Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Song of Songs Is Pro-Birth Control?

Ya know, evangelicals are busy trying to use the SS to legitimize their use of birth control too. They just usually erect a false dichotomy between the celebration of the sexual act in pleasure and the fact that such sexuality should have a procreative aspect to it.

David Carr, a liberal scholar, however attempts to make another argument here, and as you may have guessed, I think it's an incredibly bad one.

His entire argument? That the SS mentions substances that were sometimes used as contraception in the ancient world, and hence, it's in favor of using birth control in the sexual act. What are these substances? Honey, pomegranate, myrrh, and spikenard.

Now, it should be noted here that Carr doesn't seem to have a clue as to how words actually work. Apparently, since there is sex in the context and these substances were sometimes used for contraceptive purposes in other cultures, that's enough evidence for him to suggest that the SS is pro-birth control.

However, let me note something that I think he doesn't understand.

1. Words are nuanced by their context and the context here is about the sweetness of sex, not the prevention of birth. There is nothing here about the woman using them to prevent conception, but everything about the woman talking about how sweet the sexual relationship is.

2. The imagery of the garden in the ancient Near East, and especially in a sexual context, is employed for the purpose of conveying the fruitfulness of sex (i.e., that it produces life).

3. The mention of the fact that the woman seeks to make a household, displayed in imagery of the oak tree, is certainly a reference to her desire to have a family through the sexual union of her lover.

4. To the more spiritually inclined, the Song is an allegory between God and His Bride, Israel. It displays the passion with which God pursues His people and the passion that God's people should have in pursuing Him. Such a relationship creates life within us and beyond us. But, regardless, the book isn't really about birth control in sex, because it really isn't about sex either.

But let me pursue the idea that because these substances are mentioned that somehow means that they are being used as birth control here.

1. Almost anything was used and tried as a form of contraception. Interesting that a half a million substances and practices that would definitively be viewed as birth control  in the ancient Near East are not mentioned here.

2. If we view these substances in such a way as to see them, then we end up with the same ridiculous arguments you get from laymen when they don't understand that they cannot transfer one context to another foreign context. If, for instance, we employ this methodology of lexicography to honey, apparently Israel is the land of milk and birth control, John the Baptist ate locusts and birth control, and the adulteress's lips drip with birth control (especially the last one since it's in a sexual context). So what attracts the man to the adulteress is her use of birth control rather than the sweetness of her speech (as the context actually indicates explicitly).

If we employ it for pomegranates, then God had the image of birth control hemmed into the priestly ephod (apparently God really likes birth control so much that after multiplying His people to a massive number, He wants to praise birth control), Solomon also depicted them on the pillars of the temple, thus showing that birth control is what calls God's presence.

If we employ it for myrrh, then the wisemen were saying to Mary, "Hey, nice baby, but you should think about controlling your pregnancies from now on." It was used as incense in the temple, which of course means that the priests were administering birth control to God. It was a powerful perfume, and of course, would not be used as perfume in a context where the woman is trying to entice her lover in the Song. It has to be birth control here. It was also used in Egypt to embalm mummies, so if we employ Carr's methodology, we can surmise that she is actually trying to kill her lover and preserve him in her basement to cherish forever. She loves him that much. Creepy, but it must be the same here, as Egyptians used it for that, so why wouldn't it be the same here in a completely foreign context? Makes sense, right?

Spikenard, the last substance mentioned in the article, was also used for perfume. In fact, it was a very costly perfume. But that can't be the reason the Song brings it up. What would a woman wanting to entice her lover to bed need perfume for? It must be birth control. When the woman pours it on Jesus' feet, she's clearly trying to prevent his feet from producing children as well. The Romans used to anoint their heads with it, which of course means that the Romans thought children came from the heads of males and needed it to prevent childbirth.

In all seriousness, read the Song. All of these are in the context of other fruits and spices that are sweet to the taste and smell. They refer to the pleasure of the sexual act with one who is desired. Most of them are euphemisms for sex itself, not just the pleasure of the act. But to bring in such an idea of birth control is just irresponsible for any scholar to use his credentials to pass off this rubbish as genuine scholarship. Carr wants to argue against the context and against the creation principal that the ENTIRE Bible lays down as the basis for its sexual (and non-sexual) ethics; and he does so on what basis? Some substances that are more commonly used for enjoying eating and smelling, and metaphorically (and this is the ironic part) used to convey fertility. That's why it's the land that flows with milk and honey, why pomegranates adorn the priestly dress and sanctuary, and why costly perfumes are used as incense in the temple. God isn't telling the Israelites that they'll all be barren in the land and in His presence (which is the opposite of what He promises them in the law). Give me a break.

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