Bible Review 18:4, August 2002

The Song of Songs

An ode to intimacy

By Robert Alter

Human interactions in the Bible are on the whole seen from a certain distance. The paucity of narrative detail regarding setting, appearance and posture can make even the most intimate of conversations read like an exchange between talking heads. Physical contact between characters in the rapid narrative reports is usually reduced to the basest notation. One person may carry, grasp, seize, fling or strike another; in the sexual sphere, the man (almost always the subject of these verbs) may know, lie with or come into a woman.1 But that is all the reader learns. These summarized notations keep us at arm’s length from the narrated event.

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