the very identity of the affective response depends on the identity of the intentional
object.42 Were the ancient audiences of the Song, real or implied, experienced
with the symbols at play in the text, or were these, like the lexical hapax legomena,
intentionally opaque?43
An aesthetic reading of the Song of Songs will affirm with Ellen Davis that
there are a plethora of possible readings of the Song, but not that there are no
right and wrong interpretations.44 On the one hand, the reader-dependedness of
the Song read aesthetically speaks against some limiting interpretations, and it is
here that an aesthetic reading has theological importance. For example, can we say
so readily with Linafelt that the Song has no characters because it is not narrative
or drama,45 when the use of the first person immediately places the reader into the
role of a character or at least demands the reader mentally flesh out the mysterious
narrator/singer into a dramatic character?46 Or that the Song is not theology and
not philosophy,47 when the meaning of the Song cannot be separated from the
use of the book by its audiences, both those original audiences for whom sex and
spirituality may not have been disparate realities, and the twenty centuries of
traditional reading that we arrogantly dismiss as sheer distortion of the text, while
ourselves misunderstanding the nature of text, confusing meaning with authorial





A. C. RIBEIRO, Poetry, in A Companion to Aesthetics, Blackwell Companions to Philosophy 3,

Malden, MA, 22009, 102.
SESEMANN, Aesthetics, 15455.
MATRAVERS, Art, 454; S. L. FEAGIN, Reading with Feeling: The Aesthetics of Appreciation,
Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1996, 106, 13132; N. CARROLL, The Intentional Fallacy:
Defending Myself, in Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 55 (1997), 305309. But cf.
COULSON and TEMES, How to read, 1.
WHEWELL, Aestheticism, 129.
CORBIN, Aesthetic Experiencing, 567.
E. DAVIS, Reading the Song Iconographically, in Journal of Scriptural Reasoning, 3.2, (2003).
T. LINAFELT, Song of Songs, Bible Briefs, Forward Movement Publications, Alexandria, VA,
2010, 4, 7; LINAFELT, Lyrical Theology: The Song of Songs and the Advantage of Poetry, in V.
BURRUS and C. KELLER (eds.) Toward a Theology of Eros, New York, 2006, 293.
C. E. WALSH, Exquisite Desire: Religion, the Erotic, and the Song of Songs, Fortress,
Minneapolis, 2000, 80; A. C. HAGEDORN, Die Frau des Hohenlieds zwischen babylonischassyrischer Morphoskopie und Jacques Lacan (Teil I), in ZAW 122, (2010), 419.
LINAFELT, Song of Songs, 45.
M. NISSINEN, Song of Songs and Sacred Marriage, in M. NISSINEN and R. URO (eds.), Sacred
Marriages, Winona Lake, 2008, 215. On the metaphysical depth of all aesthetic art forms that



On the other hand, aesthetic criticism is not merely reader-response. The

great trend of the past two centuries has been the so-called natural reading of the
Song as being about only human-to-human sexual love. The refrain is that the Song
entered the canon through the fortunate mistake of being read as about divine love
for humans. Recently, some have argued it was an unfortunate mistake, and that the
song is basically pornography.49 And yet, as Walsh has clearly shown, the Song
with its extensive language of emotion and its clear aim of empathetic readership
is much more than pornography. It aimed to arouse the entire spirit of a reader.50
As Roger Fry wrote a century ago, The pleasures derived from art were of an
altogether different character and more fundamental than merely sensual pleasures,
that they did exercise some faculties which are felt to belong to whatever part of
use there may be which is not entirely ephemeral and material.51
What would an aesthetic reading of the Song look like? This Carey Walsh
provided a wonderful, extended aesthetic reading of the Song in her Exquisite
Desire,52 although ultimately guided by a focus on desire rather than emerging
from engagement with all the levels of structure, meter, semantics, phonology,
historical context, and reader. Perhaps a modest entry point might be the
metaphors, epitomizing them, labeling cross-references or recurrent or
characteristic features.53 Certainly, this has been done a myriad of times before,
usually with unconvincing results, as the metaphors are at the same time
extremely lucid and extraordinarily refractory.54 But the metaphors hold a key to
the aesthetics of the Song.55 Boer and Nissinen have pointed out that the natural
reading is certainly not a literal reading.56 Literally, the song is largely about
animals, trees, and fruit. Sometimes the thinly veiled metaphors are thickly veiled.
There is very little explicit, Your eyes are doves. 57 Boer tries to block the




