A text from the Song of Solomon (SS) appears infrequently in the three year Common Lectionary. Despite the fact that in Jewish worship it is read each year during Passover. In Christian circles it was one of the most preached on books in the Middle Ages. The allegorical interpretation of the book as a conversation between Christ and the church probably influenced its popularity. It would be interesting to know how many are preaching from this lyric book. How many times have you heard it mentioned in your house of worship or for that matter in the educational wings of the church?
As you read this book several background notes are important if you are not familiar with SS. First, the title of the book varies in different traditions. The Hebrew entitles the book The Song of Songs meaning that it is the most superlative song (on the analogy of holy of holies or lord of lords). The title Song of Solomon arose because in the Hebrew text immediately after the words song of songs a connection is made with Solomon. This is not a surprising connection given the traditions surrounding Solomon.
Second, the location of the book in the Jewish and Christian tradition is different. In the Christian tradition it comes after Ecclesiastes, a book also associated with Solomon. It is immediately followed by Isaiah and the Major Prophets. In the Hebrew Bible it is a part of the Megilloth or Five Books (Esther, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and SS). Each of these books was read at a particular festival.
Third, the book is a collection of love poetry. The question many have is why is it in the canonical collection of the Bible? An agreed upon answer is elusive and frequently discussed. Like Esther it does not at any point explicitly mention God. Where does it say that is a criterion for inclusion?! The fact is as one commentator has said, “….the Song’s unapologetic depiction of rapturous, reciprocal love between a man and a woman does model an important dimension of human existence, an aspect of life that ancient Israel understood to be divinely instituted and sanctioned….” (Murphy)
At the literary level the text is love poetry. Can you discern in Song of Solomon 2:8-17 the clues about who is speaking? These verses have produced some degree of consensus when it comes to identifying the speaker. However, if you read carefully Song of Solomon 2:15 you will see where some of the debate arises.
As you read the broader context of the entire book consider how in various religious traditions one might have understood these kind of pationate exchanges of words. Also if you retain the literary sense of the text and the language of love between the two individuals how would you characterize the nature of the relationship? Can you see various uses of this text within our contemporary settings?
The intensity of the language throughout the exchanges has caused me to think of the tensions between presence and absence. There is a clear sense of lost and found as well as anticipation and completion in the ebb and flow of commitment. Share your perspectives so we can get a conversation going. Thanks.
(Note: Share your thoughts by making a comment or if you wish a less public exchange do not hesitate to send an email Kent.Richards@firstumcmystic.org . We learn in community.)