April 26, 2017

What’s A Conservative Reading of Song of Solomon?

I have too many religious channels on my Dish tv. Any time of the day or night, I can get at least 6 preachers.

Some of these television preachers are Word-Faith, prosperity gospel charlatans and phonies. They should be arrested, locked up and the key thrown away.

But several of these preachers are actually trying to teach something. They talk about the Bible, prophecy, revelations, hidden meanings, lots of numerology, angels, voices, visions, trances and the anointing. Always the anointing.

I don’t know exactly what to call these people. Most of them seem to be totally unaware of the Gospel. They rarely talk about Jesus. Their message usually amounts to “It’s the last generation outpouring” or “You’re on the verge of a breakthrough” or “We need to elect a Republican.”

They take the Bible and make it say things it doesn’t say. They take a verse, rip it out of context and turn it into a reason for you to send $50 to their ministry so that you can get a special one time only outpouring.

Paula White, for instance, can take a passage and get a vast amount of information from the verse numbers. It usually gets into what amount of seed money you need to send to get in on this one time breakthrough miracle anointing.

Or Perry Stone. Perry knows a lot about the Bible, history and Judaism. He comes across to his audience as quite bright. But what he does with scripture is just painful to listen to. He invents, distorts, selects, twists and come out with things no one has ever heard of.

Sometimes two or three of these Bible teachers will get together on one program and play tag-team heresy. They start one distortion then hand it to the next person to add to, and then on to the next person….and so on. Everyone nods, and when they are done, you feel like you’ve had one of those micro-strokes where you hear the words but nothing makes any sense.

Liberal? Well, they are pretty conservative on the political-social-culture war agenda. But with the Bible, liberal isn’t the right word. They just find what isn’t there, and make things up to suit whatever their agenda happens to be.

Why bring this up? You see, it all has to do with the Song of Solomon. What is a conservative reading of the Song of Solomon?

In my job as a high school Bible teacher, I get to go through the Song of Solomon a couple of days every year. We read it all, and I try to relate the book to the rest of the Bible. So I’ve read a lot of commentaries and introductions to Song of Solomon. I’m fairly up to speed on the scholarly discussion. I know about allegorical interpretation. I know the 2 and 3 person dramatic theory. I know Pope’s theory that it’s a drama involving Ba’al and a consort. I know the pros and cons of what we can learn from parallels in other texts. I know the literary and theological discussions. I’ve even been to see an operatic presentation of the whole book, written by Calvin Seerveld.

I don’t have the book memorized, but I know my way around it pretty well after 15 seasons in the classroom. I have my own ideas of what’s going on and why it’s in the canon.

So it’s interesting to me how many young, reformed, Baptist and/or “Purpose Driven” preachers have done preaching/teaching series on Song of Solomon. And it’s distressing to see what they do with the book. Paula and Perry would be nodding.

Of course, Song of Solomon is a pretty hot read, even in English. In Hebrew it’s scandalous. There’s enough euphemisms in the Song to get you tossed out of several Christian colleges. It wasn’t for no reason that the 5th Council of Constantinople mandated that the book always be taught and preached allegorically. That meant that if you actually let it mean what it said, you were in conflict with Mother Church. Well, some mothers are a bit prudish.

And that’s the reason it’s a hot sermon and teaching book among evangelicals, especially in the current climate of reaching the emerging generation. Reading the sexy stuff in Song of Solomon is definitely not what they were doing at Hall Street Baptist Church when I grew up. Nosirree….that book was an allegory about Christ and his church, and those two breasts actually meant grace and faith.

I actually own John Gill’s two volumes on Song of Solomon, an incredible accomplishment of completely avoiding the meaning of the text and using the rest of scripture to force Song of Solomon to become something no one who produced or originally read or heard it would have remotely understood.

So I’m listening to a well-known young evangelical preacher last night as he goes through the Song of Solomon in the second sermon of a verse by verse series. The series is focused on marriage and sexual intimacy in marriage.

