Just How Uninspired is the Song of Solomon?

Okay, we’ve all read this little note scribbled in the JST bible manuscript: “The Songs of Solomon are not Inspired Writings.” This is attributed to Joseph Smith himself, but I suspect someone somewhere is writing an article to be published by FARMS demonstrating that DNA found on the page shows that this was not written by Joseph but by one of his scribes, thereby letting Joseph off the hook. But, for argument’s sake, let’s assume this statement comes from the Prophet himself. If so, then why does the D&C quote from the Song of Solomon on several occasions?

Here’s Song Of Solomon 6:10:

Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?

Here’s from the D&C

D&C 5:14–And to none else will I grant this power, to receive this same testimony among this generation, in this the beginning of the rising up and the coming forth of my church out of the wilderness–clear as the moon, and fair as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.

D&C 105:31–But first let my army become very great, and let it be sanctified before me, that it may become fair as the sun, and clear as the moon, and that her banners may be terrible unto all nations;

D&C 109:73–That thy church may come forth out of the wilderness of darkness, and shine forth fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners;

I’m stumped here. Is it inspired literature, just not inspired scripture?

I’ve also uncovered another scandal–there was some kind of song book in the 1940s called “Song of Solomon Folder” that’s no doubt nowadays secreted away in the First Presidency’s Vault:

All will join in singing, “Creation Speaks With Awful Voice,” Song of Solomon Folder No. 26. At the request of Brother Condie we should like you to sing the two stanzas just as he will lead us and then repeat the last two lines of the second, the fourth and the sixth stanza. This is because we have adopted a tune that will be familiar to you all. Everybody please join in singing, “Creation Speaks With Awful Voice,” to the tune “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” Hymn Book, page 354. (David O. McKay, Conference Report, October 1943, p.26, emphasis added)

I’m also writing today to SLC asking that “Creation Speaks with Awful Voice” be reinstated in the hymn book. Please join me in my letter campaign.

I’ll end with one final note of interest about the Song of Solomon. Check out this minor incident reported by George Q. Cannon in his book A String of Pearls, pp. 57–59, for which no commentary is necessary.

WHILE Brother H. K. Coray and I were laboring as missionaries in North Carolina, we attended a Baptist meeting …. Shortly after our arrival, the meeting was opened in the usual way, by … the Rev. Mr. Mourning …. He arose and read his text from the Song of Solomon, 8th chapter and 8th verse: “We have a little sister, and she hath no breasts,” etc., after which, the preacher launched out in a discourse made up from abuse and slander of other denominations.

************************

He seemed to take some pains to save the “Mormons” till the last, so as to be thoroughly warmed up, that he might be the better able to do justice to their case.

After awhile, getting all the steam on–mustering all his force, he opened his battery upon the “Mormon” Church, saying the “Mormon” Church was not mentioned anywhere in the scriptures, nor the “Mormon” religion; neither the “Mormon Bible,” nor “Joe” Smith, nor Brigham Young, not even the word “Mormon” was mentioned there.

***********************

By this time he had been talking an hour, and had not once referred to the text. But having apparently satisfied himself and a few of his hearers in abusing other denominations in general, and the “Mormons” in particular, he suddenly assumed the old “Hard Shell” wail, or preaching tune, and drawled out:

“But my dear friends and breethring-ah, we have a little sister-ah, and she hath no breasts- ah. I am very much afraid, my dear friends and breethring-ah, that in that great day when we shall be spoken for-ah, that some of us will be brought into that awful presence-ah, and there find we have no breasts-ah. And oh, my dear friends and breethring-ah, will not this be an awful condition to be found in-ah?”

Comments

  1. Minor incident? That harangue from the Baptist preacher could be from a Saturday Night Live skit. Salvation and grace as boobies. What concept.

