The Song of Songs
A Sophianic Interpretation
by Daniel Morse, ©2018
Hendrick van Valen y Jan Brueghel de Velours, Cibeles y las estaciones dentro de un feston de frutas (Museo del Prado)
Rise up, you girl companion of mine, my beautiful one, and come away. For, look! the rainy season itself has passed, the downpour itself is over, it has gone its way. Blossoms themselves have appeared in the land… – Song of Songs
Table of Contents
1) Sophia and the Song of Songs; An Introduction 2) Historicity of Song of Solomon 3) A Brief Introduction to The Gnostics 4) The Gnostic Creation Story 5) Song of Songs; an analysis using the gnostic lens 6) Key to the Who is Talking to Whom 7) Full text of the Song with commentary
[Note: On July 23, 2017, I presented a multi-media talk on the Song of Songs to a small group in Sebastopol, CA. The material for that presentation was first developed and published on this website a few years prior, but as I delved more into this subject to prepare for that presentation, the investigation expanded to include more historical background information to the Song as well as adding more illustrations. As a result, I have rewritten the earlier article for the article below to integrate some of the new material and slides which I hope will add more color and clarity to the topic. Please note that this article presents a very broad sweep of historical and religious analysis that is less intended to prove any historical link between this love song and the gnostic tradition as it is to whet the appetites of those who seek to dive deeper into the mysteries of this poem. And please note that this article is a work in progress.]
1) Sophia and The Song of Songs An Introduction
In this article, I am presenting an analysis of the Song of Songs using the theological lens of what we know generally as Gnostic. Over the past 2 decades of research, I have become familiar with how the gnostic scriptures presented a complex cosmology of angels, aeons, or dimensional realities, controlling lower gods, and the story of Christ’s rescue of Sophia. As a result, when looking into the Song of Songs, I became aware of how this gnostic model seemed to provide a structure that shed light on this complex poem, especially with regards to who was speaking to whom, from where and what were the dynamics of their interaction.
The Song of Songs
The Song of Songs (also called The Song of Solomon) stands out as an enticing and highly enigmatic book in the Old Testament. As a poem of love that is rich in metaphor, with aromas and scenes of the ancient Middle East, it stands apart from much of the Old Testament, which can be heavy with dense Jewish history and theology. I remember hearing Clarissa Pinkola Estes talk of her Catholic upbringing and how hard it was for her to study the Bible in school, except for when she opened the pages of the Song of Songs, to which the many areas of her mind and body became excited!
Expressions of endearment abound between lovers in this “superlative” composition that is considered one of the greatest love songs ever written. There has been a long history of interpretations as to what this often confusing verse means, ranging from a literal expression between God’s love and his people, to the People of Israel’s marriage with YHWH, to a symbol of Christ’s marriage to the Church (footnote 1). Unpacking this poem has been the task of many theologians through the last two millennia, and still, the poem is mystifying, not only in its content, but with how it fits in with the rest of the Old Testament canon.
The Song of Solomon (the Song) is considered to be one of the seven sapiential or Wisdom books (sapientia is Latin for wisdom) of the Old Testament, which includes Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Book of Wisdom, and Sirach. Indeed, one main female character identified in the verse as “The Woman of Zion” (footnote 1.5), bears a resemblance to the figure of Wisdom personified in these sapiential books. Though the term “wisdom” is typically equated with attributes or qualities associated with knowledge and insight, Wisdom is also described as a personified female character who has been present from the beginning of creation. “The Lord created me the first of his works, before all else that he made.” (Proverbs 8:22) However, aside from the many vague and fleeting references to this Wisdom figure (footnote 2) little seems to be identified within the Old Testament about who “she” was and what her role in creation actually was. It was not until the emergence of the schools and literature associated with the gnostic tradition, that much more detail was presented about who this figure Wisdom was.
It has been my familiarity with the model of creation cosmology as presented in numerous gnostic texts that alerted me to the possibility that the structure of the Song of Songs follows a similar template of creation story that is fairly specific and unique to the gnostic system. It is the task of this article to present both this gnostic creation mythos and how it dovetails with the Song to give more clarity to the poem’s enigmatic themes. Using the gnostic creation model to help understand the Song helps not only in organizing the sometimes disjointed sections of this poem into a complex interplay between mortal and divine relationships, but it also offers insights into themes that go beyond the more traditional Jewish and orthodox Christian interpretations.
The poem transits between two realms of a fallen and trapped feminine archetype who is linked with a higher Woman of Zion figure. As well, the mortal and flawed King Solomon is connected with a supernal divine masculine figure. There is then the relationship between the more sacred masculine with the entrapped feminine, as well as between the higher Woman of Zion with the man who is also bound in a more dense, egotistical state. It is the dynamics that occur between these various aspects of Self, in the Jungian sense of the term, that peer through the lattice of higher and lower dimensions, thereby urging one’s entrapped personhood onward towards its more exalted nature.
Indeed, what seems most important in this complex love poem is its impact on us, the reader, where it might help to break open the scents, the feel, and indeed, the great beauty of who we really are.
The new material added for this updated article includes material on the question of dating the Song’s origin. As I delved deeper into the historical background of the Song, I stumbled on the possibility that this Old Testament book may indeed be a relic from a first-century proto-gnostic theology that parallels a very similar love song from The Acts of Thomas that G.R.S. Meade titles The Wedding Song of Wisdom.(As Gnosticism proper really took form in second century AD, scholars point to influences in first century that were likely influential in the formation of the gnostic systems, hence called “proto-gnostic”.) Though of course, this lies quite outside the norm of Biblical scholarship, this is historically conceivable as the Song of Songs did not officially enter the Old Testament canon definitively until the second century AD (Loprieno, 2005, p. 107).
After delving into this historical context, I will present a brief overview of the Gnostic tradition and the prevalent creation cosmology that is found in the pages of its earliest texts from the first few centuries AD. I will also assess the basic meaning of this canticle with the help of a gnostic creation story model and then review the entire Song of Songs with periodic commentary to help clarify its meaning, of who is talking, to whom, about what.
2) Historicity of The Song of Solomon
The Song is unusual in the Hebrew Bible as it breaks from the tradition of the historical, theological, and prophetic tone of much of the books of the Old Testament. The Song places no focus on the Law or Covenant, nor on Yahweh the God of Israel however, the Song is known as one of the most notable of all sacred Jewish literature. And yet, this Song of Solomon also has many parallels to early gnostic and Christian songs associated with Solomon, such as the Odes of Solomon. That both the Song has been definitively associated with the Old Testament Hebrew Bible has guarded it against, it seems, associations with later more gnostic or Christian Solomon texts despite them being quite similar in tone as I will discuss below.
So where did the Song come from and when was it composed?
It is quite common to attribute the Song to the pen of Solomon himself, written nearly 3000 years ago. Consensus amongst scholars however suggest that this was unlikely to have been authored at least prior to the Jewish exile period of Babylonian influence and that it was composed possibly in the more recent centuries BC. from that period of the exile.
Fragments of the Song are found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and it has been suggested that these appear to have been written in the early Herodian period (late first century BC, early first century AD). Dating of the earliest compilations of what is known as the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh, Old Testament) has been inconclusive, ranging from the 2nd century BC during the Hasmonean empire, to the first century AD. However, there appears to be no clear consensus as to which century it ultimately entered into the Hebrew canon.
The Song of Songs is not mentioned by Josephus nor the Alexandrian Jew, Philo (c. 20 BCE – c. 50 CE) who stepped outside of traditional Rabbinic Judaism with its rigid adherence to Oral Law, by finding greater meaning in the Old Testament using philosophical allegory. Philo was aware of the Old Testament book, the Wisdom of Solomon that was composed in Alexandria Egypt in possibly as late as first century AD that some scholars believe sought to “bolster the faith of some Jewish communities in a hostile Greek world.” It was from his exposure to this Wisdom literature that influenced his work to introduce the concept of “Logos” into the theological discourse of his day, Logos referring to the angelic or divine form of the Lord. It is noteworthy, given that The Song of Songs is arguably the most allegorical book in the Hebrew Bible, that if it had been apart of the Old Testament canon at that time, Philo would have certainly provided commentary on it. That Philo didn’t mention it might suggest that it emerged sometime after 50 AD.
