Song of Solomon
© 2013 John F. Rychlicki III Leilah Publications
All rights reserved.
Christian iconography of erotic mysticism intentionally subordinates and obscures the role of women in mysticism and sexuality. Marital symbolism in Christian context excludes woman as compliment to the Holy in favor of woman as mere consort and bridge to masculine erotic experience. Most garden texts are presumptuous in making a necessary condition for the woman to experience the mercy and erotic power of the often-jealous god-husband. Gnostic sects, according to McGinn, that “cosmologized” erotic mysticism overshadowed evidence of uninhibited sexuality in monastic and mystic fraternities. Ritualized sex, often referred to as ‘sex magic,’ in Western mystery traditions is a mystery of ordained knowledge, not for the base and vulgar.
Ritualized eroticism is given the highest form of enlightenment and personal understanding in the Holy. Such groups as the Carpocratians and Rosicrucian’s gave sexuality a mystical iconography in their respective practices. With the Carpocratians, we have the teaching, as McGinn informs, of the “fivefold sacramental system” of traditional sacraments but including the “bridal chamber,” considered by the Gnostic sect as matrimony of defilement.
On an erotic level, intimation with the Holy becomes an imitation of natural procreation. Over the centuries, as scriptural doctrine evolved in the Holy Roman Catholic Church, and Orthodox Judaism, sexual imagery, as McGinn states, was “adopted to facilitate the transformation of desire…” Jewish mystics, although inherently patriarchal, were more successful than the doctrinal Christian Church in exploring positive aspects of eroticism and uniting with the Holy. Eroticism usually involves a deviation of instinct and apotheosis of lust over Love.
The mystic language of Love and eroticism allows us to transcend, and sensualize normal patterns of interpreting the language of mystic texts, such as the Song of Solomon, and Rumi’s Mathnawi. Procreative Sexuality was to many Jewish and Christian mystics a “performative act,” (Page 153) devoid of uninhibited sensuality. Mystics such as Rabi’a, Catherine of Siena, and Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi spoke of a hyperphysical inner fire that threatened to consume the spirit in an erotic matrimony that reciprocates sexuality between the Lover-Beloved, and reflects metaphysical battle of the sexes between the human and the Holy.
Sexual iconography in Biblical scripture represents the human search for textual truth, invoking feelings of mystery with sexuality. Smith aptly indicates our “post” –fixated society reaches for different interpretations of sexuality in religion. Continuous references to the Bible as a source of “authority” in sexuality relates to those professing faith in the contents of Scripture. Early Christian puritanical and ascetic stances on sexuality and eroticism were merely concessions to marital and hygiene laws. The search for textual authority in understanding sexuality and religion is similar to the realization of mystical experience with religious icons, i.e. the Virgin Mary, Christ, feminization of the Torah, and Holy Grail.
Christian theologians should look to the spirit of the letters rather than the context of them.
Evidence points to the subversion of women as vehicles for mystical enlightenment, with exception of garden texts, in favor of phallo-centric iconography. Taking the theme of Genesis, women are often blamed for a mythic “fall” or contamination of religion with sexuality, though as discussed in other essays, the sacred feminine is only petitioned when fertility matters are rife in the land. Perhaps this relates to a Biblical belief in the inadequacy of women to fully realize and understand the divine through their sexuality.
Take the legendary circumstances surrounding King Solomon, to illustrate Biblical perception of women as the bane of humanity. Solomon loved many foreign women, however because he had followed “other gods,” Yahweh consigned his Kingdom to ruin. Solomon began to follow other gods specifically due to influence of his foreign wives and concubines. The sacred feminine, often represented by the base materiality of creation is effectively eliminated from equations of sexuality and spirituality, eroticism and religion. Texts such as the garden text of Isaiah, of Genesis, and the Song of Solomon touch upon the celebration of eroticism in religion.
