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Song of SongsIt struck me that the key to the Bible is surely to be found at its very heart, in the center that holds all things together.

The actual center turns out to be rather surprising. The center of the Bible is the Song of Songs. A rough count, either by page number or by thumb, seems to confirm this. The number of pages before and after the Book is approximately equal (in Catholic Bibles, not Protestant ones, since Catholic Bibles have extra books on one side).

This makes a great deal of sense. You cannot read any book without wisdom, so how do you read the Bible? The Song of Songs is the center of the Wisdom literature, the center of the Bible. Immediately preceding it are Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. The Book of Psalms opens with the words “Happy indeed is the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked”—signifying that this is a book of Beatitudes. That is to say, the Song is preceded by the compendium of Israel’s wisdom (Proverbs etc. and Psalms) and her Prayer Book. The more historical books precede this, with before them the historical /mystical books of Moses from which everything comes, and on which everything else is founded.

Admittedly this is a crude measure; but the fact that it works on the whole canon, including the New Testament, is also interesting. It is a way of integrating Old and New—it means the New cannot be simply “tacked on” to the Old.

Fr. Silouan says, “Rabbis once interpreted dreams. Some dreams are divine communication. Their interpretation can be a science. There is a therapy of dreams,” adding about the Song of Songs, “Some notice that most of the Song is about a woman, and reveal a woman’s point of view. The dreams are dreams of love.” And here I would add that the Song is the dream not of a person but of a People.

What can one learn from the centrality of the Song of Songs within the canon as a whole? This is no mere physical or numerical centrality. There are plenty of mystics who would expound the meaning of the whole of Scripture from this one book. It is no simple love song (though it is that too). From the wisdom of Bernard of Clairvaux—one of the great interpreters already mentioned—to the “Theology of the Body” of John Paul II, it truly does contain the fullness of Scripture.

There may be some objection in the fact that the Song of Songs is about the love of an unmarried couple. It does not concern the love of a married couple, and therefore marriage—so central in the Bible—is necessarily left out of account. But the fact it is not about the coming of a Third merely means it is a commentary on the first account of creation in Genesis (Gen. 1), rather than the second.

The Song is not about the nuptial mystery at the heart of Christianity, but about the love that opens the door to that nuptial mystery. The two elements of the pair are the inverted triangles of the Seal of Solomon. In itself our faith is always open to being threefold, always Trinitarian. A faith that fails to be open in this way is closed to Christianity.

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  1. A fascinating observation! The Koran appears reordered from how it was ostensibly revealed, when the Caliph Omar (if memory serves) placed the chapters in order of length! As the New Yorkers say, go figure!

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