It’s a more honest reading of the text than the allegorists, and it does recognize that this is love poetry.

The sermon contains a lot of good information on marriage and sexual intimacy. I don’t agree with all of the perspective of the preacher on this topic, but the information and advice he’s giving is good. I wish my students would listen to the talk because there’s some exceptionally frank discussion of sex and marriage that will save them a lot of difficulty.

But I’m just not convinced that what I’m hearing is the message of the Song of Solomon. I’m not convinced that what I’m hearing from the preacher can be found authoritatively in the text. I don’t believe that study and exegesis is going to bring these points to the forefront.

Don’t get me wrong. Many of those who are preaching and teaching the Song of Solomon are handling the text of the book more carefully and conservatively than those who avoided the meaning altogether. But that doesn’t mean the advice and teaching on marriage and sex they are giving comes out of this text. It may be generally true for Christians, and we may be able to derive it from scripture as a whole or even from sanctified common sense.

The Song of Solomon simply isn’t a detailed instruction manual for marriage and sex. It’s ancient middle eastern love poetry. It’s sensual and it speaks to the gift of sexuality in God’s good creation. In the language of the text, there are things to be noted about sex, love and romance, but it simply isn’t a narrative or an exposition of the topic. In some ways, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense and I’m suspicious of anyone who handles the book with flippant confidence.

It’s misleading to tell new believers that Song of Solomon is something it’s not. It’s wrong to portray Solomon as someone he wasn’t! It’s confusing to plainly hear scripture use Solomon’s accumulation of a harem as an example of pride, lust and a sinful use of power, and then hear that Solomon is the great teacher on marriage.

It’s not right to ignore the difficulties and various interpretations of the text and say that the book is an instruction manual for sex and marriage based on Solomon’s marriage to his one true love.

For example, the preacher went right from some of the more sensual language of the book to specific kinds of popular contemporary sexual acts, and then moved well past that to much more on to the larger subject of sex in marriage and many applications there. Whether his advice was true or not, it wasn’t based on the plain, purposeful reading of the text. He was hanging his own talk on the text, not bringing the message out of the text.

This kind of handling of the Song of Solomon shows that “conservative,” inerrancy loving evangelicals who claim to be doing verse by verse exegesis are often just hanging their own thoughts and advice onto a shallow reading of the text.

In simply dealing with the plain meaning of the text, some of our “liberal” mainline friends are far more “conservative” than many well known conservative evangelicals. Some of what comes out of contemporary teaching from Song of Solomon is an agenda regarding marriage, family and gender that cannot be found in Song of Solomon. It’s fabrication to say it can.

The truth? A sexy reading of Song of Solomon attracts hearers. It attracts men. It attracts couples. It has evangelistic potential. Many people would much prefer to hear about marriage, dating, sex, relationships and gender than to hear about the Gospel or the teaching of the Bible in which Song of Solomon does have a canonical place.

When I hear “conservative” evangelicals making a speech about their loyalty to the Bible, I’m becoming more and more skeptical.

Comments

  1. “It’s misleading to tell new believers that Song of Solomon is something it’s not. It’s wrong to portray Solomon as someone he wasn’t! It’s confusing to plainly hear scripture use Solomon’s accumulation of a harem as an example of pride, lust and a sinful use of power, and then hear that Solomon is the great teacher on marriage.”

    Agreed. That’s always been one of the more confusing unasked questions I’ve always had, and I’ve been a believer for over 15 years…

    Perhaps it is time we all question the “Sunday School” interpretations of several books and stories in the Bible. A good example is the Parable about sowing seeds…historically meant to mean evangelism, and yet it’s clearly just as much an example of what Jesus did on the earth, as well as an example of what happens spiritual whenever something “of the Kingdom of Heaven” is preached.

  2. MIchael,
    Very good article, my friend.
    Can you possibly recommend a couple of of SoS commentaries?

    Jonathan

  3. Duane Garret, New American Commentary (Holman) Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song. Best I’ve used, and a very good intro.

