GK writes...


Female Beauty in Bible!

Notions of female beauty have evolved somewhat through the centuries.


I am not sure 'evolved' is the correct word here. "Changed" perhaps. I remember in Art Appreciation 101 (for Complete Idiots!) class, they demonstrated how the values of the times heavily influenced what constituted female/male beauty. I remember the Rubenesque figures being used as a sign of health and wealth (all that good food to eat, I suppose). "Evolved" implies some type of progression, and I, for one, am not sure the current 'standards' reflect balanced values (actually, this is somewhat second-hand; my strongly feminist daughter has blown me away with facts, arguments, etc. that this is indeed the fact). But this is getting into aesthetics, and I am not particularly strong in that arena (my main areas are epistemology, philosophy of language, philo.science.)

The sensuous, erotic and pornographic love poetry of the Biblical book variously known as Song of Solomon, Song of Songs, and Canticles

"Sensuous"?-- yes. "Erotic"?-- definitely and deliberately. "Pornographic"?--not quite. Pornography--at least according to standard dictionaries--contains the notion of obscenity at the core. And obscenity contains the notion of 'offensiveness to modesty or propriety'. There is nothing to suggest (in the text or outside the test in history) that this book was morally offensive to its audience.

In fact, the data to the contrary--that it was held in highest moral honor--is relatively strong: 1) the inclusion in both the Jewish and Christian canons; 2) the specific data in the Mishnah that describes it as the 'holy of holies' of the OT (Yadim 3.5); and 3) its balanced treatment of love's various aspects--physical, emotional, volitional--without undue emphasis on the physical; 4) the frequent use of romantic image (7.7-8); and 5) the VERY modest depiction of physical foreplay (8.3). The striking thing about it is that it can celebrate--fully pure, fully erotic--the whole nature of the deepest of personal relationships, and provide 'safeguards' against ever denouncing our physical aspects as being 'unworthy' (as the church has been wont to do from time to time!). I personally (but the issue we were discussing was how the first recipients found it) find it both exciting and ennobling...but not pornographic...

illustrates female beauty as "Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners...thy hair is as a flock of goats that appear from Gilead. Thy teeth are as a flock of sheep which go up from the washing, whereof every one beareth twins, and there is not one barren among them. As a piece of a pomegranate are thy temples within thy locks."(Song of Songs 6:4-7).

That someone would incite awe on the basis of orderliness and personal power (like a city or army) to me is not at all surprising, and although I personally have not experienced much middle-eastern agricultural life, I don't see the problem with hair like a herd (not 'hair like a goat'!) or teeth white, patterned, and symmetric...[actually, the reference to his bride as a city can also be seen as a broader motif that winds up in the book of Revelation in which the Bride of Christ is described as the New Jerusalem]...One commentator summarized this section (4-7); "The beloved is regal to the point of awesomeness. She appears like the dawn in its glory, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army with banners..."

Not much better is "Thy neck is as a tower of ivory; thine eyes like the fishpools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bathrabbim: thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus."(Song of Songs 7:4).

Again, references that would suggest to me finest of expensive craftsmanship (tower of ivory) or statuesque forms (tower of Lebanon) or deep, dark eyes (pools) don't strike me as negative...

But it also needs to be pointed out that the Song of Songs is notoriously difficult to even translate (much less press on for too much detail in word choices)...For example, there are 470 different words in the Song--50 of which are hapax legomena (words that only occur once in all of literature!)...also, the scenery and imagery is pastoral and Middle Eastern, and Hebrew poetry and dramatic forms are very economic (to the consternation of the Western exegete!)...

Clearly disgusted with female appearance,

Eh? The passage in Isaiah has nothing to do with God's response to their appearance(!) but to their arrogant pride like the men (3.13-15). The men-leaders had 'plundered the poor' (v. 14), and the rich finery of the ruling-class wives were probably flaunted-tokens from this violation of ethics and love, even extending to the look on their faces (v.16 compare vs. 9).

God threatens to take away their "...cauls, and their round tires like the moon...and the mufflers..and nose jewels,"(Isaiah 3:18-21). And to this very day, the women no longer wear tires, cauls, mufflers, or nose jewels.

This is too selective a list for your conclusion...He also threatened to take away their earrings, bracelets, veils, sashes, perfume bottles, signet rings, fine robes, capes, cloaks, purses, mirrors, linen garments, tiaras, and shawls(!)...if your phrase 'to this very day...' applied to one set (your KJV 'tires', etc.) why would it not apply to the others...and if it did, WHERE ARE ALL THE NAKED LADIES IN ISRAEL TODAY?


There's much more on female appearance contained within that GREAT holy book, the King James Bible. Stay tuned.............

[On a strange note you will undoubtedly appreciate with me...the Song of Songs has had a tumultuous history of interpretation. Its frank portrayal of romantic and erotic love have made some Jewish and Christian interpreters do 'exegetical contortions' to get the book to speak to more 'obviously religious' themes--like Christ and the Church, Yahweh and Israel...The book is obviously romantically-based, and can be seen as also typological, but some more-puritanical individuals have tried to allegorize the natural component away...as you can imagine, this has produced some 'truth is stranger than fiction' interpretations of things that were simply to be taken at face value...and my favorite in the history of church exercises has been the meaning for the two breasts of the beloved in 4.5 and 7.8:

Jewish scholars have seen the bride's breasts as Moses/Aaron, the twin messiahs--Messiah Son of David/Messiah Son of Ephraim, Moses/Phineas, Joshua/Eleazar.
Christian scholars have come up with: the two testaments, the twin precepts of love of God and neighbor, Blood and Water, the outer/inner man (Gregory of Nyssa!)...

Who says the Church isn't a creative and innovative thinking organization!]

glenn
The Christian ThinkTank...[http://www.Christian-thinktank.com] (Reference Abbreviations)