Song of Songs

The Song of Songs is also called the Song of Solomon because the book is traditionally attributed to Solomon. The better title, though, is Song of Songs, which is the Hebrew title of the book. Much like the familiar New Testament Christological title “king of kings and lord of lords,” Song of Songs means that this song is the best of songs.

Along with Ecclesiastes, this book is among the hardest to understand in the Old Testament. If Song of Songs was a movie, it would get an R rating for its thinly veiled sexual references (apparently between unmarried lovers). We know of other such odes to love in the ancient world, and Song of Songs seems to fit within this broad and ancient genre.

The erotic overtones of Song of Songs have caused some concern through the history of Judaism and Christianity, and so the book has typically been interpreted as an allegory—between God and Israel or between Christ and the church. Some scholars suggest that the Song of Songs was included in the canon of the Old Testament because of its allegorical potential, not to mention its traditional connection with King Solomon. Allegory, however, was not just a way for prudish Christians to handle an embarrassing book. Rather, Christian interpreters from the medieval period onward saw within the book’s sexual overtones a clear picture of God’s love for God’s people and the intimacy God’s people should desire of God. So, despite the parallel with other love songs in the ancient world, some suggest that Song of Songs was always written for an allegorical purpose.

It is difficult to follow the plot of the Song of Songs, and in fact, some say there is no plot, just a collection of individual poems. If there is a drama with a plot, it is unclear whether there are two or three main characters in the book. If there are two, they would be the man (perhaps Solomon) and the Shulammite woman. If there is a third character, it would be a shepherd, thus producing a love triangle. If the Song of Songs is an anthology of love poems then there is no plot. But even here it is difficult to know how many songs there are.

If the Song of Songs is to be read as a love poem, it affirms love and sex, but also cautions readers of the dangers of such intense emotions. Some connect the idea of sexuality portrayed here to the Garden of Eden story. In that case, the Song of Songs gives a picture of redeemed sexuality that was originally lost in the Garden.

– Peter Enns