Bible Review 12:1, February 1996

Bible Books

Erotica in Holy Writ

The Song of Songs: A New Translation with an Introduction and Commentary

Ariel Bloch and Chana Bloch, Afterword by Robert Alter (New York: Random House, 1995) 253 pp., $27.50

The introduction to this book is aptly entitled “In the Garden of Delights.” The husband and wife authors understand the Song as “a poem about the sexual awakening of a young woman and her lover.” The woman is very young, barely past puberty. The lovers tryst in an idealized setting—a kind of Eden—where they discover the delights of love. But unlike the Eden story, in which loss of innocence is fraught with consequences, their adventure brings only the joy of discovery. Yet, even in this enchanted garden, there are problems. The lovers meet by night in secret and separate at dawn. It is thus apparent that they are not married. The situation evokes the old dilemma of love without marriage versus marriage without love and which is worse.

Free love appeals to the poetic imagination. Chana Bloch perceives the language of the Song as “restrained and delicate even when it is most sensuous…And because the lovers seem new to love, tender and proud and full of discovery, their words have a kind of purity—a cleanly wantonness.” Keeping talk about wantonness immaculate is no easy task, given the subtle ways that even the most innocent words assume sexual meaning when erotic interests are involved.

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