Praising God or singing of love?: from theological to erotic allegorisation in the interpretation of Canticles
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In the history of the interpretation of Canticles, one generally distinguishes two tendencies, which can also be identified in the interpretation history of the rest of the Old Testament literature. Alongside a literal reading of the text, there is also the possibility of an allegorical interpretation, which was often, consciously or otherwise, a reaction against a literal reading of the Bible. Although this contrast between the terms ‘literal’ and ‘allegorical’ appears frequently in the literature on Canticles, the present article argues that this terminology seems to be inadequate for Canticles at any rate: reading Canticles either ‘literally’ or ‘allegorically’ is an expression of a false dilemma with respect to this book. After all, being love poetry, the book sings about love as a transcendent, even ‘divine’ reality. Against this background, this contribution will argue that the so-called ‘literal’ — anthropological — reading, according to which Canticles praises the love between two persons, is, in the case of many authors, at least as allegorical as the so-called theological-allegorical reading, according to which Canticles is supposed to speak about the relationship between God and Israel, or Christ and the Church. Therefore, in the first part of this contribution, we shall briefly consider the background of the theological-allegorical reading of Canticles. Then, we shall examine the anthropological interpretation, which has received renewed attention, especially since the beginning of the twentieth century, and which has rapidly developed into an anthropological-allegorical interpretation. In the third part, the evolution outlined in the previous two parts will be illustrated in an analysis of Canticles 2:16.