This paper serves as an extended writing of an exegesis that I did for an Old Testament Bible class. The passage is taken from the Song of Solomon which contains the best love poetry anywhere in the Bible, as well as the most explicit statements on sex that you will find in the Bible. It is attributed to King Solomon, but many scholars have concluded that it was not written by the king at all, but by several authors at different times in history. Some scholars have even concluded that perhaps a woman wrote the book. We will also examine that thought.
The passage that will be looked at and discussed is Song of Solomon 1:5-7: “I am black and beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon. Do not gaze at me because I am dark, because the sun hazed on me. My mother’s sons were angry with me; they made me keeper of the vineyard, but my own vineyard I have not kept! Tell me, you whom my soul loves, where you pasture your flock, where you make it lie at noon; for why should I be like the one who is veiled beside the flocks of your companions?” (New Revised Standard)
The basic situation is that a woman is looking for her Beloved. That is the “cliff notes” version. Upon closer examination, we will see more.
The first thing that strikes you is the fact that she intially describes the color of her skin. We notice that she claims to be black and beautiful. In her society and to some extent in our own, these two words are not usually seen together. I believe that we have come a long way in our perceptions, but there are many that feel that Black is anything but beautiful. However, our speaker is not ashamed of the color of her skin. She is almost boastful of it, telling the other women to “not gaze” upon her because she has been darkened by the sun. Traditions of the time were that women remained inside and did housework and the men tended the fields. To be a woman out in the field was to show that you were a part of the lower class. Therefore, we can assume that our female speaker works in the fields and the passage does indeed support that theory when she tells us that her “mother’s sons” made her work in the vineyard. The question is why? We are not sure except that they were angry and perhaps working the vineyard was her punishment. What then is she referring to when she claims that her one vineyard she has “not kept”? There are several possibilites. I would like to say that she is referring to her own physical appearance. Since women were not allowed to own property, what we have is a play on words in which she is referring to something else that is personal to her. What is more personal than your own physical appearance?
Our speaker continues to go against the norms of the society of her time and goes out seeking her Beloved. Women were not to assert themselves toward men, very much like some people think today. She longs to see her Beloved and asks, probably to the air, where he shepherds his flock at noontime. Otherwise, she will not be among all the other shepherds that are companions of her Beloved.
There appears to be a lot happening in just three short verses in this book. The book is almost out of place in the Bible. There is no mention of God anywhere, but it exudes the type of love that Christ wants us to have for each other. A type of love that is free from pressure, free to grow and free for the people involved to experience. It is a book full of passion, romance and innocent love.
The thought that the writer is a woman is taken from the idea that the female speaker is very assertive. There is an obvious omission of any strong male figure. The only time a male figure is referred to is the assumption later in the book that King Solomon is part of a wedding processional. Even the brothers of the femal are referred to as her “mother’s sons”.
What can we conclude from all of this? There are several possiblities:
- The woman speaking is obviously a woman of color.
- She is not ashamed ofher color and appears to be boastful about it.
- The love that these twoshare is so strong that the woman is willing to go against the norm andlook for her Beloved out in the fields and in the streets (later in the book).
I would invite you and challenge you to read Song of Solomon with a new perspective. If you are a woman of color, I invite you to embrace it, as I have, as a positive testimony to the life of women of color and know that we do not have to be ashamed of hard work or the fact that the sun may darkened us in the process. We can rejoice in knowing that we have a place in the Bible and it is within the most romantic and passionate story of all.
Having served for 10 years at St. John’s MCC in Raleigh, N.C., including as a lay and clergy member of the former Gulf Lower Atlantic District Committee, Rev. Wanda Floyd founded Imani MCC in Durham, N.C., then served as a transitional pastor for MCC Charlotte (N.C.) and MCC Las Vegas, Nev.