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    They talk about the Bible, prophecy, revelations, hidden meanings, lots of numerology, angels, voices, visions, trances and the anointing. Always the anointing.

    These days, the first thing that comes to mind when you say “anointing” is Tatted Todd kicking someone in the nuts onstage at Lakeland. “ANGELS! ANGELS! ANGELS! SHEEKA-BOOM-BAH! BAM!”

    I understand Song of Solomon to be ancient Jewish erotic poetry, done in a stylized manner. Apparently it also makes preachers weird — some sort of “anointing” that makes anyone who preaches from it Preach Crazy in one way or another. It’s like the book emits “goof gas” from that Rocky & Bullwinkle episode or something.

  5. Monk,
    I have also been listening to the series and as much as I agree with most of the advice given in the sermons I think the preacher in question is not letting this specific book “Songs” inform the discussion. I’ve seen this tendecy in his preaching recently. I’m a huge fan and would hate for his ministry to become more about his advice than expository preaching.

  6. So is she my sister or my spouse or what? And what exactly does it mean by feeding among the lilies?

  7. Michael,

    I agree wholeheartedly with what you say here. So much of the “expository” preaching I hear is not expository or exegetical at all. It might be a verse-by-verse commentary of their associated thoughts, but it’s not exposition.

    Anyhow, I would love to hear a follow-up or continuation to this post. Your insight would be good to see. Maybe an outline of the book from the lens you use, or something to that degree.

    I will be waiting with baited breath 🙂

  8. I probably won’t let the exegetical police feast on me. My life is complicated enough.

    It’s erotic love poetry. Probable highly influenced by Canaanite poems.

    It’s a drama with 3 characters. (Most interpreters go with the 2 character dramatic view)

    Solomon actually plays the counterpoint to the girl’s true love. He attempts to seduce her and fails.

    Most of the book is in the mode of a daydream or romantic fantasy. A lot of commentators note that some sequences are probably dreams.

    Find Calvin Seerveld’s version: the Greatest Song.

    It’s pretty scandalous in its poetic metaphor. Latches. Fountains. Gardens. Fruit.

    Don’t make too much of anything it says when it uses words like sister or bride. It’s poetic excess. The whole thing is a teenage girl having fantasy about a shepherd boy.

  9. I disagree with the author’s conclusions about the dramatic scheme and purpose of the book, but an excellent intro to the book can be found at Bible.org

    http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=909

  10. Yup, I’ve noticed over the years that it is poetry (from the time I was 6, and stumbled upon it, heh).

    I never got preachers who said it represented Christ’s love for the Church. That’s a bit of a stretch.

    But back to the book. Yes, the language is flowery. And most times, when I read it, it sounded very dream-like.

    Chapter 5 always drew a blank. Unless I’m missing some historical treatment of women when they are found late at night, my eyebrows always raised at the watchmen beating the girl.

    Interesting discussion, Michael. Very.

  11. Mark D. and Tom N. says:

    We are not edified.

  12. Greg DeVore says:

    You mention the Gospel and the place of the Song within the Bible and the Bible’s message. If the Gospel of God’s redemption of the world through the life, death and resurrection of Christ is the heart of Scripture then the Song must be understood in light of that central reality. This is the strength of the allegorical interpretation. You have pointed out its weaknesses. I agree with you that the Song is not a sex manuel to spice up evangelical bedrooms. It is erotic love poetry, but it is erotic poetry used to make theological, Christological, mystical points. All Scripture centers on Christ crucified.

  13. Yeah, it’s just about crazy monkey love; not about marrraige or fidelity or a how to please your lover in a “godly” way. It’s just about desire and about expressing that while you’re naked.

    Have your average 13 year old boy read it and he’ll know just what it is about. One of my friends in 8th grade called it the X rated book.

    If I had to guess (which is all I can do), I would say that God has it as part of scripture to fight the gnostic views that are actually causing people to read into it stuff to avoid its plain meaning.

    A little ironic, isn’t it?

