Q&A with J: How Is Solomon the Expert on Marital Love?

This is a question that landed in my inbox a while ago, and I wrote back a quick answer. But re-reading through emails, I decided I wanted to tackle the question of Song of Solomon here. Because I suspect many of you, especially women, have wondered how a rampant polygamist seems to be the Bible’s expert on sexual intimacy in marriage.

One thing I’ve been wondering about for a while now, is how frequently you and other marriage bloggers reference the Song of Solomon to cite evidence of how God is sex-positive. I fully understand that sex is a beautiful God-given gift that unites my husband and [me]. I just don’t get why Solomon is the Biblical expert on marital love when he had 1000 wives and concubines (1 Kings 11:3). This doesn’t support the sort of fidelity that I sense that God wants from us.

blog post title + illustration of king's crown

Okay, I’m about to say something potentially shocking, but here it goes anyway: I don’t think Solomon wrote Song of Songs.

He might have, but it wouldn’t surprise me to someday be introduced to some other guy in Heaven who says, “Hey, I hear you’re a big fan of my book!” And then I’m all like, “Oh yes! Will you sign my copy and take a selfie with me?”

That’s my opinion based on my study of the issue. But there are three main positions on whether Solomon was the author of this erotic book in the Bible.

1. Solomon’s favorite wife

King Solomon had a special affinity for this one wife, so he wrote about how that special relationship. Scholars say this was likely early in his youth, perhaps his first wife, before he was tainted by the many wives and concubines he took throughout his reign.

Song 6:8-9 does say:

Even among sixty queens
and eighty concubines
and countless young women,
I would still choose my dove, my perfect one—
the favorite of her mother,
dearly loved by the one who bore her.

But as a woman and wife myself, I’m rather distressed by this idea. If I was such a peach of a wife that this beautiful book of love was penned about me, why would my husband go marry and bed 139 other women? And calling me your “favorite” among 140 women sounds like reaching into the Dove Dark Chocolate bag, eating one, and saying it was the best. How can I trust that statement when you plan to eat the whole bag?!

Image result for reverend fun marriage

All that said, it really was a very different time. So applying our cultural standards to the time in which Solomon lived and the position he held (e.g., some of those marriages were politically motivated for kingdom peace) isn’t likely to give us a full understanding. If Solomon did write the book, we should place this story in the context in which he existed.

2. Solomon wrote from observation, not experience

Solomon wrote the poetry to describe passionate love he observed among two lovers he envied. This view says that essentially Solomon saw what another had, noted it was beautiful relationship, and creatively captured the essence of it to celebrate godly, sexual love.

At first, I thought, Well, that’s creepy. So he was enviously stalking some couple and writing about their sex life? But then I realized that I also write fiction, and I kind of did that with my book, Behind Closed Doors: Five Marriage Stories. My stories aren’t nearly as erotic as Song of Songs, but storytelling authors always put themselves in the shoes of someone else (fictional or nonfictional) and convey the message from that point of view.

And most of the time, envy isn’t the motivator; rather, the author wants to tell a story they find intriguing and useful to others. Perhaps that’s what King Solomon did — tell a story he liked, hoping it would inspire others to greater love and intimacy in their marriages.

DESCRIPTION: Guy hitting on a girl using Song of Solomon for inspiration CAPTION: YOUR HAIR IS LIKE A FLOCK OF GOATS

3. Solomon didn’t write the book

Rather, Song of Songs was written by someone else in his kingdom about his own marital love. Indeed, some ancient texts bear the name of the person to whom the writing was dedicated rather than the author itself, as a way of giving the work greater weight.

Back then, they didn’t look at plagiarism the way we would. You writing something and attributing it to a well-known figure could be viewed as praise and honor of that person. It was more like ghostwriters these days, who share the glory or even give it to the person whose name appears on the book cover, but they get a book out and get paid.

For recent examples, Donald J. Trump’s The Art of the Deal was actually written by Tony Schwartz, while Hillary Clinton’s popular It Takes a Village was written with the (uncredited) help of Barbara Feinman. And if you think all those celebrity memoirs were written by the celebrities themselves, think again.

