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Saturday, April 14, 2012

"Lamentations and the Song of Songs"

TITLE: Lamentations and the Song of Songs: A Theological Commentary on the Bible (Belief: a Theological Commentary on the Bible)
AUTHOR: Harvey Cox and Stephanie Paulsell
PUBLISHER: Lousville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010, (298 pages).

At one look, one will have asked questions why both of these Old Testament books are lumped together. Lamentations are from the weeping prophet Jeremiah, while the Songs of Solomon are a joyous declaration of passionate love between two lovers. Lamentations sink deep into the mire of despair and depression while Songs attempt the heights of joyful love. One is a lament while the other is a song. Two seemingly contrasting books that are placed side by side makes this volume an interesting combination.

This book is intended to be a theological resource for the Church and believers at large. It is hoped that the commentary will complement and encourage diligent study of the Bible through informed reading that is appreciative of the contexts behind each book. Rather than making this commentary another historical treatise or an encyclopedia of the contexts behind the two books, it aims at a theological interpretation of Lamentations and the Song of Songs. Working with theologies laid out in hymns, Church creeds, and other resources, the authors aim at an interpretation of the book that understands the past, grapple with present issues, and to build a bridge for application and meaning for the now and the future. The list of references is formidable, with a collection of some of the best scholarship and academic authority available in the English speaking world.


Instead of calling it a commentary on Lamentations, the authors take on a "considered appreciation of a timeless masterpiece." Using the "ruined cities" imagery of the past, the authors invite readers to journey together to discover and to participate in lamenting the pains and sufferings mankind has faced through sicknesses, wars, injustices, and reasons to weep for the broken world. Three theological issues are considered, namely:
    1. God and the perceived absence of God
    2. Spiritual significance of memory
    3. The problem of evil / Theodicy
    The authors use these three theological issues to deal with six ethical matters (Rape, torture, exile, starvation, humiliation, pornography and war). In the final part, they provide commentary of what it means at a theological application level. Here they give us reflections on modern prosperity, community or the lack of it, revenge and reconciliation, healing, and the place of Jerusalem today. Interestingly, they conclude this part with thoughts on Hitler, the WWII Holocaust, 9/11, and pleads for readers to learn to use Lamentations not as a way to solve these issues, but to learn to experience pain and show solidarity with the suffering.


    It is not easy to find a theological understanding from what seems like love poems. Rather than hemming in the book into any one categories, the authors choose to go with the flow of appreciating each human emotion of love. The physical and the emotional blends together with any intellectual understanding. It is a book of emotion as it enables one to experience the heights of joy and happiness. It is a book of sensuality as it details the different ways in which the emotions are described in physical terms. It is a book of love relationships as we read of a love that is stronger than death. It is a book of devotion in the sense that we can use the Song of Songs to point us to the Great God of Love. Using imageries of Sabbath, Jerusalem, vineyards, the incarnation, and many more, the authors enable modern readers to learn to appreciate this rarely preached book. 

    This is a highly readable theological volume to accompany the teaching or the preaching of Lamentations and the Song of Songs. I find it extremely helpful not only in pulpit planning or course structuring, but also in terms of personal devotional reading. The theological underpinnings drawn out are by themselves worth the price of the book.

    Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


    This book is provided to me free by Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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