Department of Middle Eastern Studies
Department of Middle Eastern Studies

"Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder? Domesticating the Elusive Lover of the Song of Songs in Early Rabbinic Interpretation"

Wed, February 8, 2012 | PAR 203

5:30 PM - 6:30 PM

Jonathan Kaplan, Postdoctoral Scholar, Yale University

The female protagonist of the Song of Songs famously describes her search for her beloved: “I sought him, but I did not find him” (Song 3:1). As scholars have noted, this verse and other sections of chapters 3 and 5 of the Song of Songs portray a relationship between the female protagonist and her beloved as one marked by absence and longing for the male beloved. In contrast, early rabbinic interpretation from the first centuries of the common era sublimates and refocuses the themes of absence, longing, and pursuit that characterize much of the descriptions of the interrelationships in the Song of Songs. In the early sages’ hands, these verses bespeak fidelity, presence, and surety – an ideal vision for God’s relationship with Israel. The examples from early rabbinic midrash highlight God’s presence with Israel during the idealized time of the exodus, the Sinai theophany, and the wilderness wanderings as well as the surety of God’s presence with Israel in their future return from exile. This mode of interpretation served to assure the early sages of God’s abiding covenant with the Jewish people following the profound social, cultural, and geographical dislocation of the first centuries of the common era.





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