Bible Project Part 12 – Psalms 138 to Song of Songs 4

I’m still in the poetry section of the Bible (ish), and most of what I’ve read this week has been fairly disappointing. I was hoping for profound Solomonic wisdom from Proverbs, and maybe a few more gems in the last Psalms, but alas, it was not to be.

One thing I completely didn’t notice last week is that Psalm 137 is ‘By the Rivers of Babylon’ as immortalised by Boney M. Well, and a whole bunch of others probably, but I only ever hear Boney M in my head. I probably didn’t spot it before because it’s in Dutch and because I was busy stuffing all my crap back in my bag to get off the bus.

Anyway, there’s nothing more to be said about the Psalms, so it’s straight on into Proverbs, or Spreuken in Dutch. Which just means proverbs. Now, as I said, I was hoping for some pearls of wisdom in there, since Proverbs is attributed to Solomon and he was meant to be the wisest man who ever lived, but frankly, most of Proverbs can be summed up by the following six statements:

1) Wisdom is good, stupidity is bad. Don’t try to make stupid people wise, because it’s wasted effort.

2) God loves those who follow him and hates those who don’t. Don’t be a faithless non-Godfollower!

3) Truth is good, lies are bad. Don’t give false testimony against your neighbour.

4) Be humble and don’t brag, the righteous shall be rewarded and the faithless shall be punished. Even though it probably doesn’t look like that, because the faithless may wallow in riches and the righteous my live in squalor, but God is good and you shouldn’t question him.

5) If you love your sons, beat them with a stick, often. Being soft on them only breeds ninnies who don’t believe in God.

6) It is better to live on the corner of your roof than in the same house as a quarrelsome woman. (Seriously, there’s about seven varieties of this particular proverb in the whole Book.)

There is very little in Proverbs which doesn’t boil down to one of these basic six statements, but I’ve taken note of the few which do:

Proverbs 22 (29) – If you see a man, skilful in his work, he will be put into service of the king, not in the service of unimportant people. (Because, you know, they’re unimportant. Never mind that the king will likely never share the fruits of that skilful labour.)

Proverbs 24 (17-18) – Don’t rejoice when your enemies fall, or God might notice and be a dick to you. (I’m paraphrasing, of course, but that’s pretty much what it means to me.)

Also 24 (29) – Don’t say ‘I’ll do to him as he did to me’. (Even though Exodus dictates ‘eye for eye, tooth for tooth’.)

Proverbs 27 (14) – This one I remember from my teenage years, when I once spent a weekend at a Christian music festival (long story – don’t ask). One of the tents had this plastered on a big banner nearby – not the actual verse, just the reference. The actual verse is this: ‘He who greets his neighbour loudly early in the morning, it will be like a curse.’ In other words, let me sleep late, kkthxbye.

Proverbs ends with chapter 31, which praises the dutiful housewife. Who is so dutiful that she never sleeps, because ‘she gets up while it is still dark’ (Prov 31-15) and ‘at night her light does not go out’ (Prov 31-18). Meanwhile ‘her husband is known inside the gates, where he sits down amidst the elders of the land’ (Prov 31-23). But you know, laziness is wrong, so I’m sure God will give him his just deserts.

On to Ecclesiastes. Apparently this word is a Latin transliteration of the Greek word, and it is traditionally translated as Preacher or Teacher. This explains the Dutch name Prediker, which means preacher.

Funnily enough this contained more phrases that were familiar to me than Proverbs did. It starts with the second verse, which in the old style is ‘Vanity of vanities! Everything is vanity!’ I mainly know it from the Latin vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas, but the phrase is pretty well-known to me. Also in verse 9 it is proclaimed that ‘there is nothing new under the sun’.

In all, Ecclesiastes is a pretty depressing book. It’s basically 12 chapters of saying that it doesn’t matter what you do, because whatever you do is pointless anyway. We all end up dead and in the ground, so anything you do is meaningless (vanity). The only other two things of note I found to be the fact that 1) it proclaims to be written by ‘Preacher, the son of David, king at Jerusalem’ (which suggests it is written by Solomon, but if it was, then it was Solomon in the grip of a deep, dark depression) and 2) that Eccl 9 claims that everyone will go to ‘the realm of the dead’. (‘There is no work or conferring or wisdom in the realm of the dead, to which you go.’)

The concept of heaven is definitely not something that has featured so far in the Bible, so it must be a purely New Testament thing.

I briefly ventured into the Song of Songs, which most people proclaim to be the closest the Bible gets to pornography, but unfortunately it’s nothing but bubble porn. It also has some of the weirdest metaphors I’ve ever encountered in my life:

– Your hair is like a flock of goats, flowing down the mountain.

– Your teeth are like shorn sheep, all with twins, none without young.

– Your temples are like a split pomegranate through your veil.

I’m a bit lost for words at the first two, but the last one especially makes me think that the skin at her temples was covered in bleeding spots (or zits, if you’re American).

It must be the whole poetry thing again – told you it’s wasted on me. Next week we’re comparing noses to Damascean towers!

<– Back to Part Eleven                                                                              On to Part Thirteen –>

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