The Tanakh (Old Testament) book, The Song of Solomon, is perhaps one of the greatest enigmas of the biblical canon. Why is it there? Who put it there, and why? What does it mean? And is the name even correctt?
That the Book has anything to do with the historical King Solomon is most usually denied by commentators. For one, he is portrayed as being somewhat pompous (3:6-11) and with such scorn and a sense of ridicule that he becomes little more than a comical figure. Horrified by such a representation of one of Israel's greatest kings, most translators have tried to tone the light relief right down and present him in a more reverent light.
With few exceptions, the learned commentators of both Judaism and Christendom have tried to see in the Song of Solomon an allegory of the love of Yahweh for His people Israel or of the love of Christ for the Church. Some of the Christian mystics like St.John of the Cross view the text as a dialogue between the Soul and the Mystical Body of Christ.
That the Song of Solomon is in the biblical canon at all is remarkable enough and it is really only through the influence of one Jewish Rabbi that we have it all. When during the first century the canonicity of the Old Testament was being reviewed, the inspired nature of these love poems was hotly debated and they were on the point of being eliminated. Rabbi Aquivah intervened in the discussion and declared: "The whole universe is not worth the day that book has been given to Israel because all the Ketuvim (Scriptures) are holy, but the Song of Songs is the most holy." The force of this man's words alone ensured its retention in our Bibles.
There are many who hold the Song of Songs to be a kabalistic work that is concerned not with outward forms but inward essences, and there is certainly a sense in which this is true; for behind every physical manifestation there is always an invisible spiritual cause. Kabbalists accordingly see in Genesis a similar code book of concealed mysteries with the outer stories merely a "mask" to conceal its real secrets. The Song of Songs, Genesis and the Sepher Yetsira (supposedly originating with the patriarch Abraham) constitute the three main kabbalistic texts.
Only one religious leader, to my knowledge, has subsequently questioned the inspired nature of the Song of Songs, and that was the Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith, who declared the book to be uninspired. All subsequent editions of the Mormon version of the Bible, the Inspired Version (published by the RLDS Church) exclude the Song of Solomon because of his pronouncement, an odd decision in view of his numerous romantic liasons.
How, then, shall be approach the Song of Songs? In the same way as we do all other scriptures, by using the four modes of scriptural interpretation, namely, (1) p'shat (the simple, literal, exoteric mode), (2) remez (mesoteric hint mode), (3) drash/midrash (mesoteric search mode, the allegorical or homiletical application), and finally (4) sod (esoteric secret mode). If we follow this well-tried pattern we are both unlikely to go astray or miss anything important.