  2. A favorite subject. The Jews and most Christians view the Song as scripture, but only as allegory for their nonsexual views. See Longman, Song of Songs, the New International Commentary on the Old Testament pub. by Eerdmans, 200l. That’s not much better than ignoring it as we have. I believe all of these responses speak to discomfort with the Song’s central theme, a joyous celebration of the sensual and sexual and, particularly important for Mormons, the natural affinity of the material and spiritual and the unity of body and soul. I came to this conclusion after reading Bloch and Bloch, The Song of Songs, a New Translation pub by U of Ca Press, 1995 and published a brief essay on the subject in Dialogue, Vol 36, No 3. As I wrote there, “Redemption is not about denying the flesh or discarding it for the eternities. It is about using the body for good not evil so that we earn the capacity to use it forever.” Appropriate sexual love is high on the list of those goods (and, yes, I know the Song makes no mention of marriage). Seems to me that even though it is, as Bloch and Bloch argue, more explicit sexually, it’s every bit as scriptural as David’s love poems and an important addition to Christian thought.

  3. From Stephen King’s _The Talisman_:

    “Field work until seven, then breakfast in the dining hall. Back to the field until noon, when we get lunch plus Bible readings — everybody gets a crack at this, so you better start thinking about what you’ll read. None of that sexy stuff from the Song of Songs, either, unless you want to find out what discipline means.”

    So it looks like the SoS is officially disapproved by evil demon-controlled boy’s schools as well. Just can’t catch a break, can it?

  4. Reference, for prior quote.

  5. Why do quotations entail inspiration? Paul quotes from various Stoic philosophers without necessarily thinking them inspired.

  6. Isn’t the urban legand that Kimball stapled the Song of Solomon shut in his scripture?

  7. Clark, did you read it to the end? I think that Ed’s post is tongue-in-cheek.

  8. There is a strong argument that the Song of Songs is representative of sacred marriage ritual throughout the ancient Near East (particularly as it is realized between Ishtar and Tammuzi). It may be inspired yet, just not in a way that Joseph would realize it.

  9. Thanks for the comments. I, for one, amy glad the Song of Solomon is in there since you’ve always got something interesting to read in a moment of sheer boredom. No allegories for me here please.

    Being serious for a moment, who’s doing the quoting here, is a good question. God or Joseph? Sections 5 and 105 are framed as revelations, Section 109 is framed as a prayer (that, admittedly, is a kind of revelation).

    The rhetoric of the D&C has always fascinated me, and why later prophets didn’t do it the same way, at least, on the same scale. Is it a matter of style? The D&C sections always have an interesting way of knitting together numerous biblical passages together.

  10. Steve EM says:

    When was the first boob job attempted, and did someone quote the Bible to justify it?

  11. Ed,

    Just because SoS is where we know that passage from does not actually mean that is the first use of it, right? So God may well just be quoting himself from text or prior scripture we don’t have (but that was available when SoS was written). Regardless, Clark’s point about quotation is well taken.

    And if this is just a joke, well then DKL’s point is well taken.

  12. I remember Elder Maxwell quoting Alan Jay Lerner, not once, but twice. First in April conference, 1986:

    Traversing these truths requires more than a casual stroll up sloping foothills; they take us instead up the breathtaking ridges of reality to an Everest of understanding. “On a clear day, [we] can see forever!” Ensign, May 1986, 34

    And then in October 1990 General Conference,

    Indeed, the gospel brings glorious illumination as to our possibilities. Scales fall from our eyes with the shedding of selfishness. Then we see our luminous and true identity:

    On a clear day, rise and look around you,
    And you’ll see who you are.
    On a clear day, how it will astound you—
    That the glow of your being outshines every star …
    And on a clear day …
    You can see forever and ever more.

    If quotation by a prophet makes the text quoted inspired–God breathed–then the age-old question has been answered.

    Is there a prophet in Israel?

    Yes, it’s Alan Jay Lerner.

  13. Frank, #11, sometimes I don’t even know when I’m joking around. Most of this was in jest. Later comments I made were less so. In any event, I don’t lose sleep over it.

    I have determined that I’m going to start quoting this text myself … about my wife. The part about “fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners,” that is.

