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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Comparative Literature

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Michael Papio

Second Advisor

William Moebius

Third Advisor

Jessica Barr

Fourth Advisor

Susan Niditch

Subject Categories

Biblical Studies | Catholic Studies | Comparative Literature | Medieval Studies | Near Eastern Languages and Societies | Philosophy | Reading and Language | Religion


This study examines some of the ways in which exegetical traditions and other medieval creative work grew out of the conventional hermeneutics of allegorizing the biblical Song of Songs. Beginning with a close reading of the Hebrew poem itself, this work continues by probing the unique disconnect between the Song’s literal meaning that exegetes either struggled to comprehend or chose to ignore, and the poem’s significance as a sacrosanct, canonical text in both the Jewish and Christian worlds. The displacement of the poem’s literal reading for an amorphous figurative one resulted in a rich legacy of creative commentary and literary work rooted in the commentary tradition. The Song of Songs exerted a seminal and wide-reaching influence on both the Western literary tradition as well as its understanding of love on both erotic and theological levels. Though much scholarship has been done on the colorful history of the Song’s exegesis in medieval Christianity and Judaism, less work has been done that explores how creative exegesis transformed into other inventive literary work. The various means of explaining the Song are literary works in their own right; nevertheless, either consciously through direct appropriation and allusion or subconsciously as echoes, such creative adaptations of the Song’s imagery and cultural resonance abound throughout medieval literature, and in works as varied as midrashic discourse, the many iterations of the Tristan and Isolde romance, Troubadour lyrics, or the politically-charged mysticism of the Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), to name a few of the works whose connection to the Song of Songs is explicated here. These works channel the Song for their own unique reasons, thus forging a sort of compound allegoresis, or an extended allegory based on previous allegories that are not implicated by the features of the original Hebrew poem itself, but are nevertheless generated both in response to the erotic Song’s problematic canonical status as well as to its arcane and difficult imagery. The Song of Songs’ imagery as well as commentary on the text permeate the medieval creative imagination and undergird many theological considerations of love.