- Religion and Philosophy
Romance in the Bible
A Symbolic Love Song
The Song of Solomon, sometimes called Solomon's Canticle of Canticles, is found in what Christians call the "Old Testament" of the Bible, meaning that it was written before the time of Christ. A canticle is a song, but because the Bible was written before the time when people started to write music and notes, we have only lyrics without the melody. Because our Bible is a translation from ancient languages, we also do not have rhyming lyrics. What was intended as a song has survived modernly as a prosaic poem about romantic love, so "hot," in the words of today's teenagers, that it could be read only by those over thirty years old at the time it was first published centuries ago in ancient B.C. Israel. The reason it's in the Bible is that both Jews and Christians interpret the book to be a symbolic description of God's love for His Chosen People and not just a description of a happy honeymoon, although there is less than 100% agreement on this interpretation.
Scholars are doubtful that the Canticles actually were written by Solomon rather than Hebrew authors writing as if they were the real or fictional character of King Solomon. There are alternating songs in the book sung by a bride and bridegroom. First the bride tells of her love for her man; then the bridegroom responds with his song of love. Each lover praises the other. The bride tells of a dream she had about him. He sings of her perfect beauty and she reciprocates this praise. Third parties are woven into the story also, including the "daughters of Jerusalem" and the brothers of the bride.
"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth" (Ch 1) is a statement that establishes the physical tone of the Song of Solomon. "The virgins love you," she says to him. (Ch 1) "I am dark but lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem," says the bride to her friends. (Ch 1) "A bundle of myrrh is my beloved to me, that lies all night between my breasts." (Ch 1)
Three times the Canticle repeats the words, "I charge you O daughters of Jerusalem...do not stir up or awaken love until it pleases." (Ch 2, Ch 3, Ch 8)
"Behold you are fair, my love!" says the bridegroom. "Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, which feed among the lilies...You have ravished my heart with one look of your eyes...Your lips, O my spouse, drip as the honeycomb; honey and milk are under your tongue." (Ch 4) She responds, "Awake, O north wind, and come, O south! Blow upon my garden, that its spices may flow out. Let my beloved come to his garden and eat its pleasant fruits." (Ch 4)
As she sleeps one night, she is awakened by her lover who is at her door, but when she goes to let him in, he's gone. She goes out into the city searching for him but cannot find him. "I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem," she says to them, "if you find my beloved that you tell him I am lovesick!" But they taunt her. "What is your beloved more than another beloved, that you so charge us?" She answers them soundly with hyperbolic praise of her great man. (Ch 5)
He desires her greatly. "This stature of yours is like a palm tree, and your breasts like its clusters." (Ch 7) But her brothers had said of her, "We have a little sister, and she has no breasts. What shall we do for our sister in the day when she is spoken for?" (Ch 8) However, she now answers, "I am a wall, and my breasts like towers; then I became in his eyes as one who found peace." (Ch 8)
This, one of the shortest books of the Bible, tells the imaginary love story involving King Solomon and a dark-skinned beauty at the height of their passion for one another. Not often is sexual allure used as a metaphor for God's love, but the ecclesiastical authorities of both Jewish and Christian faiths maintain that this is the meaning of Solomon's Song, although this conclusion has been contradicted by scholars within the ranks of both churches.