Ranking the Metaphors in the Song of Solomon

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There is a certain type of Christian—usually a man, I’ve found—who’s very proud of the fact that Bible has one book in it wholly devoted to sex. Give this guy a microphone, and he’ll adjust his tie, get a crafty grin on his face, and say something like, “Let’s look at what the Bible says about sex. That’s right, folks, we say the S-E-X word here. I know, I know—” he’ll say, waving away imagined outcries of horror. “But, believe it or not, the Bible actually says God created sex to be good!” And then he’ll give you a moment to process this universe-shattering tidbit.

I’m not actually totally against this, but what I am against is pretending that this is some sort of masterpiece of erotic literature. Upon a recent reading of the Song of Songs, I came to a conclusion: This is not Solomon’s best work.

Yes, yes, I know it’s The Bible, and I’m not here to say the Bible isn’t good. I’m just saying that Solomon was a man and, like most men, he could not write about sex very well. Here, this book captures him trying using the ancient art of meter and illusion to describe the female form, and the results can be charitably described as a mixed bag.

I think it’s actually sort of comforting (perhaps even sort of the point?) to know that the wisest man on earth got tripped up when it came to being sexy. Maybe it can make us all feel a little better about our own attempts.

10. 4:1 – Your eyes are doves, behind your veil.

Bird metaphors aren’t bad ones, as romantic metaphors go (this isn’t the first time this guy has used a dove metaphor in the book) but try as I might, I cannot imagine what he is trying convey by saying her eyes are doves? Does he mean they are bobbing around? When I think of doves, I think of bobbing around, which does not sound like a particularly admirable trait in a woman’s eyes. Whatever. He’s young, he’s in love, it’s his wedding night. We can cut him some slack.

9. 4:5 – 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.

“And each of the warriors is, like, totally awesome. They’ve each killed a hundred dudes with their bare hands. And lions too. Lions, bears, all sorts of animals. And all the warriors have swords—laser swords. We are talking an army of laser sword warriors, and they all ride wolves. Robot wolves, with jet packs…”

8. 4:6 – Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that graze among the lilies.

Okay. Okay, okay, okay. We have to allow for the possibility that Solomon hasn’t actually seen his new wife naked yet, and in this pre-Internet age, it could just be that he honestly doesn’t know that boobs look like. EVEN SO, it is an awfully big stretch to take whatever limited information you’re working with and go right to a pair of grazing deer babies.

Then again, maybe this was actually the first time he’d ever seen a girl’s boobs and he was just sort of trapped in the moment. “Wow, uh, those look like, uh … two … uh … beautiful-” *looking around the room* “-like a twin pair of ….” *sees deer painting.* “Deer. Two deer. Baby deer. With flowers! Two baby deer eating flowers.” *faints*

7. 4:13 – 15 – Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits, henna with nard, 14 nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all choice spices.

What I picture happening here is this guy thought he’d really nailed it by comparing her to a pomegranate (forgetting that he’d already used that line, which we’ll get to in a moment) and then, when her eyes drooped a bit because he’s clearly running low on metaphors, he just decides to compare her to “all choicest fruits,” which doesn’t really cut it either because that’s just lazy.

So then he says she’s like henna with nard, and now she’s just looking bored, so he tries nard and saffron, which doesn’t work either. His final hail mary is to just start naming every scent he’s ever heard of. “Calamus? Cinnamon? Frankincense? Myrrh? Aloes? ALL SPICES?”

We’ll ignore the fact that I don’t know what he’s referring to as her “shoots” and that’s probably for the best.

6. 4:4 – Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil.

OK, this isn’t terrible, but aren’t pomegranate halves, like, full of big seeds? Very tasty but also just very seedy? Come on, dude. Of all the fruits in the world, you go with the one that looks like an unfortunate rash. Get it together, my man.

5. 4:2 – Your hair is like a flock of goats, leaping down the slopes of Gilead.

I’m glad we have some context here, because without the “leaping down the slopes of Gilead” part, it sounds like this dude is just throwing shade. Just try telling a girl her hair looks like a flock of goats and see if she takes it as a compliment or not.

Taking into consideration the fact that these goats are, in fact, cascading down the slopes of Gilead does seem soften the blow for some reason. Still, it’s rough.

4. 4:3 – 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.

So, this is sort of a roundabout way of saying this girl has all her teeth and they’re all white, which is a good quality and even if he sort of belabors the point with the whole twins thing, you have to give him credit for committing to the line. He’s getting the hang of this.

3. 4:4 – Your lips are like a scarlet thread and your mouth is lovely.

I actually kind of like this one. He really cuts to the chase, and he doesn’t draw the whole scarlet thread thing out any longer than it has to (“Your lips are like a scarlet thread, woven into two sweater arms with a sort of thatched crossover technique that gives it a nice softness but also ensures durability and warmth for the cold winter months.”) The mouth thing isn’t technically a metaphor, I know, but I like that it sounds like he just sort of couldn’t think of another way to describe it.

2. 4:12 – A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a spring locked, a fountain sealed.

Oh, this is rich. This girl is off-limits. Totally. Who’s thinking about getting in that garden? Not me, that’s for sure. I’m just chilling. Just looking at you and writing down what I’m seeing! Don’t read anything into it, my sister, my bride.

1. 4:11 – Your lips drip nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue.

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 10.04.48 PMOooh la la. THAT’S A SPICY MEAT-A-BALL This is just a good, evocative line. Dripping nectar is cool and sexy without being straight up explicit, and although I’ve never quite understood why biblical writers are so into the “milk and honey” pairing, I do like the way the words just roll off the tongue. Speaking of which: milk and honey are “under” the tongue? Solomon, you sly dog, whatever are you driving at?

You got your act together when it counted, and I, for one, am glad this bit made it into the Bible.

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5 Comments

  1. Considering that my church is currently going through Song of Solomon and we just went through this particular passage last week, this is fairly similar to my pastor’s views. Except he was by far nicer to the guy and gave him credit for trying. It’s better than simply saying “you’re hot”. I give points for effort.

    Reply
  2. Rebecka

     /  May 7, 2015

    Actually crying from laughter here! Nicely done, sir!

    Reply
  3. Alec

     /  May 8, 2015

    I think Song of Solomon is a great handbook of sorts for dating. How to be friends, dating, courtship (if you’re into that), engagement, marriage, and dealing with struggles….besides the 700 wives and 300 concubines. I found this to be a good resource. http://www.new-life.net/growth/marriage/sexual-allusions-and-symbols-in-the-song-of-songs/

    Reply
  4. Troy Knudson

     /  January 8, 2016

    Now I know Im not a scholar and that neither are any of you. Most people have no clue how to interpret the Song. First off the metaphors are only metaphors and each one is beautiful if understood the way Solomon intended. Ive been studying the book for 15 years and its an allegory, an extended analogy. Teaching Christians how to get closer to God. Similar to how a husband and wife become more one. Now you can’t see your soul and God so thats why it is an allegory. And the metaphors are to be interpreted in light of knowing that it is an allegory and not literal!! The book is meant to be understood by true Christians wanting a deeper closer relationship with God. Anyone else will not be able to understand the allegory, it will be hidden from them. In Matthew 13:10-17 Jesus says that he speaks in parables so that, for the very purpose that non christians will not get it. And its sad to say that Tyler does not get it. Repent of your sins and accept the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior from your sins and you will sing and sing and sing “The Song of Songs” deep in your heart to God!!

    Reply

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