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“A Garden Enclosed”: The Song of Songs as a Gateway to Synagogue Poetry

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Chapter Summary

The Song of Songs stands alone within biblical canon: a highly sensual book within body of sacred Scripture, a love song to unknown lover, rich with enigmatic, evocative images that tease the senses. In this chapter, the author understands how poets of centuries past understood the Song, which may in turn help us read the Song in new ways and comes to know the poets of late antiquity themselves a little better, receiving a glimpse not only into their minds, but into their world. Piyyutim predate the period of Byzantine oppression of the Jews, and the rise of piyyut coincides with both the rise of Christian hymnography and a boom in synagogue construction. The distillation of the Song of Songs into prayer enables potent alchemy: in a fundamental way, both speak the language of desire. Eros describes unfulfilled yearning, the tantalizing proximity to something deeply desired but unconsummated.

Keywords: Christian hymnography; Eros; piyyutim; prayer; Song of Songs; synagogue poetry

10.1163/9789004278592_002
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