Woman, according to the goal of many contemplative traditions, is subordinated and blamed for Man/Adam’s loss of virtue and consciousness. The elimination of woman in the sacral role altogether would make it necessary for the male no longer have a partner, thus utilizing his sexual-creative-regenerative force at will, without a woman.
Sexuality and gender in religion should transcend doctrinal belief in lieu of intimate religiosity. Orthodox faith need not be abandoned, or elegantly reformed, but referred to as a starting point in understanding the sacred feminine. The process of eroticism and experiences with the sacred feminine in religion has been made taboo, or so sublimated into Judeo-Christian iconography that it is no longer approachable or overshadowed by phallo-centrism. Sexuality in a doctrinal stance only invokes social misunderstanding, and arrogation of the female will in matrimony already arranged in century’s old myth.
In post-evangelical Christendom, sexual life is generally a sin. Sexuality in the New Testament is not acknowledged save for generation and procreation. The human condition does not risk destruction at the invisible hands of an anti-sexual monster concerned with negating sin in the form of eroticism and spirituality.
Affirming the otherness in ourselves that we desire and seek in others with erotic experience is ephemeral but never elusive. Lust surmounts love in the human condition, yet a passionate search of the divine, as in the Song of Songs, leads us to a greater erotic connection with the divine that transcends animalistic lust. Love is often its own possibility. With the Song of Songs, the reader is exposed to an erotic epithalamium, a passionate nuptial song between lovers. This Song reflects the mystical marriage-covenant between the House of Israel and Yahweh. Moreover, it reflects the Christ’s position in the Church as bridegroom, and the Church as the bride, or the wife of the Lamb. The Song of Songs reflects the spiritual and sexual dimensions of religiosity coupled with married love as Solomon and his lover’s god intended it to be. The Book of Ecclesiastes narrates a man’s search throughout Palestine for something to quell an intolerable ache of his heart. Ecclesiastes reveals that if a man gains the world, he will lose it as humanity lost paradise. The Song of Solomon offers the perspective that love is the banner that should rule over marriage, and all forms of sexuality. The allegorical love displayed between bridegroom and bride reflects, as Carr indicates in Chapter 11, the love between the Christ and his Church. This reciprocal love between Solomon and the Sulamite woman affirms the monogamous relationship between husband and wife.
Boundaries that defined sacral and secular love in ancient cultures are ambivalent, as matrimony reflected marriage between the human and divine as well husband and wife. Women in cultures such as Akkadian, Sumerian, and Mesopotamian often were the recipients of incantations, and love sonnets that engendered male fantasy and focused on fertility.
Even in patriarchal cultures, much incantation and prayer were committed to woman in hopes of fertility, at least in the latter cultures; the goddess had a place other than consort to solar-phallic deities. In ancient Israel, this was not the case, as the Song of Solomon reflects eroticism shared between lovers: a rare text in a society that marginalized women and sex.
The Song of Solomon reflects the theme of Woman as fertile garden to ‘tame’ and ‘reap’ in ancient cultures. The psalm affirms eroticism often ignored and even objectified. Eroticism in the Song of Solomon is elusive, allegorical, yet blatant in display of sexual love, likely misunderstood by our contemporary hedonistic society. Solomon as seen by his lover in the Psalm is essentially ‘pure,’ anointed with oils and spices; Solomon to his lover is the idealized man and vice versa. Verse 1; 5 in the Song refers to a Woman describing herself as “black, but comely,” possibly referring to Solomon’s legendary love, the Queen of Sheba.
The consumption of intoxicants from the ‘vineyard’ usually was not seen as kosher for pregnant Jewish women, and the following verse, 1; 6 informs us that the vineyard has gone unkept. In verse 2; 3 we find the maiden sitting in the shadows of Solomon, so it would seem that in the shadows of every great man’s ego is a woman. The fruits addressed in Chapter could refer to wisdom, fertility, childbearing, or sex. Verse 2; 9 portrays the male lover standing behind walls, as a young “roe.” This could symbolize, from a Kabbalistic view, the concealing of Binah from the earth, thus do we strive upward, from Malchut on the Tree of Life. Eroticism in those days must have been concealed in obeisance to cultural norm and doctrinal law; not so today in our times.
