My Beloved is Mine and I am His: 13x02 and Song of Solomon
One of the first things I wrote when I was brand new to the fandom was a short fic with Castiel reading and re-enacting sections from the Song of Songs to Dean. At the time, I thought it was too cheesy and trite to fit within the realm of Supernatural, and I deleted it in a bout of frustration. I am regretting that today like you wouldn’t believe.
I’m a bit of a bible nerd. I took a lot of theology and religion classes in my undergrad. That was nearly a decade ago though, so my current knowledge is a bit shaky. Here’s what I can recall about Song of Solomon that may or may not inform your reading of 13x02 and SPN in general.
A disclaimer: I am sick and drug addled, so please forgive any incoherent rambling. There is a lot of irrelevant gibberish, so I’ve tried to highlight the bits relevant to SPN.
Solomon is the heir of King David (whom you may recall had a passionate same-sex relationship with Jonathan.) Solomon’s reign is idealized, much like David’s was, and it was under Solomon that the First Temple was built. Solomon is famous for his wisdom and his large concubine of women. Notably, he settled a dispute between two women who were fighting over a child. He offered to cut it in half, revealing the true mother who could not bring herself to see the child hurt. This bears resemblance to Jack’s situation right now, torn between two fathers.
Song of Solomon (also known as Song of Songs, or the Canticles) is often attributed to Solomon because he is mentioned. However, the text is dated much later, and certain Persian words and influences in the text suggest a post-exilic era as the earliest possible date. Some scholars date it even later.
Song of Solomon is part of the collection in the Hebrew Bible known as The Writings (or the Kethuvim). It’s the third major division in the Hebrew Bible, and one of the last to be adopted into canon. It’s a bit of a catch all category that contains vastly diverse content including poetic works (Psalms, Song of Songs), and wisdom literature (Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes), to name a few.
Most of these writings (including Song of Songs) date to the post-exilic era. That is, after the Babylonian conquest, and during Persian rule. The nation of Judah perished in the fires that were set to Solomon’s temple. Post-exile, Judea was experiencing a theological crisis in the face of the apparent absence of Yahweh, or God. David’s dynasty has collapsed, and we see theological despair reflected in writings like Job and Ecclesiastes that ponder the problem of evil, the absence of God, and undeserved suffering. Song of Solomon, and other writings like it, were written at a time when things felt hopeless and there were fears that God has abandoned his people. It is oddly fitting then, that Jack should open to this particular part of the bible.
The Kethuvim mark a shift in religious thought. Previous writings centred on an independent kingdom involved in international politics. After the fall of the temple, we see an exiled, diasporic religion now led by priests instead of divinely appointed kings. Religious leaders and writers had to adjust and re-envision their scriptural teachings. Gone was the simplistic thesis that equated prosperity with religious obedience and misery with sin. The authors of the books known as The Writings were questioning conventional scripture of the time and creatively refocusing their theology.
Persian rule also introduced new religious ideas, namely Zoroastrianism, which came to influence later Judeo-Christian ideas. Zoroastrianism viewed the world as dualistic, ruled by two opposing powers of good (light) and evil (dark) and had hierarchies of angels and demons. Until this time, most biblical literature did not give name or ranks to angels, nor did they depict satan as an actual autonomous figure. We have Zoroastrianism to thank for that, and its influence on biblical writings can start to be felt around the post-exile period (i.e. the time during which Song of Solomon was written). The book of Daniel, for example, names the angel Gabriel, and the Book of Tobit names the demon Asmodeus. (In Tobit, Asmodeus is a jealous demon who kills each successive husband of Sarah on her wedding night and is later exorcised. He is someone who keeps lovers apart and keeps them from consummating their love.)
Songs of Songs is essentially a collection of erotic love poems. The book defies any easy interpretation or classification, and it stands out in stark contrast to the rest of biblical canon. It’s a completely unabashed, uninhibited celebration of sex, with little evidence to suggest that the lovers are married. They do not live together, and yearn intensely for one another when apart. It’s the subject of numerous feminist readings, as it’s one of few books of the bible to give a voice to women’s thoughts and feelings. Here, those are romantic and erotic feelings.
