Divine desire in Judaism and early Christianity
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Divine desire in Judaism and early Christianity book
These verses from the Song of Songs celebrate erotic desire and fertility. They
praise the breasts and belly of the lover, in a land full of pomegranates and deer,
wheat and figs, cedars and myrrh. Originally love songs passed on in an oral tradi-
tion, they were eventually incorporated into both Jewish and Christian scriptures.
How could such a frank celebration of sexual love become part of holy traditions?
The answer is easier for Judaism, which had always valued marital sex and fertility.
The Hebrew scriptures used sexual desire – or infidelity – to symbolize God’s love
for his people and their betrayal of him. The Song of Songs became the Song of
Solomon, a metaphor for the love of God and his chosen people in the land of
Palestine. Christians also interpreted the Song of Songs as a metaphor for God’s
divine love, and the pleasure of a mystical union with him. But they insisted that
this divine love was quite different from human erotic love, which was selfish and
twisted. For them, celibacy was superior, and marriage second-best. This repre-
sented a marked departure from Jewish traditions.