The Song of Songs

The Song of Songs : A Biography

4.31 (13 ratings by Goodreads)
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An essential history of the greatest love poem ever written

The Song of Songs has been embraced for centuries as the ultimate song of love. But the kind of love readers have found in this ancient poem is strikingly varied. Ilana Pardes invites us to explore the dramatic shift from readings of the Song as a poem on divine love to celebrations of its exuberant account of human love. With a refreshingly nuanced approach, she reveals how allegorical and literal interpretations are inextricably intertwined in the Song's tumultuous life. The body in all its aspects-pleasure and pain, even erotic fervor-is key to many allegorical commentaries. And although the literal, sensual Song thrives in modernity, allegory has not disappeared. New modes of allegory have emerged in modern settings, from the literary and the scholarly to the communal.

Offering rare insights into the story of this remarkable poem, Pardes traces a diverse line of passionate readers. She looks at Jewish and Christian interpreters of late antiquity who were engaged in disputes over the Song's allegorical meaning, at medieval Hebrew poets who introduced it into the opulent world of courtly banquets, and at kabbalists who used it as a springboard to the celestial spheres. She shows how feminist critics have marveled at the Song's egalitarian representation of courtship, and how it became a song of America for Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, and Toni Morrison. Throughout these explorations of the Song's reception, Pardes highlights the unparalleled beauty of its audacious language of love.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 296 pages
  • 114 x 191 x 27.94mm | 340.19g
  • New Jersey, United States
  • English
  • 8 b/w illus.
  • 0691146063
  • 9780691146065
  • 722,744

Review quote

"Pardes deftly weaves her way through the interpretive transition from the allegorical to the literal and then shows how they are intertwined and inseparable. Pardes' work is erudite and academic yet highly readable. She does not attach herself to any specific agenda and does not attempt to sway the reader to any definitive conclusion. Rather, she presents the Song's interpretations through the millennia inside a well-crafted, historical overview."---Brad Pruitt, Christian Chronicle "The volume is to be commended . . . Pardes engages empathetically with the concerns of the readers in each chapter, seeking to explain why and how they read the Song as they did." * Reading Religion * "Pardes is able to travel through history, bringing diverse texts to the attention of a general readership who might otherwise not encounter texts of medieval Jewish mysticism and nineteenth-century biblical criticism at all, let alone in conversation with one another."---Elsie R. Stern, Review of Biblical Literature "Take this chance to refamiliarize yourself with one of the great curiosities of biblical exegesis. Ilana Pardes, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, frames the issue thus in the opening pages: 'Why was a daringly sensual poem of love with no reference whatsoever to God or national history included in the Bible.'"---Robert Erickson, New Criterion "Pardes . . . skillfully guides readers through the many twists and turns in the Songs of Songs' reception history. The most brilliant moments come when she challenges us to redraw the frontiers of allegory, metaphor, and conventional sense. 'Are breasts innately more similar to fawns than to Moses and Aaron?"---Shai Secunda, Jewish Review of Books "Pardes deftly demonstrates how the biblical past can furnish us with a common storehouse of images, to be rediscovered or recast."---Benjamin Balint, Wall Street Journal "Pardes does a wonderful job of shining a light into the many manifestations and understandings of this poem, while the clear expressive language of love and passion is not diminished in any way . . . it is a great pleasure to read."---The JC, Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild "Pardes's training as both biblicist and scholar of comparative literature gives her a much broader perch from which to survey the Song than the typical and tired history-of-exegesis overviews, which too often account only for learned commentaries by theologians and exegetes both Jewish and Christian. . . . I recommend this book for both academic and general readers. Pardes brings her reader into the heart of this textual garden, showing them how to eat of its choicest fruits."---Jonathan Homrighausen, Englewood Review of Books
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About Ilana Pardes

Ilana Pardes is the Katharine Cornell Professor of Comparative Literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is the author of Countertraditions in the Bible, The Biography of Ancient Israel, Melville's Bibles, and Agnon's Moonstruck Lovers.
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Rating details

13 ratings
4.31 out of 5 stars
5 54% (7)
4 23% (3)
3 23% (3)
2 0% (0)
1 0% (0)
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