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Does The Bible Ignore Romantic Love?

Title:     Does The Bible Ignore Romantic Love?
Author: Henry Theophilus Finck [More Titles by Finck]

My assertion that there are no cases of romantic love recorded in the Bible naturally aroused opposition, and not a few critics lifted up their voices in loud protest against such ignorant audacity. The case for the defence was well summed up in the Rochester "Post-Express:"

"The ordinary reader will find many love-stories in the Scriptures, What are we to think, for instance, of this passage from the twenty-ninth chapter of Genesis: 'And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah was tender-eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well-favored. And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter. And Laban said, It is better that I give her to thee, than that I should give her to another man: abide with me. And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had for her,' It may be said that after marriage Jacob's love was not of the modern conjugal type; but certainly his pre-matrimonial passion was self-sacrificing, enduring, and hopeful enough for a mediaeval romance. The courtship of Ruth and Boaz is a bold and pretty love-story, which details the scheme of an old widow and a young widow for the capture of a wealthy kinsman. The Song of Solomon is, on the surface, a wonderful love-poem. But it is needless to multiply illustrations from this source."

A Chicago critic declared that it would be easy to show that from the moment when Adam said,

"This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh"

--from that moment unto this day "that which it pleases our author to call romantic love has been substantially one and the same thing.... Has this writer never heard of Isaac and Rebekah; of Jacob and Rachel?" A Philadelphia reviewer doubted whether I believed in my own theory because I ignored in my chapter on love among the Hebrews "the story of Jacob and Rachel and other similar instances of what deserves to be called romantic love among the Hebrews." Professor H.O. Trumbull emphatically repudiates my theory in his _Studies in Oriental Social Life_ (62-63); proceeding:

"Yet in the very first book of the Old Testament narrative there appears the story of young Jacob's romantic love for Rachel, a love which was inspired by their first meeting [Gen. 29: 10-18] and which was afresh and tender memory in the patriarch Jacob's mind when long years after he had buried her in Canaan [Gen. 35: 16-20] he was on his deathbed in Egypt [Gen. 48: 1-7]. In all the literature of romantic love in all the ages there can be found no more touching exhibit of the true-hearted fidelity of a romantic lover than that which is given of Jacob in the words: 'And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days for the love he had to her.' And the entire story confirms the abiding force of that sentiment. There are, certainly, gleams of romantic love from out of the clouds of degraded human passion in the ancient East, in the Bible stories of Shechem and Dinah [Gen. 34: 1-31], of Samson and the damsel of Timnath [Judg. 14: 1-3], of David and Abigail [I. Sam. 25: 1-42], of Adonijah and Abishag [I. Kings 2: 13-17], and other men and women of whom the Scriptures tell us."

Cenac Moncaut, who begins his _Histoire de l'Amour dans l'Antiquite_ with Adam and Eve, declares (28-31) that the episode of Jacob and Rachel marks the birth of perfect love in the world, the beginning of its triumph, followed, however, by relapses in days of darkness and degradation. If all these writers are correct then my theory falls to the ground and romantic love must be conceded to be at least four thousand years old, instead of less than one thousand. But let us look at the facts in detail and see whether there is really no difference between ancient Hebrew and modern Christian love.

The Rev. Stopford Brooke has remarked:

"Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph may have existed as real men, and played their part in the founding of the Jewish race, but their stories, as we have them, are as entirely legendary as those of Arthur or Siegfried, of Agamemnon or Charlemagne."

This consideration would bring the date of the story from the time when Jacob is supposed to have lived down to the much later time when the legend was elaborated. I have no desire, however, to seek refuge behind such chronological uncertainties, nor to reassert that my theory is a question of evolution rather than of dates, and that, therefore, if Jacob and Rachel, during their prolonged courtship, had the qualities of mind and character to feel the exalted sentiment of romantic love, we might concede in their case an exception which, by its striking isolation, would only prove the rule. I need no such refuge, for I can see no reason whatever for accepting the story of Jacob and Rachel as an exceptional instance of romantic love.


Nothing could be more charmingly poetic than this story as told by the old Hebrew chronicler. The language is so simple yet so pictorial that we fancy we can actually see Jacob as he accosts the shepherds at the well to ask after his uncle Laban, and they reply "Behold, Rachel his daughter cometh with the sheep." We see him as he rolls the stone from the well's mouth and waters his uncle's flocks; we see him as he kisses Rachel and lifts up his voice and weeps. He kisses her of course by right of being a relative, and not as a lover; for we cannot suppose that even an Oriental shepherd girl could have been so devoid of maidenly prudence and coyness as to give a love-kiss to a stranger at their first meeting. Though apparently her cousin (Gen. 28: 2; 29:10), Jacob tells her he is her uncle; "and Jacob told Rachel that he was her father's brother."[286] There was the less impropriety in his kissing her, as she was probably a girl of fifteen or sixteen and he old enough to be her grandfather, or even great-grandfather, his age at the time of meeting her being seventy-seven.[287] But as men are reported to have aged slowly in those days, this did not prevent him from desiring to marry Rachel, for whose sake he was willing to serve her father. Strange to say, the words "And Jacob served seven years for Rachel" have been accepted as proof of self-sacrifice by several writers, including Dr. Abel, who cites those words as indicating that the ancient Hebrews knew "the devotion of love, which gladly _serves the beloved_ and shuns no toil in her behalf." In reality Jacob's seven years of service have nothing whatever to do with self-sacrifice. He did not "serve his beloved" but her father; did not toil "in her behalf" but on his own behalf. He was simply doing that very unromantic thing, paying for his wife by working a stipulated time for her father, in accordance with a custom prevalent among primitive peoples the world over. Our text is very explicit on the subject; after Jacob had been with his relative a month Laban had said unto him: "Because thou art my brother shouldst thou therefore serve me for naught? tell me what shall thy wages be?" And Jacob had chosen Rachel for his wages. Rachel and Leah themselves quite understood the commercial nature of the matrimonial arrangement; for when, years afterward, they are prepared to leave their father they say: "Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father's house? Are we not counted of him strangers? for he hath sold us, and hath also quite devoured the price paid for us."

