A slightly more condensed version of these articles were originally written for the online mag Examiner.com (now AXS). My links thereto no longer work, so I am guessing they took them down. I moved them here.
Note: Yellow text items contain notes. Hover the mouse (or whatever the equivalent on your system) to see them.

Sex in the Song

Article 5 Article 7

Stasys Krasauskas: Song of Songs 4
Stasys Krasauskas: Song of Songs 4
Having now spent five sessions laying foundations for understanding the Song of Songs, it is time to ask whether it is truly a spiritual composition or just about sex. It becomes immediately necessary to reply with the question, “Are those mutually exclusive categories?” If they are, the spiritual reading must be discarded, because sex runs through it like fat in bacon (you can cook out the juice, but can't really get rid of it).

The position taken by Origen and those he influenced, that we must reject from the beginning the erotic underpinning of the poem, forces interpreters into what commentator Marvin Pope called an “allegorical charade,” and more importantly one divorced from context. Not that allegory is bad (Jesus' parables are all allegories), but as Thomas Percy (1729-1811) noted, it is necessary to understand the plain meaning of the poem before pressing on to its deeper symbolism.

So how sexy is it, really?

This depends a lot on who you ask. It is hard to read the Song without noticing that it is full of kissing, and breasts, and mutual admiration of physical attributes, but not much is going to get rejected by the family filter on your browser. This, however, may simply be because the family filter is not very good at reading between the lines. Some of us remember the old joke about the psychologist showing Rorschach pictures to a client who constantly sees erotic images. When the doctor points out that there may be an issue, the patient replies, “Hey, you're the one showing me all the dirty pictures!”

Are modern scholars simply seeing sex when there is none? We do seem to live in a sex-obsessed society. Certainly, Origen would agree with this, but consider the following oft-quoted passage:

Eric Gill: Stay me with apples
Eric Gill: Stay me with apples

The context leaves us just enough wiggle room to read this as either sexual or chaste, depending on our own temperament. That restraint (or ambivalence) is one of the reasons for seeing more of an influence from Egyptian poetry, with its erotic metaphors, than from the more explicit Mesopotamian marriage of the gods material.

There are some cases, though, where more risqué meanings may be hidden in double-entendre. 'Hand,' for example, may be a euphemism for male anatomy (as in Isa. 57.8, for a more extended discussion look at this page by Duane Smith), and 'mouth' for the feminine equivalent ( Prv. 30.20). In other cases the explicitness could be lost in translation. This is not to say the translations are bad, but the translators themselves may be concerned to keep it G-rated. Just as in English (and most other languages, truth be told) Some words could go either way.

So, if that is the plain meaning (recalling Percy's exhortation above), can it still be spiritual? I believe the answer is, 'yes,' but fear that the fuller investigation will have to wait until the next entry in this saga.

The next section
The previous section


Return to Jewish and Christian Literature Page Return to Song of Songs page

Return to Jewish & Christian
Literature Page

Page: © Copyright 1995-2011 Alan Humm.
Comments and corrections: