By Fr. C. C. MARTINDALE, S.J.
FHE SONG OF SONGS: translated from the original Hebrew with introduction and explanations by H. J. Schonfield, D.S. Mel Books Ltd., 12s. 6d.).
WI-WY did this document, hich mentions neither God nor anything spiritual, find its way into the "Bible" which, certainly, never intended to include anything merely " secular"? Who wrote it? (No one knows.) When? (The date is probably post-exilic perhaps between 450 and 350 a.c.).
What is this "Song of Songs"the "Incomparable Song", as the author well calls it? An allegory? No: every detail would have to correspond with the subject "allegorized"; this cannot be worked out.
A parable, when one general situation is put "parallel" to another without insisting on details here one marriage is described in terms partly suitable to another? Possibly, though the Song, as we read it, does not suggest it.
A drama, in which a king woos a rustic girl who, despite his splendour, is faithful to her peasant lover? The idea is not unattractive.
IN earlier Hebrew writings, God was the Father of His People; later, certainly after the prophet Osel (about 750 is.o.?) He is Israel's husband; taut the People is at once un-faithful; still, why should not this "drama" represent the re-union of the tempted but faithful "remnant" with her Beloved?
Not that such a "drama" would be acted. any more than the poem by St. John of the Cross, where the soul seeks her Bridegroom, and the "Chorus" consists of all created things. John's poems contain not only echoes of the Old Testament but of older Spanish writers: and, while its beauty far transcends (to my mind) that of the "Canticle", its marriagesymbolism is not more reticent, and God is not named.
So, too. Mr. Schonfield may be quite justified in expecting a Palestinian writer to introduce, even unconsciously echoes of older marriage songs, or even pagan rituals, into his poem. Thus acts are done, and names used, in our liturgy whose origin was preChristian. We walk in procession on April 25 though certainly unaware of a god Robigo whose feast, Robigalia, was then processionally celebrated. We use the word "titanic" and "volcanic" giving no thought to Titans or to Vulcan.
17 may well be supposed, then, A. that God inspired the poet to write his Perfect Song without thought of what materials might be floating in his mind, and to compose just a love-drama unaware of what deeper levels might later on be found in it. rather as prophets need not have guessed the full import of what they proclaimed.
The mystical interpretation came to be, among the Jews, the union between God and His People; among Christians, that between Christ and the soul, or His Church It would be then a sort of dramatic parable. a far from full-blown flower having deep invisible roots.
Mr. Schonfield has made his own articulation of the document, with such emendations as he feels needed.