The canticle of delights ends with be a cut clear example of this beloved woman watching Solomon from afar, as she hears all his crooning, sees the details of his body, and yet is touched by nothing. The woman often speaks like a common passer who witness the glory of such a king and who quickly became infatuated.
Neither Solomon nor this woman ever recognizes one another as their true beloved; rather they both call out for their King and Queen and yet not once acknowledge one another as being such. Making the sacred sensual, with recurrences of conjugal and erotic allegory throughout the garden texts mistakenly takes the place of making sexuality sacred, as it should ever be.
To approach sexuality from a Christian standpoint, one must define sexuality in relation to what Biblical scribes understood sex and eroticism as. Concepts of homosexuality were not condemned from a doctrinal perspective in the Holy Bible. Notions of antinomian sexuality had no definitive term in the ancient cultures that made up the divine plot of Biblical scripture. Orthodox theologians believe heterosexuality is innate to manifest creation, ascribing gender to providence. Homosexuality and bisexuality in ancient cultures must have been as common as today, without protection of civil rights.
Levitical prohibitions of sex between men only referred to anal intercourse, leaving homosexual males legally engaging in their creative sensuality. It was believed that homosexuality could very well cause the extinction of the human race, and retard generation. Naturally, sexual orientation did exist, officiates who compiled the books of the Bible failed to see such relevance in the divine Canon, be it in Torah or in the Gospels of the Christ.
References to same-sex intercourse are far and few in a Biblical context. Homosexuality and sexual orientation, as the authors of this selected reading fail to realize, is as old as humankind is. One of the most pointed allusions to homosexuality in the Gospels of the Christ is Romans I; 26-27 where without explanation, Paul describes homosexuality as unnatural. Transcendence is a means to gnosis in any sexual orientation, transcendence of egoism, finitude, even gender on the spiritual level, which is what certain Gnostic sects ascribed to the Christ.
Reciprocal love between any persons regardless of sexual orientation should mirror the love of the Logos for his apostles, the love of the Church to the Christ, of a mother to her child and so forth. For what logic homosexuality is seen as unnatural by Paul in the Book of Romans is never explained, rather left to the devout to discern.
Christian doctrinal approaches to sexual orientation are as ambiguous as its referral in the Gospels. This humanizes the divine rather than divinizing human sexuality, so that god created ‘us’ in gods unknown image rather than the human race reciprocating the sexual act of the divine. Making the sacred sensual, in homosexual orientation in the Holy Bible are conjugal in the sense of reflecting the Church’s love for a male Christ whose relationship with Mary Magdalene is highly contended.
Predilections toward sexuality in the Catholic Church were based on scriptural interpretations toward sex solely as a means of generation and procreation. The sanctity of institutions like marriage in Catholicism is hybrid due to the ethical dichotomy of that religion. The Pauline central commandment is that a man should love his wife as Christ loved the Church, yet deny also higher capabilities of sex, making barren the ideals of passion, and erotic romance between men and women.
It is not lawful, to my understanding for Roman Catholics to have a sexual life except in wedlock, and only for the purpose of impregnation.
Basing its ethics and moral certitude on tradition and Scripture, the Catholic Church postulates that by understanding laws that govern nature, humanity can arrive at a synthesis with the will of God. The foundation of natural law that influences the Roman Catholic Church was established by early Greek philosophy. Greek philosophers, who later came to influence the early fathers of the Catholic Church, believed that natural law in the human condition is best observed under the constraints of reason.
Roman Catholicism, state the editors of the text, espouses “that which is contrary to nature” is objectively morally evil and should be avoided.” (page210). The Vatican in questions of personal sexuality and medical technology now and again refers to his understanding of natural law. The Catholic Church believes in the righteousness of its divine ordainment to interpret natural law, and prod its adherents toward acceptance of its moral certitude.
