Come Away: Song of Songs, by Anne Hines

This is an interesting concept — a book about how the Song of Songs came to be written. It’s not the traditional story: the book is not viewed as a love song written by or about King Solomon. Rather, it’s a celebration of feminine sexuality and spirituality tucked in between the severe and masculine prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, written by a woman who is resisting the move from a more pluralistic religious background in the Babylonian exile, to the stern paternalistic monotheism of the returning Jewish exiles.

Hines tells two stories in this novel: the story of Shahiroz, a Jewish priestess of Asherah, and the modern-day story of Biblical scholar Reggie Niefeild and his wife, whose lives are transformed in odd ways when they unlock the secrets of feminine-centred, earth-friendly spirituality after a lifetime of arid textual study of the Song of Songs.

There are some easy cliches here, and some extremely awkward use of dialogue to convey exposition, but both stories are quirky and interesting and kept me reading.  This could easily have been a much longer book, with all the characters fully fleshed out and their worlds more richly explored, but it’s actually quite a short one and there’s much to be said for the way Hines has written it, giving us just a tantalizing glimpse into a worldview that is surprisingly different from how those of us who are conservative Christians normally read the Scriptures. She brushes away some of our basic assumptions to suggest, “Maybe it was like this…” and, in the modern-day story, to hint, “Maybe if we thought it was like that, we might behave like this….”  Offbeat and intriguing.

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