  14. I once heard a very interesting message series (at an A/G Family Camp in Minnesota, no less) that indicated Solomon loved Abishag.

    Take a look at 1 Kings 1 & 2. David keeps warm with a beautiful young woman, Abishag the Shunammite.

    Adonijah tries to usurp the throne.

    David has His men anoint Solomon King.

    Adonijah tries to get Abishag the Shunammite for his wife by talking to Bathsheba (Solomon’s Mom)

    Solomon goes ballistic, sends Benaiah the son of Jehoiada to kill him.

    I don’t know if it was ever consummated. I guess Song of Solomon could be a poem of unrequited love or maybe . . . .

  15. My comment on this got large enough to make it a post. See here

  16. Oh! A fellow Seerveld admirer – his book is definitely a “must have” for SoS students. I’m curious to hear more about the oratorio you saw…

  17. I’ve listened to the previous series on SoS by this same preacher (assuming I know who you’re talking about) and I’d agree. In fact, I’d say despite his protestations about preaching the Bible, he regularly draws things out of other texts he has addressed, especially OT narratives, that are just there.

    That doesn’t mean I’m not thankful for how God is using him, it’s just that he is far better at contemporisation than exegesis and much more of a systematic theologian than biblical scholar (if I’m allowed to make that distinction).

    And no, he is not alone.

  18. Correction:

    “he regularly draws things out of other texts, especially OT narratives, that are just not there.”

  19. A few months ago, on a drive with a friend, he was telling me I just had to listen to his favorite radio preacher. He had an audiotape of him ‘n everything. “He’s just the best exegetical preacher,” my friend said; “he just goes verse by verse through the scriptures and pulls so much out of it.”

    So he popped in the tape and I listened. Radio Preacher was preaching the Psalms. He quoted one verse—”the heavens declare the glory of God,” then proceeded to go into a list of the glorious attributes of God. Took about ten minutes. Then he went to the next verse, which provoked another sermonette. Then the next verse…

    I stopped the tape. “I hate to tell you,” I explained to my friend, “but this is not exegetical preaching.”

    “What are you talking about? He’s going verse by verse through the bible.”

    “And as he does so, he’s not actually talking about the verses. Tell me one attribute of God you can find in verse 1 other than His glory. This dude listed ten. Where’d the other nine come from?”

    Not that he was preaching heresy. He was a bit Calvinist for my taste, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is that my friend—and many like him—have been led to believe “exegetical” means “preaches verse by verse,” regardless of whether the content of the sermon actually has anything to do with any study of the grammar and history of the verses.

    Song of Solomon just happens to fare the worst of all of this sort of preaching, ’cause nobody dares to touch the grammar or history for fear it’ll lead to naughty thoughts or NC-17-rated sermons. A big fat amen to your post. I just had to unburden myself of this anecdote.

  20. Christians are not the only one’s who struggle with this. A jew has to be mature enough to study this book, meaning of age. If you ever get the chance by all means join group under a good rabbi and have at it. It will blow your mind.

  21. In simply dealing with the plain meaning of the text, some of our “liberal” mainline friends are far more “conservative”

    Would you care to mention some mainline preachers who have sermons online on this topic?

    Man I bet you regret the post now – so far everyone has asked for more information on one or more of the points you mentioned 😀

  22. Seerveld book and Duane Garrett’s NAC commentary are the best resources I can give you. Any good academically solid Intro to the OT will help as well.

    On the Abishag bit: In the book, it’s Solomon late in his career. That does away with the theory that early on Solomon was a model husband.

    The association with Solomon is the original canonical link, but we don’t have to force that link. It seems like the kind of book that comes out of Solomon’s collecting of literature. That’s enough for me.

  23. “I know Pope’s theory that it’s a drama involving Ba’al and a consort.”