Prior to Vatican Council II, the central emphasis of morality and sexuality in the Roman Catholic Church was to perceive sexuality as “the procreative goal of the act of sexual intercourse” (page 215). Vatican Council II began an introverted reformation toward the ideal of a more personal dynamic of sexuality in the human condition. Sexual practices in view of the editors of the text began to approach the context and circumstances toward personal eroticism in a more liberal guise.
Homosexuality in the ethical standpoint Catholic Church is innate and not chosen by one’s own accord and free will, whereas homosexual practices were averse to natural law, and intrinsically corrupt and evil. Protestantism and Catholicism differ widely over the moral ambiguity of homosexual orientation and practices.
Homosexuality and celibacy in the Protestant and Catholic faith divide the two Christian sects over the connection between spiritual maturity and sexuality. Such has only bequeathed social restraint and a popular cultural rebellion.
Sexual orientation and religious practice is a major polemic in United States, less so in the ancient cultures featured in Biblical text. In our culture, sexuality and sexual orientation are synonymous. Sexuality synonymous with sexual orientation has excluded the sex act, even expressions of passion and sexuality. Regardless of sexual orientation, sexuality should assumingly conjure ones mode of sexual and physical expression.
Refer to the outcome of an inquiry in the eighteenth century in the Convent of the Dominicans of Saint Catherine at Prato over a scandal caused by alleged mystical sensualism practiced there in obscurity from the ecclesia. Saint Catherine concluded the inquiries by stating to her inquisitors, “to practice that which we mistakenly call impurity is true purity, which God wishes and bids us to practice and without which we have no way of finding God, who is truth.” Here, sexuality is dealt with in an institutional framework, outside of sectarianism between Catholics and Protestants.
Some Protestant denominations insist that homosexual orientation and practice is a free choice, and cites scriptural references that allegedly prohibit homosexuality such as Leviticus chapter 18. In contrast to Roman Catholicism, sexuality is viewed by Protestant sects more liberally and as part of a greater collective in Gods divine plan for the human condition. Perhaps Protestant liberal attitudes toward sexuality only touch the surface of a mystical sensualism that was practiced by many female saints in Catholic convents.
The concept of erotic jealousy in Yahweh, and in the human condition implies that humanity should approach worship to Yahweh in a “wifely” manner. Humanity must approach and worship no other gods before Yahweh, as a human wife was expected to cleave to her husband. Jealousy in religiosity and sexuality leads to an agony when ones love is betrayed, or religion is lost not because of psychological elements, rather this is due to the nonfinite nefesh the eternal individual.
In woman, many religions attribute life itself, for all things fertile relate to the sacred feminine. Love can be linked, as shown in Yahweh’s decree in Deuteronomy 13:5, to the anguish of nonfinite loss felt by the nefesh and neschamah as the lover here, be it Yahweh or the husband fears and end. The lover, as husband, wife, and God is the otherness we seek in ourselves, yet always fearing abandonment as expressed in commandments ‘’till death do us part,’ and to worship no other worship no other gods before Yahweh, or Al’lah, the “One.”
The concept of Yahweh as the male “Beloved” and Israel as the cleaving wife echoes certain Sufi allegories such as those from the likes of Rumi and Hafiz. In the Zohar, the female nature of divinity, the nubkah rather than duhrah is represented by Shekinah, a force understood by the Gnostics and Kabbalists as “the wife of the king” (Zohar I, 207b; III, 7a). The question essentially is whether husband and wife can honor the sacred covenant of marriage, reflected and posed in the reading as whether Israel can uphold its covenant of mystical marriage.