[FOOTNOTE 286: An explanation of this discrepancy may be found in A.K. Fiske's suggestion that there is a double source for this story. The reader will please bear in mind that all my quotations are from the revised version of the Bible. I do not believe in retaining inaccurate translations simply because they were made long ago.]

[FOOTNOTE 287: McClintock and Strong's _Encyclop. of Biblical Literature_ says: "It must be borne in mind that Jacob himself had now reached the mature age of seventy-seven years, as appears from a comparison of Joseph's age... with Jacob's." That Rachel was not much over fifteen may be assumed because among Oriental nomadic races shepherd girls are very seldom unmarried after that age, or even an earlier age, for obvious reasons.]

Instead of the sentimental self-sacrifice of a devoted lover for his mistress we have here, therefore, simply an example of a prosaic, mercenary marriage custom familiar to all students of anthropology. But how about the second half of that sentence, which declares that Jacob's seven years of service "seemed to him but a few days for the love he had for her?" Is not this the language of an expert in love? Many of my critics, to my surprise, seemed to think so, but I am convinced that none of them can have ever been in love or they would have known that a lover is so impatient and eager to call his beloved irrevocably his own, so afraid that someone else might steal away her affection from him, that Jacob's seven years, instead of shrinking to a few days, would have seemed to him like seven times seven years.

A minute examination of the story of Jacob and Rachel thus reveals world-wide differences between the ancient Hebrew and the modern Christian conceptions of love, corresponding, we have no reason to doubt, to differences in actual feeling. And as we proceed, these differences become more and more striking:

"And Jacob said unto Laban, Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in unto her. And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast. And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her.... And it came to pass, in the morning that, behold, it was Leah: and he said to Laban, What is this thou has done unto me? Did not I serve with thee for Rachel? Wherefore then hast thou beguiled me? And Laban said, It is not so done in our place, to give the younger before the first-born. Fulfil the week of this one, and we will give thee the other also for the service which thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years. And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week; and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife."

Surely it would be difficult to condense into so few lines more facts and conditions abhorrent to the Christian conception of the sanctity of love than is done in this passage. Can anyone deny that in a modern Christian country Laban's breach of contract with Jacob, his fraudulent substitution of the wrong daughter, and Jacob's meek acceptance of two wives in eight days would not only arouse a storm of moral indignation, but would land both these men in a police court and in jail? I say this not in a flippant spirit, but merely to bring out as vividly as possible the difference between the ancient Hebrew and modern Christian ideals of love. Furthermore, what an utter ignorance or disregard of the rights of personal preference, sympathy, and all the higher ingredients of love, is revealed in Laban's remark that it was not customary to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older had been disposed of! And how utterly opposed to the modern conception of love is the sequel of the story, in which we are told that "because" Leah was _hated_ by her husband "therefore" she was made fruitful, and she bore him four sons, while the beloved Rachel remained barren! Was personal preference thus not only to be repressed by marrying off girls according to their age, but even punished? No doubt it was, according to the Hebrew notion; in their patriarchal mode of life the father was the absolute tyrant in the household, who reserved the right to select spouses for both his sons and daughters, and felt aggrieved if his plans were interfered with. The object of marriage was not to make a happy, sympathetic couple, but to raise sons; wherefore the hated Leah naturally exclaims, after she has borne Reuben, her first son, "Now my husband will love me." That is not the kind of love we look for in our marriages. We expect a man to love his wife for her own sake.

This notion, that the birth of sons is the one object of marriage, and the source of conjugal love, is so preponderant in the minds of these women that it crowds out all traces of monopoly or jealousy. Leah and Rachel not only submit to Laban's fraudulent substitution on the wedding-night, but each one meekly accepts her half of Jacob's attentions. The utter absence of jealousy is strikingly revealed in this passage:

"And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and she said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die. And Jacob's anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, Am I in God's stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb? And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; that she may bear upon my knees, and I also may obtain children by her. And she gave him Bilhah her handmaid to wife: and Jacob went in unto her. And Bilhah conceived and bare Jacob a son.... And Bilhah, Rachel's handmaid, conceived again, and bare Jacob a second son.... When Leah saw she had left bearing, she took Zilpah her handmaid, and gave her to Jacob to wife. And Zilpah Leah's handmaid bare Jacob a son.... And God hearkened unto Leah, and she conceived, and bare Jacob a fifth son. And Leah said, God hath given me my hire, because I gave my handmaid to my husband."

