F. Scott SPENCER. Song of Songs. Wisdom Commentary 25. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2017. Pp. lxiv + 252. $39.95 hb. ISBN 978-0-8146-8124-4. Reviewed by Nicholas R. WERSE, Baylor University, Waco, TX 76706.


Spencer’s contribution on the Song of Songs to the Wisdom Commentary series supplies another welcomed volume to the first complete commentary series on every book of the Bible (including the Apocrypha) from a feminist perspective. Spencer’s introduction frames his methodological approach as a white male scholar interpreting the text from a feminist perspective. Throughout the commentary he carefully notes how feminist readings can result in different interpretations of the text. This is illustrated, for example, in Spencer’s introductory discussion of differing feminist approaches to the Song of Songs. He notes that on the one hand,  some feminist readings celebrate the Song of Songs as a conduit for a strong female voice in the Biblical text. On the other hand, different feminist readings approach the text with suspicion as a product of male fantasy projected onto the speech of a female character. Spencer admits that his context prohibits him from telling female readers how they should react to the text. He writes, “The only way I know for a man to know anything about what a woman thinks or feels about anything is to listen to what she says…” (p. l, italics original). He thus admits that he draws heavily upon previous feminist scholarship on the Song of Songs.

The commentary portion follows the NRSV with creative bracketed notes indicating the speaker and direction of speech. Spencer approaches the Song of Songs as a compositional unity using a form of reader-response criticism that treats the literary development as a key compositional feature of the book. He thus periodically avoids looking ahead in the text to inform earlier ambiguity noting that the literary development of key themes and images serves as an important rhetorical feature. He celebrates liberative proclamations of the female voice without overlooking the problems posed by “texts of terror” (e.g. 5:7). He applies a keen eye to the implications of gendered language and unique places where the text appears to defy or blur conventional gender lines through its use of prominent metaphors.

            One celebrated innovation of the Wisdom Commentary series is the inclusion of different authors in brief sidebar contributions. The additional seven contributors to this volume supplement Spencer’s commentary with topical and textual reflections from distinctive perspectives. The combination of voices in this volume provides fertile ground for theological reflection. The minimal Hebrew and style of the volume makes it accessible to non-specialists, and the theological reflection will undoubtedly serve clergy who regularly teach with an eye toward modern theological reflection.