The Odes of Solomon were composed most likely sometime during the first three centuries AD by a proto-orthodox Christian or proto-gnostic group, possibly associated with the Thomas-linked early Syriac Christian communities. These Odes have much in common with the Song, though perhaps were composed later and hence, were more “Christianized.” It is not a stretch to imagine that the Song of Songs was historically in proximity with both the Wisdom and the Odes of Solomon. Indeed, there is a notable track record of disputes concerning the sacredness of the Song of Songs within the Jewish priesthood in the late first and early second centuries AD and it did not definitively become part of the Old Testament until this period.
The esteemed Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph, who was a prominent Jewish scholar in the first and second century AD and contributor to the famed Mishna, affirmed great praises for this most “sacred” Song. After reviewing the opinions of rabbis who disputed or affirmed the sacredness of the Song of Songs as he sought to consolidate a new definitive version of the Hebrew Bible, Rabbi Akiba exclaimed: “Heaven forbid. No man in Israel ever contended regarding the Song of Songs … for the whole world is not worth the day when the Song of Songs was given to Israel … for the Song of Songs is the most sacred of all of [the Writings]” (Mishnah, Yahayim 3:5). It is this quote that records the first definitive record of the existence of the Song of Songs in 90AD.
As one rabbinical text puts it, “… [The] Song of Songs [was] ‘hidden’ until the men of the Great Assembly declared [it] to be written in the ‘holy spirit’” (Avot R. Nathan 1:4).
This is not to say that it couldn’t have existed prior to the first century AD. However, it is due in part to the uncertainty of the dating combined with how closely it resembles the Wisdom (gnostic) literature of first century AD that inspires further inquiry about the possibility that gnostic sources had in it’s composition.
(Note; I am well aware of the enormous complexity surrounding the challenge of dating the Song of Songs and the above review is meant to propose further research on this matter, and I invite any feedback to this thesis, particularly if there is indeed a specific textual confirmation of an earlier dating of this text.)
The Wedding Song of Wisdom
Though the Song has tones of ancient Mediterranean and Egyptian love poetry, and the Hebrew language style has been identified as being anywhere between the 10th to the 2nd century BCE, still, there is mystery that surrounds the context of it’s composition. I have found a very similar Song to Sophia that was likely composed, possibly, mid 1st century AD. This is called the Wedding Song of Wisdom, which is buried within the pages of the Acts of Thomas. I did not stumble onto this incredible Ode to Sophia, as G. R. S. Meade has called it, until relatively recently, so hidden was it within the more obscure gnostic scriptures, and not found in the Nag Hammadi library. Thomas is believed to have authored the famed Gospel of Thomas in a trade route city called Edessa, which was located outside of the control of the Roman authorities, where the roots of this new Christianity found more fertile ground than in the chaos of Roman and Jewish Palestine. It is also here where the earliest Syriac and even Greek versions of the Acts of Thomas may have been composed, though scholars tend to place the more conservative date of origin to a couple of centuries later.
Thomas was one disciple who had arguably some of the greatest impacts on the spread of this early Christianity from Syria to India. Indeed there is a very strange story recounted in the Acts of Thomas where Jesus attempts to persuade Thomas to bring the gospel to India but Thomas refuses. So Jesus tricks a visiting merchant from a royal court in India into thinking that Thomas was a slave, and then, Jesus, pretending to be Thomas’ master, actually sells off Thomas as a slave to this merchant! Thomas is forcibly taken aboard the ship where he ends up in a very foreign land of the Indians. There he is at a banquet for a wedding of the King’s daughter, where, exploding in frustration at the foreign food as well as the spiritual naiveté of these people, he breaks out in song, causing a hushed silence to fall over the entire assembly. It is only a Jewish slave girl, who plays the flute to entertain the guests, who listen in awe at this profound newcomer, she being the only one who understands the Hebrew that is being sung. One can only imagine this immense practitioner of the great gnostic way, singing out his love for the “daughter of Light” amidst a royal crowd who had no idea who he really was nor of the historical magnitude of what he was singing.
Though of course it is impossible to tell if any of this actually happened, there is much lore in Southern India regarding the idea that Thomas did bring a form of early Christian worship to the southwest coast of India. This lore would suggest that beginning in at least the mid-first century AD, St. Thomas left behind numerous relics of what is known as the Thomas Cross that were discovered in many of these Syrian Indian churches up and down the southern coast by the first European explorers to arrive there from Portugal over 1300 years later.
Thomas Cross of the Nasrani or St. Thomas Christians of India. This cross does not seem to represent a crucifixion motif but rather, possibly, a map of how the Holy Spirit enters into lower dimensional realities to activate the “fruit” or divine spark within matter.
The Wedding Song of Wisdom or Ode to Sophia
from The Acts of Thomas (From the Greek, likely the earliest version)
The Maiden is Light’s Daughter; On her the Kings’ Radiance resteth. Stately her Look and delightsome. With radiant beauty forth-shining. Like unto spring-flowers are her Garments, From them streameth scent of sweet odour. On the Crown of her Head the King throneth, [With Living Food] feeding those ‘neath Him. Truth on her Head doth repose, She sendeth forth Joy from her Feet. Her Mouth is opened, and meetly ; Two-and-thirty are they who sing praises. * * * * Her Tongue is like the Door-hanging Set in motion by those who enter. Step-wise her Neck riseth — a Stairway The first of all Builders hath builded. The Two Palms of her Hands Suggest the Choir of the Mons. Her Fingers are secretly setting The Gates of the City ajar. Her Bridechamber shineth with Light, Forth-pouring scent of balsam and sweet- herbs, Exhaling the sweet perfume both of myrrh and savoury plants, And crowds of scented flowers. Inside ’tis strewn with myrtle-boughs; Its Folding-doors are beautified with reeds. Her Bridesmen are grouped round her, Seven in number, whom she hath invited. Her Bridesmaids, too, are Seven, Who lead the Dance before her. And Twelve are her Servants before her. Their gaze looking out for the Bridegroom; That at His sight they may be filled with Light. And then for ever more shall they be with Him In that eternal everlasting Joy; And share in that eternal Wedding-feast, At which the Great Ones assemble; And so abide in that Delight Of which the Ever-living are deemed worthy. With Kingly Clothes shall they be clad, And put on Robes of Light. We both shall be in Joy and Exaltation and praise the Father of the Wholes, Whose Light magnificent they have received. For at their Master’s sight they were now filled with Light; They tasted of His Living Food That hath no waste at all, And drank of that [eternal] Wine That causes thirst and longing never more. [So] with the Living Spirit they sang praise and hymn Unto Truth’s Father and to Wisdom’s Mother
Indeed, this Wedding song uses much of the same imagery of beauty, taste, and scent as does the Song though it is clearly related to themes of Sophia as she is rendered in various Gnostic texts, especially the lengthy and obscure Pistis Sophia. Like the Song, it appears to be oriented around the allegory of a sacred or divine marriage. This poem suggests that there was a tradition of sumptuous love poetry that expressed the essential themes of adoration of divine embodiment including putting on the Robe of Glory, Entering the Bridal Chamber, The Crowning of the Divine Feminine figure, the idea of the Ineffable source, the Simonian model of the Great Power that sprouts a two-fold Father of Truth and Mother of Wisdom, as well as references to other “Aeons” within the Pleromic system, all of which are themes found in gnostic scriptures. There is also another gem embedded in the Acts of Thomas, called the Hymn of the Pearl, which has a similar theme of union with the divine as in the Wedding Song, though using a different metaphor of a prince who goes into a foreign land to retrieve the lost pearl.
In looking at the dynamics of this proto-Gnostic group associated with St. Thomas and also the Gnostic Paul, we know that there was an intense interplay between the more Jewish orthodox reform movement associated with James and the more liberalizing and mystical approach of this gnostic system (associated with the more gnostic Thomas as well as Paul) that was offensive to James’ Jerusalem Counsel for its lax adherence to The Jewish Law (see Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus.) By keeping in mind the religious tension that was occurring in the first century AD between this Jewish reform movement associate with James and the emergence of a unique and novel religious system associated with the gnostic movement, can help shed some contextual light on the formation of some of these songs.
