Ilana PardesThe Song of Songs: A Biography

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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. 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 continues to thrive, allegory has not disappeared, with new modes of allegory emerging in modern settings.

Pardes traces a diverse line of passionate readers, from Jewish and Christian interpreters of late antiquity who were engaged in disputes over the Song’s allegorical meaning, to medieval Hebrew poets who introduced it into the opulent world of courtly banquets, and kabbalists who used it as a springboard to the celestial spheres. Feminist critics have marveled at the Song’s egalitarian representation of courtship, and 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.

About the Author

Ilana Pardes is the Katharine Cornell Professor of Comparative Literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is the author of Countertraditions in the BibleThe Biography of Ancient IsraelMelville’s Bibles, and Agnon’s Moonstruck Lovers.