Thus polygamy and concubinage are treated not only as a matter of course, but as a cause for divine reward! It might be said that there does exist a sort of jealousy between Leah and Rachel: a rivalry as to which of the two shall bear their husband the more sons, either by herself or by proxy. But how utterly different this rivalry is from the jealousy of a modern Christian wife, the very essence of which lies in the imperative insistence on the exclusive affection and chaste fidelity of her husband! And as modern Christian jealousy differs from ancient Hebrew jealousy, so does modern romantic love in general differ from Hebrew love. There is not a line in the story of Jacob and Rachel indicating the existence of monopoly, jealousy, coyness, hyperbole, mixed moods, pride, sympathy, gallantry, self-sacrifice, adoration, purity. Of the thirteen essential ingredients of romantic love only two are implied--individual preference and admiration of personal beauty. Jacob preferred Rachel to Leah, and this preference was based on her bodily charms: she was "beautiful and well-favored." Of the higher mental phases of personal beauty not a word is said.

In the case of the women, not even their individual preference is hinted at, and this is eminently characteristic of the ancient Hebrew notions and practices in regard to marriage. Did Rachel and Leah marry Jacob because they preferred him to all other men they knew? To Laban and his contemporaries such a question would have seemed absurd. They knew nothing of marriage as a union of souls. The woman was not considered at all. The object of marriage, as in India, was to raise sons, in order that there might be someone to represent the departed father. Being chiefly for the father's benefit, the marriage was naturally arranged by him. As a matter of fact, even Jacob did not select his own wife!

"And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him and said unto him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan, Arise, go to Padan-aram, to the house of Bethuel, thy mothers father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother's brother."

And Jacob did as ordered. His choice was limited to the two sisters.


Isaac himself had even less liberty of choice than Jacob. He courted Rebekah by proxy--or rather his father courted her through her father, for him, by proxy! When Abraham was stricken with age he said to his servant, the elder of his house, that ruled over all that he had, and enjoined on him, under oath,

"thou shalt not take a wife for my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I shall dwell; but thou shalt go into my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac."

And the servant did as he had been ordered. He journeyed to the city of Mesopotamia where Abraham's brother Nahor and his descendants dwelt. As he lingered at the well, Rebekah came out with her pitcher upon her shoulder. "And the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin, neither had any man known her." And she filled her pitcher and gave him drink and then drew water and filled the trough for all his camels. And he gave her a ring and two bracelets of gold. And she ran and told her mother's house what had happened. And her brother Laban ran out to meet the servant of Abraham and brought him to the house. Then the servant delivered his message to him and to Rebekah's father, Bethuel; and they answered: "Behold, Rebekah is before thee, take her, and go, and let her be thy master's son's wife." And he wanted to take her next day, but they wished her to abide with them at the least ten days longer. "And they said, We will call the damsel, and inquire at her mouth. And they called Rebekah, and said unto her, wilt thou go with this man? And she said, I will go. And they sent away Rebekah their sister, and her nurse, and Abraham's servant, and his men." And Isaac was in the field meditating when he saw their camels coming toward him. Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she lighted off her camel, and asked the servant who was the man coming to meet them; and when he said it was his master, she took her veil and covered herself. And Isaac brought her into her mother's tent and she became his wife, and he loved her.

Such is the story of the courting of Rebekah. It resembles a story of modern courtship and love about as much as the Hebrew language resembles the English, and calls for no further comment. But there is another story to consider; my critics accused me of ignoring the three R's of Hebrew love--Rachel, Rebekah, and Ruth. "The courtship of Ruth and Boaz is a bold and pretty love-story." Bold and pretty, no doubt; but let us see if it is a love-story. The following omits no essential point.


It came to pass during a famine that a certain man went to sojourn in the country of Moab with his wife, whose name was Naomi, and two sons. The husband died there and the two sons also, having married, died after ten years, leaving Naomi a widow with two widowed daughters-in-law, whose names were Orpah and Ruth. She decided to return to the country whence she had come, but advised the younger widows to remain and go back to the families of their mothers. I am too old, she said, to bear again husbands for you, and even if I could do so, would you therefore tarry till they were grown? Orpah thereupon kissed her mother-in-law and went back to her people; but Ruth clave unto her and said "Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge.... Where thou diest, will I die." So the two went until they came to Bethlehem, in which place Naomi had a kinsman of her husband, a mighty man of wealth, whose name was Boaz. They arrived in the beginning of the barley harvest, and Ruth went and gleaned in the field after the reapers. Her hap was to light on the portion of the field belonging to Boaz. When he saw her he asked the reapers "Whose damsel is this?" And they told him. Then Boaz spoke to Ruth and told her to glean in his field and abide with his maidens, and when athirst drink of that which the young men had drawn; and he told the young men not to touch her. At meal-time he gave her bread to eat and vinegar to dip it in, and he told his young men to let her glean even among the sheaves and also to pull out some for her from the bundles, and leave it, and let her glean and rebuke her not. And he did all this because, as he said to her,

"It hath been shewed me, all that them hast done to thy mother-in-law since the death of thine husband: and how thou hast left thy father and mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore."

