Falling in Love With the Erotic Song of Solomon

Artist He Qi painted this 1999 depiction of the Song of Solomon, featuring a large Tibetan face. The little book in the Hebrew Bible is discussed more in scholarly circles than from pulpits because it deals candidly with sexuality.
Artist He Qi painted this 1999 depiction of the Song of Solomon, featuring a large Tibetan face. The little book in the Hebrew Bible is discussed more in scholarly circles than from pulpits because it deals candidly with sexuality. (Copyright He Qi)
By Adelle M. Banks
Religion News Service
Saturday, February 11, 2006

When Denise and Roger Friesen planned a Valentine's Day dinner for their Omaha church, they immediately knew their theme: the Song of Solomon, sometimes called the Song of Songs, the most romantic book in the Bible.

"O, that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth!" says a woman to her lover as the book begins. "For your love is better than wine." Later language compares male legs to alabaster columns and female breasts to clusters of fruit on a tree.

The Friesens, both 47, credit the little book in the Hebrew Bible with improving their 23-year marriage.

"We think that most marriages devolve, and we feel like ours has evolved," Denise Friesen said. "We have more romance, more love. We look forward to coming home and being together, as opposed to two people sharing the same address."

The couple lead a marriage and family ministry at their Evangelical Free Church in America congregation. In addition to last year's Valentine's dinner, they have hosted adult studies of Song of Solomon in their home.

Others are also quoting the eight-chapter book tucked between Ecclesiastes and Isaiah. Texas pastor Tommy Nelson has led conferences on the topic for almost a decade. A Florida company recently issued a CD featuring a dialogue between the lovers in the book. Pope Benedict XVI cited it in a recent encyclical on erotic and spiritual love.

But in other circles, the poems are hardly ever read, in part because they make believers blush.

"I don't recall ever receiving a sermon from the Song of Solomon," said Michael Duduit, editor of Preaching magazine, who has accepted sermons for possible inclusion in his bimonthly publication for 20 years. "I suspect many pastors aren't quite sure how to deal with Song of Solomon."

Some biblical scholars interpret the book as a tale of the courtship and marriage of King Solomon and his beloved, while others view it as a fantasy about love between a man and a woman.

Nelson, pastor of Denton Bible Church, near Dallas, said people who attend his Song of Solomon conferences are surprised to learn there's Scripture so candid about sex. The 55-year-old, who speaks primarily at evangelical churches, unpacks the book verse by verse, explaining its dual emphasis on sexuality and purity.

"You can see that she is undressed and they're right to the point of consummating their union," he said of 4:12.

"He mentions the sexuality of the woman as a garden that has been locked to him and a spring that is sealed off to him," Nelson said of the newly married couple in the book. "The anatomical metaphor is very clear, of a spring, an opening where life comes forth."


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