Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
August 25th, 2015 by Joel Watts

can sex and marriage be metaphor? (Song of Solomon)

song of solomonI would rather see Song of Solomon as a poetic text describing the sexual longing and relationship between a woman and the man she pursues than much else; however, it has historically been interpreted as a metaphor or allegory for the spiritual union between God and and His people.1

We are rather prickly, or prudish, about seeing the spiritual union between God and His people as anything but a mystical enfolding — or any other words you want to use meant to push us back from direct euphemisms that sound too much like we are having intercourse with the divine.

My view on the Song of Solomon is not shaded by my desire to refrain from seeing the mystical union between Creator and Creature as sexual in nature (the union is not; there is no reality in which Jesus is your boyfriend), but rather, I read the Song of Solomon as a naughty love poem because I value the theology of a heated and passionate physical love between two individuals.

oOKVXEu

But, do we have other examples of sex and marriage used as symbols, metaphors, or allegory of the divine-human interaction? Sure we do. There are at least three I want to bring to your attention.

In Galatians 4.24, St Paul says that we are to take the ménage à trois of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar as an allegory of God’s promise and how faith plays a part in how we are drawn into a union with God.

In Ephesians 5.25–33, the blessed writer speaks directly to the union of husband and wife by speaking indirectly to the marriage between Christ and the Church.

But it is the Book of the Hosea, a prophet, that is one of the best allegories, so to speak. In it, the prophet is commanded to take a prostitute as a wife. Here, the marriage — including sex inside and outside of marriage, with her husband and with men not her husband — serves as the parable of God and Israel, whom God seems to delight in calling, repeatedly, a whore.2.

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Can Song of Solomon actually be a huge poetic metaphor for God and His People? Sure, but it doesn’t follow the same basic motifs. For one, there is no basic storyline or end goal. For another, God is nowhere to be seen.3 For another, the entire story mimics both Egyptian and Ugaritic love poetry, with its fast paced dialogue and focus on wooing.

wooing-of-kate-o

Wooing the opposite sex. Not God.

Does this limit us from seeing it as such? Absolutely not.

But, if we really want to have a healthy conversation about sex and then one about our union with God, we need to read Song of Solomon in the bedroom first. Then in the pulpit.

And in the days of Ashley Madison, Backpage, and Craigslist, don’t you think we need a bit more of this?

  1. Israel or the Church, depending on who you are.
  2. Think this is too rough? Read Ezekiel in the original profanity.
  3. Unless, I guess, one of the partners is calling out “Oh, God!” because even if they try, “Jah” is not meant to be there.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

10 Responses to “can sex and marriage be metaphor? (Song of Solomon)”
  1. “Oh Brother, where art thou?” song with the three sirens, remember the one guy was turned into a frog after the encounter (at least that’s what his two buddies thought).

    You also can’t leave out the “Acts of Thomas”. Marriage, newly weds, marriage night, and NO sex. A NO NO! you can then tie it into the antithesis of Genesis, “populate the earth”. Acts of Thomas might be viewed as the opposite of the Song of Solomon. Both are “outliers” of standard doctrine.

    11 And the king desired the groomsmen to depart out of the bride-chamber; and when all were gone out and the doors were shut, the bridegrroom lifted up the curtain of the bride-chamber to fetch the bride unto him. And he saw the Lord Jesus bearing the likeness of Judas Thomas and speaking with the bride; even of him that but now had blessed them and gone out from them, the apostle; and he saith unto him: Wentest thou not out in the sight of all? how then art thou found here? But the Lord said to him: I am not Judas which is also called Thomas but I am his brother. And the Lord sat down upon the bed and bade them also sit upon chairs, and began to say unto them:

    12 Remember, my children, what my brother spake unto you and what he delivered before you: and know this, that if ye abstain from this foul intercourse, ye become holy temples, pure, being quit of impulses and pains, seen and unseen, and ye will acquire no cares of life or of children, whose end is destruction: and if indeed ye get many children, for their sakes ye become grasping and covetous, stripping orphans and overreaching widows, and by so doing subject yourselves to grievous punishments. For the more part of children become useless oppressed of devils, some openly and some invisibly, for they become either lunatic or half withered or blind or deaf or dumb or paralytic or foolish; and if they be sound, again they will be vain, doing useless or abominable acts, for they will be caught either in adultery or murder or theft or fornication, and by all these vvill ye be afflicted.

    But if ye be persuaded and keep your souls chaste before God, there will come unto you living children whom these blemishes touch not, and ye shall be without care, leading a tranquil life without grief or anxiety, looking to receive that incorruptible and true marriage, and ye shall be therein groomsmen entering into that bride-chamber which is full of immortality and light.

    13 And when the young people heard these things, they believed the Lord and gave themselves up unto him, and abstained from foul desire and continued so, passing the night in that place. And the Lord departed from before them, saying thus: The grace of the Lord shall be with you.

    • Now that I think about it, the Acts of Thomas probably represent closer the thought process of Paul on Sex and marriage, than the Song of Solomon. I VERY much doubt that Paul would view the Song of Solomon as an allegory. I think he would view it as porn. 🙂

      Although, if I am wrong, I’d like to hear a reference from Paul about the glories of the Song. Maybe there is a text or ancient commentary floating around. I wonder if there are any Dead Sea Scroll references to the Song of Solomon? It would be interesting to see what the Essenes thought about it.

  2. “We are rather prickly…” – Thanks for using your words carefully when relating them to the subject of sex… 😉

  3. All I found was Qumran cave 6, 6Q1-7, included the Song of Songs.
    Those wily Essenes. Although the rumor that it was found in a brown paper wrapped is probably false.

    Unfortunately no info on their commentaries.

  4. Know More Than I Should says

    In reading both a broad spectrum of religious and secular literature, it become obvious that woman is seen as a seductress. This theme is obvious in Song of Solomon.

    • But a seductress is not always seem as a bad thing

      • Only if you are the seductee!

        • Know More Than I Should says

          Much like woman, man is merely a pawn in nature’s scheme to create new life. The fact that some men in the Middle East created a religion around nature’s plan is merely an amusing diversion.

          Although some foolishly believe a certain tribal deity is in charge, nature still reigns supreme in in the reproductive scheme. That, by the way, is why those silly abstinence pledges concocted by fundamentalist toadies fail to prevent premarital sex.

          If males and females still hooked up as they did when the original biblical texts were written in the Bronze Age, there wouldn’t be a problem. However, humankind tried (unsuccessfully) to circumvent nature’s plan.

          As humans began living longer and and became more urban, and a corresponding need for children diminished, the age of first marriages increased.

          In 20th century, women living in the United States were expected to acquire at least a high school diploma, and perhaps even an undergraduate degree before marriage.

          Meanwhile, behind the scenes, nature still programmed males and females to get together and copulate in their teens. This is why premarital sex has been virtually universal since at least the late Victorian Era.

          Today, in the United States, women are marrying in the mid-20s. For the those slavishly following the biblical order of marriage before intercourse, this often results in some quirky twists such as engaging in Clinton-type sex — thereby preserving a young woman’s technical virginity until marriage.

  5. Know More Than I Should says

    It is the essence of human reproduction. Without it, the human race might well have vanished millennia ago. Thus, Song of Solomon is inexorably linked to the Ancient Hebrew preoccupation with procreation.

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