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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Biblical Intertexts.

1.

In prophetic books such as Hosea, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah 40 ff, and Malachi there obtains a metaphor of divine–human marriage covenant. The male partner is YHWH; his wife is variously Jerusalem (or Samaria, or both cities), the land of Israel, or the Israelite or Judahite people. The divine husband is presented as constantly and ceaselessly loyal to his spouse, of whom he takes care. The wife is presented as a creature who is adulterous, fickle, and prostitutes herself, and who keeps looking for fresh lovers and fresh sexual sensations (in the plural). The husband punishes his wife, who stands accused but mostly does not get a chance to defend herself.

2.

When the Song is interpreted allegorically, the situation is reversed. Here it is clear that the woman searches for her man and remains faithful to him. This reversal, theologically interpreted, is significant: for theological thinking, it might afford hope to the post-Roman conquest nation. It might have provided at least part of the motivation to interpret the Song as religious rather than secular love poetry—despite the fact that such allegories require sacralization of a secular text and its transformation by interpretation into a comprehensive unit focused on only one male and one female lover. It also requires a displacement of the female lover to a secondary position relative to the male's (now divine) position, and an introduction of the missing divine element into the Song in the guise of a divine (male) lover. The early Jewish allegories which, in turn, mutated into Christian allegories, are thus rooted not only in practical theology (a response to the politically troubled times of the Roman conquest and the loss of land, political organization, and autonomy) but also in biblical intertexuality.

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