The headline of this blog might be a head-scratcher for you. After all, Valentine’s Day has its origin in the ancient pagan cultures of Greece and Rome when orgies celebrating romance and fertility regularly occurred. But as the Roman Empire was Christianized, the festival of Juno Februata – the Roman goddess of love, marriage, and women—was replaced with religious festivals to the Virgin Mary and an obscure Saint Valentine. By 1536 Henry VIII, known for his womanizing, declared February 14th as St. Valentine’s Day and the modern custom of exchanging love messages began.
How does that relate to our Bible? Because of that perplexing book, “The Song of Solomon” (or “Song of Songs” as it’s also called)–long been thought to be one of the most difficult books of Scripture to interpret. Is it to be read as an allegory? A drama? Literally? However one interprets it, “Song” is poetry chock full of timeless tips for lovers. For instance, compliments, not complaints, bind the ties of affection. A sample might be: “ah, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves” (Song 1:15).
For all the steamy poetry that appears to be between a country girl and her beloved, a simple shepherd, the book made the ultimate ‘cut’: the Canon. Why? Because the more we understand the love between two individuals, it is reasoned, the more we understand our relationship to God, often depicted as a marriage in the Scriptures (see the book of Hosea, especially chapter 4).
“Song” has no religious beliefs, themes or guidelines for ancient Israel, no plot that seems evident, not even a single mention of God. And then there’s that erotic and figurative language filled with the longing, love, joy and fear of a man and woman in love.
What a puzzle it has been for Christians through the centuries, which most probably explains why Song ’s most popular interpretation is allegorical. Couldn’t the references to love, for example, apply to God’s love for His creation, or to the love within a devoted marriage? For Jews, it might be about God’s love for the chosen people, Israel. And for Christians, some see it as Christ’s relation to his bride, the Church.
Whatever way one interprets “Song of Solomon”, its name derives from its opening verse: “The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s” (Song 1:1). The book concludes the Old Testament’s collection of Wisdom literature – one of the three parts of the Hebrew Scriptures, along with the Law and the Prophets. Like other books in this category, such as Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, all three are attributed to the wisdom of King Solomon. Scholars don’t believe Solomon actually wrote these books so much as an author wanted to associate its language with the renowned wisdom traditions of Solomon – not to mention, in the case of Song of Solomon, his love of women (see I Kings 11:3).
So this February 14th, perhaps try something a little different: read some love poetry from this rather baffling Biblical book. Dig deeply to see why it has had a place in the Canon all these centuries and then please share what you discover with your fellow Bible Roads’ readers. Happy Valentine’s Day!