Based on how this Song is different from the Wedding Song of Thomas, I speculate that this Song of Solomon may have originated from some association with this group of proto-gnostic authors associated with Thomas. This group may have been attempting to find a less offensive bridge between their new novel system of gnosis with the host system of the first century (Jamesian) Judaism (see Eisenman). Or, perhaps, the authorship was working with both a deep allegiance to traditional Judaism but was also courting the broader cosmology of an emerging novel gnostic system, though of course, the historical context and intent behind the construction of this poem will never be fully known. Included in the Song, but not in Thomas’ Wedding Song, are Solomon and The Shulamite woman, who are distinctly Jewish Wisdom heroes. Including them, if indeed the Song is a variant of the Wedding Song of Wisdom, could have brought into the elusive identities in the Song, beloved and familiar Jewish characters to help soften the introduction of this odd gnostic cosmology by an otherwise guarded Jewish community. Or, by bringing in Solomon and the Shulamite, this was designed to help shield the authors from the disdain directed at them by the more traditional Jewish groups. This, of course, is all pure speculation, however.
It is worth noting that the theological system associated with the Song of Songs, as with the gnostic system in general, is neither specifically Jewish nor Christian, but rather holds a unique cosmological and theological system whose brief heyday may well have been authored during the earliest days of the formation of Gnosticism. Ironically, if this Song was intended to help provide a bridge with the more traditional Jewish adherents, it also became widely accepted and celebrated by adherents to the post gnostic system of orthodox Christianity. If this holds any truth, it would be ironic as the vast majority of gnostic texts met a far different fate than the celebrated Song.
(Also, we might consider the use of a double word as a certain expression that identifies the ultimate version of something. For example, in the Pistis Sophia, there is the term “Light of lights” which is to say that this Logos figure is an ultimate Light Being of light beings. Mary Magdalene was called the Apostle of the Apostles, which some misinterpret to mean that she was the one who was the apostle TO the group of apostles after the crucifixion, however, it may be more accurately interpreted as her being the ULTIMATE apostle. In this way, the use of the term Song of Songs is to say that this is an ultimate song, a Song of all songs.)
So who were the gnostics anyway?
3) A Brief Introduction to The Gnostics
It was not until the advent of a new dispensation of wisdom literature, known as “gnostic” in the first few centuries AD, that there appeared a vast new library of creation stories, depth theology, and psycho-spirituality associated with a wisdom figure, referred to in the Greek, as Sophia. The Gnostics, particularly the Syrian Egyptian gnostics, presented a complex cosmology of an original Unknowable, Ineffable Godhead, from which arose a great Emanation. It is this Emanation, a burst of creation-filling Light that is equated with Wisdom, a higher form of Sophia, known in Christian traditions as The Holy Spirit.
There has been considerable debate regarding where these sects sprung from and there are two common theories that describe how they came out of a Hellenist (Alexandrian) context, or that they were a bastardization of a more pure Christianity, to which the gnostics were considered “heretics”. There is so much misinformation and confusion about what was happening in the first century AD, the time period where it is likely that this gnostic, Jewish reform, and early Christian movement began. Thomas was a key figure whose literature provides valuable insight into this early movement, for example, and we see how the figure Thomas was reduced from a primary figure in the dissemination of early Christianity to one of the more lowly New Testament disciples known as Doubting Thomas with no mention of who he really was. Simon Magus was considered the father of Gnosticism and the founder of the first gnostic sect known as the Simonians as written about by the early “heresiologist” writers such as Irenaeus and there is so much derogatory literature composed to denounce this enigmatic figure, it is very hard to get a sense of who this man really was. It is this first century AD period that pre-dates formal Gnosticism of Valentinus and Basilides, which is considered “proto-gnostic”.
“Gnosis” was a word in the ancient Greek language that was defined as having direct mystical contact with the divine, or at least being personally acquainted with this territory. Hence, they believed if one were acquainted or familiar with the divine realms, then one would be on the right path to returning to god.
Wisdom traditions are ancient teachings which spring from many mystical sources such as Egyptian Hermeticism, the Jewish Apocrypha, and Greek philosophy. The term “Gnosticism” refers to a wisdom or philosophical religious tradition which sprang up in the Middle East and spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond during the first three centuries after Christ. The term “gnostics” (gnostikoi in Greek) was a name generally associated with a variety of ancient Christian sects that thrived mostly between the 2nd to 4th centuries AD though the term can be found going as far back as the time of Plato.
According to Bentley Layton in The Gnostic Scriptures, these gnostic schools shared four features that made them uniquely gnostic and not specifically Christian. 1) A complex and distinctive myth of origins, 2) a strong sense of group identity, 3) the use of special jargon or in-group language and 4) the practice of a specific ritual of baptism. It is this “myth of origins” that I am mostly drawing from in this article to help chart the multiple levels and personalities found with the Song.
An age-old argument has persisted for centuries about whether the gnostic system was unique unto itself or if it was a later variation and hence “heresy” of the Christian system that emerged victorious as the established religion of the Roman Empire. Some scholarship has suggested that the earlier gnostic texts were more original, quite specific, and novel, and can easily be seen as being distinct from the later Roman orthodox Christian system. We find in the Nag Hammadi library a number of the texts who were later second, third and fourth centuries AD that incorporated more “Christian” themes, and eventually, the gnostic system completely collapsed under the uncompromising strong arm of Roman orthodoxy.
Regarding the writings of the gnostics, for much of the last 1700 years, we have only known of this unique religious movement from Christian writings that sought to discredit them, labeling them as “heresies” and eventually illegal under Roman church rule. In the late 18th century, some rare texts were discovered that included the Gospel of Mary and the extensive, Books of Jeu, and the Pistis Sophia. In 1945, a massive stash of gnostic books from the 4th century was discovered and finally published in 1979 in English as the Nag Hammadi Library. These documents that escaped the Roman heresy hunters have caused much embarrassment to traditional Christianity and yet, they are an extremely valuable window into the dynamics of early Christian formation.
Note that the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered around the same time as the Nag Hammadi find and there is often confusion regarding the difference between the two. These Jewish scrolls, according to scholar Robert Eisenman, were a valuable stash of first and second century AD books associated with the Jamesian or Jewish zealot and messianic movement to reclaim the Nation of Israel in the first century AD that led to the Jewish wars and the sack of Jerusalem in 70 AD by Rome. Hence they are of a completely different lineage than the gnostic Nag Hammadi library.
Let us investigate the basic framework of the gnostic creation story.
4) The Gnostic Creation Story
In many of the gnostic texts, the Savior Jesus describes a sometimes complex but nevertheless distinct pattern of creation motifs. What follows is a basic overview of the various parts of this gnostic creation model which also parallels some Kabbalistic and Greek ideas.
Aspects of The Gnostic Creation Story
a) The Ineffable, Ain Soph, Monad, Divine Mind b) The Great Emanation, Holy Spirit, Higher Sophia c) The Ancient of Days, “Father”, IEOU d) Logos, Word, Light of lights, Anthropos, Primal Androgenous Man, Christ, Adam Kadmon, The Standing One e) Younger Sophia f) The Archons and the “Fall” of Sophia g) The Rescue of Sophia h) Tikkun; The Restoration of the Divine Forms of Light from entrapment in materiality. The Bridal Chamber.
a) The Ineffable, Ain Soph
Many of the gnostic texts often begin with focusing praise on something called the “Ineffable”, which equates to the Kabbalist term, Ain Soph, as well as the Greek concept of the Monad, as the pre-existing Source prior to it’s emanation into new realm of existence.
“Not only is he (though really “he” is beyond gender) the one called “without a beginning” and “without an end,” because he is unbegotten and immortal; but just as he has no beginning and no end as he is, he is unattainable in his greatness, inscrutable in his wisdom, incomprehensible in his power, and unfathomable in his sweetness. Nothing from the All exists before It.” – Tripartitie Tractate, Nag Hammadi Library
Vast is this original Source, that it is “incomprehensible” and “unknowable” and some of the texts begin with lengthy prayers of praise for this Ineffable godhead.
