After reading this text I came to the conclusion that Song of Songs is *the* most missiological book in the Old Testament. Pope translates the text directly, free of the normal curtailing of language that occurs in English translations in order to protect pseudo-Puritan American sensibilities. As such it is a much more moving, poetic, and graphic collection of poems. "My lover thrust his "hand" through the "hole", and my inwards seethed for him." The description of part of the man is not "slabs of ivory", but "an ivory tusk". In this focus on being more true to the original text Pope reveals some key aspects of the Hebrew mindset which we could all learn from. Far from the traditional Christian perspective of these latter days of downplaying sexuality, of thinking it as somehow unclean though never saying so outright, God's desire is for us to revel in it and celebrate it. He created us as holistic beings, the only true amphibians, being both spiritual and physical, and thus capable of enjoying what he created to a much greater degree. The author of Song of Songs revealed years before contemporary psychology that sexuality is an integral part of eros love, not to be denied, but celebrated.
Throughout the translation one also gets the distinct impression of the empowerment of the woman. While this is certainly present in other translations, it comes through all the more clearly in Pope.
"Our sister is young
And breasts she has none.
What will we do for our sister
On the day she is bespoken?
If she be a wall,
We will build on her a silver buttress.
If she be a door,
We will close her with a cedar board."
"I am a wall,And my breasts are like towers.
Thus have I become in his eyes
As one producing peace."
While the woman's brothers would seek to constrain and control her, she speaks out and states that she has the control, turning the wall metaphor on it's head. While they would belittle her physical manifestations of womanhood, she proclaims to all the world that she is all woman, and beautiful, betraying a clear confidence in herself and her body.
Repeatedly the man and woman within these poems show their care for each other- not just for their bodies, and not just for their souls, but for the entire being, as one. In Pope one sees clearly here an image, a foretaste, of true gender reconciliation, as existed once before the fall, and was not to be fully realized until Christ came and sat down at a well in the desert. The both encourage each other to grow, and love each other fully as beautiful in entirety. Since Song of Songs is a collection of poems, it tells not a story so much of what is, but like all great poetry, of what might be. It does not seem to describe the reality of gender interaction at the time it was written, but what was yearned for, for what might be. This it does beautifully, such that one thirsts for this reality as one reads it. And I believe this is what makes it missiological- it preaches a reality that one day could be, will be, should be, though the author can have no awareness at that time of what Jesus will come to offer.
One would wish that Pope's translation was available without the commentary, that it would be read more often by the layman who might be stymied by the length of the work. But the commentary is indeed excellent as well. After the translation, Pope goes on to present alternative scenarios for understanding Song of Songs, and then an exhaustive and impressive line by line analysis of the entire book. His analysis adds greatly to a thorough appreciation of this inspired work.