So Ruth gleaned in the field until even; then she beat out what she had gleaned and took it to Naomi and told her all that had happened. And Naomi said unto her,

"My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee? And now is there not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maidens thou wast? Behold, he winnoweth barley to-night in the threshing-floor. Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the threshing-floor; but make not thyself known unto the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking. And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down; and he will tell thee what thou wilt do."

And Ruth did as her mother-in-law bade her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of corn; and she came softly and uncovered his feet, and laid her down. And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid [startled], and turned himself; and, behold, a woman lay at his feet. And he said, "who art thou?" And she answered, "I am Ruth thine handmaid; spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman." And he said,

"Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter; thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end, than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou sayest; for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman. And now it is true that I am a near kinsman: howbeit there is a kinsman nearer than I. Tarry this night, and it shall be in the morning, that if he will perform unto thee the part of a kinsman, well; let him do the kinsman's part; but if he will not do the part of a kinsman to thee, then will I do the part of a kinsman to thee, as the LORD liveth: lie down until the morning."

And she lay at his feet until the morning: and she rose up before one could discern another. For he said, "Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing-floor." Then he gave her six measures of barley and went into the city. He sat at the gate until the other kinsman he had spoken of came by, and Boaz said to him,

"Naomi selleth the parcel of land which was our brother Elimelech's. If thou wilt redeem it, redeem it; but if thou wilt not redeem it, then tell me that I may know; for there is none to redeem it beside thee; and I am after thee. What day thou buyest the field of the hand of Naomi, thou must buy it also of Ruth, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance."

And the near kinsman said, "I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I mar mine own inheritance; take then my right of redemption on thee; for I cannot redeem it. Buy it for thyself." And he drew off his shoe. And Boaz called the elders to witness, saying,

"Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place."

So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife.

How anyone can read this charmingly told, frank, and realistic tale of ancient Hebrew life and call it a love-story, passeth all understanding. There is not the slightest suggestion of love, either sensual or sentimental, on the part of either Ruth or Boaz. Ruth, at the suggestion of her mother-in-law, spends a night in a way which would convict a Christian widow, to say the least, of an utter lack of that modesty and coy reserve which are a woman's great charm, and which, even among the pastoral Hebrews, cannot have been approved, inasmuch as Boaz did not want it to be known that she had come to the threshing-floor. He praises Ruth for following "not young men, whether rich or poor." She followed him, a wealthy old man. Would love have acted thus? What she wanted was not a lover but a protector ("rest for thee that it may be well for thee," as Naomi said frankly), and above all a son in order that her husband's name might not perish. Boaz understands this as a matter of course; but so far is he, on his part, from being in love with Ruth, that he offers her first to the other relative, and on his refusal, buys her for himself, without the least show of emotion indicating that he was doing anything but his duty. He was simply fulfilling the law of the Levirate, as written in Deuteronomy (25:5), ordaining that if a husband die without leaving a son his brother shall take the widow to him to wife and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her; that is, to beget a son (the first-born) who shall succeed in the name of his dead brother, "that his name be not blotted out of Israel." How very seriously the Hebrews took this law is shown by the further injunction that if a brother refuses thus to perform his duty,

"then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak unto him: and if he stand and say, I like not to take her; then shall his brother's wife come into him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe off his foot, and spit in his face; and she shall answer and say, so shall it be done unto the man that doth not build up his brother's house. And his name shall be called in Israel, the house of him that hath his shoe loosed."

Onan was even slain for thus refusing to do his duty (Gen. 38:8-10).


The three R's of Hebrew love thus show how these people arranged their marriages with reference to social and religious customs or utilitarian considerations, buying their wives by service or otherwise, without any thought of sentimental preferences and sympathies, such as underlie modern Christian marriages of the higher order. It might be argued that the ingredients of romantic love existed, but simply are not dwelt on in the old Hebrew stories. But it is impossible to believe that the Bible, that truly inspired and wonderfully realistic transcript of life, which records the minutest details, should have neglected in its thirty-nine books, making over seven hundred pages of fine print, to describe at least one case of sentimental infatuation, romantic adoration, and self-sacrificing devotion in pre-matrimonial love, had such love existed. Why should it have neglected to describe the manifestations of sentimental love, since it dwells so often on the symptoms and results of sensual passion? Stories of lust abound in the Hebrew Scriptures; Genesis alone has five. The Lord repented that he had made man on earth and destroyed even his chosen people, all but Noah, because every imagination in the thoughts of man's heart "was only evil continually." But the flood did not cure the evil, nor did the destruction of Sodom, as a warning example. It is after those events that the stories are related of Lot's incestuous daughters, the seduction of Dinah, the crime of Judah and Tamar, the lust of Potiphar's wife, of David and Bath-sheba, of Amnon and Tamar, of Absalom on the roof, with many other references to such crimes.[288]

[FOOTNOTE [288: Gen. 19: 1-9; 19: 30-38; 34: 1-31; 38: 8-25; 39: 6-20; Judges 19: 22-30; II. Sam. 3: 6-9; 11: 2-27; 13: 1-22; 16: 22; etc.]