Mentioning King Solomon within the book and attributing it to him would have been seen as a compliment or a gift. Certainly, this book was embraced by the people and Jewish scholars, and perhaps Solomon himself.

Does it really matter who wrote it?

It’s uncomfortable being unable to verify biblical authorship. It’s so much easier when you have a letter from Paul directly saying, “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write” (2 Thessalonians 3:17). Well, there’s no doubt there who’s talking.

Instead, it’s possible Solomon didn’t write Song of Songs, but it’s quite possible that he did. We just don’t know for sure.

Regardless, I feel confident that Solomon wasn’t sitting among his harem penning this book as a hypocritical act.

Consider this: If you traveled back into my past and said, “Hey, that girl is going to have a lot of good stuff to say about Christian sex,” a lot of people would have laughed, including me. The idea would have been preposterous! Who was I to say squat about godly sexuality? But at this season of my life, God seems to be using me to do just that.

However, I know people who had great stuff to say about God earlier in life and got off track later. You can find plenty of examples of those people in the Bible. Didn’t God still use them? Perhaps that’s where Solomon fits. 

But whoever wrote it—and the most prevalent, traditional view is Solomon—God made sure it was included in our canon. Song of Songs is part of the inspired Word of God.

Ad for Ebooks: Hot, Holy, and Humorous & Intimacy Revealed

Additional reading: Insight.org (Chuck Swindoll) – Song of Solomon; ESV.org – Introduction to The Book of Song of Solomon

22 thoughts on “Q&A with J: How Is Solomon the Expert on Marital Love?

  1. C

    I’ve often wondered about this as well. I’ve never heard anyone give a more helpful response, and I am in vocational ministry! Thanks for tackling the question thoughtfully.

    Reply
  2. Galen Young

    To unify all the tribes required marrying brides from each tribe.

    I have always suspected that among the hundreds of ‘wives’ and concubines, many of them may have been widows who were left without a household. A widow without a household in those days was destitute. Entering into the King’s household met a widow had home food and clothing.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Yes, that may well be true. I do agree that a fair number of Solomon’s marriages were political and could have been charitable as well.

      However, that still means that Solomon had plenty of women to bed. And that doesn’t always sit well with us today, particularly women.

      Reply
      1. Galen Young

        I think that if any of those kings had been actually bedding so many females, the list of heirs would be much longer.

        Reply
  3. Phil

    Hi J. Thanks for this discussion. I really like it. I am still learning the Bible and so this was just a good discussion to help shepherd me into researching King Solomon and understand a little more who he was. I like your arguments/position. A couple things that came up for me was how Paul wrote in I believe Ephesians that women should not hold leadership positions in the Church. That statement is just not with our time nor does it make much sense to me. Also, I like how you compare yourself in the sense of “God using you to deliver a message” What I found really quick this morning was that was Solomons purpose regardless of his sins. I guess that is the point for all of us in some way. Really interesting topic. Thanks!

    Reply
  4. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    Good, thoughtful post.

    My feeling’s always been that context is really everything; Bronze Age kingship was very, very different from almost anything we see today. Wives and concubines were selected to preserve the kingdom’s stability, both through fostering internal and external connexions and showing the king’s strength through virility.

    A distant example of this might be the House of Saud; with one moderately strong king and 5000 princes, the system has a ind of inertia that’s kept it going for a long time.

    Kings of that time certainly had a favourite wife, one who was not only an object of romantic focus but also a trusted confidante and advisor, and I think that comes through in the object of the Song. She’s loved for more than her beauty.

    The miracle and proof of God’s Hand in this, for me, is the fact that something so close to our hearts can come to us from a culture that is almost wholly alien.

    Reply
  5. Melissa

    One of my favorite quotes by Timothy Keller is that “God writes straight with crooked pencils”. I think this is a perfect example of that. God’s design for love and intimacy are perfect even if he used a “crooked pencil” to get it written down for all of us.

    Reply
  6. ByGrace

    I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines,[b] the delight of the sons of man.

