Asceticism and Eroticism in Medieval Jewish Philosophical and Mystical Exegesis of the Song of Songs

Elliot R. Wolfson

in With Reverence for the Word

Published in print January 2003 | ISBN: 9780195137279
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199849482 | DOI:
Asceticism and Eroticism in Medieval Jewish Philosophical and Mystical Exegesis of the Song of Songs

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The ascetic impulse manifested in pious devotion may be rooted in erotic desire, which is a recurring element in the phenomenology of religious experience. Matters pertaining to the sacred can be depicted erotically because there is a presumption with respect to the sacred nature of the erotic. In the medieval setting of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, this is enhanced by the common Platonic heritage according to which the intelligible realm is itself rendered in distinctively erotic language. The confluence of eroticism and asceticism is especially prevalent in the realm of mystical religious experience. A central (if not defining) feature of mysticism cultivated within theistic traditions is the experience of communion of the individual soul with the personal God. This chapter explores asceticism and eroticism in medieval Jewish philosophical and mystical exegesis of the Song of Songs. It discusses the allegorization of the erotic in medieval Jewish exegesis, the ecstatic and theosophic elements in kabbalistic allegoresis, the elevation of the Shekhinah and the transposition of gender, and spiritual eroticism and ascetic renunciation in kabbalistic readings of the Song.

Keywords: Song of Songs; asceticism; eroticism; mysticism; religious experience; medieval Jewish exegesis; allegorization; Shekhinah; gender

Chapter.  16214 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Religions

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