Shelf Life Book Review: Lamentations and the Song of Songs

Abram Kielsmeier-Jones

Lamentations and the Song of Songs
Westminster John Knox Press, 2012

Harvey Cox and Stephanie Paulsell address the history of interpretation of these two biblical poems—from early Jewish interpreters to modern philosophers. Cox notes that these poems are not merely “time bound or event bound,” but “timeless” (pg. 24) since they speak to universal themes like seeking joy amidst heartbreak, deliberately remembering an absent one, and rebuilding among ruin.


Cox suggests reading Lamentations, a poem that laments a nation’s loss in the aftermath of war, in a “participatory mood” (pg. 15). As he highlights key themes, he brings Lamentations into dialogue with wars and aftermaths of wars today. Particularly illuminating are his applications of the book to World War II in Germany and 9/11 in the United States.

As Paulsell examines Song of Songs, she notes that it celebrates love in the context of a covenant relationship. She offers commentary passage by passage, giving summary titles for each. For example, Song of Songs 1:7–14 is titled “A Dialogue of Delight” (pg. 198), and 4:1–7 is titled “Altogether Beautiful” (pg. 231). Like Cox, Paulsell also calls us to devotionally pray our way through the Song of Songs, conscious of our relationship to other physical bodies, creation and God.

This commentary’s greatest strength lies in its emphasis on engaging the biblical text. Cox and Paulsell move fluidly across centuries and cultures as they connect Lamentations and the Song of Songs to current contexts.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 3