The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English defines erotica as
literature or art intended to arouse sexual desire
Similarly, Mirriam-Webster defines erotica as
- literary or artistic works having an erotic theme or quality
- depictions of things erotic
It seems then, that if Song of Solomon is intended to sexually arouse the reader or the theme of Song of Solomon is sexual in nature, Song of Solomon is a type of Erotic literature. Characterizing Song of Solomon in this way can, however, be problematic for many people as these definitions of erotica tend to indicate that erotica can encompass many other genres including:
- Erotic fiction
- Erotic non-fiction
- Erotic poetry
- Erotic prose
An can also span mediums:
- Erotic graphography (writing)
- Erotic photography (pictures)
- Erotic cinematography (movies)
This means that erotica can encompass pornography as Mirriam-Webster's dictionary defines Pornography as
- the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement
- material (as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement
In fact, Oxford's dictionary lists erotica as a synonym for pornography and defines pornography as:
Printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings.
It seems then that if we do characterize Song of Solomon as erotic literature, we might be characterizing it as a type of Pornography, a suggestion which many would find offensive. It is due to the sexual nature of Song of Solomon that some would seek to interpret it as allegorical. Others would seek to draw a distinction between erotica and pornography in which erotica is artistic and tasteful and pornography is obscene and might therefore regard Song of Solomon as erotic, but not pornographic. Still others might characterize erotica as describing a literary medium and pornography as encompassing more visual mediums.
Despite this, good hermeneutics often seeks to view scripture through a lense which is untainted by modern culture which could include modern sexual taboos.
It seems that Song of Solomon is most closely related in style (and therefore, perhaps purpose) to several sexually graphic writings in Mesopotamia such as The Love Song of Shu-Sin and other Sumerian love songs and study of these might prove helpful in interpreting Song of Solomon within the context of that sexual culture.
With all of this in mind, What genre of writing is Song of Solomon?
I would think that good answers should avoid superficial distinctions like saying Song of Solomon isn't pornographic because it is between a married couple (this type of communication can still be pornographic; don't make me provide examples), but instead should provide substantive distinguishing factors or similarities between Song of Solomon and other works.