Book Review on The Song of Songs and the Ancient Egyptian Love Songs

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Book Review on The Song of Songs and the Ancient Egyptian Love Songs


Thesis statement: Although Mr. Fox seems to have his tendency of the partiality in Biblical Hermeneutics, he does prove his successful guidance in the readers’ comprehension of the individuality of a text by discovering the diversified aspects from the works it most resembles

I. Preliminary Introduction

A. Title

B. Author

C. Publication Information

II. Introduction and Description

A. Using title as point of departure

B. Place of book in field

C. Evaluation of use of sources

III. Transition from Description to Evaluation and Analysis of Content

A. The ideas of investigation author has been partialized (or author’s bias)

B. Author’s literary approach and style

C. Contribution

IV. Conclusion

The Song of Songs and the Ancient Egyptian Love Songs. Michael V. Fox. Madison: The Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1985. $24.95.

Based on a comparative literary perspective, Michael V. Fox gives his thorough commentaries as well as rich interpretations on these ancient love songs in The Song of Songs and the Ancient Egyptian Love Songs. As he states in the introduction, literary comparisons may give more ideas about these songs and add the weight of analogy to particular or renewed interpretations. However, even had such comparison altogether, still Mr. Fox puts more emphasis on the Song of Songs rather than the Egyptian love poetry. Now that The Song of Songs is the main focus in this book and the Ancient Egyptian Love Songs work as the compared and supplementary companion, which both of them are from the ancient Near East, one is inclined to grant Mr. Fox the approval of his ancient or comparative literary scholarship in his choice of title.(?)

Mr. Fox's already published book(?) is a profound survey of the survived poetry about the ancient views of love, which attributes to the reinforced importance of these Near Eastern views for cultural history. (Suggestion: In analyzing ancient Middle Eastern views of love as expressed in Bible and Egyptian love poetry, the book can serve as a cultural history of this area.)The Song of Songs and the Ancient Egyptian Love Songs offers the readers the first comprehensive, comparative literary-philological examination of these love poems. (What are its main points?) Besides the refreshed understanding provided from the commentaries, this book also includes complete translations as well as a new hieroglyphic transcription of the Egyptian texts.

However, it seems that the author’s personal grasp of Hebrew and Semitic studies have been influenced greatly by the Biblical Hermeneutics, thus contributing to the lopsided tendency not only in his complete translations but also authorial commentaries. Concerning the translation in The Song of Songs and the Ancient Egyptian Love Songs, it’s noticeable that Mr. Fox agrees to use the term “the Shulammite” as a convenient designation for the girl in the Song of Songs. Fox professed that this adoption is for the sake of traditional usage, though he thinks that the Hebrew word haššulammit is a common noun meaning “the prefect one” rather than a personal name or a gentilic from a place name. (For me, it seems to be a matter of convenience in following the convention in translation, while showing his different ideas in interpretation.)

However, Mr. Fox’s Hermeneutic lopsidedness in the Canticles has no influence in his translation and authorial commentaries on these Egyptian poems. Taking the term “to make love” (and “lovemaking”) as an example, Fox insists his uncompromising usage because of the historical background of the poetry. In his introduction, the author explains that the term “to make love” (and “lovemaking”) is not as a euphemism for sexual intercourse, as it is now commonly used, but in the older sense, which includes a broad range of activities expressing sexual love, from caresses to coitus. Nor is “sexual love” a euphemistic usage for coitus; actually it refers to a love between the sexes in which one of the bonds is sexual desire. (Aren’t both examples above those of his looking into the original meanings of words and expressions, instead of merely following the convention or being anachronistic?)

Although the lopsided Hermeneutic analysis and interpretation is obvious in the author’s translation of as well as Biblical commentaries of on The Song of Songs, which is his primary focus in The Song of Songs and the Ancient Egyptian Love Songs, Mr. Gray is still authoritative and authentic in his not only critical but professional examination of the Israelite songs and Egyptian poems. In interpreting these love songs, Mr. Fox strives to the offers a literary treatment of comparison in of the Israelite songs and Egyptian songs as two entireties, so as to help the readers find the similarities as well as differences of these ancient poems much easier. Fox’s literary approach to the comparison and contrast, as he confesses, is his pursued model for the genre-built concept. This model is used to good purpose, thus help the readers to find the similarities of literary techniques, theme, and concepts of love. It’s not, however, the discovery of similarities alone that justifies literary comparison. Differences are no less important in this book. Fox believes that the value of literary comparison is often the following offer of a contrast as well, thus showing the readers where the work at hand diverges from similar work. Fox’s goal in this book is the discovery of sources and parallels is not the end of comparative criticism, but an aid to deeper understanding or reinterpretation. Thus, in guiding the readers’ comprehension of the individuality of a text by discovering where it diverges from the works it most resembles, Mr. Fox's work indeed lays claim to such status.  (This ¶ is well written as an introduction to the book’s methodology and purpose, but it can be shortened. More importantly, as I pointed out above, you didn’t explain the actual differences and similarities between these two pieces of work.)     

In The Song of Songs and the Ancient Egyptian Love Songs, Mr. Fox offers the reader a boarder, clearer comparative approach not only to appreciating but also understanding the artistic unity and meaning of the Canticles as well as these ancient Egyptian love songs. The author treats both works as love songs in the same genre, which speak directly of the individual feelings and experiences of premarital love in a whole entirety. The discussion on the composition, historical sources, social setting, and the voice and mode of presentation of the Canticles especially gives the reader a better grasp of its overall literary unity while in the meanwhile supplying several important concepts which play an integral part in supporting this unity (e.g., the extensive use of repetitions and associative sequences). Also helpful is its emphasis on the prominent theme that stand out in The Song of Songs, which has supplied several useful terms related to understanding the overall literary structure of the Song, insomuch as “Courting Songs” and the “Mortuary Songs: Love and Death” or “description song”, etc.  

The author's partiality for Biblical Hermeneutics, however, is in no way diminishing the literary appeal of this book. The Song of Songs and the Ancient Egyptian Love Songs is very much like the work from a professor of the academic background of Hebrew and Semitic studies – the enhancement, reinforced respect, and highly appreciation of these ancient masterworks of Near Eastern love songs. (rep)

Andrew, Hsieh Hua-mao
Graduate student of Graduate Institute of English, Fu-Jen Catholic University

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