By Hardy Jackson
The Bible: read with care.
“For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; and the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”
- Song of Solomon, 2:11-12. (KJV)
The Song of Solomon is my favorite book of the Bible.
I read it about this time of year, when we start getting hints of spring (like I read Faulkner’s “The Bear,” to get in the mood for winter.)
Though I hardly qualify as a Bible scholar, I am pretty sure Solomon was as close to the heart of humanity as you are gonna get. He could write some pretty words.
But you can find yourself in a lot of trouble if you go around quoting the Bible. (Disclaimer. I cannot vouch with absolute certainty for the accuracy of each detail of what follows, but if memory serves – which sometimes it doesn’t – this is, as they used to say around the court house, “close enough for government work.”)
My childhood playmate Johnny learned the pitfalls of Bible quoting back when we were lads in the Grove Hill Methodist Church and Miss Kling, our sixth-grade Sunday school teacher, told us to come in next Sunday with a memorized Bible verse.
Now Miss Kling was an old maid who for generations had educated students at Clarke County Elementary School five days a week and the Methodists among them on Sunday. She had taught my mother before me so she seemed ancient by the time I came under her influence. I recall her as rail-thin, tight lipped, and no nonsense, so when we were told to learn a verse, learn a verse we would.
Bubba, as I recall, quickly claimed “Jesus wept.”
The girls in the class selected the sort of sentimental slop pre-teen girls are inclined to pick – all that “whither thou goest” stuff from the book of Ruth and “love” (not “charity”) from First Corinthians – stuff that would let Miss Kling know how seriously they took the assignment.
(First Corinthians got a lot of traffic later on when we got to high school and another buddy used it to pledge his undying, yet unrequited love to a lass in our class. Almost weekly he would volunteer to read the devotional and open the book to the 13 th Chapter and go at it. Never did any good other than to confirm among the doubters that God’s word might not be as powerful as Miss Kling had told us it was.)
But I digress.
So I asked Mama, our fount of all Biblical knowledge, for a good verse and she suggested Song of Solomon 2:11-12. She said it was one of Daddy’s favorites. Despite that endorsement, I was reluctant because it was two verses, rather than one, and I was never inclined to do more when less would suffice. But I read it and it was short, so I learned it. Besides, I liked spring and flowers and birds and such, and the idea of a singing turtle struck me as, well, funny.
When I announced my choice to my circle of friends, Johnny, who was still without a verse, asked if there were any other “songs” of Solomon that he could learn quickly. I said I didn’t know, but maybe he should take a look.
I don’t know how he handled the book’s opening verse and all that about being “black, but comely” (this was during those segregation days and we did not discuss such things, even in a Biblical context) but by the time he got to the second chapter he knew he had found the treasure he sought.
Inspired, he learned one verse, and another, and another.
And so it came to pass that the next Sunday, when Miss Kling called on Johnny to recite his chosen verse, in a clear voice he began “Behold, thou art fair, my love.”
Who would have thought an old woman could move so quickly, or snatch so hard. She nearly lifted Johnny out of his seat as she brought his performance to a screeching halt.
I cowered in fear. Would my turtle set her off?
But order was soon restored. The girls rescued the rest of us, set a higher tone, and when they got around to me I was praised for my choice and my elocution.
Afterward, during “big church” we boys sat together like the good little gentlemen we were, took out the pew Bibles, and read those verses that Miss Kling, thanks to her own careful reading, knew Johnny was about to recite.
It was then and there that I learned that you gotta be careful when you go around quoting the Bible.
Especially in the company of people who have read it.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.