    That’s my jaw dropped right there. Even more so, when I first mis-read it as “the Pope’s theory” 🙂

  24. It’s sort of a given that a Protestant author who came up with a book like Song of Solomon would be reviled for it; they’d probably have the rest of the books thrown at them, one verse at a time, for literary sins of sensuality or vulgarity or imprudence. It seems to me that prudery, the denial of our sexuality for all its breathy tangents in favor of something Lewis likened to trying to be like angels, is antithetical completely to the spirit that led Song of Solomon to be included in the Bible to begin with. Any Christian culture that can’t accept the book without redacting, redirecting, annotating, cross-referencing or otherwise censoring the obvious in SoS is probably not fostering mentally healthy attitudes towards sex in its congregation. Stuff like that keeps me up at night – it ends up being the basis for so many young people repudiating the church’s instruction, spurning religion as culturally autistic, and leaving it behind to go live. In a sensible church, that should just never happen. Church Lady-ism is killing us.

  25. Coming at it from the other end, I think (perhaps? maybe?) we can see the influence of the Song of Songs on works like “The Ascent of Mount Carmel” by St. John of the Cross, which starts with a poem about the Beloved escaping by night to visit the Lover.

  26. Patrick: I agree completely. Barth said that the SofS was there to show the place of sexuality in a fallen world; a gift from God that still has the glory of creation around it. SO much of the rest of the Bible shows the destructive power of sexuality. SofS has am important place for that reason.

    But not as a marriage and sex manual.

  27. I definitely think you have made some good points, but now I wonder how this book should be preached in light of the Cross and the canon. You revealed the problem, but I feel as though the answer is lacking. Not that I have a good answer, since I have rarely ever heard the book discussed. My best guess if it is not a marriage manual than it is a book of great pick up lines:

    “Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon”

    I don’t know a girl who wouldn’t swoon after I tell her her nose reminds me of a tower.

  28. Patrick, years ago a little known Christian band called the Vigilantes of Love did a song called Love Cocoon that was pretty explicit. I still can’t listen to that song without turning multiple shades of red. I also generally ignore the Song of Solomon.

  29. They been preaching “last generation” stuff for the last 50 generations.

    @Aliasmoi LOL, I know what you mean. We listen to the Bible on the iPod in the car. We have to skip that part!

  30. I tend to feel that since Song, as a poem, is one of the books in the Bible that doesn’t lend itself to being preached from at all, it’s got the most to say to us about how people were and are. You can’t escape into ‘universal’ themes or polemics when you read books like this without knowingly betraying yourself and refusing the experience of it. It doesn’t lend itself to the evangelical method (the “perdition – redemption – exhortation” script we go over and over and over in church and devote ourselves to in our “devotionals”), and I really like that. It’s a clear reminder that our furtive little subculture has almost nothing to do with the generative culture that the Bible came together in, no matter how we try to jam ourselves full of “true” theology and Bible-based programming shenanigans to convince ourselves otherwise. Sexuality is a great reminder of the here-and-now and also what’s perennial about people, in a way that makes our pristine formulations of how things are (from Calvinist soteriology to Catholic sacerdotalism) seem excessive and plastic by comparison. Lewis wrote in “Till We Have Faces” about the true gods, whose nakedness made us mortals ashamed of our clothing and our bodies both. Anything for more of that in our religion.

  31. Annnd – why should I cudgel my tiny brain when there’s a trained guy sitting in the Vatican who’s already done some thinking on the relationship between eros and agape? 🙂

    from “Deus Caritas Est”

    PART I

    THE UNITY OF LOVE
    IN CREATION
    AND IN SALVATION HISTORY

    Nowadays Christianity of the past is often criticized as having been opposed to the body; and it is quite true that tendencies of this sort have always existed. Yet the contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced to pure “sex”, has become a commodity, a mere “thing” to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man’s great “yes” to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will. Nor does he see it as an arena for the exercise of his freedom, but as a mere object that he attempts, as he pleases, to make both enjoyable and harmless. Here we are actually dealing with a debasement of the human body: no longer is it integrated into our overall existential freedom; no longer is it a vital expression of our whole being, but it is more or less relegated to the purely biological sphere. The apparent exaltation of the body can quickly turn into a hatred of bodiliness. Christian faith, on the other hand, has always considered man a unity in duality, a reality in which spirit and matter compenetrate, and in which each is brought to a new nobility. True, eros tends to rise “in ecstasy” towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing.

