Broken Daughters

Picking up the shattered glass of fundamentalism

O ye daughters of Jerusalem


I’ve been thinking about the song of solomon lately and there are things I just don’t understand. Help me out 🙂

Growing up, I was told by my parents that the bible is the LITERAL word of God. There are no interpretations. There are so symbols or metaphors unless clearly stated, such as in the gospels. Everything, including the psalms, proverbs and the song of solomon was literal.

I was not allowed to read the whole song of solomon until very late in my courtship. My parents said it would stir up feelings inside young people and it would be bad for my purity. My parents did not believe that the song of solomon was a picture of Jesus and the church. Like many others, they believed it was about sexuality in marriage.

If you have read the song of solomon, you know that it’s full of references to different practices between a couple. But it also tells a love story of a couple.

Now, let me explain what my problem with it is. As far as I understand (literal that is), the two lovers meet outside:

Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant: also our bed is green. (1,16)

Clearly a reference that they’re not holding hands out there, but most likely in the grass together.There are other references to sexuality as well, for example chapter 2, verse 3. They are obviously embracing too, see 2, 6.

Now let’s take a look at chapter 3, 1-4:

By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not. I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not. The watchmen that go about the city found me: to whom I said, Saw ye him whom my soul loveth? It was but a little that I passed from them, but I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go, until I had brought him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me.

If we’re being literal here, then it doesn’t make sense. Why is her husband not sleeping in her bed? Why isn’t he even in the house? And why would she bring him into her mother’s house? Don’t we know that a man cleaves his wife and she leaves her mother and father? Then, why, just why would she do that?

Chapter 5, verse 6-7:

I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone: my soul failed when he spake: I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer. The watchmen that went about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took away my veil from me.

Again, he isn’t at her house. Why? And why would he come in the middle of the night, and then leave quickly? Why would she get beaten by the watchmen and be unveiled, which was a shame, if she was just looking for her husband? Again, makes no sense to me.

Chapter 7, 11-12:

Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages. Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth: there will I give thee my loves.

Ok now, they either have something to hide or have a major thing for sex in the fields. Either way, I find it strange that they are constantly outside.

Chapter 8, 1-3:

O that thou wert as my brother, that sucked the breasts of my mother! when I should find thee without, I would kiss thee; yea, I should not be despised. I would lead thee, and bring thee into my mother’s house, who would instruct me: I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate. His left hand should be under my head, and his right hand should embrace me.

Alright, that’s just a plain weird thing to wish for your husband. I can imagine 100 different things that I wish my husband would be, but being my brother is not one of them. I realize that there might be a cultural difference, but the Thora tells us clear rules whom we shouldn’t marry, and your brother is one of them. If the girl in this song knew this and I have to believe she did, there can only be one reason why she would wish for such a thing: Because her lover is not her husband.

And that’s really the biggest question that I have about this book. To me, it’s clear they aren’t married. She still lives in her mother’s house, they meet out in the vineyards under the trees, he comes at night to see her but leaves quickly (maybe got caught?), the guards beat her for walking around at night (an unmarried woman, possibly a prostitute to them, that might be why she’s unveiled by them), her wish that he was her brother so she could officially show affection.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just way too stupid and whatnot to get it, and this frustrates me. If everything the bible says has a literal meaning, then why is there a book about a couple that has sex before marriage? Or am I just not understanding it?

This goes only for the literal reading. Interpretations will of course bring different results.

Either way, I’m puzzled. Comments and suggestions what I’m doing wrong are more than welcome!



9 thoughts on “O ye daughters of Jerusalem

  1. To me, the brother and breasts quote is simply stating, allegorically, that she wants her lover to suck her breasts. Seriously. The book is about the wonders of sex between two people. Her “pomegranate” is also allegorical as her “inner being” if you catch my drift. And she “opened up” and yet he was gone was that she was very ready for a sexual encounter.

    Frankly, there is a difference between government sanctioned marriage (which is a religious requirement in mainstream Christianity) and real God-acknowledged marriage. You look at all the ways that people got married in the Bible and NONE of them follow our traditions that we have set up. In fact, people were married in the sight of God the moment they “called the other their wife.”

    Your questions should be breaking down the stupid definitions of what mainstream and hyper-conservative Christianity deem as proper marriage. After all, what person in hyper-conservative Christianity would EVER admit that government grants us our rights? And yet, they insist that the only recognizable proper marriage is the one that government grants. It doesn’t make sense.

    The Song of Solomon, which I desire to write about sometime, is an awesome picture of real desire for marriage and sex (a huge part of marriage), maybe even fighting against the cultural norms of the day.

    Ok, I’m rambling. What say you?

    • Well the way you interpret those two passages seems very logical to me. I’m not going to argue the extreme sexual connotation of the whole book. I think it’s beautiful and a very healthy way to look at sex in general. Just the quote “his fruit tastes sweet” may express a variety of practices depending on what you personally see in it. Ever since I first read it, the book of solomon has had a lasting impression on me and I’ll have to admit that it shaped my imagination of what love should be. It’s clear that they aren’t talking about “love is action”, they talk about the emotion and the passion in it. Plus, I never understood why the actual moment of being married in church was that important. Doesn’t God say that men shouldn’t put asunder what God has joined together? If God joins a couple together, what’s the need for a pastor?

