Is The Song Of Songs A “Sacred Marriage” Drama? -- By: G. Lloyd Carr

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 022:2 (Jun 1979)
Article: Is The Song Of Songs A “Sacred Marriage” Drama?
Author: G. Lloyd Carr


Is The Song Of Songs A “Sacred Marriage” Drama?

G. Lloyd Carr*

One of the prevailing mythologies in OT study is that the Song of Songs is really a dramatic “script” that has been preserved for us by the Jewish community as part of Holy Scripture only because its true nature has been obscured and forgotten. Whether one attempts to reconstruct the drama as Calvin Seerveld has done, 1 complete with stage directions, new music for the old lyrics, and woodcuts to illustrate scenery and wardrobe (or lack of it), or whether with S.N. Kramer we conclude that Canticles, “in our undoubtedly expurgated form,”2 includes some “passionate and rhapsodic love songs… which are cultic in origin and were sung in the course of the hieros gamos or ‘sacred marriage’ between a king and a votary of Astarte, the Canaanite goddess of love and procreation whom even so wise a Hebrew king as the great Solomon worshipped” (1 Kgs 11:5),3 the basic issue is really to what literary genre the Song of Songs belongs.

Although Kramer refrains from actually saying that Canticles is a sacred marriage rite as it now stands, his argument strongly suggests that this is precisely the case. It is only on this ground, he argues, that the sensuous, erotic book “that fairly reeks of love and passion, of lust and desire… passed the sharp eyes of the austere, puritanical rabbis to whom chastity, virginity, and sexual purity were sacrosanct.”4 He goes on to say that in his opinion the theory proposed by T. J. Meek that the Song is “a modified and conventualized form of an ancient Hebrew liturgy celebrating the reunion and marriage of the sun god with the mother goddess which had flourished in Mesopotamia from earliest days” is “essentially sound and constructive, in spite of the fact that a number of assumptions, influences, and arguments have turned out to be erroneous, wholly or in part.”5

*G. Lloyd Carr is associate professor of Biblical studies at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts.

Kramer’s book is a masterful presentation of the modified theory and a stimulating book in its own right. In it he marshalIs the evidence for numerous parallels that he finds not only between the Dumuzi-Inanna cult and Canticles6 but also between that myth and the NT—specifically, implications that the “story of Christ… must have had its forerunners...

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