    6. Concretely, what does this path of ascent and purification entail? How might love be experienced so that it can fully realize its human and divine promise? Here we can find a first, important indication in the Song of Songs, an Old Testament book well known to the mystics. According to the interpretation generally held today, the poems contained in this book were originally love-songs, perhaps intended for a Jewish wedding feast and meant to exalt conjugal love. In this context it is highly instructive to note that in the course of the book two different Hebrew words are used to indicate “love”. First there is the word dodim, a plural form suggesting a love that is still insecure, indeterminate and searching. This comes to be replaced by the word ahabà, which the Greek version of the Old Testament translates with the similar-sounding agape, which, as we have seen, becomes the typical expression for the biblical notion of love. By contrast with an indeterminate, “searching” love, this word expresses the experience of a love which involves a real discovery of the other, moving beyond the selfish character that prevailed earlier. Love now becomes concern and care for the other. No longer is it self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice.

    It is part of love’s growth towards higher levels and inward purification that it now seeks to become definitive, and it does so in a twofold sense: both in the sense of exclusivity (this particular person alone) and in the sense of being “for ever”. Love embraces the whole of existence in each of its dimensions, including the dimension of time. It could hardly be otherwise, since its promise looks towards its definitive goal: love looks to the eternal. Love is indeed “ecstasy”, not in the sense of a moment of intoxication, but rather as a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God: “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Lk 17:33), as Jesus says throughout the Gospels (cf. Mt 10:39; 16:25; Mk 8:35; Lk 9:24; Jn 12:25). In these words, Jesus portrays his own path, which leads through the Cross to the Resurrection: the path of the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, and in this way bears much fruit. Starting from the depths of his own sacrifice and of the love that reaches fulfilment therein, he also portrays in these words the essence of love and indeed of human life itself.

  32. From “Deus Caritas Est”:

    “The Prophets, particularly Hosea and Ezekiel, described God’s passion for his people using boldly erotic images. God’s relationship with Israel is described using the metaphors of betrothal and marriage; idolatry is thus adultery and prostitution. Here we find a specific reference—as we have seen—to the fertility cults and their abuse of eros, but also a description of the relationship of fidelity between Israel and her God. The history of the love-relationship between God and Israel consists, at the deepest level, in the fact that he gives her the Torah, thereby opening Israel’s eyes to man’s true nature and showing her the path leading to true humanism. It consists in the fact that man, through a life of fidelity to the one God, comes to experience himself as loved by God, and discovers joy in truth and in righteousness—a joy in God which becomes his essential happiness: “Whom do I have in heaven but you? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides you … for me it is good to be near God” (Ps 73 [72]:25, 28).

    10. We have seen that God’s eros for man is also totally agape. This is not only because it is bestowed in a completely gratuitous manner, without any previous merit, but also because it is love which forgives. Hosea above all shows us that this agape dimension of God’s love for man goes far beyond the aspect of gratuity. Israel has committed “adultery” and has broken the covenant; God should judge and repudiate her. It is precisely at this point that God is revealed to be God and not man: “How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I hand you over, O Israel! … My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst” (Hos 11:8-9). God’s passionate love for his people—for humanity—is at the same time a forgiving love. It is so great that it turns God against himself, his love against his justice. Here Christians can see a dim prefigurement of the mystery of the Cross: so great is God’s love for man that by becoming man he follows him even into death, and so reconciles justice and love.

