Publication:Colo Spgs Gazette; Date:Feb 14, 2004; Section:Life; Page Number:39

Under THE Covers

’Song‘ makes Bible readers blush


    The Bible isn’t for prudes.

    The Good Book’s love talk is as frank as Dr. Ruth Westheimer, as poetic as Cyrano de Bergerac and has enough double meanings to make Austin Powers blush. Sex is good, Scriptures say. Just don’t get carried away with it.

    Granted, some Biblical authors thought people could have too much of a good thing. St. Paul indicated amorous love could be a little, well, distracting.

    If that’s true, no Biblical text is more distracting than the Song of Solomon, a book meant to be read on tape by soul king Barry White. If the Bible were faithfully translated into a movie, producers would have to delete the entire book if they hoped to garner a PG-13 rating.

    Take this passage from the Revised Standard translation:

    “O loved one, with all your delights!

    Your stature is like a palm tree,

    and your breasts are like its clusters.

    I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its fruit.

    Oh may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine.” (Song 7:6-9)

    That’s not Shakespeare, not a fanciful line from the latest “American Pie” movie and not a verse from the newest Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake duet. It’s from a book that has been part of the Judeo-Christian Scriptural canon for millennia.

    “It’s very beautiful and very, very amorous,” said Rabbi Howard Hirsch, director for the Center for Christian-Jewish Dialogue.

    The Song of Solomon also is known as the Song of Songs. Although King Solomon traditionally has been credited as the author, many Biblical scholars say no one really knows who wrote the book. The book itself is one of the most enigmatic in Scripture.

    Experts don’t even agree on the plot. Some say it’s a play with two actors: Solomon, the king of Israel, and the peasant with whom he fell in love. Others say three people are involved. In the three-person interpretation, Solomon’s the rich and charming cad who comes between a beautiful woman and her true love. Solomon ultimately fails but has a bevy of wives and concubines to give him solace.

    No scholar questions the book’s lyricism or
eroticism. But some phrases can bring a giggle or two to 20th-century audiences.

    Here’s a look at Song 4:1-5:

    “Behold, you are beautiful, my love,

    behold, you are beautiful!

    Your eyes are doves behind your veil.”

    A good start — but to our modern, urban ears, it goes downhill for a couple of verses:

    “Your hair is like a flock of goats, leaping down the slopes of Gilead.

    Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing,

    all of which bear twins,

    and not one among them has lost its young.”

    The whole ewe business, apparently, means she has all her teeth.

    “Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely,

    Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate

    behind your veil.”

    “Your neck is like the tower of David,

    built in rows of stone; on it hang a thousand shields, all of them shields of warriors.

    Your two breasts are like two fawns,

    twins of a gazelle,

    that graze among the lilies.”

    Solomon goes on to compare her navel to a bowl filled with wine, her belly to a heap of wheat and her nose to “a tower of Lebanon.”

    If the love-stricken suitor lost ground with his apparent tower fetish, he made it up by saying “your lips drip nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue.” (Song 4:11)

    The woman is no less amorous:

    “As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.

    He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.” (Song 2:3-4)

    The book never mentions God and is similar to erotic poetry written in the ancient Near East, according to Hirsh. It’s hard to imagine the book would be a high candidate for Scriptural inclusion.

    “I wasn’t at the committee, but I can almost guarantee it was controversial,” Hirsch said.

    But ancient and modern theologians read the book allegorically.

    Jews thought the book’s story of love found, lost and found again symbolized God’s relationship with his chosen people.

    Christians felt the love story was analogous to Jesus’ relationship with the church.

    And for some, the symbolism goes far deeper. According to a paper written by Paul Tanner, professor at Singapore Bible College, references to the woman’s two breasts have had many mammary meanings. Theologians have used them to symbolize the Old and New testaments, the milk of the church and the outer and inner man.

    The allegorical interpretations still are important to the book’s meaning, Hirsch said, but the faithful are more accepting of the book’s sensual nature.

    They’re learning new lessons from the text, and several national Christian groups are teaching sex education lessons based on the book.

    Patsy Dawson, who wrote the book, “God’s People Make the Best Lovers,” and sells Solomon-inspired sex-education lessons from www.gospel, says that, despite the book’s sensuality, its message is one of patience. A couple of passages exhort daughters of Jerusalem to “not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.”

    “It’s teaching us that there needs to be a courting period,” Dawson said. “There needs to be a time to get to know each other. You have to make that mental connection first, or the physical (relationship) isn’t going to be that good.”

    Hirsh thinks the book also has sociological lessons. He subscribes to the idea that the narrative is between a rich king and a poor girl, and detects tension among the lovers’ families. Not a good match, the families said. But the woman took the stand that no one was going to tell her who she could or could not love.

    Regardless of interpretation, the end always is the same: True love wins:

    “Many waters cannot quench love,

    neither can floods drown it.

    If a man offered for love

    all the wealth of his house,

    he would be utterly despised.” (Song 8:7)