  14. Kristine says:

    Rimshot for Mark B., and three cheers for lawyers with a sense of humor!

  15. Ah, Kristine. You’ve made my day!

  16. Incidentally, I just heard a rumor that Dan Brown’s next novel isn’t going to be called The Solomon Key but The Song of Solomon Folder adding to the intrigue here. I understand it will still involve Mormons, Masons, etc.

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    The canonicity of the Song, along with Ecclesiastes, was discussed by some rabbis at Jamnia in 90 C.E. According to Rabbi Akiba, the Song was considered to be a book “that defiles the hands.”

    When I first heard that, I assumed it meant that a decision had been made to exclude the book from the canon.

    But I quickly learned that my first impression was exactly backwards. “Defile the hands” is a technical expression for a book that is holy, and thus touching it ritually or ceremonially makes the hands impure and requires washing of the hands. So although it doesn’t sound like it at first blush, “defile the hands” is actually a thumbs up on scriptural status.

  18. Ed, I can introduce you to a quorum of 17 year old priests who find that book of Holy Writ very inspiring. They would even tell you they have a testimony of it.

  19. For the record, I got the joke the first time and thought it funny.

    I’d just like to add myself to the list of those that like Canticles. I recently heard a very well-done paper that linked the strange woman of Proverbs 1-8 to Canticles via antithetical repetition. Ain’t intertextuality is a great thing?

  20. Kevin Barney says:

    In a roundabout sort of way, I think Joseph or Sidney or whoever made that brief notation in the JST ms. got it right. That is, I would read the notation simply as a rejection of the common allegorizing interpretations of the Song in the Christian world generally. I would see it as a recognition that the Song does indeed contain actual erotic poetry. That doesn’t mean there isn’t spiritual value to it (as Molly points out), and to say it was “uninspired” was an unfortunate way of putting it.

    What is the canonical status of the Song in Mormonism? It is part of our printed Bibles, and has never been formally excluded from the canon (“standard works”). Indeed, the JST ms. notation is explicitly *not* canonical itself. So I would argue that the Song is still canonical scripture, even if there is widespread suspicion regarding it in our tradition.

  21. Kevin, nicely put in #20. The concept of canon among Mormons is interesting any way–all books ever published are in my canon if I read the Articles of Faith broadly.

    Could this line of thinking be applied to the facsimiles of the Book of Abraham perhaps? Canonical but [fill in the blank]? You and I have discussed this before elsewhere.

  22. Ed,

    “sometimes I don’t even know when I’m joking around. ”

    I know the feeling.

  23. My oldest sister used the quote that the Reverend used (“We have a little sister, and she hath no breasts,” etc.) to make fun of me during church when I was younger. Never had much taste for the book since then.

  24. In Mormon lingo the word inspired usually means divinely authoritative. The common sense meaning of inspired refers to a creative act that is so successful that it appears to have a transcendent quality. In the latter sense, the Song of Salomon is definitely one of the more inspired texts in the Bible.

    Personally, I don’t care. The identification of morality with sex to the exclusion of much more serious problems in the Biblical text such as God’s supposed commandment to commit genocide, for example, probably says a lot more about us than about God.

  25. Song of Songs rocks. I recommend Origen’s interpretation of it. Pure genius.

    Ed, do you think that the Mormon view of canonicity is one that allows the individual believer to cross things out at will? Or is the believer responsible to hold to the entire canon in its final form?

  26. David J. in #25, I’m no expert–I believe the world is my canon and that none of it is inerrant.

  27. Costanza says:

    If you read the entire Song of Solomon into a tape recorder and then play it backwards it becomes Stairway to Heaven.

  28. I definitely and heartily second (or third) Kevin’s opinion from #20. My favorite lines from the Song will always be: “Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love,” and that immortal pick-up line: “…thine eyes [are] like the fishpools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-rabbim…”

    (Yes, I’ve used it.)

    (No, it didn’t really work.)

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