Model of the Christian conception of the Trinity that is not much different from the gnostic model.
The Monad [is a] monarchy with nothing above it. [It is he who exists] as [God] and Father of everything, [the invisible] One who is above [everything who exists as] incorruption, which is [in the] pure light into which no [eye] can look. He [is the] invisible [Spirit] of whom it is not right [to think] of him as a god, or something similar. For he is more than a god, since there is nothing above him, for no one Lords it over him.
– The Apocryphon of John, Nag Hammadi Library
(This description and praise goes on for four lengthy paragraphs and is the initial teaching of this “secret” book as told to John by the ascended Jesus. This Apochraphon of John is found three times in the Nag Hammadi Library, suggesting that it was one of the most popular books of these gnostics sects at that time ~ mid 4th century AD.)
from The Books of JEU and The Untitled Text in the Bruce Codex by Carl Schmidt, (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1978)
Above is an extremely rare image from the obscure gnostic First Book of IEOU, of this God/Source prior to the emanation. It is the three lines within this open formation that, as we learn from the text, is ultimately “sung” from this Ineffable source, during the initial emanation. This would equate to the central figure of an original “God” found in the classical Christian trinity illustration above and the threefold form that emerges from an original source point.
from The Books of JEU and The Untitled Text in the Bruce Codex by Carl Schmidt, (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1978)
This image, also taken from the First Book of IEOU, illustrates once again the condition of this Ineffable just prior to the emanation. In the very early gnostic Simonian model, this is known as the Boundless or Great “Power”.
“Of the universal Aeons there are two shoots, without beginning or end, springing from one Root, which is the Power invisible, inapprehensible Silence.” – Hippolytus quoting Simon Magus in Apotheosis Magele.
The Kabbalah’s concept of Tzimtzum seems to equate to how, at the point of emanation, the Divine supernal consciousness Mind of the Monad receded, as its threefold divine beingness emanated into this realm of existence.
This Ineffable-Ain Soph Divine Mind part of original creation is viewed as the central place in the more familiar Christian model of the Trinity shown above. It is interesting to note that there are only a few scant references to the Trinity in the New Testament (and none in the Old Testament) but there are exhaustive descriptions of this, presented by Jesus himself, in many of the gnostic texts where he himself claims to have come from the trinitized emanation level of creation, which he calls in the Pistis Sophia, the “First Mystery”.
As will be described further below, here is a model of the gnostic Trinity of Father, Holy Spirit, and Logos, yet which also includes a fourth, the Younger or “lower” Sophia, who presents one of the most significant themes of the whole gnostic creation cosmology, which in effect brings balance to the two levels of the divine masculine and the divine feminine. (The Ineffable as source is not depicted in this illustration below). It is this configuration of divine masculine and feminine, I believe, that provides the model to best understand the Song from a gnostic cosmological point of view.
This configuration is described in this common Christian theme of the Coronation or Assumption of the Virgin.
Coronation of the Virgin by Valasquez, 1644.
Indeed, it is this uplifting of the fourth aspect of the Younger Sophia, who according to both the gnostic texts and the Song of Songs, has been caught in the snare of the “watchmen”. This theme is perhaps the most significant with regards to the process of human spiritual evolution which has been so difficult to identify through the gnostic tradition may offer some valuable insight.
Jung notes that the Assumption of Mary, which was finally recognized by the Catholic Church in 1950, constituted one of the greatest theological developments in our time, as he was also aware of how there was an impending change occurring in humanity, prompting Jung to write in a letter to Freud that this could only be described with the “gnostic concept of [Sophia].”
b) The Great Emanation, Holy Spirit, Higher Sophia, Ennoia
There is a profound and somewhat unique theological and cosmological expression that has a divine feminine quality and holds a central focus of praise in the gnostic system as The Emanation, also called Pronnoia or Thought, which explodes out from the Divine Mind of the Monad.
The explosion of Holy Light from “the Deep” (Valentinian) constitutes one of the great expressions of revelation and praise within the gnostic texts. Lengthy passages such as in the (Sethian) Gospel of the Egyptians include songs of praises to this Divine Mother which pervades all things in the universe. This is associated with the Higher aspect of a two-fold nature of Sophia, sometimes called Barbelo, and is known as the Holy Spirit in the Christian system.
The second ogdoad-power, the Mother, the virginal Barbelon,
who presides over the heaven, the uninterpretable power, the ineffable Mother.
She originated from herself; she came forth;
she agreed with the Father of the silent silence. – Gospel of the Egyptians, Nag Hammadi library
Rose Window, Notre Dame of Paris
I am first thought, the thought that is in light. I am movement that is in all, she in whom the realm of all takes its stand, the firstborn among those who came into being, she who exists before all. She is called by three names, although she exists alone, since she is perfect. I am invisible within the thought of the invisible one. I am revealed in the immeasurable, ineffable things. I am intangible, dwelling in the intangible. I move in every creature. – Trimorphic Protennoia, Nag Hammadi Library
The Books of JEU and The Untitled Text in the Bruce Codex by Carl Schmidt, (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1978)
The above gnostic image from the Book of IEOU represents the Source God figure upon the emanation which parallels the Kabbalah image of the same expression as seen in this image below.
The Emanated Worlds of Ain Soph Ohr, from Sefir Yetsiroth
It is interesting to note that the modern astro-cosmology concept of Inflation refers to how in 10 to-the-negative 36 seconds, there is an initial big bang where the entire explosion resulted in a uniform distribution of background cosmic radiation that otherwise should have been distributed unevenly from the source of the blast. This theory corresponds metaphysically, perhaps, to this gnostic model of the pervasive presence of the supernal Light (Holy Spirit) that is equally distributed within all substance of reality at the time of the great Emanation.
c) Ancient of Days, “The Father”, IEOU
From this original Monad, there comes a masculine aspect of this original Monad, which is often confused with this original Ineffable source, as God the Father. But there is an important differentiation here, where this masculine aspect differs from the original Ain Soph, and is sometimes associated with what is called the Ancient of Days, and also IEOU, which I sometimes understand to be the masculine Face of God.
Ancient of Days, by William Blake
William Blake, who was familiar with some of the early Christian mystery traditions, drew this image of The Ancient of Days, who could be likened to the Face of God in that it is not completely unfathomable, and which is often confused with the Ineffable.
…the Father whose name cannot be uttered, he who came forth from the heights of the perfection, the light of the aeons of light, the light of the silence of the providence <and> the Father of the silence… – Gospel of the Egyptians, Nag Hammadi Library
There is a very subtle theme that can be found in the relationship between this original masculine, Face of God and the feminine emanation (Higher Sophia), where there is a form of love relationship between the two, with the feminine Thought “seeing” this masculine God and at that point naming him the “Father” as is referred to by the one who is considered to be the originator of the Gnostic tradition, Simon Magus.
“He [the Boundless] was one; having her in Himself, He was alone. Yet was He not ‘first,’ though ‘pre-existing,’ for it was only when He was manifested to Himself from Himself that there was a ‘second.’ Nor was He called Father before [Thought] called Him Father. Simon Magus, Apophasis Megale or Great Revelation
d) Logos, Word, Light of Lights, Nous (Greek), Anthropos, Primal Androgenous Man, Christ, Adam Kadmon, The Standing One
There are references in these texts to how it was this “Father” Mind and Mother Emanation who created offspring.
And he (the Father) looked at Barblo with the pure light which surrounds the invisible Spirit and (with) his spark, and she conceived from him. He begot a spark of light with a light resembling blessedness. But it does not equal his greatness. This was an only-begotten child of the Mother-Father which had come forth; it is the only offspring, the only-begotten one of the Father, the pure Light. – Apocryphon of John, Nag Hammadi Library. (Note: the emphasis on Father as birther might be conditioned by the patriarchal context of those times.)
This is the Logos, which is associated with the higher divine form of the one known as Jesus Christ. In the Secret Book of John, he is called the Autogene, or Original Man. This also equates to the Adam Kadmon, (Primal Man) concept within Kabbalah, and the Greek, Anthropos, or blueprint of the divine human form.
