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Ten Lovers in Four Landscapes: The Song of Songs as a Social Fresco of Hellenistic Palestine

The CEU Campus
Wednesday, November 23, 2016, 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm

The sequence of Hebrew verse dialogues titled "Solomon's Song of Songs," Shir ha-Shirim asher li-Shelomoh, is the central textual source of the Western discourse on divine love, a staple of Jewish liturgy, and the Old Testament book most commented upon in medieval Christian exegesis after the Psalms. Yet this short text has remained so enigmatic that critics disagree on its very nature: is it a theological allegory, an antique soap opera, or a hodgepodge of erotic folksongs? Undisputed among all interpreters, whether hermits or feminists, is only the assumption of a central heroine displaying an ideal norm of womanhood, an approach that obliges to explain away the cleavages between landscapes, professions, social classes, and human types in the text. Carsten Wilke's new interpretation starts, on the contrary, from the construction of spatial diversity. His reading reveals an artfully discontinuous cycle of courtly, urban, rural, and pastoral scenes with their specific inhabitants embodying distinct material, political, and erotic cultures. It will finally contextualize the Song by comparing it with the conventions of Greek love poetry from the third century BCE, with the ritual symbolism of the Dionysos cult promoted by King Ptolemy IV Philopator, and with the historical conditions of the Judaeans' encounter with their Egyptian, Greek, Aramaic, and Arab neighbors on the multiethnic borderland east of the Jordan.

Carsten Wilke (PhD Cologne, 1994) is associate professor at the CEU Departments of History and Medieval Studies and Director of the Center for Religious Studies. Among his most recent publications are The Marrakesh Dialogues: A Gospel Critique and Jewish Apology from the Spanish Renaissance (Leiden: Brill, 2014); Histoire des juifs portugais (2nd ed., Paris: Chandeigne, 2015); Modern Jewish Scholarship in Hungary: The "Science of Judaism" between East and West, co-edited with Tamás Turán (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016); and Farewell to Shulamit: Spatial and Social Diversity in the Song of Songs (Berlin: De Gruyter, forthcoming in 2017).