Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Breasts like clusters of grapes

Photo credit: Flagstaffotos.com.au

I don’t normally laugh when I read the Bible, but two passages I read this morning made me laugh.

The first was an extract from Song of Songs, the strangest book in the Bible in my opinion. The story focuses on the blossoming relationship between a young man “he” and woman “she”, who express their love for one another in truly poetic terms. Every now and then, there is an interjection from their “friends”.

This book is interesting because there is no overt reference to God at all and it’s pretty sensual. However, it is often interpreted as an allegorical representation of the relationship between God and Israel, God and the Church, and the husband and wife.

This doesn’t sound like an amusing backdrop, but to me it has a strong, if purely accidental, comedic edge.

Let’s look at the way “he” describes his lover. His opening statement is: “I liken you, my darling, to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariot horses” (Song of Songs 1:9). Not the best compliment I’ve ever heard.

He goes on to say her eyes are like doves, her hair like a flock of goats, her teeth like a flock of sheep just shorn (each has its twin; not one of them is alone) and her temples like the halves of a pomegranate.

Photo credit: Jacquie Wingate/Wikipedia

According to the girl’s lover, her neck is like the tower of David, her breasts like twin fawns of a gazelle (or clusters of grapes on the vine), her navel is a rounded goblet that never lacks blended wine, her waist is a mound of wheat encircled by lilies, her neck is like an ivory tower and – my personal favourite – her nose is like the tower of Lebanon.

Meanwhile, “she” describes him as “a sachet of myrrh” resting between her breasts. She goes on to say he is like an apple tree among the trees of the forest, like a gazelle or a young stag, like a column of smoke perfumed with myrrh and incense.

She claims his cheeks are like beds of spice, his arms are rods of gold set with topaz, his body is like polished ivory decorated with lapis lazuli and his legs are pillars of marble set on bases of pure gold.

Okay, so I’ve picked out the descriptions that most amused me – there were other more complimentary similes, particularly about the woman. And I’m also sure these descriptions held meanings that I didn’t appreciate: suggestions of fertility, prosperity, strength and beauty, for example.

But I can’t help imagining this woman with her muttony teeth, pomegranate forehead and tower-like nose rendezvousing with her apple tree beloved with his spicy cheeks and marble legs.

So that’s the first passage that tickled me. The second was a single verse, Proverbs 21:9, which says: “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.”

That doesn’t need much explanation, as far as I’m concerned, but again the imagery amused me. In fact, it reminded me of the well-known black and white picture of workmen eating their lunch on a crane hanging over New York (click here to view). It suddenly took on a whole new meaning for me after reading that verse.

Please feel free to leave comments. You can read more from Joy in the next issue of Sorted magazine, and in its sister publication Liberti.

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