engage with factors at the basis of our cognitive inheritance, see P. CROWTHER, Artistic
Creativity, in F. HALSALL, J. JANSEN, and T. OCONNOR (eds.), Rediscovering Aethetics,
Stanford, 2009, 141.
D. J. A. CLINES, Why is there a Song of Songs and what does it do to you if you read it? in Jian
Dao 1, (1994), 327; repr. in D. J. A. CLINES (ed.), Interested Parties, JSOTSup 205, Sheffield,
1995, 94121; also R. BOER, The Second Coming: Repetition and Insatiable Desire in the Song
of Songs, in Biblical Interpretation 8, (2000), 276300, esp. p. 297.
WALSH, Exquisite Desire, 107.
R. FRY, Vision and Design, Chatto & Windus, London, 1920, 15.
WALSH, Exquisite Desire, 7475, 7879.
STIBBS, Can you (almost) read?, 46.
F. LANDY, The Song of Songs and the Garden of Eden, in JBL 98, (1979), 514.
WALSH, Exquisite Desire, 80.
R. BOER, Keeping it Literal: The Economy of the Song of Songs, in Journal of Hebrew
Scripture 7.6, (2009): 23; NISSINEN, Song of Songs, 194, 213.
BOER, Keeping it Literal, 7.



metonymic axis and read the terms on their own.58 In this reading, the Song is
about a fertile, fecund world (which itself challenges modern readings that see in
the Song the non-reproductive sex of industrialized societies).59 For Boer and for
Hagedorn, this is an idealized pastoral world, economically productive, without
human toil (e.g., Song 2:4, 10, 13).60 This can only be added to the Song as return
to Eden or Song as reversal of Genesis 3 long argued by Lys, Krinetski, Landy,
Trible, and others.61 This interpretive thread has great theological promise not only
for biblical interpretation but for the theology of sexuality as a whole (one might
initially compare John Damascenes comments on marriage in Exposition on the
Orthodox Faith, 4.24). But the interpretations of Lys, Krinetski, Landy, Trible, et
alia neglected the aesthetic element of the effect on the reader of this return to
Eden. The reader is invited to this fruit banquet (Song 5:1), with, as Boer shows,
the fruits of love read onto the body of the earth as much as onto the beloved. If,
then, the earth or creation itself is the fruit of love, the Song draws us to ask,
Whose?62 As Linafelt affirms, These questions are generated by the
metaphorical language of the poetry, but they are not answered.63
The Catholic University of America
Washington, DC 20064, USA




BOER, Keeping it Literal, 6.

BOER, Keeping it Literal, 1013.
HAGEDORN, Frau des Hohenlieds, 420.
The extensive links between Song 2:815 and Gen 2:19, Song 3:4 and Gen 3:16, Song 4:15 and
Gen 2:1014, Song 7:11 and Gen 4:7; etc. have been well discussed in the literature; D. LYS, Le
plus beau chant de la crationCommentaire de Cantique des Cantiques, Lectio divina 51, Cerf,
Paris, 1968, 3135; L. KRINETSKI, Das Hobelied, Patmos, Dusseldorf, 1964; LANDY, Song of
Songs; P. TRIBLE, Depatriarchalizing in Biblical Interpretation, in JAAR 41, (1973), 4247;
TRIBLE, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, Westminster, Philadelphia, 1978, 145165.
C. C. PECKNOLD, The Impossible Object: Learning to Read the Signs of Love, in Journal of
Scriptural Reasoning 3.2, (2003).
LINAFELT, Song, 11.