      Still I can’t get over the fact that SOMETHING in their love story seems “unallowed” you know what I mean? Maybe it could be that society didn’t want them together, maybe they couldn’t wait because they were so in love, maybe it’s something else. The whole thing seems in stark contrast to the whole blind obedience teachings of the fundamentalists. What upsets me so much is that a literal understanding, which they preach, just doesn’t work on the song of solomon. And that fact invalids their whole statement of literality in the entire bible.
      Why am I allowed to interpret here, when I’m not allowed to interpret other passages? And why is it that whenever a passage comes handy to a patriarch, it’s literal, and whenever something could picture a different side of life, it’s just a poem that needs interpretation?

      When I asked my mother if the song of solomon meant that two people fight for their love, I was told I couldn’t “take it that way”. But when I read psalms for example, they are literal, such as the famous psalm 127, 3-5. I just don’t get where these people get validation. Why can they tell me that SoS is just a poem, but psalm 127 is a command?

      Ok that was quite a vent too. At the end of the day, all I’m trying to say is hyper-fundamentalists don’t make too much sense. Or maybe I’m just confused by a lifetime of indoctrination.

  2. Well said. Very well said. I think you are hitting it on the nose.

    Any passage that makes people squirm gets argued into pretzels so that it can be summarily dismissed. SoS is no different for hyper-fundies. Sex to them is evil, until it isn’t, but they have their boundaries on the “isn’t” as well. Love to them is never emotional. SoS blows both those arguments out of the water.

    Whatever the woman’s relationship issues were in SoS, I see the book as a guide on how women may think depending on how I treat them. I lust after the yearning in that woman’s heart, hoping beyond hope, that my wife feels the same for me. I know I feel that way for her on a minute by minute basis.

    Yes. SoS. One of the most beautiful and practical passages in the Bible.

  3. Sadly over time, I’ve been finding that the bible is not this clear cut “love letter to christians” I was told it was. I remmeber being very confused and even angry over song of songs, because my parents went down the whole “it explains gods relationship to the church” route, and I was kind of disgusted that God was building this whole church just so he could have sex? Very confusing.

    • That’s what I thought. I just can’t understand why someone would interpret those images used in the SoS as the church’s relationship to God. I mean, sure, wanting to be “united” with God is one thing, but not that way! I don’t know where I got this from (heard it when I was maybe 14) but I always believed that God made sex because humans are imperfect and can only reach a state of being closer to being complete by having sex. People have sex because we aren’t gods, and God doesn’t need sex cause he is one already, and in that he’s perfect.

      Either way, outside of biblical context, the SoS is just a wonderful lovestory using beautiful language, and I think that deserves appriciation for what it is, not more, not less.

  4. I have always thought of the Song of Solomon to be non-chronological, that is, there are pieces that take place during a wedding or around the same time of it (the woman is referred to as a bride in some passages), some before, and some after. But the mother’s house thing could just refer to a harem–not necessarily in the polygamous sense (although this is, in fact, the song of Solomon, so who knows?), but in the sense that the household has women’s quarters which house more than one generation.

    • Yes, that could be. I always explained the bride expression with either an inaccurate translation, or a change of meaning in the word (maybe the meaning of the word in the original language changed, maybe bride meant female friend or girlfriend?) or simply on the fact that they might already be engaged, then he certainly would refer to her as his bride too.

  5. I could write a dissertation on this…well actually I kinda did. The first thing to know about the SoS: it is from an old pre-biblical genre of poetry. In Sumeria (later in Assyria, Akkadia, & Babylon and other near eastern cultures), there was a celebration of the divine marriage between the goddess Inanna and her beloved shepherd-king, Dmuzi. This mythical marriage was re-enacted by the real human king of the city and the high priestess of the temple. We have lots and lots of poetry about both the mythical and the re-enactment marriage that sounds just like this stuff from the SoS–which isn’t a single narrative poem at all, but a collection, an anthology of this poetry. That’s why it doesn’t seem to make literal sense, and why they’re always outside making love (it’s a fertility thing). The SoS is undoubtedly a hold over from the pre-monotheistic period in Hebrew history.

    When early Christians encountered this book, they accepted it into the canon, but they felt it wasn’t suitable to be part of the bible if it was just about two lovers–it must have some higher purpose, some allegory and lesson that the faithful were supposed to get from it. In many places in the OT, Israel was spoken of as Yahweh’s bride, so that was a clue for them. But now, there was a new bride in town, the true bride of Christ, the community of the faithful: i.e. the Church. Throughout the Middle Ages, many of the doctors of the church (not to mention the monks and mystics), really liked the interpretation of SoS that made God the groom and the soul (always feminine in Latin), the bride. Loving God for them was spoken of as a passionate, euphoric experience, akin to erotic love.

  6. So in college I minored in religious studies (and majored in biology, yeah, I’m weird) and in one of my courses was dedicated solely to reading and interpreting the Old Testament as a literary and historical work. (Side note but my professor actually wrote a whole book on the Songs of Solomon!) In this class we learned about the Documentary hypothesis, which says that the bible is basically one big cut and paste job. Notice how the story of Noah’s ark is told twice and in two different ways? The old testament is believed to be derived from at least three different sources, so it’s no surprise that are so many contradictions and inconsistencies. Keep in mind this is the most commonly accepted theories in academic circles. Once you realize this the old testament starts to make a lot more sense, like why there would be a Mesopotamian flood myth, a list of ancient (and outdated) laws, and an erotic poem all in the same book. You can read more about the Documentary Hypothesis here:

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