    10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it,

    and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

    It’s interesting to note that Solomon said that all his marriages/women left him feeling empty and unfulfilled. Just like seeking anything outside of Christ, really.

    Reply
  7. Wayne

    I’ve often wondered about many of the same things in Song of Solomon, though never really questioned the authorship since his name is on it. That’s a reasonable question, though. I’m not saying it’s never entered my mind, just haven’t articulated it to that degree.

    I tend to think it is about Solomon’s marriage, his first true love that is, whether penned by him or not. If so, I’d put the Song first, Proverbs next, and Ecclesiastes last in chronological order, toward the end of his life and reign, reflecting on his many mistakes in a moment of clarity. Just my take.

    Reply
  8. Iris

    I was taught the same about Ecclesiastes; that it was a literary device at the time to write from the perspective of a well known figure like King Solomon but “the Preacher” of that book is not Solomon either.

    Reply
  9. Lynn

    LOL, I never even connected the Song of Songs with the historic Solomon! Pretty sure the notes in my NAB say the authorship is unknown. However, remember that God promised Abraham numerous descendants. God set up rules for health and fertility in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. However, the popular way to have many descendants at that time (and as it still is in that region) is for one man to have many wives, and keep them all pregnant. As you say, cultural context!

    Reply
  10. alchemist

    Well the short answer is he isn’t. But it’s an artifact of our culture that we’re obsessed with “experts”. You need not be an “expert” in marital love and intimacy to write good love poetry. Obviously. And the Holy Spirit is an expert

    It’s worth noting that the kings of Israel were forbidden to take many wives and to amass hold and silver. Solomon didn’t just sin at the very end of his life.

    I hope he did write Ecclesiastes and that it means he repented of his earthly wisdom (making alliances through many marriages etc.) and returned to God.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Yep. Deuteronomy 17:17 says: “[The king] must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.” And yet, Solomon did both of those things, and it weakened his dependence on God.

      Reply
  11. mepharisee

    First time I heard of a different writer. I think Solomon fits if we consider Ecclesiasties as the wiser Solomon than when he started out. That he wrote SOS showing the evils of Israel having a king instead of God being their king.

    I kind of agree with the asker of the question. I have a little problem seeing all the erotic x/r rated stuff in SOS. I get it that our over sexed minds can see it & there is definite erotica to it. However, in a different time spring time doesn’t have to mean sex. I want it to. But it doesn’t have to. I just don’t feel comfortable reading into it. I am comfortable with it when there is no inuendo & it is blatant. That’s just me. I want it to be more innocent than God’s 50 Shades of Grey.

    I see the poem as a play with 4 characters. The married lovers & the king that takes another man’s wife, & society. It’s a story of a woman being taken from her husband. She longs for her true love while both men love her. The sex of it all is background showing context, drama, & connection. But, the longing & desire is the bigger part than the sex. I understand our desire to make the sex the main thing but I don’t think it’s there in the text.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      That’s interesting, because when I first simply read it without considering the allegorical perspective, I believed it to be very much about sex, but more than that —expressions of a couple’s intimacy in many ways. Just the plain reading to me showed that God talked about marital sex in their Bible.

      I would never, however, in a million years characterize it as “erotica” or “God’s 50 Shades of Grey.” There is a big difference between something being erotic and being erotica. And I don’t know if you’ve ever read any passages or anything about 50 Shades, but that’s a whole different world from even the most sexualized reading of Song of Songs.

      Reply
      1. mepharisee

        Hey thanks for the reply. Lol! Yes you are right erotica & 50 Shades is too strong, just a play on words. I do see exactly what you say. However, I don’t see the typical heavy handedness of it. Not saying you are going overboard with it, but many do. People see the sex of it & make it all about that when I feel it’s not even half of the story. There is a ton of great messages from SOS & the marriage sex is one of those. But just one. I’m VERY pro marriage sex & I do see the text could be heavily sexual, according to our current cultural mind set. I give whoever all freedom to interpret. For me, I want to check myself to not see it through any American sex context is all. I’ll continue to study. Thank you. Very intelligent post. I enjoy your blog a lot.

        Reply
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