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Song of Solomon is a book with some seriously divergent interpretations. I have just started reading a pamphlet by John Flavel called Christ Altogether Lovely on this verse:

His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely. This is my lover, this my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem. (NIV)

If you know anything about Flavel or his theological milieu, it should come as no surprise that he doesn't even spend any time developing this as a reference to Solomon, but in the small, succinct booklet, jumps straight to an exposition of the loveliness of Christ. (Notably, his concerns pastoral, and not purely exegetical.)

"He is altogether lovely." That's a strong statement. It's one of those that poses no difficulty when passed over quickly. It also poses no difficulty for a man like Flavel (full disclosure: I stand with him). How does someone who has a more earthy reading of Song of Solomon—or at least, less of a Messianic emphasis than Flavel—explain this verse? Is it to be taken as hyperbole?

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That sermon by Flavel is excellent. I remember reading it about 20 years ago and still remember enjoying it. –  Mike Oct 6 '12 at 10:33

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The "less messianic" reading is rather prosaic - it's just a reference to a bridegroom.

The cultural context is a wedding song. In the Israelite and later Jewish tradition, the guests at a wedding celebration are obligated to praise the beauty of the bride to the groom and his family, and conversely to the bride and her family, and all this, even when the objective reality appears to be in contradiction. The Talmud (tractate Ketubot 17a for example) goes to great lengths to support this custom and to explain how this hyperbole is not considered to be telling lies.

Marriage is one of the most important commandments in the OT, so it is not surprising that over time, a popular wedding song grew in scope and importance and came to be viewed as sanctified.

Song of Songs, with its obvious erotic imagery would not have made it into the canon in a later more prudish age. It just barely slipped by at Yavneh, probably due to the attribution to Solomon and the fact that there is room for an allegorical interpretation, especially due to the writings of Hosea. The later rabbis felt compelled to interpret as the marriage of the People of Israel with the LORD, whose marriage contract is the Torah, to discontinue it's use in actual marriage celebrations and to condemn anyone who continues to interpret in an earthly sense.

Currently, Songs is sung before the sabbath evening service every week in synagogues following the Andalusic tradition (the largest Jewish tradition in Israel). This is a result of the re-interpretation of the book and re-investment of its importance in the tradition of the Andalusian Kabalah. Each chapter is sung by a different congregant. The fact that the Christian chapter breaks are used for this purpose seems to escape my fellow congregants.

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