I teach a Bible study that carries the title: "Reading the Bible Responsibly." We've been at it for quite a while and we finally made it to Hebrew Poetry. As part of that discussion, we decided to spend two sessions on the Song of Songs/Song of Solomon. Tonight is the second session. If there was a book of the Bible that would get the Bible banned from America's libraries, it would be this one. No other book in the Bible is so overtly sexual, which may be, likely is, the reason why the church has historically allegorized it. Even Protestants, who have been loathe to use allegory, have made grand use of it.
Scholars are not of one mind, which isn't surprising, about what's intended here. But unless we wish to continue using the allegorical method of interpretation, which I don't think is necessary here, then we're faced with the overt sexual content. The text looks quite secular. No mention of God, no mention of religious rituals. On that score it holds some similarity to Esther, but even Esther had some religious rituals involved.
So, here we are facing the question of sexuality, a question that so vexes us as church, whether the topic is heterosexual or homosexual relationships. When we look to the Bible, hoping to find clarity, we find little clear direction. At points it seems to allow polygamy, but generally forbids same-sex relationships, but no clear reason is given as to why. It's just not done.
When it comes to sex, we'd just as soon not talk about it. Oh, there have been Christian/evangelical sex manuals, but these are relatively new, and likely are a response to the publication of secular-leaning manuals.
Dr. Richard Beck recently blogged about a theology of orgasm, which is the ultimate issue. If you read closely the Song of Songs, and peer through the euphemisms, you'll see that orgasm is part of the conversation. Orgasm is the central issue because it's related to pleasure -- The reason it's something Christians worry about is that it feels good, so people want to do it! So the question is: "Does God appear to have an interest in regulating orgasm?" And the answer is yes. But again, why, well because we can become so fixated on it that "we may pursue orgasm selfishly, hurting other people in our quest for sexual satisfaction." So, the question is what is appropriate and inappropriate? That's where the debate gets confusing -- as he demonstrates. In the end he doesn't provide answers, but the post is provocative. It would appear that Christianity allows for pleasure, as long as it is incidental and not the primary purpose-- which rules out casual sex -- just for fun. So the question is, what is it incidental too -- procreation? That's one view. Or, relationship? That's another. Some things like rape are obvious, but what about masturbation (self-pleasuring) and homosexuality -- the answer is likely to be (and the way I'd answer it) a part of the relationship, but there are complicating issues even there. All very interesting, and maybe a reason why we shy away from it. But sexuality is becoming a more overt part of our culture and our ability to avoid it is becoming less possible. That's why we're looking at such a sexually charged book as the Song of Songs!!