This dissertation examines the thesis that the Song of Songs is love poetry that portrays two lovers who are entirely dependent upon each other in constructing their self-identity. Examining the Song in this way illuminates the centrality of their relationship and the specific ways in which it contributes to the self-construction of each lover. The literary methodology of poetics with particular attention to dialogue serves as the backbone of the project. To this are added philosophical developments, primarily from Kenneth Gergen and Judith Butler, concerning the interpersonal construction of the self to further explore the intertwined lovers. The interpersonal characteristics of the self demonstrate that one individual person depends upon relationship with others in understanding oneself. In particular, the dissertation examines the Song in light of three components of interpersonal self-construction: performance, dialogue, and unboundedness.

Chapter 1 presents common ways of presenting characterization in biblical texts and argues that these are insufficient for dealing with the Song based upon previous Song scholarship. It then puts forward a framework for interpersonality that draws on the broader history of the philosophy of the self as a way to examine the lovers in the Song. Chapter 2 addresses the lovers in terms of this framework of dialogue, performance, and unboundedness in Song 1:1-2:14, establishing several patterns of interaction between the two lovers that are repeated and developed. Chapter 3 focuses on the two night scenes and the following descriptions in 3:1-11 and 5:2-6:3. These sections, which differ significantly from the rest of the Song by including more narrative aspects, provide an alternative source of characterization for the two lovers and incorporate a palpable sense of danger threatening to separate them. Chapter 4 applies the framework to 4:1-5:1 and 6:4-7:14, which primarily present the woman through her lover’s eyes as part of a larger dialogue between the two of them. Just as their relationship continues to develop and is therefore always incomplete, the fragmented nature of the description emphasizes that partiality. Chapter 5 discusses the features of Song 8 as a means to conclude the findings of the entire project. The Song functions as a window onto an interpersonal relationship between two lovers that begins before the text and continues after its last verse; the reader follows its development from the outside. The poetry presents a relationship that creates two lovers who exist entirely in terms of the relationship between them. Ultimately, the Song of Songs provides a case study in how interpersonal relationships invaluably contribute to identity and selfhood.

Degree Date

Spring 2018

Document Type


Degree Name



Religious Studies


Roy L. Heller

Second Advisor

Jaime Clark-Soles

Third Advisor

Serge Frolov

Fourth Advisor

Christine Roy Yoder



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License