Saturday, May 7, 2016

Song of Solomon

What is an erotic poem doing in the middle of the Bible? The Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs, is a beautiful poem, but some find it hard to reconcile with the more solemn books on either side of it (in most editions, it is between Ecclesiastes and Isaiah).

The poem celebrates the courtship, marriage and continuing union of a couple.  This couple is the King, referred to as the Beloved (Solomon), and the Shulamite, one of his favorite wives. In much of the poem, the Beloved and the Shulamite express their love for each other and the delight they experience in being loved by each other.

Though it is masked in metaphor, there is clearly physical attraction and pleasure in the relationship. The Shulamite compares her husband to a feast, and she is deeply satisfied (maybe pleasantly drunk) from enjoying him. The Beloved compares his wife to a beautiful garden, and he wants to smell every flower and taste every fruit.

Some have taken the entire book to be a metaphor for something else. It has been read at Passover by Jews, who see it as a reference to the God (the King) initiation relationship (marriage) to Israel (the humble and lowly Shulamite). Christian scholars have often taken it as a metaphor of the relationship between Christ and the church, which is often referred to as the bride of Christ in the New Testament.

These ideas no doubt have merit, but I would not want to lose the more straightforward story of the song. Marriage can be full of passion and pleasure. A committed couple can find ways to make that passion last and continue to enjoy each other. God created marriage, and I think He wants husbands and wives to enjoy each other in many way, including sex.

The poem has multiple narrators and take place in multiple settings. In addition to the Beloved and the Shulamite, we here from the ladies of the court, the Shulamites’ brothers, and other possible guests of a wedding feast or similar event. The original text does not readily identify shifts in speaker or setting except through internal clues, such as changes in pronouns. Many editions of the Bible including notes or headers to make understanding the poem easier, but these are the addition of editors.

Song of Solomon. The Holy Bible. New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.