There is every reason to conclude that these ancient Jews, unlike many of their modern descendants, knew only the coarser phases of the instinct which draws man to woman. They knew not romantic love for the simple reason that they had not discovered the charm of refined femininity, or even recognized woman's right to exist for her own sake, and not merely as man's domestic servant and the mother of his sons. "Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee," Eve was told in Eden, and her male descendants administered that punishment zealously and persistently; whereas the same lack of gallantry which led Adam to put all the blame on Eve impelled his descendants to make the women share his part of the curse too--"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread"; for they were obliged to do not only all the work in the house, but most of that in the fields, seething under a tropical sun. From this point of view the last chapter of the Proverbs (31:10-31) is instructive. It is often referred to as a portrait of a perfect woman, but in reality it is little more than a picture of Hebrew masculine selfishness. Of the forty-five lines making up this chapter, nine are devoted to praise of the feminine virtues of fidelity to a husband, kindness to the needy, strength, dignity, wisdom, and fear of the Lord; while the rest of the chapter goes to show that the Hebrew woman indeed "eateth not the bread of idleness," and that the husband "shall have no lack of gain"--or spoil, as the alternative reading is:

"She seeketh wool and flax and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchant ships: she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and their task to the maidens. She considereth a field and buyeth it; with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.... She perceiveth that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle.... She maketh for herself carpets of tapestry.... She maketh linen garments and selleth them; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant."

As for the husband, he "is known in the gates, When he sitteth among the elders of the land," which is an easy and pleasant thing to do; hardly in accordance with the curse the Lord pronounced on Adam and his male descendants. The wife being thus the maid of all work, as among Indians and other primitive races, it is natural that the ancient Hebrew ideal of femininity should he masculine: "She girdeth her loins with strength, and maketh strong her arms;" while the feminine charms are sneered at: "Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain."



Not only feminine charms, but the highest feminine virtues are sometimes strangely, nay, shockingly disregarded, as in the story of Lot (Gen. 19:1-12), who, when besieged by the mob clamoring for the two men who had taken refuge in his house, went out and said:

"I pray you, my brethren, do not so wickedly. Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes; only unto these men do nothing, forasmuch as they are come under the shadow of my roof."

And this man was saved, though his action was surely more villainous than the wickedness of the Sodomites who were destroyed with brimstone and fire. In Judges (19: 22-30) we read of a man offering his maiden daughter and his concubine to a mob to prevent an unnatural crime being committed against his guest: "Seeing that this man is come into my house, do not this folly." This case is of extreme sociological importance as showing that notwithstanding the strict laws of Moses (Levit. 20: 10; Deut. 22: 13-30) on sexual crimes, the law of hospitality seems to have been held more sacred than a father's regard for his daughter's honor. The story of Abraham shows, too, that he did not hold his wife's honor in the same esteem as a modern Christian does:

"And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, 'Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon; and it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife; and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive. Say, I pray thee, Thou art my sister; that it may be well with me for thy sake, and that my soul may live because of thee."

And it happened as he had arranged. She was taken into Pharaoh's house and he was treated well for her sake; and he had sheep, and oxen, and other presents. When he went to sojourn in Gerar (Gen. 20:1-15) Abraham tried to repeat the same stratagem, taking refuge, when found out, in the double excuse that he was afraid he would be slain for his wife's sake, and that she really was his sister, the daughter of his father, but not the daughter of his mother. Isaac followed his father's example in Gerar:

"The man of the place asked him of his wife; and he said, She is my sister: for he feared to say, My wife; lest (said he) the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah; because she was fair to look upon."

Yet we were told that Isaac loved Rebekah. Such is not Christian love. The actions of Abraham and Isaac remind one of the Blackfoot Indian tale told on page 631 of this volume. An American army officer would not only lay down his own life, but shoot his wife with his own pistol before he would allow her to fall into the enemy's hands, because to him her honor is, of all things human, the most sacred.


Emotions are the product of actions or of ideas about actions. Inasmuch as Hebrew actions toward women and ideas about them were so radically different from ours it logically follows that they cannot have known the emotions of love as we know them. The only symptom of love referred to in the Hebrew Scriptures is Amnon's getting lean from day to day and feigning sickness (II. Sam. 13: 1-22); and the story shows what kind of love that was. It would be contrary to all reason and psychological consistency to suppose that modern tenderness of romantic feeling toward women could have existed among a people whose greatest and wisest man could, for any reason whatever, chide a returning victorious army, as Moses did (Numbers 31: 9-19), for saving all the women alive, and could issue this command:

"Now, therefore, kill every male among the living ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children that have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves."

The Arabs were the first Asiatics who spared women in war; the Hebrews had not risen to that chivalrous stage of civilization. Joshua (8:26) destroyed Ai and slew 12,000, "both of men and women:" and in Judges (21:10-12) we read how the congregation sent an army of 12,000 men and commanded them, saying,

"Go and smite the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead with the edge of the sword, with the women and the little ones. And this is the thing ye shall do; ye shall utterly destroy every male and every woman that hath lain by man."

And they did so, sparing only the four hundred virgins. These were given to the tribe of Benjamin, "that a tribe be not blotted out from Israel;" and when it was found that more were needed they lay in wait in the vineyards, and when the daughters of Shiloh came out to dance, they caught them and carried them off as their wives; whence we see that these Hebrews had not advanced beyond the low stage of evolution, when wives are secured by capture or killed after battle. Among such seek not for romantic love.