While Medieval Jews and Christians roughly held the same views concerning marital law, Jewish mystics relied on the Ma’aseh merkavah, “the account of the chariot,” as their model until the emergence of Kabbalistic philosophy. The Kabbalistic act of creation is theurgic, an act of sex that Israel constantly is ordained to emulate through the covenant of marriage with IHVH. The act of creation according to accounts of Kabbalistic texts is a sexual one where the sacred masculine and feminine are perpetually engaged in sexual intercourse. During intercourse, the man and woman not only imitate the creative act of the Holy, but also cause primordial spheres, Sefirot, to unite.
Sexual theurgy is more explicit in the Zohar. For Kabbalists and mystics, sex transcends base materiality, a Gnostic affirmation of reciprocal forces in the creation that Christendom later rejected in favor of sexual repression and patriarchy. Kabbalah, or Qabalah, stems from the Hebrew QBL, “to receive.” Hebrew theology was based upon a trinity somewhat different from Christian Trinitarians. There was for ancient Israel, the “Law,” the “soul of the Law,” (Mishnah) and the “soul of the soul of the Law,” or Qabalah.
For mystics, Kabbalah was the unwritten Law. Many early initiates of the Kabbalist mysteries held that its secrets were taught to angelic hosts before the qliphotic “fall of man.” Kabbalistic literature divides into three (another trinity) main mystic texts: the Sefer ha’Zohar (Book of Splendor), Sefer ha’Yetzirah (Book of Formation), and the Book of Revelation, or the Apocalypse.
Kabbalists divided the usage of their sacred theistic science into five main sections: the natural, contemplative, magical, analogical, and astrological. The ten emanations, Sefirot, reflected the covenant the ten ineffable spheres of the Sefirot reflected the ten infinitudes from nothing, or what this writer sees as a primordial womb where Nothing emanated from Nothing – from this ineffable sexual act came Ain (a vacuum of pure energy), Ain Sop (limitless and boundless), and Ain Sop Aur, the limitless light. Kabbalistic accounts of creation could boggle and validate the laws of physics in several instances. Twenty-two paths representing the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and their mystical attributions link the ten sephirot of the Kabbalistic spheres contiguously.
The author of the Iggeret ha’Kodesh comments that sexuality and eroticism in the Qabalah should be viewed as an inhibited approach to the conjugal act. Eroticism is highly formalized in the Kodesh text, with an intended audience of restricted male mystics. The text is a sort of sex manual to instruct the husbandman to channel his arousal in service of the sacred feminine and an elite spirituality. Two views debated by Kabbalists are that proper channeling of sexuality and ritual can experience the emanations. On the contrary, other mystics like Maimonides believed symbolic coitus between the human and the Holy an anathema, that the human condition is unconsummated without God.
The imagery of women in the Gospels of Christ portrays conceptions of women as subservient to a patriarchal religion redefining love, piety, and righteousness. Authors subject to patriarchal ethos in a society familiar only with the male experience, largely ignoring the experience of women scribed the New Testament. Sexual hierarchy in the New Testament appears to stem from Jewish marital and social obligations laid down in the Books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus. Inheriting a patriarchal ethos from its parent, the Christian religion has depicted sexuality and femininity as chaotic, anti-erotic, and precarious.
Consider first, the dualistic and often contradicting view of women in the New Testament from the Book of Revelations. The problem of this thesis is highlighted in Revelations as a vengeful destruction of the “whore” Babylon is exacted in contrast to the Christ’s marriage with the virginal “Bride,” the New Jerusalem. The new virginal “bride” possibly correlates to the righteousness of the Church, adverse to the female communities of Babylon that shall be “desolate and naked” and later “burned.” Such a horrid vilification of woman alludes to heresy and the proper worship of a bride-like Church cleaving to its husband, Christ.
