Figural Reading of Scripture

In an earlier post, I heartily recommended Paul Griffiths' new translation and commentary of The Song of Songs. Griffiths rejuvenates the venerable tradition, begun with Origen among Christian thinkers, of reading the Song not merely literally, but figurally, that is as celebrating God's passionate love for Israel/Church. But within this approach, the individual Christian is also addressed, as beloved member of Christ's body.In his introductory comments Griffiths states this forthrightly:

I write to you directly, in the second person, identifying what I tentatively take to be the import of the part of the Song under discussion for the ordering of your loves -- loves, that is, of yourself, of the Lord, of other people, and of the world and what is in it. Every scriptural text, just because it is a scriptural text, has something of profound importance to say to each of those who read it. You and I are therefore present in it as implicit interlocutors in a way that is not true of any other text. The text confronts us, you and me, demands something from us, and will reconfigure our thought and speech and appetite to the extent that our particular sins and their concomitant damage do not prevent it from doing so.The beloved's passion in the Song, her desire and her anguish at separation from her lover, will, if you let it, become yours, and in becoming yours, reform your loves -- not by replicating hers, but by conforming yours to hers (the difference is very important): the text wants that of you, solicits it from you, precisely because it is a scriptural text. A theological reading of the Song ought to take account of this essential presence of the reader in the text, and to the extent that I am capable of doing so, my theological reading does. This text wants to seduce you: it is, in part, my task to return its kiss in such a way as to make it easier for it to have you and for you to be had by it.

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.

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