Bible Review 21:5, Winter 2005

Song of Songs: Not Just a Dirty Book

By Richard S. Hess

Pornography! This is the label some scholars give to the Song of Songs. They dismiss the book as nothing more than a source of lewd entertainment for the ancient male power elite. These lusty men slipped the salacious Song into the canon of Scripture by claiming it was only an allegory describing the relationship between God (represented by the male lover) and Israel (the female). But is this true? Is the Song of Songs just a dirty poem written to satisfy prurient interests? Or is something more going on in this text?

Compared with the rest of the Hebrew Bible, the Song of Songs does present an unusual view of sex.

The first few biblical references to sex are merely descriptive. So Genesis 2:24:

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

And Genesis 4:1a:

Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain.

This same descriptive tone is used in Genesis 4:23a to describe the polygamy of Lamech, whom the text describes as Adam’s great-great-great-great grandson:

Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me, wives of Lamech.”

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