The argument in this thesis is that scriptural text privileges the male as normative in a doctrinal certitude, presenting woman (both virgin and “whore”) subject to patriarchy by divine providence. An emergent Christianity as a reform movement within a suppressive domestic and religious ethos challenged early Greco-Roman codes. The inherited Patriarchy of Christianity surfaced primarily in the Pauline epistles, and later the Church fathers of Rome. As early cultures, embracing Christianity ascribed gender and patriarchy to the God of the Hebrews, does not by default make the grand architect of the universe male or patriarchal. The good news of the gospel was meant for the disenfranchised, despondent, and weary regardless of gender and domestic code.
The Pauline epistles are frequently and fervently summoned by feminist and liberal theologians “as at best unsympathetic to women and, more probably, actively misogynistic.” A letter attributed to Saint Paul in I Timothy sternly places prohibitions on the ministerial roles of women in the early Church. Scholars debate the authenticity of the Timothy Letter, associating the context of the piece to a devoted disciple after Paul’s death, or simply fragments of his sermons pieced together during his ministry.
Regardless of authorship, the text forbids women from active positions in the ministry, placing primeval sin of Genesis upon Eve and the rest of women. I Timothy 2:12-15 reads, “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet woman will be saved through childbearing, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.”
Sympathetic to the disenfranchised and despondent woman such a verse is not. The theological convictions of Paul, as traced with uncritical examination of Acts and Galatians, concedes that Paul is a pastoral character burdened with reconciling the world of Judaism with the emergent Messianic movement centered on this Christ Jesus. Moreover, in Galatians 3: 28 a more conciliatory approach surfaces: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” All is said, though in the “unsympathetic” spirit of I Timothy 2:12-15; the audience should examine I Corinthians, chapters 7 and 11. What must scholars and the devout Christian make of such an ascetic and suppressive attitude toward women in the domestic and ministerial arena?
Chapter 11 of I Corinthians has Paul placing recommendations on the clothing, rather the veiling, of women in public and during prayer. These passages suggest a concern with modesty at public worship in Church. Paul’s intent in addressing the covering of women is taxing to interpret, yet conspicuously appears to be a sign of subordination perhaps relating to primeval “sins” of Eve. Comparative translations of these passages reveal no Greek mention of any term for ‘veil’ or ‘headdress.’ Yet, Paul concerns his ministry at Corinth with the dress of women in Church. Christ did not pay no matter to the style of dress chosen by the beloved Mary Magdalene, nor should Paul pay mind to the practices of prayer and prophesy by women in Church.
Modesty and chastity are best left to the woman who aligns herself in the graces of God, not with patriarchal doctrine. It is important in arguments against the feminist nature of this thesis to note that women held pastoral roles before the evangelism Paul. Women such as Aquila, and Priscilla were prominent ministers before the arrival of Paul in Corinth. In his address to the devout at Corinth, Paul supports the role of matrimony in regards to questions of sexual asceticism. The tradition and obligation of marriage was carried over from Jewish expectations of lineage and childbearing, the lack of which was often deemed as a failure of impure women.
Paul has little to say directly to women as deciphered in I Corinthians, preaching of their roles to the male ministry instead. In examining exactly the preconceptions of women’s roles in early Christianity, scholars such as Bonnie Thurston suggest a dual approach of “hermeneutics of suspicion,” and “hermeneutics of context.” To understand the role and Biblical perspective of women, the religious studies investigator must understand the social, cultural, and historic context in which women find themselves regardless of doctrine. In Gospels such as Luke, and John, women are presented as full partners in a dialogue with Christ Jesus. Our interpretation of women in early Christianity is restricted to language and translation, the information is available through usually cloaked in theology, women being prescribed codes and obligations.
Women such as Mary Magdalene knew Jesus, and were intimate with a unique understanding of the message of Christ. Regardless of social status and theological obligation, the second and third centuries of Christianity saw the revolutionary gospels of Christ replaced with the ethos of Imperial patriarchy. While the gospel continues to hearken “good news” to the despondent of faith, and destitute in contemporary society, the equality of men and women in Christ in such archaic institutions still preserved in doctrine has yet to be accomplished.