Is the Song of Solomon Scripture?

Is the Song of Solomon (also known a The Song of Songs) scripture for Latter-day Saints? It’s an interesting question, given that it is included in the Old Testament, but has also been dismissed as not inspired by Joseph Smith. Dana Pike recently discussed this question with Kurt Manwaring at From the Desk. What follows here is a copost to the full interview (a shorter post with quotes and discussion).

In the interview, Dana Pike discusses the origin of the Song of Songs:

The Song of Solomon is a biblical book comprising eight chapters of poetry, primarily the words of a female and a male lover describing their own and each other’s bodies and their feelings about and sensual desires for each other. Although authorship of the Song is traditionally ascribed to Solomon, the general academic consensus is that Solomon is not really the author.

The Song shares several features with ancient Egyptian love poetry, and most scholars see the Song as originally an example of ancient Israelite love poetry. A major factor in the Song’s inclusion in the Bible is that some early readers began to allegorize the male and female lovers, seeing God and his people as represented in the Song.

While that allegorical reasoning for including the book has some validity, the book is also controversial because it is an erotic love poem, sparking debate about whether it is appropriate reading. Dana Pike shared his perspective as follows:

Our perspective is that the language of the Song, while certainly suggestive, is more literary and less racy than a lot of what some Church members view and hear online and in the media today.

Of course, that does not automatically make it safe, and there is a lot online that we avoid! In a different article I compared reading the Song to viewing paintings in art museums that include nude human figures.

While some people may choose to avoid contact with such art, others find pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the human body and in the skill of artists to represent such. I’m talking about art here, not porn, and granted there can be a fuzzy middle between those two categories, depending on one’s individual perspectives.

It is, perhaps, because of this same debate that Joseph Smith indicated that the book isn’t inspired. As Pike explained:

The only specific comment we have from Joseph Smith about the Song is the oft repeated: “The Songs of Solomon are not Inspired writings [sic].”

This notation was included in his inspired revisions to the Bible known now as the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) and dates to July, 1832. But we have no statement from Joseph Smith or his contemporaries about this notation or any other of his thoughts on the Song.

This notion was popularized in the Church with the inclusion of a version of the Joseph Smith quote in the Bible Dictionary that is included in the supplimentary materials for the English Bible that the Church published.

Given that Joseph Smith made this statement that the Song of Solomon is not inspired writings, it is somewhat surprising to note that the Song is quoted occasionally in the Doctrine and Covenants. Pike explored some possible reasons that occurred:

We don’t presume to know for sure why a verse from the Song is quoted in the Doctrine and Covenants. However, a few points are worth considering:

(1) the Song is in the Bible, and most early members of the Church were likely at least somewhat familiar with it;

(2) there are several verses from the Song that were popular sayings in the 1800s (e.g., 1:2; 2:12, 15; 8:6);

(3) latter-day prophets have not avoided quoting or referencing non-Latter-day Saint sources when they found something of value therein (e.g., C. S. Lewis); and

(4) the language of Song 6:10, the verse that appears in the Doctrine and Covenants, contains beautiful, evocative, and inspiring imagery, so why not employ it (even if the book itself is regarded as “not inspired”)!

Another possibility that I’ve mentioned before is that Joseph Smith may have been influenced by other religious writers of his time in store of the phrases that were used in the revelations. For example, Section 5 alludes to both the Song of Solomon—which describes the author’s love as “she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners”[1]—and the Revelation of St John the Divine, which speaks of seeing “a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars” who “fled into the wilderness” after “she brought forth a man child” and was persecuted by the dragon.[2]  Those same texts were brought together and used by the Scottish minister Alexander Frasier in 1795 in his popular work, Key to the Prophecies.  Frasier interpreted the women in Revelation to be “the Church of Christ, considered as a community or collective body,” and her fleeing into the wilderness as representing a time when “the visible church declined from the doctrines and precepts of Christianity, the true Church of Christ gradually retired from the view of men, till at length, … the true church of Christ, considered as a community, wholly disappeared.”  While the church of God lost the outward ties of “government, doctrine and ordinances,” an invisible church, or the church in the wilderness, still existed among those who were tied together by “the Spirit of God, which animates the great Head of the church, and every real member of his mystical body.”  This church, he wrote, is “visible in that state as a community, only to the eyes of … God.”  Frasier believed that this invisible or universal church would eventually be brought back into a visible church community when the time of the prophesied years of exile ended.  At that time, “the universal church shall again become visible as a community, extended over the whole earth, ‘clear as the sun, fair as the moon, and terrible as an army with banners.’”[3]  While I’m not sure whether or not Joseph Smith was familiar with Frasier’s work, it seems possible that he drew on its language to communicate

In any case, the full interview goes into more details, discussing more about the Bible Dictionary’s use of the Joseph Smith and the impact that had on its use in the Church, whether the Song of Songs was regarded as scripture during the lifetime of Jesus the Christ, and a possible connection to the name of Nauvoo. It’s worth reading, so feel free to hop on over to the interview here. And, in regard to the opening question,  Dana Pike has the following to say:

This question is why we wrote the article [in BYU Studies] in the first place—we suggest you read what we wrote!

We hope our article will help readers appreciate that the answer to this question is not a simple “yes” or “no.”

 

Footnotes:

[1] Song of Solomon 6:10.

[2] See Revelation 12.

[3] Alexander Fraser, Key to the Prophecies of the Old and New Testaments, which are not yet accomplished (Philadelphia: John Bioren, 1802 [1795]), 156-164. https://www.google.com/books/edition/A_Key_to_the_Prophecies_of_the_Old_New_T/6700AAAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&printsec=frontcover

2 comments for “Is the Song of Solomon Scripture?

  1. “At the crossroads of blind drive and enduring devotion, sex unmasks us. It unmakes us. It shows us to one another–and to ourselves–as paper-thin fictions, as vulnerable bodies, as intimate strangers, as unfinished things. It shows us to each other as uncanny powers to love, to make love, and to make life. Sex, rather than abolishing this strangeness, shares it.”

    The Sun Has Burned My Skin: A Modest Paraphrase of Solomon’s Song of Songs
    by Adam S. Miller

    Amazon link to book
    https://www.amazon.com/Sun-Has-Burned-Skin-Paraphrase/dp/0998605255

    Dialog Review of book:
    https://www.dialoguejournal.com/articles/review-lost-in-translation-adam-s-miller-the-sun-has-burned-my-skin-a-modest-paraphrase-of-solomons-song-of-songs/

  2. There is a story told among the Jews, during the period between the first Jewish revolt and the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132 – 135 ad) when a gathering of Jewish rabbis and scribes from across the Jewish world were putting together the Old Testament into the form as we know it today. As the story goes the Pentateuch and the Prophets and the histories were included without question. Other books like Esther and Song of Solomon were debated thoroughly. As the story goes the most prominent Rabi, Akiva, Who was considered the most intelligent among that group saw Song of Solomon as a Sacred text and should be included among the other sacred texts. I let you make of it what you will.

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