Overlooked Herder, And The Performative Nature Of שׁיר השׂרים As Biblical Wisdom Literature -- By: Calvin Seerveld

Journal: Southeastern Theological Review
Volume: STR 04:2 (Winter 2013)
Article: Overlooked Herder, And The Performative Nature Of שׁיר השׂרים As Biblical Wisdom Literature
Author: Calvin Seerveld


Overlooked Herder, And The Performative Nature Of
שׁיר השׂרים As Biblical Wisdom Literature

Calvin Seerveld

Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto, Canada

Introduction

Exposition of שׁיר השׁרים (The Song of Songs) remains as fascinating and as contested today as ever before. The recent commentary by Daniel J. Estes (2010) supplements Marvin H. Pope’s (1977) exhaustive bibliography of 55 pages on The Song of Songs with 25 more pages of especially professional articles by the current generation of theologians and critics who, from every perspective under the sun, lay claim to an insightful interpretation.

Hector Patmore, in critique of Michael Fox’s popular treatment (1985),1 states the old ideal: “We must strip away our deeply embedded assumptions about Canticles—its connection to the Egyptian songs, its obvious secular-sexual character—and re-engage with the text that lies before us.”2 But Patmore, like Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, recognizes—particularly since Wittgenstein and Derrida problematized any fixed end to “the play of signification”—what the text is that one takes to be the object before us depends upon where you stand to contextualize the piece.3 And then, rather than give up and take the position, as Kathryn Harding seems to do (“The point, I think, lies in the indeterminacy of the verses, and the possibility of multiple, conflicting readings...”4), it seems more hopeful to follow Ellen E. Davis’ call for “interpretive humility [which] might begin with each of us identifying, as best we can, what factors in our personal histories conduce to a certain interpretative style.”5 Put-down arguments from a presumed neutral (and hence

authoritarian) position could be replaced with sharing of knowledge from self-critical, subjective viewpoints aiming at a communal encyclopedic reading.6

This article proposes to enter the fresh (neglected) voice of Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) into the cacophony of voices interpreting שׁיר השׁרים ,7 and it show that Herder’s unorthodox, believing approach may help firm up a chorus among several of the more promising readings past and present which recognize the provenance of The Son...

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