|The Song of Songs: Introduction|
THE SONG OF SONGS
THE BOOK of poems which in Hebrew is called Sheer Ha-Sheereem, in Latin Canticum Canticorum, and likewise in different languages, such as French, Le Cantique des Cantiques , appears in the English Bibles (the King James' and the Revised Standard Version) under the title of The Song of Solomon for no reason that we know of.
The word Shalomoh is mentioned in the first verse but in no way means Solomon. When this pompous king is introduced in the third person (111, 6-11) he is described with such scorn and such a sense of ridicule that he becomes a comical figure. Not so for our canonical translators who, following their own interpretation, modified the original text so as to adapt it to their belief.
Another reason for King Solomon not being the author of this book is that he was not a cabalist; whereas here we are in the very heart of Qabala, even more so than in the two other great cabalistic writings: Genesis and the Sepher Yetsira. It was through the authority of Rabbi Aqivah that The Song of Songs (as we must name it) was accepted as being one of the canonical scriptures.
Aqivah, born in 40, was executed in 135, having spent many years in prison as a supporter of Bar Kokhba's revolt. His intense political activity and his subsequent martyrdom are recorded as only one aspect of his outstanding personality. His interpretation of the Scriptures has again a twofold character. Finding the basis of the Oral Law in every letter, every peculiarity, and even in every supposed grammatical mistake of the Scriptures, he is credited with being the "father" both of
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the Mishnah and of the Qabala, Rabbi Meir and Simeon-bar- Yohai having been his disciples.
Aqivah was strongly opposed to those of his contemporaries, such as Rabbi Ishmael, who declared that the Scriptures ' 'speak the language of men". In his mind, Abraham's Revelation and the law of Moses were both blended in the Torah, where nothing is form only, but everything is essence.
When, during that first century, many discussions arose as to which books should be accepted as sacred and which did not have that qualification, the canonicity of the Song of Songs was hotly disputed.
In its popularized tradition, that book was attributed to King Solomon. The glamour of its supposed author was, however, all but convincing as a proof of its having a sacred character. The majority of the Rabbis declared that these very profane love poems (as they were and still are read) had to be eliminated. But Aqivah intervened with the powerful authority that he alone had, in such words as to force the issue: "the whole universe is not worth the day that book has been given to Israel," he declared "because all the Ketoubim (Scriptures) are holy, but the Song of Songs is the most holy".
With such an extraordinary statement Aqivah was asserting with no ambiguity that those poems have an inner mysterious meaning, unknown even to the Rabbis. Some of them, therefore, thought it advisable to "hide" that book, that is to label it, not profane but secret. But Aqivah prevailed, the book was declared canonical, and its meaning became guess-work resulting in many strange interpretations.
It was thought that a holy book on love must necessarily deal with the love of God interpreted allegorically. That opinion came to be widely accepted by the Jewish and Christian Exegesis. The Jews were taught that this text was a description of Yahveh's love for his People, with references to Exodus. Its reading therefore has become ritualistic on the eighth day of Passover. But the Christians were taught that it was a song of the love of Christ for his Church, or of his love for the Christian
souls, or even for the Virgin Mary. Others discovered in it a description of the love of the God-Sun for the Goddess-Moon; others a political allegory; others a dialogue between Isis and Osiris; others declared that it pictured the myth of Adonis. Those controversies were at times very violent.
In his History of Hebraic and Jewish literature, Mr. A. Lods mentions the case of Theodore of Mopsueste, condemned by the Council of Constantinople (553) for having seen in the Song the story of Solomon's wedding with an Egyptian girl, the case of Castellion who had fled from Geneva and the case of Louis of Lion who was thrown into the prisons of the Inquisition for the same reason.
The interpretation of the Churches is no different, even today, from what it has always been. For the sake of propriety the lovers are said to be a married couple, and their love a conjugal allegory of the love of God for Israel and of Israel for its God. All the Prophets, from Isaiah to Ezekiel, are quoted by the Synagogue to prove that point, whereas the Christian Churches have but to alter the names of God and Israel to prove that here is expressed the love of Christ for the Church and the Church for Christ. Some ecclesiastical authors believe that the text can also be a dialogue between the Soul and the Mystical Body of Christ. Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa of Avila, and others, are sometimes referred to as having expressed the real meaning of the Song.
However, it is difficult to imagine Yehovah addressing Israel, Or Christ the Church, with such words as* : O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth . . . O fair among women . . . compare you, my love, to a mare of Pharaoh's chariots . . . Tour cheeks are comely with ornaments . . . Your neck with strings of jewels . . . your eyes are doves behind your veil, your hair is like a flock of goats ... Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely . . . Your cheeks are like halves of a Pomegranate ... Your neck is like the tower of David . . . Your navel is a rounded ball . . . Tour two breasts are like two fawns... and, likewise, it is difficult to imagine the Syna-
* We quote, here, as in the rest of this volume, the Revised Standard Version.
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gogue or the Church saying of Yahweh or Christ: his head is the finest gold ... his cheeks are like beds of spices ... his lips are lilies ... his body is ivory work ... or saying to a deity: O that you were like a brother to me . . . if I met you outside I would kiss you ... etc.
