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Solomon's Vineyard: Literary and Linguistic Studies in the Song of Songs.

Solomon's Vineyard: Literary and Linguistic Studies in the Song of Songs. By Sam B. NOEGELI and GARY A. RENDSBURG. Ancient Israel and Its Literature, vol. 1. Atlanta: SOCIETY OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE, 2009. Pp. xiv + 267. $34.95 (paper).

This volume is comprised of four individual studies devoted to the poetic Song of Songs (hereafter Song). A brief conclusion draws together the essential claims of the four chapters as well as tentatively advancing additional ones. The volume also helpfully contains eight indices for interpreters who wish to check (or recheck) a particular matter: primary texts, authors and reference works, pre-modern authors, words and phrases, languages, subjects, names, and toponyms.

Chapter one presents the case that the Song contains Israelian Hebrew (hereafter IH). Specialists will recognize that the identification of IH, defined as "the dialect of those regions that formed the kingdom of Israel" (p. 3), has been a research project of both authors over a period of years. In various studies they have developed criteria for distinguishing between the dominant dialect of the Hebrew Bible, Judahite Hebrew, and the less common IH, and they apply them to the case of the Song in this one. These are accomplished scholars, well aware of the history of scholarship and conversant with other options for identifying the linguistic particularities of the Song. They note, for example, that in a previous generation of scholarship S. R. Driver had proposed something similar for the Song and that others have identified the linguistic particularities of the Song with Aramaic influence. For the latter this typically includes the conclusion that the Song is a post-exilic work. Noegel and Rendsburg do not deny the affinities with Aramaic, but propose that they are more particularly Israelian and that the Song is of an earlier date.

Chapter two examines alliteration in the poetry of the Song, defined as "the collocation of the same or similar consonants in two or more words in close proximity to each other" (p. 64). Assonance, with which alliteration might be confused, is defined by the authors as "the effect created by like-sounding vowels" (p. 64). They conclude, rightly according to their criteria, that the Song is a "veritable tapestry," shining with "alliterative artistry" (p. 106).

Chapter three is an examination of variation in the poetry of the Song. What interests Noegel and Rendsburg is the role of variation in repetition across a composition, and, more specifically, the ways in which variations in repeated lines hold the attention of a listener (or reader). They propose a new term for the phenomenon, "polyprosopon," since there is no standard term for it. An example of polyprosopon would be the similar phrases in 2:5 and 5:8, which differ in the coordinating conjunction employed. Another is the similar phrase in 2:6 and 8:3, where the former phrase has a prefixed lamed to the last term and the latter does not.

Chapter four reviews the genre of the Song in light of Arabic poetic traditions. There is a tradition of some duration in interpreting the Song to compare portions of it to the Syrian wag tradition, a poetic style that effusively praises an individual. Noegal and Rendsburg think there are good parallels in this tradition, but want to add two other Arabic poetic traditions, namely those of tasb[]b and hij[]' The former is also poetic praise, but it can be used (often with some subtlety) to disgrace. The latter is the poetry of "lampooning" or invective. With these traditions in mind, the authors go on to propose that the extravagant praise language in the Song is also subtle criticism of the Judahite monarchy.

The conclusion draws together various elements in the previous four chapters: "The Song of Songs was written circa 900 13.C.E., in the northern dialect of Hebrew, by an author of unsurpassed ability, adept at the techniques of alliteration and polyprosopon, able to create the most sensual and erotic poetry of his day, and all the while incorporating into his work a subtext critical of the Judahite monarchy in general and Solomon in particular" (p. 184).

This is an instructive book to read. The authors are well versed in their subject matter, have particular theses to defend, and offer evidence for them. The persuasiveness varies from thesis to thesis. The two middle chapters together make a strong case that the Song is a unified work of poetic art. The case for IH as the linguistic matrix of the Song is as plausible as that for Aramean influence, but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the unique Song has not given up its entire literary DNA. The conclusions that the Song can be dated so specifically, and especially that it so subtly criticizes Solomon, are the most tenuous. To be fair to the authors, they propose the criticism of Solomon on the basis of comparison with Arabic poetic traditions and do not show in detail how the Song itself carries this through. This last item would be another study.

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Author:Dearman, J. Andrew
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2011
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