Dr. Trumbull's opinion has already been cited that there are certainly "gleams of romantic love from out of the clouds of degraded human passions in the ancient East," in the stories of Shechem and Dinah, Samson and the damsel of Timnah, David and Abigail, Adonijah and Abishag. But I fail to find even "gleams" of romantic love in these stories. Shechem said he loved Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, but he humbled her and dealt with her "as with an harlot," as her brothers said after they had slain him for his conduct toward her. Concerning Samson and the Timnah girl we are simply told that he saw her and told his father, "Get her for me; for she pleaseth me well" (literally, "she is right in my eyes"). And this is evidence of romantic love! As for Abigail, after her husband has refused to feed David's shepherds, and David has made up his mind therefore to slay him and his offspring, she takes provisions and meets David and induces him not to commit that crime; she does this not from love for her husband, for when David has received her presents he says to her, "See, I have hearkened to thy voice, and have accepted thy person." Ten days later, Abigail's husband died, and when David heard of it he

"sent and spake concerning Abigail, to take her to him to wife.... And she rose and bowed herself with her face to the earth, and said, Behold, thine handmaid is a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord. And Abigail, hasted, and arose, and rode upon an ass, with five damsels of hers that followed her; and she went after the messengers of David, and became his wife."

And as if to emphasize how utterly unsentimental and un-Christian a transaction this was, the next sentence tells us that "David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel; and they became both of them his wives."



The last of the stories referred to by Dr. Trumbull, though as far from proving his point as the others, is of peculiar interest because it introduces us to the maiden who is believed by some commentators to be the same as the Shulamite, the heroine of the _Song of Songs_. After Solomon had become king his elder brother, Adonijah, went to the mother of Solomon, Bath-sheba, and said:

"Thou knowest thy kingdom was mine, and that all Israel set their faces on me, that I should reign: howbeit the kingdom is turned about, and is become my brother's: for it was his from the Lord. And now I ask one petition of thee, deny me not.... Speak, I pray thee, unto Solomon the king (for he will not say thee nay) that he give me Abishag the Shunammite to wife."

But when Solomon heard this request he declared that Adonijah had spoken that word against his own life; and he sent a man who fell on him and killed him.

Who was this Abishag, the Shunammite? The opening lines of the First Book of Kings tell us how she came to the court:

"Now King David was old and stricken in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he gat no heat. Wherefore his servants said unto him, Let there be sought for my lord the king, a young virgin, and let her stand before the king and cherish him; and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat. So they sought for a fair damsel throughout all the coasts of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king. And the damsel was very fair; and she cherished the king, and ministered to him; but the king knew her not."


Now it is plausibly conjectured that this Abishag of Shunam or Shulam (a town north of Jerusalem) was the same as the Shulamite of the _Song of Songs_, and that in the lines 6:11-12 she tells how she was kidnapped and brought to court.

I went down into the garden of nuts,
To see the green plants of the valley,
To see whether the vine budded,
And the pomegranates were in flower,
Or ever I was aware, my soul [desire] set me
Among the chariots of my princely people.

She also explains why her face is tanned like the dark tents of Kedar: "My mother's sons were incensed against me, They made me keeper of the vineyards." The added words "mine own vineyard have I not kept" are interpreted by some as an apology for her neglected personal appearance, but Renan (10) more plausibly refers them to her consciousness of some indiscretion, which led to her capture. We may suppose that, attracted by the glitter and the splendor of the royal cavalcade, she for a moment longed to enjoy it, and her desire was gratified. Brought to court to comfort the old king, she remained after his death at the palace, and Solomon, who wished to add her to his harem, killed his own brother when he found him coveting her. The maiden soon regrets her indiscretion in having exposed herself to capture. She is "a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valley," and she feels like a wildflower transplanted to a palace hall. While Solomon in all his glory urges his suit, she, tormented by homesickness, thinks only of her vineyard, her orchards, and the young shepherd whose love she enjoyed in them. Absent-minded, as one in a revery, or dreaming aloud, she answers the addresses of the king and his women in words that ever refer to her shepherd lover:[289]

"Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest thy flock." "My beloved is unto me as a cluster of henna flowers in the vineyards of En-gedi." "Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea pleasant: Also our couch is green." "As the apple-tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste." "The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh, leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills." "My beloved is mine, and I am his: He feedeth his flock among the lilies," "Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field, let us lodge in the villages. Let us get up early to the vineyards.... There will I give thee my love."

[FOOTNOTE [289: For whom the Hebrew poet has a special word _(dodi)_ different from that used when Solomon is referred to.]

The home-sick country girl, in a word, has found out that the splendors of the palace are not to her taste, and the thought of being a young shepherd's darling is pleasanter to her than that of being an old king's concubine. The polygamous rapture with which Solomon addresses her: "There are three-score queens and four-score concubines, and maidens without number," does not appeal to her rural taste. She has no desire to be the hundred and forty-first piece of mosaic inlaid in Solomon's palanquin (III., 9-10), and she stubbornly resists his advances until, impressed by her firmness, and unwilling to force her, the king allows her to return to her vineyard and her lover.