    The philosophical dimension to be noted in this biblical vision, and its importance from the standpoint of the history of religions, lies in the fact that on the one hand we find ourselves before a strictly metaphysical image of God: God is the absolute and ultimate source of all being; but this universal principle of creation—the Logos, primordial reason—is at the same time a lover with all the passion of a true love. Eros is thus supremely ennobled, yet at the same time it is so purified as to become one with agape. We can thus see how the reception of the Song of Songs in the canon of sacred Scripture was soon explained by the idea that these love songs ultimately describe God’s relation to man and man’s relation to God. Thus the Song of Songs became, both in Christian and Jewish literature, a source of mystical knowledge and experience, an expression of the essence of biblical faith: that man can indeed enter into union with God—his primordial aspiration. But this union is no mere fusion, a sinking in the nameless ocean of the Divine; it is a unity which creates love, a unity in which both God and man remain themselves and yet become fully one. As Saint Paul says: “He who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (1 Cor 6:17).”

    Okay, will now stop the stealth evangelising by hitting you over the head with wodges of encyclicals 🙂

  33. >Aliasmoi wrote
    >Patrick, years ago a little known Christian band >called the Vigilantes of Love did a song called >Love Cocoon that was pretty explicit. I still >can’t listen to that song without turning multiple >shades of red. I also generally ignore the Song of >Solomon.

    Aw, man, that’s a great song and a great band! I’m pretty sure it was based on SoS. No need to be embarrassed, though! It’s good stuff!

  34. Also, totally upgrading my mack with bars like “I wanna uncover your swimming hole and dive right in”. Thanks, aliasmoi!

    Then I was all like, HEY GURRL…

  35. SottoVoce says:

    Thanks for this, iMonk. I attend the church where this series is preached, and you’ve provided some much-needed perspective. Especially about the problems caused by using Solomon as a role model with his 700 wives . . . (and I will refrain from complaining about the teaching on gender roles that the pastor imposes on the text). I wish it was a little easier to find exegetical resources for laymen.
    You have to admit, though, that the intro graphics to these sermons would make an awesome video game. For junior high girls. 🙂

  36. On my Directv Satellite service I make sure the religious channels don’t show in the channel listings. If they are there I tend to “watch” them and they I feel a burning desire to write a post like the one Michael wrote here.

    So “channel avoidance i bliss.”

    Good post BTW

    Bruce

  37. One interesting question to me is: Why did the Jewish people consider SS authoritative Scripture? Why did they see fit to include it in the canon? What was its message to them, and how does it connect with the other Wisdom Lit?

    Any thoughts?

  38. “Especially about the problems caused by using Solomon as a role model with his 700 wives”

    Verse of an Irish song called “The Limerick Rake”:

    “There’s some say I’m foolish, there’s more say I’m wise,
    For love of the women I’m sure ’tis no crime;
    For the son of King David had ten hundred wives
    And his wisdom is highly regarded.”

  39. Dear Sir,

    Thank you for your post. I am convinced that I have been listening to the same sermon series as you, and your post has helped to put what I’ve heard into perspective.

    And thanks for your internet ministry.

    Yours, Lee

  40. I guess it was a smaller world then, and epic works of poetry attributed to an ethnic group’s most influential and historical personages were able to make more of a lasting impression on people – especially when their author was purported to be favored by God and whose reign coincided with a cultural and economic golden age for the Israelites. After all, Solomon’s supposed to have written 3 books of the Bible in total, amounting to something of a ‘greatest hits’, and he was the last king before Israel and Judah split: his Legendary awesomeness was kind of the last thing anybody agreed upon in, in a way. Plus, he built the Temple.

  41. I don’t know that they tried to make the word ‘authoritative’ apply to the poem. People haven’t always used the Bible the same way – in Solomon’s time, HE was the one dealing out the wisdom, remember? And besides, midrash-style textual analysis wasn’t in vogue for another few hundred years, and the socio-religious complex of the early Kingdom wasn’t disposed to transmitting religious teachings that way. I’d guess it wouldn’t have occurred to them to listen to an erotic poem and try to exegete it for a ‘lesson’.

