Song of Solomon

Why was the sensuous, poetic Song of Songs included in the Bible?

Why was the sensuous, poetic Song of Songs included in the Bible?

THE QUESTION:  Why did ancient Jewish leaders approve the sensuous Song of Songs (a.k.a. Song of Solomon or Canticles) as a book in the Bible?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER: The biblical Song, a remarkably poetic celebration of sexual and emotional love between a man and a woman, won recent praise in The Wall Street Journal’s “Masterpiece” column, which analyzes history’s major works of art. Writer Aliora Katz commented on its cultural value: “In the time of Tinder and casual hookups, [the Song] reminds us that physical attraction and love ultimately point upward to that which only the poets can imagine or describe.”

Admittedly, some of its metaphors fall oddly on the modern ear, for instance “your hair is like a flock of goats streaming down Mount Gilead” (4:1, repeated in 6:5, Jewish Publication Society translation). Readers should realize that the Bible is filled with feelings of protection and warmth toward nature and its creatures, reflecting a  pastoral culture. Yet this long-ago poetry is fully contemporary as it floats among desire, yearning, admiration, reminiscence, boastfulness, teasing, and self-reflection -- for the woman character in the drama as well as the man.

Considered as scripture, the Song contrasts with warnings elsewhere in the Bible about sexual sin. Yet the Jewish sages some 19 centuries ago agreed it was among the writings in the “canon” to be recognized as holy writ. Christianity then carried the Jewish books over into its “Old Testament.”

An evangelical expert, Tremper Longman III of Westmont College, wrote that we have no evidence to tell how the Song’s original readers understood it, and Roland E. Murphy said we cannot be sure why or when Jewish authorities made it part of the biblical canon. But historians generally think the Song was accepted because ancient Jews thought King Solomon himself wrote it, and because they believed its true message was not glorification of sexuality but the spiritual love between God and his people. That’s called “allegorical” interpretation, though the poem itself is not an allegory.

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Why is the Song of Solomon in the Bible, anyway?

Why is the Song of Solomon in the Bible, anyway?

ROB ASKS:

The Song of Solomon gets a lot of "bad press." Are there spiritual lessons to be found in this book?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

The Song of Solomon or Song of Songs has probably roused more confusion than any other book in the Hebrew Bible, similar to the New Testament’s complex Book of Revelation. Roland K. Harrison of the University of Toronto says the Song provides “almost unlimited ground for speculation.” The Bible’s usual piety, preachments and prayers are totally absent, nor is God even mentioned (except for 8:6 in some translations). Yet readings from the Song are chosen for Judaism’s Passover liturgy and Catholicism’s feast of Mary Magdalene.

Why was this book chosen for the Bible in the first place? Did King Solomon write it? Is it about him? And, most important, is this a book of erotic poetry, as it appears on the surface, or something totally different, an unusual expression of the spiritual love bond between God and believers?

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