The view that the gist of the _Song of Songs_ is the Shulamite's love of a shepherd and her persistent resistance to the advances of Solomon, was first advanced in 1771 by J.F. Jacobi, and is now universally accepted by the commentators, the overwhelming majority of whom have also given up the artificial and really blasphemous allegorical interpretation of this poem once in vogue, but ignored in the Revised Version, as well as the notion that Solomon wrote the poem. Apart from all other arguments, which are abundant, it is absurd to suppose that Solomon would have written a drama to proclaim his own failure to win the love of a simple country girl. In truth, it is very probable that, as Renan has eloquently set forth, the _Song of Songs_ was written practically for the purpose of holding up Solomon to ridicule. In the northern part of his kingdom there was a strong feeling against him on account of his wicked ways and vicious innovations, especially his harem, and other expensive habits that impoverished the country. "Taken all in all," says the Rev. W.E. Griffis, of Solomon,

"he was probably one of the worst sinners described in the Old Testament. With its usual truth and fearlessness, the Scriptures expose his real character, and by the later prophets and by Jesus he is ignored or referred to only in rebuke."

The contempt and hatred inspired by his actions were especially vivid shortly after his death, when the _Song of Songs_ is believed to have been written (Renan, 97); and, as this author remarks (100),

"the poet seems to have been animated by a real spite against the king; the establishment of a harem, in particular, appears to incense him greatly, and he takes evident pleasure in showing us a simple shepherd girl triumphing over the presumptuous sultan who thinks he can buy love, like everything else, with his gold."

That this is intended to be the moral of this Biblical drama is further shown by the famous lines near the close:

"For love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave [literally: passion is as inexorable (or hard) as sheol]: The flashes thereof are flashes of fire, a very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench it, nor can the floods drown it: If a man should give all the substance of his house for love, he [it] would utterly be contemned."

These lines constitute the last of the passages cited by my critics to prove that the ancient Hebrews knew romantic love and its power. They doubtless did know the power of love; all the ancient civilized nations knew it as a violent sensual impulse which blindly sacrifices life to attain its object. The ancient Hindoos embodied their idea of irresistible power in the force and fury of an amorous elephant. Among animals in general, love is even stronger than death. Male animals of most species engage in deadly combat for the females. "For most insects," says Letourneau, "to love and to die are almost synonymous terms, and yet they do not even try to resist the amorous frenzy that urges them on." Yet no one would dream of calling this romantic love; from that it differs as widely as the insect mind in general differs from the human mind. Waters cannot quench any kind of love or affection nor floods drown it. What we are seeking for are _actions or words describing the specific symptoms of sentimental love_, and these are not to be found in this passage any more than elsewhere in the Bible. An old man may buy a girl's body, but he cannot, with all his wealth and splendor, awaken her love, either sentimental or sensual; love, whatever its nature, will always prefer the apple-tree and the shepherd lover to the vain desires and a thousand times divided attentions of a decrepit king, though he be a Solomon.

It would be strange if this purely profane poem, which was added to the Scriptural collection only by an unusual stretch of liberality,[290] and in which there is not one mention of God or of religion, should give a higher conception of sexual love than the books which are accepted as inspired, and which paint manners, emotions, and morals as the writers found them. As a matter of fact the _Song of Songs_ was long held to be so objectionable that the Talmudists did not allow young people to read it before their thirtieth year. Whiston denounced it as foolish, lascivious, and idolatrous. "The excessively amative character of some passages is designated as almost blasphemous when supposed to be addressed by Christ to his Church,"[291] as it was by the allegorists. On the other hand there is a class of commentators to whom this poem is the ideal of all that is pure and lovely. Herder went into ecstasies over it. Israel Abrahams refers to it (163) as "the noblest of love-poems;" as "this idealization of love." The Rev. W.E. Griffis declares rapturously (166, 63, 21, 16, 250) that "the purest-minded virgin may safely read the _Song of Songs_, in which is no trace of immoral thought." In it "sensuality is scorned and pure love glorified;" it "sets forth the eternal romance of true love," and is "chastely pure in word and delicate in idea throughout." "The poet of the Canticle shows us how to love." "An angel might envy such artless love dwelling in a human heart."

[FOOTNOTE [290: See Renan, Preface, p. iv. It is of all Biblical books, the one "pour lequel les scribes qui ont decide du sort des ecrits hebreux ont le plus elargi leurs regles d'admission."]

[FOOTNOTE [291: McClintock and Strong.]

