[My class is beginning to tackle the Five Megillot today, so I figured I’d blog a little bit over the next few days parallel to the texts we’ll be studying.]
Many early church fathers taught that even within marriage, sexual intimacy was tainted by sin and at best a necessary evil. Other readers of the Bible would beg to differ. In Judaism, for example, sex as such has never been considered sinful, shameful or obscene. It is no more evil than other basic instincts like hunger or thirst, but like them must be treated appropriately. In the proper time, place, and manner, marital sex is considered a mitzvah‚Äîone of the 613 commandments Jews are obligated to observe. Thus, while the ancient church prohibited sex on the night before receiving Holy Communion, Jewish husbands and wives were encouraged on Friday nights to blend the joy of the Sabbath with the joy of lovemaking.
All this brings us to the Song of Songs. This book of love poetry has been taken as an allegory of the union of God and his people. I have no argument against such a reading, but I would hasten to point out that the allegory only works because sexual love between husband and wife is something to be celebrated. In the words of Rabbi David Feldman, it is “the ultimate human relationship.” That is why it can be a fitting allegory for the soul’s love affair with God.
The Song of Songs almost didn’t make it into the canon. We should be grateful it did, for it serves the noble purpose of rescuing us from any sort of dualistic nonsense about the body being evil. It embraces life, joy, and romantic love as gifts from God to be thankfully received, and just as thankfully shared. In a world saturated with pornography and paperback romances, we need books like that!