  42. David was probably Israel’s greatest musician, and he wrote the Psalms; obviously, what amounted to their cultures first official hymnbook had a huge impact on the way they worshiped. His son Solomon was probably Israel’s greatest aphorist, and he put out Wisdom, and that obviously caught on and kind of speaks for itself. The idea that our piety makes explicit the separation between things secular and religious is a pretty modern (and I think, mainly missional) construct; I don’t think they had as much of a focus on distilling right-minded behavior from Canon at this point, so assembling a Canon with a ‘message’ wasn’t really a priority. In other words, they didn’t care about our Christ-centered sensibilities.

    I imagine that SoS is the Bible because, like Solomon’s other writing, they thought it was great, was a consummate expression of the Israelite courtship doctrine, and wanted it to continue shaping their culture.

  43. patrick,
    i would not agree with some of what you say. but i am more curious how what you say fits into some sense of the text being God’s word? or do you believe the old testament is not God’s word?

    blessings,
    john

  44. Mike wrote:
    One interesting question to me is: Why did the Jewish people consider SS authoritative Scripture? Why did they see fit to include it in the canon? What was its message to them, and how does it connect with the other Wisdom Lit?

    Any thoughts?

    The development of the canon is pretty convoluted in Judaism. But everything I’ve read suggests that the rabbis turned SoS into an allegory of God’s love for Israel in order to fit it into the criteria for being included the Tanakh. That said, it was likely in wide use before it was officially canonized.

    I have one Jewish translation of the OT (The Stone Tanakh by ArtScroll) that translates it allegorically. It’s the craziest thing to read, ‘cuz it bears no resemblance to any other SoS translation I have!

  45. FWIW, OT scholar Gerald Larue wrote that the following criteria seems to be what was used in determining the canon in Judaism, though it was never officially stated as such:

    1. Composed in Hebrew with a couple of Aramaic exceptions that all happened to be attributed to Ezra (who’s considered The Dude post-exile)

    2. In wide use among the Jewish Community. E.g. Esther was used at Purim.

    3. Had to deal with one of the “great religious themes of Judaism.” SoS being allegorized was for this reason, he says.

    4. Composed pre-Ezra, as prophecy was thought to have ceased with the return of the Exiles.

    On the other hand, the MOST traditional interpretation is that Ezra picked the canon when the exiles returned. Most non-rabbinic scholars don’t buy this, though, as evidenced by (for example) the Septuagint being widely used despite being translated post-Ezra and containing books that are not in the Jewish Canon.

  46. Martha: Love your contribution, but please link longer pieces. Don’t reprint them Thanks.

    And btw- it’s not evangelizing if we’re already Christians 🙂

  47. I’ll join the choir and say thanks for the helpful perspective as well. I’ve been following (I think) the same series and hadn’t noticed the amount of “imported content”, but now it seems clear that there’s a ton (if not the majority of the content.) In fact I’ve been following the same preacher (again I think) and hadn’t noticed that in any of the other series either. Looking back though maybe I think it might be there. I am going to have to restudying a few books in the Bile to make sure I don’t have any “add-ins” in my theology.

  48. QUOTE IM:“! It’s confusing to plainly hear scripture use Solomon’s accumulation of a harem as an example of pride, lust and a sinful use of power, and then hear that Solomon is the great teacher on marriage.

    It’s not right to ignore the difficulties and various interpretations of the text and say that the book is an instruction manual for sex and marriage based on Solomon’s marriage to his one true love.”ENQUOTE

    ITA! = I totally agree!

    Song of Songs- approval of the “harem” is NOT romantic!

  49. Michael, I hear and obey 🙂

    Patrick, try using that line, and I guarantee you will have many, many weekends free to work on upgrading your mack 😉

  50. John, I think the Old Testament got essentially assembled a lot like the New Testament, piece by piece, by a group of people who really cared a lot about what made it and what didn’t. As to whether or not I think God explicitly dictated each book, I don’t believe that. I do believe that it’s God’s word in that we can rely on the contents of the Bible to tell us about God and ourselves, moreso than any other writing that exists – but I don’t think it authoritatively contains God-in-book-form for all time, and that all we need to do is read it.