An Idol in the Holy of Holies (Song of Songs)

song of songs

R. Akiva called the Song of Songs the Holy of Holies. And there the Beloved is, in this image-rich picture of a human-not-so-human presence in the midst of the garden sanctum –head, arms, torso, legs, made up of bright precious metals and stones.

This is what he looks like:

His head is finest gold,

His locks curled

And black as a raven.


His eyes are like doves

By watercourses,

Bathed in milk,

Set by a brimming pool.


His cheeks are like beds of spices,

Banks of perfume


His lips are like lilies;

They drip flowing myrrh.


His hand are rods of gold,

Studded with beryl;


His belly a tablet of ivory,

Adorned with sapphires.


His legs are like marble pillars

Set in sockets of fine gold.


He is majestic as Lebanon,

Stately as the cedars.


His mouth delicious

And all of him delightful.


(Song of Songs 5:11-16)


A beautiful thing to read in the synagogue on Shabbat for Passover, is this not an image of divinity on par with the more famous ones presented by Ezekiel and Isaiah? Combining liquid, metalic,  vegetal, crystal, and animal elements, it looks like an idol placed in the Holy of Holies.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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