“In the beginning, he (Forefather) decided to have his likeness become a GREAT POWER. Immediately the principle (or beginning) of that Light appeared as Immortal Androgynous Man.” – Eugnostos the Blessed. Nag Hammadi Library
Within the Song of Songs, the main multi-leveled dynamic is occurring between this Light of Lights figure and his lower mortal form, King Solomon, as well as with the Higher Sophia known as the Woman of Zion and the Younger Sophia, the Shulamite woman. The higher masculine divinity beckons the Shulamite woman towards him. “Come, my beloved, let us go into the fields.”
In the Pistis Sophia, this Younger or lower Sophia, calls on her masculine divine counterpart to rescue her from the “Ruler” and calls him the “Light of lights”. It is this term that I have found to be a very suitable name for this Logos/Anthropos/Adam Kadmon figure.
And Pistis Sophia cried out most exceedingly, she cried to the Light of lights which she had seen from the beginning… – Pistis Sophia
“I radiated forth in this small idea as one originating from my Father. I bubbled up and I flowed forth from it. I radiated forth from it. It emanated me forth and I was the first emanation from within it. And I was its whole likeness and its image. As it emanated me forth I stood in its presence.” – First Book of IEOU
e) Younger Sophia, Pistis Sophia, Shekinah
In the often complex creation stories of the Gnostics texts, this original Woman of Light (parallel to the Jewish Ruach Ha Kodesh or the Christian Holy Spirit) had a younger counterpart known as Pistis Sophia, sometimes called Achemoth, or simply, Sophia. That these higher and lower Wisdom figures are just two aspects of the same figure, is important to keep in mind as we proceed and it is this twofold nature of the Wisdom figure that brings confusion to both Gnostic creation story and textual interpretations of the Song.
There is also a strong correlation between the Gnostic Sophia and the feminine figure of Shekinah from the Kabbalah of the 13th century. According to the esteemed scholar Gershom Scholem, the concept of Shekinah has both a higher and lower aspect. The higher Shekinah, associated with either Understanding or Wisdom (Binah or Hokhmah) and the lowest Sephiroth, Malkuth, represents a specifically feminine “indwelling presence” within the “lower” material world.
The Shekhinah is below as it is above. And what is this Shekhinah? Let us say that it is the light that has emanated from the Primal Light which is Hokhmah. And this [i.e., the emanated light] likewise surrounds everything, as is written, “the whole earth is filled with His glory” [Isa. 6.3] – Quoted in Scholem, On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead, 1997 p. 173
This theme is also found extensively within the Sophia cosmology of the gnostic texts.
“And I hid myself in everyone and revealed myself within them, and every mind seeking me longed for me, for it is I who gave shape to the All when it had no form. And I transformed their forms into (other) forms, until the time when a form will be given to the All. It is through me that the Voice originated, and it is I who put the breath within my own. And I cast into them the eternally Holy Spirit, and I ascended and entered my Light.” – Trimorphic Protennoia, Nag Hammadi Library.
According to Nag Hammadi books like The Secret Book of John and others, this younger Sophia undergoes a distinct drama where she seeks to unite with the Unknowable Source God. Her pursuit is stopped (by something called The Limit) and she falls from heaven in pursuit of a false light which is a luring guise of a lower God figure known as an Archon or Demiurge who then steals Sophia’s divine light essence and trapping her, essentially into a more dense “lower” reality. In some of the gnostic texts, especially the Pistis Sophia, there are long sections devoted to Sophia’s plight of being lost and trapped in the lower world where she pleads with her rescuing lover to save her from her agony. This is a prominent theme in the Song of Songs.
The idea that this Logos Christ figure had a female counterpart, known as Sophia, and that there is a broad theme within the gnostic creation story involving the separation and reunion of these two figures, associated with the Bridal Chamber theme.
Immediately, the principle (or beginning) of that Light appeared as Immortal Androgynous Man. His male name is ‘Begotten, Perfect Mind’. And his female name is ‘All-wise Begettress Sophia’. It is also said that she resembles her brother and her consort. – Eugnostos the Blessed, Nag Hammadi Library
f) The Archons and the “Fall” of Sophia
The concept of Archons, associated with the “watchmen” in the Song, is noted in numerous gnostic codices, from The Apocryphon of John to the Pistis Sophia to The Hypostasis (Reality) of the Archons. The Archons are quite difficult to grasp and hence overlooked by scholars such as Elaine Pagels who avoided the subject entirely in her seminal book The Gnostic Gospels. But they figure prominently in the creation story of Sophia, where the lead archon, the Demiurge called Yaldabaoth, the lion-headed serpent, captured the Light of Sophia and bound her within the realms of matter.
The Hypostasis (Reality) of the Archons (Nag Hammadi Library) describes an Archon as “an arrogant beast resembling a lion,” but this creature is also described (the Apocryphon of John) as “a serpentine body (drakon) with a lion-like face.“ – John Lash Lamb
In various gnostic texts, there are descriptions of how this younger Sophia left her station within the Pleroma in her quest to come into union with The Ineffable, Ain Soph Ohr. Rather she hit a “limit” whereupon she “fell” outside of the Pleroma and became trapped by the lead archon, known as the Demiurge, Yaldabaoth.
“A black girl I am (fallen into density) but comely, O you daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, [yet] like the tent cloths of Solomon. Do not you look at me because I am swarthy, because the sun has caught sight of me (having been scorched by the sun of the lower world, within the mortal mimic of the heavenly world). The sons of my own mother (referring to the other Aeons, her “brothers and sisters” of the Pleroma whom Sophia abandoned footnote 6) they grew angry with me; they appointed me the keeper of the vineyards (her corner of the Pleroma), [although] my vineyard, one that was mine, I did not keep. – Song of Songs
This theme of Sophia’s abandonment of her station in the Pleroma is distinctly gnostic and I am not aware of it in other mythos, and it is the clear reference to this theme in the Song that provides a significant tie-in with this first-century body of proto-gnostic literature. The later New Testament parable of the prodigal son may be a variation of this theme, with the older brothers being resentful of the prodigal younger son.
…all the rulers in the twelve aeons, who are below, hated her, because she had ceased from [her] mysteries, and because she had desired to go into the height and be above them all. For this cause then they were enraged against her and hated her. – Pistis Sophia
There are questions about whether Sophia coming to this quadrant of the universe outside of the Heavenly Realm (Pleroma) may have been a purposeful move, rather than a result of folly. Either way, the theme of entrapment by lower “creator gods”, and “rulers of the principalities”, is a very specific phase of this gnostic creation story.
The following quote in the slide below is of what I have found to be this lower Shulamite figure in the Song telling the Daughters of Jerusalem of her plight (as will be explained below).
The large sculpture known as Synagoga (below), is a towering statue on the West side of Notre Dame of Paris across the main portal her counterpart “Ecclesia” who represents in the Christian framework the triumph of Christianity over the “limitations” of Judaism (Syngoga). She may be a coded reference to this Sophia motif of her being bound by the serpentine deity. This is another line of inquiry into the possible 12th-century influence by Templar scroll discoveries from their treasure-hunting under the Temple Mount in Jerusalem just prior to the building of the early French gothic cathedrals. (See Chartres and The Pistis Sophia.)
…[it was] a lion-faced ruler in the chaos, of which one half is fire and the other darkness, –that is Yaldabaoth, of whom I have spoken unto you many times. When then this befell, Sophia became very greatly exhausted, and that lion-faced light-power set to work to take away from Sophia all her light-powers… – Pistis Sophia
This photograph is from a Japanese photographer
who captured this haunting image of a Haitian woman in a mental hospital.
That this figure Jesus, in numerous Gnostic texts, speaks about how the demiurge Yaldabaoth and the “creator gods”, are referenced as the primary reason for the need for his intervention, such as in the “rescue” of Sophia, suggests the importance of this highly enigmatic theme.
I have much more sympathy with Sophia than with the demiurge but faced with the reality of both my sympathy counts for nothing. ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II.
g) Sophia’s Rescue by her “Lord”, The Light of Lights.
