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Any student of Hebrew will attest to the oft use of euphemistic phrases in the language (ie. "the way of women is upon me" and "cover his feet). Given the oft debated nature of the Song of Songs in its purpose (1. to show the love of Christ for the Church, 2. to show appropriate love between a husband/wife/courtship/etc) are we to interpret such passages as:

As an apple tree among the trees of the forest,
so is my beloved among the young men.
With great delight I sat in his shadow,
and his fruit was sweet to my taste.—Song of Solomon 2:3 (ESV)

As being euphemistically sexual in nature? Given the overtly sexual nature of other portions of the book (that have been interpreted through history in rather interesting fashions, i.e. the breasts of the lover representing the OT and NT see Adam Clark, others) are we to see euphemism here (and elsewhere, feel free to comment to that end)?

Note: In Richard Hess' work "Song of Songs" the author cites concerning this verse research in Sumerian and Assyrian works that tie the apple to various sexual encounters (both acts as well as aphrodisiacs).

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I honestly believe that euphemistic perspectives were born of the embarrassment that can arise around sex. I think that it's a fine teaching point, but Clarke goes way too far in my opinion. There's also no real reason to reject the literal understanding of the text so why jump through unnecessary exegetical hoops to do so. –  swasheck Aug 18 '12 at 3:18
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Given the oft debated nature of the Song of Songs in its purpose (1. to show the love of Christ for the Church ??? Songs of Songs was written before Jesus. –  Blessed Geek Aug 19 '12 at 7:10
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As @BlessedGeek says, Song of Songs predates Christianity. Including this book in the Hebrew bible was controversial because of the clear sexual overtones; the rabbis interpreted it to be about the relationship between God and Israel, I've been taught. –  Gone Quiet Aug 19 '12 at 15:31

2 Answers 2

Yes!

A considerable portion of the text is explicitly sexual and much of the rest lends itself to rich sexual imagery. The particular verse quoted in the question uses the image of a fruit tree to describe the beloved. Both are unique among their fellows in terms of the fruitfulness and the delight they offer to the bride. While there are many ways a man can delight a woman, the intimate and singular nature of the exchange signal sexual delight.

In case there is any doubt, the author places both in the bedroom:

His left hand is under my head,
    and his right hand embraces me!

—Song of Solomon 2:6 (ESV)

This particular speech ends with a warning against awakening sexual desire before the proper time:

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
    by the gazelles or the does of the field,
that you not stir up or awaken love
    until it pleases.

—Song of Solomon 2:7 (ESV)

Again, there are different types of "love", but the warning against stirring it up only becomes sensible in the context of physical intimacy. The danger isn't platonic relationships, but that chastity would be compromised.

Don't go there!

On the other hand, once you start looking for double entendres, you will find them. You can easily prove this to yourself by using the "That's what she said!" meme or appending "…in bed!" to the text of a fortune cookie. (Please, keep your findings to yourself.) It's pretty unlikely that the author intended all of the possible interpretations you might find in Song of Solomon. If you find yourself giggling uncontrollably like Wayne and Garth, you have probably made a exegetical error.

The exact line might be difficult to draw, but I submit that all of the imagery in the work supports the larger theme. And that's the difficult question: the text doesn't tell us what the theme is so we must extrapolate from the imagery. In other words, we need to interpret the text in order to interpret it.

Fortunately, the text has traditionally been interpreted as an allegory of God's love for His people. This reading of the Song allows it to sit comfortably in the canon of both the Jewish and Christian scriptures. Reading the text that way also excludes the most pornographic possibilities.

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Re Song of Solomon 2:6: my wife sleeps on my left side because of this verse and it serves exactly the same function as the fortune cookie gag. –  Jon Ericson Aug 21 '12 at 21:38

The concept of finding strong sexual undertones to every romantic poem may be a more recent intellectual pursuit based on Freudianism. Though he may have never really said it, ‘sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.’ One can easily tell from the tenor of the Old Testament that what occurs under the coverings of the marriage bed, or the thoughts of what might occur under them, is never considered a noble subject for embellishment or innuendo, at least to the degree that one might find in Greek or other pagan poetry, where not only apples are fair play but undertones of desire for young men, by older men, could even be found.

Sex in the bible is not shamefully repressed, but rather treated with taste and healthy discrimination, knowing that since the fall sex has become degraded in many forms and in some aspects should not be spoken of with respect to its details. At the same time sex between man and wife does symbolize the love between the Son and the Bride in the New Testament as even the names imply. Even under the Old Testament there are a few risqué statements that show a healthy and unashamed view of sex while not turning into a wild fantasy resembling pagan literature or sexual poems. For example, the command to be ‘satisfied with the breasts’ of the wife of ones youth always being intoxicated with her love (Proverbs 5:19) shows a lack of repression or avoidance of sexuality but a healthy assertion that would even embarrass us today (the so called sexually liberated), if we were to mention this advice to our boss at work, for example.

Given that the Bible never divulges the erotic movements hidden under the bed sheet, and at the same time does not shy away from sexuality, it seems we must find a tasteful balance if we are to seek sexual imagery underlying the Song of Solomon. If we think we can treat it just like Greek poetry we have abandoned all sound exegesis as ancient Hebrew and Greek views of appropriate sexual insinuations and innuendos, let alone actual behaviours, could not be further apart.

To answer the question then, as Euphemism is often a tasteful way to refer to sex, such as the example in proverbs where intoxication might be euphemistic for sex, it seems reasonable to assume some modest use of eumphemism in the Songs of Solomon. But I do not see any reason to assume the particular verse you mention has any direct sexual meaning. Even When using our Christian context of the bride and groom there is no reason to go beyond the spiritual meaning as expressed here:

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (ESv Psalms 34:8)

Taking comfort in the shade of a fruitful tree and enjoying its fruit seems no different from the Psalmist. I can't imagine anyone thinking this has a hidden sexual overture in either location. Besides what I do not like about thinking there is, is that this would naturally wander into the subject of oral sex, since the key word is 'taste' and this seems very far outside the cast of scripture for the forementioned reasons.

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+1 for a well thought out reply. I'd like to see an answer that takes up the contrary before i dole out a "check." I fear there is a bit of circularity to the reasoning of this argument however - "The bible doesn't include under bed sheet language, therefore this can't be a euphemism for under the bed sheets." We could equally say that the Bible doesn't include references to bodily functions, therefore the euphemisms of Eglon, Saul in the Cave and Baal being indisposed are not references. It doesn't follow. Certainly some trees are tree, and apples-apples... –  Jesse Ledbetter Aug 21 '12 at 17:36

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