The truth, as usual in such cases, lies about half-way between these extreme views. There is only one passage which is objectionably coarse in the English version and in the Hebrew original obscene;[292] yet, on the other hand, I maintain that the whole poem is purely Oriental in its exclusively sensuous and often sensual character, and that there is not a trace of romantic sentiment such as would color a similar love-story if told by a modern poet. The _Song of Songs_ is so confused in its arrangement, its plan so obscure, its repetitions and repeated denouements so puzzling,[293] that commentators are not always agreed as to what character in the drama is to be held responsible for certain lines; but for our purpose this difficulty makes no difference. Taking the lines just as they stand, I find that the following:--1: 2-4, 13 (in one version), 17; 2: 6; 4: 16; 5: 1; 8: 2, 3--are indelicate in language or suggestion, as every student of Oriental amorous poetry knows, and no amount of specious argumentation can alter this. The descriptions of the beauty and charms of the beloved or the lover, are, moreover, invariably sensuous and often sensual. Again and again are their bodily charms dwelt on rapturously, as is customary in the poems of all Orientals with all sorts of quaint hyperbolic comparisons, some of which are poetic, others grotesque. No fewer than five times are the external charms thus enumerated, but not once in the whole poem is any allusion made to the spiritual attractions, the mental and moral charms of femininity which are the food of romantic love. Mr. Griffis, who cannot help commenting (223) on this frequent description of the human body, makes a desperate effort to come to the rescue. Referring to 4: 12-14, he says (212) that the lover now "adds a more delicate compliment to her modesty, her instinctive refinement, her chaste life, her purity amid court temptations. He praises her inward ornaments, her soul's charms." What are these ornaments? The possible reference to her chastity in the lines: "A garden shut up is my sister, my bride. A spring shut up, a fountain sealed"--a reference which, if so intended, would be regarded by a Christian maiden not as a compliment, but an insult; while every student of Eastern manners knows that an Oriental makes of his wife "a garden shut up," and "a fountain sealed" not by way of complimenting her chastity, but because he has no faith in it whatever, knowing that so far as it exists it is founded on fear, not on affection. Mr. Griffis knows this himself when he does not happen to be idealizing an impossible shepherd girl, for he says (161):

"To one familiar with the literature, customs, speech, and ideas of the women who live where idolatry prevails, and the rulers and chief men of the country keep harems, the amazing purity and modesty of maidens reared in Christian homes is like a revelation from heaven."[294]

[FOOTNOTE 292: In the seventh chapter there are lines where, as Renan points out, the speaker, in describing the girl, "vante ses charmes les plus intimes," and where the translator was "oblige a des attenuations."]

[FOOTNOTE 293: Renan says justly that it is the most obscure of all Hebrew poems. According to the old Hebrew exegesis, every passage in the Bible has seventy different meanings, all of them equally true; but of this Song a great many more than seventy interpretations have been given: the titles of treatises on the Canticles fill four columns of fine print in McClintock and Strong's Cyclopaedia. Griffis declares that it is, "probably, the most perfect poem in any language," but in my opinion it is far inferior to other books in the Bible. The adjective perfect is not applicable to a poem so obscure that more than half its meaning has to be read between the lines, while its plan, if plan it has, is so mixed up and hindmost foremost that I sometimes feel tempted to accept the view of Herder and others that the _Song of Songs_ is not one drama, but a collection of unconnected poems.]

[FOOTNOTE 294: Mr. Griffis' lucid, ingenious, and admirably written monograph entitled, _The Lily among Thorns_, is unfortunately marred in many parts by the author's attitude, which is not that of a critic or a judge, but of a lawyer who has a case to prove, that black and gray are really snow white. His sense of humor ought to have prevented him from picturing an Eastern shepherd complimenting a girl of his class on her "instinctive refinement". He carries this idealizing process so far that he arbitrarily divides the line "I am black but comely," attributing the first three words to the Shulamite, the other two to a chorus of her rivals in Solomon's harem! The latter supposition is inconceivable; and why should not the Shulamite call herself comely? I once looked admiringly at a Gypsy girl in Spain, who promptly opened her lips, and said, with an arch smile, "soy muy bonita"--"I am very pretty!"--which seemed the natural, naive attitude of an Oriental girl. To argue away such a trifling spot on maiden modesty as the Shulamite's calling herself comely, while seeing no breach of delicacy in her inviting her lover to come into the garden and eat his precious fruits, though admitting that "the maiden yields thus her heart and her all to her lover," is surely straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.]

Supersensual charms are not alluded to in the _Song of Songs_, for the simple reason that Orientals never did, and do not now, care for such charms in women or cultivate them. They know love only as an appetite, and in accordance with Oriental taste and custom the _Song of Songs_ compares it always to things that are good to eat or drink or smell. Hence such ecstatic expressions as "How much better is thy love than wine! And the smell of thine ointments than all manner of spices!" Hence her declaration that her beloved is

"as the apple-tree among the trees of the wood.... I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.... Stay ye me with raisins, comfort me with apples: For I am sick of love. His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me."

Hence the shepherd's description of his love: "I am come into the garden, my sister, my bride: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice: I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk."

Modern love does not express itself in such terms; it is more mental and sentimental, more esthetic and sympathetic, more decorous and delicate, more refined and supersensual. While it is possible that, as Renan suggests (143), the author of the Canticles conceived his heroine as a saint of her time, rising above sordid reality, it is clear from all we have said that the author himself was not able to rise above Orientalism. The manners of the East, both ancient and modern, are incompatible with romantic love, because they suppress the evolution of feminine refinement and sexual mentality. The documents of the Hebrews, like those of the Hindoos and Persians, Greeks, and Romans, prove that tender, refined, and unselfish affection between the sexes, far from being one of the first shoots of civilization, is its last and most beautiful flower.

[The end]
Henry Theophilus Finck's non-fiction: Does The Bible Ignore Romantic Love?