The Catholic University of America

Mark Byron Giszczak Defense

Final Examination of Mark Byron Giszczak

For the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Monday, October 22, 2012 2:00 p.m., Caldwell Room 125


Robert D. Miller II, Ph.D.


"Character and Metaphor as Hermeneutical Problems in the Songs of Songs" 

The Song of Songs confronts interpreters with its enigmatic lyrics. Its poetry is opaque; its author is unknown; its literary genre is perhaps impossible to determine. Scholars have long sought to arrive at the Song’s symbols by defining its genre or by addressing its unity or disunity. However, the standard scholarly process of interpretation has led to an impasse where many interpretations flourish separately, without agreement or dialogue with one another. The Song’s polyvalence had prompted its readers to pursue many different paths to unravel the poem’s mystery.

Rather than proceeding from genre or unity, this study approaches the Song in light of its characters, attempting to ascertain about whom the Song speaks. It presents a systematic comparison of approaches (namely, the naturalistic unity, naturalistic anthology, naturalistic exhortation-to-chastity, historical allegory, spiritual allegory, wedding song, and dramatic). Chapter One establishes the purpose and method of this project. Chapters Two through six explore the identities of the various characters and character groups: Solomon and “the king,” the so-called shepherd, the woman, the daughters of Jerusalem, and finally the mothers, brothers and watchmen. Chapter Seven summarizes the preceding work and offers a few conclusions on how to explain the Song and its manifold interpretations.

The study concludes that the principle which causes the meaning of the Song to balloon is that it is not a code with a one-to-one correspondence to something else, but a metaphorical text with a one-to-many correspondence to other realities. Also, the limiting or norming principle for each interpreter is the literary context in which he or she seeks coherence for the Song. Lastly, the study proposes two kinds of restraints which can be employed in the reading of the Song. First, the text of the Song must hold pride of place in any interpretation. Second, the primary exegetical work which aims to explain the immediate meaning of the text is important, but not the only valid explanation of the Song. Other meanings, e.g., allegory, are necessarily secondary, yet can offer the reader a more complete explanation. The study invites interpreters to dialogue on the primary level.