The theme of Sophia’s rescue found in early gnostic texts was likely overwritten by later more Christianized New Testament books where Jesus himself is the one who becomes the focus of our compassion, rather than Sophia, with his crucifixion of self sacrifice and later resurrection that replaced the earlier motif of Sophia’s fall and redemption.
In the Pistis Sophia, there are extensive passages where Jesus recalls the plight that Sophia goes through in order to seek refuge from the tyranny of her interrogators, the Archons.
(Jesus is telling his disciples), “And Pistis Sophia cried out most exceedingly, she cried to the Light of lights which she had seen from the beginning, in which she had had faith, and uttered this repentance, saying thus:
“‘1. O Light of lights, in whom I have had faith from the beginning, hearken now then, O Light, unto my repentance. Save me, O Light, for evil thoughts have entered into me.
“‘2. I gazed, O Light, into the lower parts and saw there a light, thinking: I will go to that region, in order that I may take that light. And I went and found myself in the darkness which is in the chaos below, and I could no more speed thence and go to my region, for I was sore pressed by all the emanations of Self-willed, and the lion-faced power took away my light in me.
Jesus then asks his disciples who can interpret this, and Mary Magdalene speaks up and renders a version of Psalm 69 that finds clear parallels with this broader story of Sophia where she is calling out for rescue from her “Lord” from her being trapped by those who “hate” her and “violently pursued” her. Though she is calling out for rescue, she is also facing her own shortcomings, her “foolishness” of how she conducted herself in the Pleroma, and her shame at having betrayed her brothers who now “revile” her.
Save me, O God, for the waters are come in even unto my soul. I sank, or am submerged, in the slime of the abyss, and power was not. I have gone-down into the depths of the sea; a tempest hath submerged me. I have kept on crying; my throat is gone, my eyes faded, waiting patiently for God. They who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head; mighty are my foes, who violently pursued me. They required of me that which I took not from them. God, thou hast known my foolishness, and my faults are not hid from thee. Let not them that wait on thee, O Lord, Lord of powers, be ashamed for my sake; let not those who seek thee be ashamed for my sake, O Lord, God of Israel, God of powers. For thy sake have I endured shame; shame hath covered my face. I am become a stranger to my brethren, a stranger unto the sons of my mother. For the zeal of thy house hath consumed me; the revilings of them that revile thee have fallen upon me. I bowed my soul with fasting, and it was turned to my reproach. I put on sackcloth; I became unto them a bye-word. They who sit at the gates, chattered at me; and they who drink wine, harped about me. But I prayed with my soul unto thee, O Lord; the time of thy well-liking is [now], O God. In the fulness of thy grace give ear unto my salvation in truth. Save me out of this slime, that I sink not therein; let me be saved from them that hate me, and from the deep of waters. Let not a water-flood submerge me, let not the deep swallow me, let not a well close its mouth above me. Hear me, O Lord, for thy grace is good; according to the fulness of thy compassion look down upon me. – Pistis Sophia
It is this theme of the Rescue that is featured in this sense of longing that is found within the Song of Songs.
The Light of Lights, as the ascended King Solomon, appears to rescue his loved one.
My dear one (Sophia-Shulamite) has answered and said to me (Light of lights-Christ), ‘Rise up, you girl companion of mine, my beautiful one, and come away. For, look! the rainy season itself has passed, the downpour itself is over, it has gone its way. Blossoms themselves have appeared in the land, the very time of vine trimming has arrived, and the voice of the turtledove itself has been heard in our land. As for the fig tree, it has gained a mature color for its early figs; and the vines are abloom, they have given [their] fragrance. – Song of Songs
The Coronation of Mary on Notre Dame of Paris is among the earliest depictions of this Christian theme.
It came to pass then, when Pistis Sophia had finished saying these words in the chaos, that I made the light-power, which I had sent to save her, become a light-wreath on her head. – Pistis Sophia
With Sophia’s 13th and final plea for help from Christ, there is the placing of the “light-wreath” on her head, which gives her immediate protection and freedom from the prison of her tormentors.
On the Crown of her Head the King Throneth. Her Bridechamber shineth with Light pouring forth scent of balsam and sweet herbs. With Kingly Clothes shall they be clad, and put on Robes of Light. – Wedding Song of Wisdom
Younger Sophia is depicted now on her throne of Wisdom after being raised out of the clutches of archonic control.
In the “Syrian Gnosis,” perhaps the oldest form of the Christianized Gnosis, to Wisdom is assigned both the conception of the manifested worlds and the production of its Seven Ruling Powers (the Hebdomad). She herself was throned above them all, in the Place of the Midst (the Ogdoad), between the Spiritual World proper, that is the Divine Mind (the Pleroma or Fullness) and the Sensible World (the Kenoma or Emptiness, or Hysterema or Insufficience). – From Meade on Simon Magus
h) Tikkun (Kabbalah); The Restoration of the Divine Forms of Light from entrapment in materiality, The Bridal Chamber
It is the great mystery within the gnostic texts that refers to the divine spark within humans. This part of the creation story involves a complicated revisioning from the familiar Old Testament version of the Adam and Eve story and brings focus to the birth of the third offspring, Seth, who in some “Sethian” texts is believed to be a soul incarnation of the Christ/Logos. Unlike Cain and Abel, it is this child of Adam and Eve who carries the latent divine sparks of Sophianic Light into humanity where it awaits the conditions that allow for their restoration, thereby opening the potential for the kicking in the higher divine potentials within the human form.
The bridal chamber and the image must enter through the image into the truth: this is the restoration. – The Gospel of Philip
The Bridal Chamber is perhaps one of the most enigmatic and elusive of the mysteries referred to in the gnostic texts. On one hand, it seems to represent the reunification of the rescued Sophia with her consort the Christ, but more importantly, it seems to refer to a ritual process whereby the human can once again become reunited with its higher self.
“Wisdom sendeth forth her children.” (Early Christian fragment from G.R.S. Mead, Fragments of a Faith Forgotten) Thus the Gnostic reaches the end of his long, perilous journey. What awaits him is the last repose, the final conquest of struggles, dissensions and lacerations. To express this concept, the various traditions of the Gnostic movement employ different themes and images. Whether it is the spiritual marriage of the Valentinians or the motif of the celestial garment, the underlying idea is the same. The individuals, reconstructed in androgynous unity, can now rest in themselves because the soul ‘has found her resting. She came to rest in him who is at rest. She reclined in the bridechamber. She ate of the banquet for which she has hungered. She partook of the immortal food. She found what she had sought after. She received rest from her labors.’ Then finally there will be ‘penetration into what is silent, where there is not need for voice nor for knowing nor for forming a concept nor for illumination, but where all things are light which does not need to be illuminated.’ – History of Gnosticism by Giovanni Filoramo, 1993.
5) Song of Songs An analysis using the gnostic lens
Mural behind the main alter, St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church, San Francisco.
Though the image is taken from the 4th century AD St. Gregory of Nyssa’s material on the Song of Songs which maintains a classical Christian interpretation, this mural helps to differentiate the characters of the story, such as The Woman of Zion in purple, with the male figure I identify as the “Light of Lights” (or as the Christ from Pistis Sophia) who is entering into union with his consort the Shulamite, (who equates with the Lower Sophia in the Gnostic model).
The Higher Wisdom, Younger (fallen) Sophia, and The Light of Lights (Logos)
It is this creation mythology that I am presenting as a main template with which we can understand The Song of Songs. There is the higher Woman of the Light World or a Woman of Zion who shares ecstatic love with her consort. Likewise, this angelic Light Lover reflects back to the Woman of Zion her own divine beauty, associated with the dove of the Holy Spirit. “Look! You are beautiful, O girl companion of mine. Look! You are beautiful. Your eyes are [those of] doves.” (1:15)
The thesis of the following sophianic interpretation is that this constellation of figures, including an angelic savior lover, The Higher, and Lower Wisdom figure as well as Solomon himself, comprise the main characters in The Song of Songs. By referencing a gnostic and early Christian set of characters in an analysis of the Song is problematical because clearly, the text refers to a pre-Christian and pre-gnostic Jewish cosmology of Wisdom that obviously did not include references to an angelic male figure called Christ, a figure who appears historically at a later date. But still, there is a celestial male lover figure whose identity remains elusive.
