That’s a question that people of faith, Jews and Christians alike, have been asking for more than 2,000 years. Most believers in ancient times couldn’t handle what many scholars today insist is the truth about this book. And the truth is that it’s an erotic celebration of love between a man and a woman who graphically praise the physical features of each other and trade fantasies about making love. Though their words aren’t obscene, they are unapologetically sensual.
Too sensual, it seems, for most believers until the 1800s. Until then, most read the book as an allegory. They thought the symbolic meaning was more important than the literal meaning.
For many Jews the Song was a symbol of God’s love for Israel. The man in the story is God. The woman is Israel. The bedroom is the land now called Israel. The kissing is God giving Israel the laws they’re to follow. And the woman’s confession of having black skin is Israel’s confession of sin worshipping idols.
Christians did much the same thing, with the man usually representing Jesus. Even John Wesley, a preacher in the late 1700s who became the father of the Methodist Church, insisted that the Song “could not with decency” refer to a literal man and woman.”This book is to be understood allegorically concerning that spiritual love and marriage, which between Christ and his church.”
Only in the 1800s did Bible experts start tiptoeing away from the allegorical interpretation. The bedroom is real, they began arguing. So is the kissing and so are the breasts. Most Bible experts today seem to agree.
What remains confusing is the storyline. Many don’t see one. They see just a collection of love songs, a bit like the “Best of Johnny Mathis.” but in this case, the “Best of King Solomon.”
Yet other experts see plot possibilities.
- Solomon picks a country girl as a bride. But she rejects him for her country boy.
- Solomon is the country boy, so he gets the girl after all.
- Country girl falls in love with country boy, and she sees her man as kingly-every bit a regal as Solomon.