Because the Song is included in the Bible, the ecclesiastics thought it their duty to compare it with the mystical adventure; of John of the Cross or Teresa of Avila. It is a well-known fact that those Saints ill-treated their bodies and strained them to the point of torture, whereas the Song has an essentially sensuous quality: While the King was on his couch, my nard gave forth its fragrance My beloved is to me a cluster ofhenna blossorns... our couch is green . . . I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys with great delight his fruit was sweet to my taste ... All the exquisite spices, nard, saffron, calamus, cinnamon, myrrh, aloes, are brought in to excite the senses: your lips distil nectar... the scent of your garments is like the scent of Lebanon ... and the young lovers, in their enjoyment call upon the whole of nature to partake in their fruition: the flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom, they give forth fragrance.
All is spring, all is young, fresh, gay, sunny, bright. By what strange distortions of the mind has "the dark night of the soul" ever been mentioned here, with no sign of reason? The non- clerical commentators have generally adopted a naturalistic matter of fact version: this is, they say, a simple poem describing the love of a beautiful dark girl and a fair boy. But this thesis does not solve the mystery of Aqivah's emphatic statement that of all the Holy Scriptures this one is the Holiest, or why the ancient Rabbis and the Fathers of the Church have been compelled to declare it canonical. In aggravation of its profane character, not once does it even hint at the existence of a God. Is it in spite of or because of that omission that it was so sacred in Aqivah's mind?
The ancient and extremely profound science of Qabala, has suffered different fates. Genesis is not known as its oldest treatise, and is mistranslated so as to say, more often that not,
the opposite of what it means.* Another fundamental treatise of Qabala is the Sepher Yetsira , a textbook that has baffled the cabalists throughout the centuries, because it was written for those who already knew its secret code.
There are several other books of Qabala, unacknowledged as cabalistic, such as Ecclesiastes and Jonah, but the chef-d'oeuvre is the Song of Songs, because by means of an astoundingly clever wording, it is true throughout all the levels of manifestation as they interblend and intertwine in our human minds. It is truly the song of the two young lively lovers, it is true allegorically, true symbolically, and true inasmuch as it expressed most vividly the science of Qabala. It is a book of joy and a book of learning, a book of delight and a book of Revelation. It is Knowledge as all Qabala is, but at its highest and deepest level.
In this volume our purpose is to introduce that Knowledge. We deem it our duty to state, before any other development, that the views of the modern Jewish authorities on Qabala are erroneous. Whilst constantly introducing it in the history of Jewish mysticism, they produce lengthy learned data on Jewish cabalists, never on Qabala itself, for the obvious reason that they do not know it. Qabala, originally, was neither Jewish nor mysticism: it declared itself as a tradition issued from Abraham, who was an ancient Chaldean belonging to a much older period than Moses', and it asserted that Abraham's Revelation was direct Knowledge, devoid of mysticism.
The two traditions, Abraham's and Moses', gradually diverged. The laws of Moses established the frame for Jewish survival by means of a codified way of life, customs, habits, and a distinct manner of thinking, vividly apparent in the Talmud. Abraham's Knowledge (the Qabala) declined because the cipher was lost. It sank to such a low pitch as to symbolize an obscure, occult, unintelligible blurb, to be scoffed at. The responsibility for the loss rests foremost with those Rabbis who, knowing the code, hid it so artfully in the letters
* See Our previous volume The Cipher of Genesis (Stuart & Watkins, London and Shambala, Berkeley, California).
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of the Hcbrcw alphabet as to deceive the readers. This skill is mostly apparent in the Song of Songs, where the keywords are chosen so as to tell two or three different stories, almost consistcnt, except in a few passages openly admitted to be obscure. When all is read and deeply understood according to the cipher, it is not difficult to guess why the Rabbis such as Aqivah so carefully disguised their words: they had no other way of safeguarding both the Revelation that they had in trust and the safety of their own lives, against the traditional beliefs and uncompromising rigour of the Synagogue.
In order to guide our readers through the stupendous depths of the Song of Songs, we have inserted in this volume: A chart of the Hebraic signs that are used as an alphabet ; we designate them as Autiot because this word, meaning generally "signs", outspreads their specific function as constitucnts of an alphabet. Moreover, it is a well-known fact that the Hebraic script has no special signs for numbers, and for that purpose uses those of the alphabet. So we indicate in our chart the numbers corresponding to every sign.
A simplified explanation of the meaning of the signs, and of their interrelationship in terms of numbers, between units, tens and hundreds (1.10.100 and so on).
A spelling of the Autiot according to our judgement. (The spelling varies, depending on different schools; for instance Hay (5) is, by some, spelt Hay-Aleph, by others Hay-Yod, whereas we have good reasons for writing it without any adjuncts.) Our phonetic spelling is not always in accordance with the one that is most widely known (thus Bayt for Beth) because we have established it in conformity sseth the pronunciation in the Middle East. It is, however, impossible to differentiate, with our alphabet, Kaf of Qof, Samekh of Seen, Tayt of Tav, or to hint as to how Ayn (70) must be pronounced. (We must insist on the fact that our explanation of the cipher is reduced to a skeleton. were to develop the Autiot we would raise complexities in which the non-specialized readers wo be lost. For instance, Aleph is spelt Aleph, Lammed, Phay:
Lammed is spelt Lammed, Mem, Dallet: Dallet is spelt Dallet, Lammed, Tav ... and so on ... Every one of those signs is an equation which includes other equations, and their relationship reveals the process of the structured energy in its innumerable expressions.)
Our version of the Song, not as a translation of the canonical, but as a Midrash, that is, an exposition based upon its inner cabalistic meaning.
Our commentaries verse by verse, including every time: the Hebraic text; a phonetic transcription; the text quoted from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible; a repetition of the verse according to our Midrash; and finally an explanation, more or less developed according to the necessity of the verse.