There is general confusion of who is talking in the poem, who is this male lover of the Shulamite, who is the “black but comely” girl herself, and whether Solomon is the main male character, which results in much confusion regarding the understanding of the Song.
Given this, I believe that a pattern of specific identities found within the Gnostic literature can shed valuable light on the meaning of this poem. In the Gnostic scriptures, we find a rich body of elaborate cosmologies that were rooted in ancient history, claiming to date back to the time of Adam, Eve, and their offspring, Seth. (The Gospel of the Egyptians, for example, is claimed to have been written by the hand of Seth himself.) In this gnostic literature, the Messianic figure of Christ is originally associated with a higher arch-angelic being who descended to earth, it is written, specifically to rescue the fallen Sophia. Here is a broad sweep of timeless creation story, through many aeons, involving the creation of the non-physical heavens (Pleroma), the creation of the material world, and finally man himself (man denoting humanity). Hence, a historical Jesus does not need to factor in as a character in this Song, as many Christian interpretations will promote. Rather, I will draw from a reference that is made in the gnostic texts to this arch-angelic grand lover, called in the Pistis Sophia, The Light of Lights. One could also find a correlation between this Light of Lights and the Philo-Greek-Biblical concept of the Logos, the masculine expression of God.
Then there is the fallen Wisdom figure who cowers in shame and cries out to be held by her distant lover, her savior, her Light of Lights. “A black girl I am, but comely… Do not…look at me because I am swarthy, because the sun has caught sight of me.” (1:15) “The watchmen (or Archons) who were going around in the city found me, ‘The one whom my soul has loved have YOU men seen?’ Hardly had I passed on from them until I found the one whom my soul has loved. I grabbed hold of him, and I would not let go of him until I had brought him into my mother’s house and into the interior room of her that had been pregnant with me.” (2:3-4) Here the Shulamite is in fear of her captors and yet clings to her rescuer who brings her back to unite with her higher self, The Woman of Zion. In response to her calls, The Lord of Light moves from the world of Light into the world of matter for her rescue. The sophianic Shulamite sees him, saying “Look! This one is standing behind our wall, gazing through the windows, glancing through the lattices.” Upon meeting, the savior figure says to her, “Rise up, come, O girl companion of mine, my beautiful one, and come away. O my dove in the retreats of the crag, in the concealed place of the steep way, show me your form, let me hear your voice, for your voice is pleasurable and your form is comely.” (2:13-14) Then, Sophia/Shulamite who is raised to reunite with her higher aspect, The Woman of Zion, is found safe on the mountains of myrrh, the heavenly Pleroma of the gnostic cosmology, where she is once again united with her loved one. (footnote 3)
The Song of Solomon has another character that brings a fabulous dynamic which, I believe is uniquely eloquent as it relates to the wisdom literature of Solomon. Indeed, Solomon may well be the great purveyor of Sophianic mystery teachings and it is thought that he himself had become united with the inner spark of Sophia resulting in an activation of his own higher Christed self.
Midway through The Song, Solomon himself enters the poem, whereby he becomes the new focus of the Woman of Zion’s affections as the rescued Sophia now turns her sights on helping to woo fallen Man back to his true potential.
Solomon is a symbol for three aspects that represent the lessons for ourselves, we mortals who are also trapped and matter bound. Firstly, Solomon is a King who has helped to build a somewhat cumbersome religious system that can only approximate direct mystical experience, which is referenced in The Song with the image of the tabernacle. “What is this thing that is coming up from the wilderness like columns of smoke, being perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, even with every sort of scent powder of a trader? ‘Look! It is his couch, the one belonging to Solomon. (3:6-7)
Secondly, we read of the Solomon “with the wreath that his mother wove for him on the day of his marriage and on the day of the rejoicing of his heart.” (3:11) The wreath is a symbol for the activation of our higher light body as depicted in the Gnostic literature, such as in The Pistis Sophia where Sophia has a wreath of light placed on her head which then protects her from the persecution of the lower gods, a wreath delivered by her savior lover, but connected with her higher attribute of the Holy Spirit. In the early Gothic cathedrals such as Chartres and Notre Dame, are found some of the earliest depictions of the Coronation of the Virgin, where a Christian theology is harkening back to an original Gnostic teaching of the placing of a crown upon the head of the Sophianic figure. Through Solomon, Sophia sings of this wreath of Light in the first Ode of Solomon.
The Lord is on my head like a crown, and I shall never be without Him. Plaited for me is the crown of truth, and it caused Your branches to blossom in me. For it is not like a parched crown that blossoms not; For You live upon my head, and have blossomed upon me. Your fruits are full and complete; they are full of Your salvation…. – 1st Ode of Solomon
Thirdly, Solomon is in a state of disconnection from the non-material heavenly realms and is unable to connect with his divine consort, the inner spark of Wisdom. Solomon has lost his light-vesture, his garment of light, a prominent theme in the gnostic literature, and is bound in material form. ‘I have put off my robe. How can I put it back on?’ (5:3) This is the condition we the readers find ourselves within, and the whole Song is oriented towards aligning the focus of our hearts towards the task of embodying the higher reality.
In the second half of the poem, starting with chapter 4, there is a distinct change in that Solomon appears to have awakened his divine self and has joined the Light of Lights in the heavenly realm where he interacts with both the Higher Sophia and the lower Shulamith. This is the primary theme of the poem that illustrates the potentials of the mortal human in the process of Sophianic divine spark activation.
Truly, I say to you, you are a person of light who has come from the light, and if you remember yourself you will know where your home is. – Mary Magdalene, The Gospel of Mary
The Woman of Zion describes trying to find this lost mortal Solomon but he is not present, being ignorant of the higher realms. “I opened, even I, to my dear one, but my dear one himself had turned away, he had passed along. My very soul had gone out [of me] when he spoke. I sought him, but I did not find him. I called him, but he did not answer me.” (5:6)
At one point, the higher Solomon cries out to the lower Sophianic Shulamite, “Come back, come back, O Shu´lam·mite! Come back, come back, that we may behold you!” (in these higher realms) (6:13). Then Solomon says to the chorus of Daughters, “What do YOU people behold in the Shulamite?” The Daughters say back an obscure but poignant line. “Something like the dance of two camps!” (6:13).
Something like the dance of two camps
This phrase points to a central theme of this enigmatic Song. One wonders if the Daughters are conjuring up the closest analogy they can think of to describe something that is quite difficult to grasp. The dance of two camps. There is the Higher divine reality and there is the lower material reality. Throughout the poem there is a dance between these two worlds, the pained world of separation from the divine and the Light world; between the Maiden of Light and the human who seeks to return to an original proximity to this Maiden within the heavens. In some parts of the Song we hear the rescued Sophia portray the intimate details of her love for the Higher Light of Lights while in other parts, we hear her calling out for her loved one to meet her. As well, in one section, the ascended Solomon is donning his wreath of Light and in another, he too, like Sophia, is lost, calling out to his hard-to-find higher consort.
Within this configuration of “two camps”, there are six relationships in which these expressions of endearment occur, between the higher and lower, and between the masculine and the feminine. The relationships go as follows: 1) Between the Woman of Zion and the lower Sophia-Sulammite, 2) the mortal Solomon and the ascended Solomon/Logos position, 3) Between the Woman of Zion and The Light of Lights and, later between her and the Higher Solomon, 4) between the fallen Woman of Zion, Sophia and the Light of Lights, 5) between The Woman of Zion and the matter bound mortal Solomon 6) between the fallen Sophia and the mortal Solomon.
The Song helps us to navigate the chasm between the two camps. There is the Maiden of Light who sits within her bridal chamber. But then there is the fallen Sophianic woman, who is sought after by the rescuing Lord of Lights. “Rise up, come, O girl companion of mine, my beautiful one, and come away. O my dove in the retreats of the crag, in the concealed place of the steep way, show me your form, let me hear your voice, for your voice is pleasurable and your form is comely.” (2:13-14) There is the Solomon wearing the wreath of Light and there is also the Solomon who is mortal, who has forgotten that a divine Higher Light Being even exists. As these songs of love shift between these various players on their various levels of spiritual development, lessons are accrued according to the tension and ease that unfold within these relationships.