Don’t believe me? Read this:
My beloved thrust his hand into the opening,
and my inmost being yearned for him.
I arose to open to my beloved,
and my hands dripped with myrrh,
my fingers with liquid myrrh,
upon the handles of the bolt.
(Song of Solomon 5: 4-5)
This is some raunchy stuff for the bible! And all of this is sharply contrasted with the sexual ethos elsewhere in the bible which imposes harsh penalties for sexual misconduct, and places great emphasis on the institution of marriage. Deuteronomy (a book of the bible about sexual and social control) calls for the death penalty in many cases
There was understandably some debate as to whether this particular bit of writing warranted inclusion in the biblical canon of scripture. Rabbi Akiba was a key figure in the development of the Hebrew canon. While he argued strongly against the inclusion of certain books of the Apocrypha, he advocated for the Song of Songs, calling it the Holy of Holies. Its sanctity was preserved by interpreting it as an allegory for the love between Yahweh and Israel, and later by Christians as the love between Christ and the Church. Interestingly, God is not mentioned once in the entire book. (The only other book of the Bible where God is not mentioned even once is Esther.)
And yet, this book was called the Holiest of Holies. Love is championed here above all else.
I really don’t think we’ve seen the last of Chuck. Someone (I’m sorry, I can’t remember who!) pointed out the rainbow glare that happened in 13x01 when Dean was praying as a sign of God’s promise. (Edit: I’m an idiot. I reblogged the damn thing and it was just a couple posts down. It was @gneisscastiel who made the beautiful post about lens flares and pointed out the rainbow as God’s promise.) The inclusion of Song of Solomon in 13x02, besides being a blatant callout to Dean and Cas, suggests this is also about God and his people. I’d also like to suggest that Song of Solomon is a book that asks us to think broadly about canon. What constitutes canon? How is it formed? And I do mean canon here in the sense not just of biblical canon, but of fandom canon. Who decides what canon is? Is there room in canon for outliers like the Song of Solomon? The answer, as the show has just demonstrated, should be a resounding yes.
Onto the destiel side of things, which I’m sure has been discussed already. Song of Solomon contains some of the most beautiful poetry in the Bible. It is full of similes and references to nature (and arguably Eden/Paradise). It is deeply rural and pastoral, with an appreciation of agriculture, nature, and animal life. The multiple reference to sheep in 13x02 were no coincidence, I’m sure. Castiel has long been associated with natural, rural things: flowers, bees, goats, fish, etc. (If the Void is depicted as a garden and Cas has been spending his time under apple trees, I’m going to lose my freaking mind.) Is he being associated with sheep now? As someone who has been led by God, other angels, duty, Dean, Jack… perhaps this is time for Cas to choose a direction for himself. Sheep and lambs in the bible are also frequently marked for sacrifice. They represent symbolic innocence, and in the New Testament, Christ is called the “Lamb of God.” I definitely think Cas is being set up as a Christ-like figure with his death and anticipated resurrection. If 13x02 made anything clear, it’s that Cas is the answer the whatever problem faces Dean, Sam, and Jack alike.
Lamentations might have been a more appropriate choice for the episode. It’s also a book of poetry, but one that evokes pain and loss. But they chose instead to give us the book that celebrates love and hope amidst despair. That’s a choice that feel very deliberate, and makes me cautiously optimistic for Dean and Cas.
In closing, here are some passages from Song of Solomon, and the ones I feel are most closely tied to a destiel narrative.
“You have ravished my heart with a glance of your eyes.”
(Song of Solomon 4:9)
“Set me a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm…”
(Song of Solomon 8:6)
“… For love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame.”
(Song of Solomon 8:6)
“I will seek him whom my soul loves. I sought him, but found him not.” (Song of Solomon 3:2)
“My beloved is mine and I am his.”
(Song of Solomon 2:16)