The Daughters of Jerusalem
The Woman of Zion is instructing a group of women she refers to as The Daughters of Jerusalem, or at times, the Daughters of Zion. What these “daughters” represent is another enigma of the poem. Perhaps these daughters represent mortal lovers who are being wooed by mortal men and are being instructed by The Woman of Zion to not abandon their own higher potential under the lure of mortal courtship. This lesson, I believe, is delivered to the chorus of Daughters in a repeated refrain. “I have put YOU under oath, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the female gazelles or by the hinds of the field, that YOU try not to awaken or arouse love until it feels inclined.” An interpretation might be; do not force your hand of love until the very subtle but enormously powerful indwelling light (the Kabbala’s Shekinah) moves towards its own inclinations of Love for the Divine Man. This helps to clarify, I believe, Jung’s model of the anima, or the inner feminine, within men, who are often “seized” by the impulse of this inner woman, causing the man to be impulsive, or act out in a way that is not healthy (known as the problem of the anima). Rather, according to what is being said in this refrain, it is the man’s ego who is forcing itself onto the inner feminine and that it is a sign of psychological maturity for a man to quell this impulse and to wait to allow for the impulse of the inner feminine to become open to being in relationship with the man’s ego (footnote 7). Jung equated the most evolved expression of the inner woman in a man with the concept of Sophia.
The Daughters are being instructed to recognize the true nature of their mortal lovers, the one who is essentially a being of light, Adam Kadmon, the Kabbalist’s archetypal man. In chapter 5:9, the Daughters say, “O you most beautiful one among women? How is your dear one more than any other dear one…?” The Woman of Zion then goes into an elaborate description of The Ascended Man, “His head is gold, refined gold.” which invokes an image that parallels the top sephiroth of the Kabbalah Tree of Life called Keter or The Crown.
Albero della Cabbala, Davide Tonato, 1985. A model of the Primal Man in Medievel Kabbalah. According to preeminent Kabbalist scholar, Gershom Sholem, the Kabbalah and Gnosticism are very closely related.
The Woman of Zion speaks to us, the reader.
At the end of this Song, the Woman of Light herself addresses those with ears to hear. “O you who are dwelling in the gardens (inner sanctuaries within the lower world, possibly referring to a meditative state), the partners (our higher selves) are paying attention to your voice. Let me hear it. Run away, my dear one, and make yourself like a gazelle or like a young one of the stags upon the mountains of spices.” (8:13-14) Sophia is calling on all humans, female gazelles and the male stags, to not hesitate and to swiftly move our inner selves onto the mountains of spices, the world of Light. (footnote 4)
6) Key to the Who is Talking to Whom
Great confusion exists within this poem regarding who is talking to whom. To just simply reduce it to a dialogue between the Shulamite girl and her lover does not take into consideration the variations of dimensions that are occurring between these characters. Using the gnostic system as a template, we are able to gain a greater differentiation between characters. This allows for a greater understanding of what is playing out in the poem, with regards to the “dance of two camps”, or the relationship between the mortal female and male with their divine counterparts.
Here is the list of characters with the key that is used as the poem is laid out in the next section.
WZ – Woman of Zion: The Higher Sophia, Holy Spirit, Ruach Ha Koidesh. Also referred to in some gnostic texts as The Virgin of Light. In the Gnostic model, she is the higher expression of the two-fold figure of Sophia.
She is also equated with the completion of the fall and redemption story of Sophia, with the final collection of her Sparks of Light, and in the Kabbalah model, the Tikkun.
From Chartres Cathedral, recently restored stained glass from the original 12th century construction prior to the fire that destroyed much of the cathedral. Though this is typically identified with Mother Mary, this may be also a cryptic reference to the higher Sophia, as other images of these early gothic cathedrals imply.
PS – Pistis (Younger) Sophia, Lower Shulamite: fallen Sophia-Shulamite, Achemoth, the one who cries to be rescued. Wisdom in exile. The Bride of Christ who enters the Bridal Chamber. (see footnote 3).
LL – Light of lights: The Greek Logos, The gnostic Light of Lights, the Higher Being of Light, the object of The Shulamite’s love in the first section of The Song of Songs. He is also associated with the gnostic “Nous”, or Greek, Logos, or offspring of the Unknown God and the Holy Spirit. Christus is one New Testament identification.
Theologue by Alex GreyAlbero della Cabbala, Davide Tonato, 1985.
mortalSOL – King Solomon: the mortal king and one who is lost in the material world, who has become detached from his higher Light self. This is also the Yeshua figure who upon his baptism, was united with his higher Christed self. This also represents us, the mortal human.
HigherSOL – higher Solomon who transcends to the level of the Light of Lights. As with The Woman of Zion, there is the higher Solomon, the one who received the wreath of Light from “his mother” the Holy Spirit. This is a Christed self.
Recently restored painting attributed to Da Vinci.
DJ – Daughters of Jerusalem: Students of The Woman of Zion. Possibly consorts to King Solomon. These comprise a sort of Greek chorus where the lessons of The Woman of Zion are echoed. They are also the lovers of mortal Man who are helping to understand “the dance of two camps.” They could be analogous to the scintilla, the scattered sparks latent within the human form.
The Shunamite relating the Glories of King Solomon to her Maidens, by Albert Joseph Moore, 1864. The Daughters of Zion receiving the teachings of the Shulamite. The Daughters also serve as a sort of Greek chorus used to highlight the unfolding themes within The Song.
7) The full text of The Song of Solomon with commentary
Following is the entire Song text, taken from the New International Bible, with notes on who is speaking as well as my commentary to help with the interpretation of the text.
Song of Solomon: Chapter 1
(The Woman of Zion, equated with the Higher Sophia, first describes her place of having been rescued by her arch-angelic lover, The Light of lights where she is amidst the Pleroma, the heavenly realm.)
1 The superlative song, which is Sol´o·mon’s:
WZ (Woman of Zion) to herself about LL (Light of lights)
(WZ to herself) 2 “May he kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, (denoting the process of being initiated into the Light.)
(WZ to LL or the Woman of Zion to the Light of Lights):
for your expressions of endearment are better than wine.
(WZ to LL) 3 For fragrance your oils are good. Like an oil that is poured out is your name. That is why maidens themselves have loved you. 4 Draw me with you; let us run. The king (The Unknown Godhead, the Ineffable) has brought me into his interior rooms! (Into His House of Many Mansions.)
Do let us be joyful and rejoice in you. Do let us mention your expressions of endearment more than wine. Deservedly they have loved you. (The Woman of Zion is speaking of her own love for her divine consort the Light of Lights as well as with regards to the love of the Daughters to this masculine divinity.)
(Now PS, the fallen Pistis Sophia is explaining to the DJ Daughters of Jerusalem.)
(PS to DJ) 5 “A black girl I am (meaning more dense, not by complexion), but comely, O you daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, [yet] like the tent cloths of Solomon. 6 Do not you look at me because I am swarthy, because the sun has caught sight of me (having been scorched by the sun of the lower world, within the mortal mimic of the heavenly world; like the tents of the Solomon religious system). The sons of my own mother (referring to the other Aeons, her “brothers and sisters” of the Pleroma whom Sophia abandoned footnote 6) they grew angry with me; they appointed me the keeper of the vineyards (her corner of the Pleroma), [although] my vineyard, one that was mine, I did not keep. (This is a distinctly gnostic concept, that the Sophia figure neglected her duties at her position within the pleroma as she sought to reach the Source Light Ain Soph, resulting in her fellow Aeons/Emanations to chide her. This theme has also surfaced in the parable of the prodigal son.)
…all the rulers in the twelve aeons, who are below, hated her, because she had ceased from [her] mysteries, and because she had desired to go into the height and be above them all. For this cause then they were enraged against her and hated her. – Pistis Sophia
(PS to LL) 7 “Do tell me, O you whom my soul has loved, where you do shepherding, where you make the flock lie down at midday (The Logos’ main territory, the Higher World). Just why should I become like a woman wrapped in mourning among the droves of your partners?” (A woman void of her light spark, seen as any other earthly woman.)