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The Song of Songs, a Gay Love Poem

The Song of Songs, a Gay Love Poem

Gay Love
by Dr. Paul R. Johnson
  • Nonfiction
  • Publisher: Fidelity Press
  • Publication Date: 1995
  • 144 pp.
reviewJim Kepner: Jim Kepner was founder of the International Gay and Lesbian Archives, and co-founder of ONE Institute. A major pioneer of the Gay movement as well as a founder of Gay Studies, he died in 1997. His most recent book is ROUGH NEWS, DARING VIEWS: PIONEER GAY PRESS JOURNALISM IN THE 1950S, published by Haworth Press.

This book gives an amazing new turn to the highly erotic Old Testament love poem in the Bible, inaccurately called “The Song of Solomon,” which has been a mystery and often a scandal to Jews and Christians alike. Homophobic religious writers have, among other things, wiggled about trying to explain a supposed woman with male parts and male roles. First, the poem, seeming out of place in the Bible, has no religious content, though theologians have argued unconvincingly that its love passages, some explicitly sexual, don’t really describe human lovers at all, but symbolize the love of Jahveh for Jewish men, or the love of Christ for his bride, the church. Extremely confusing is the fact that the speaker seems constantly to change, and the beloved is sometimes male, sometimes female, and often of uncertain gender.

Dr. Paul R. Johnson, an evangelical minister who has written extensively about Fundamentalists and Gays, and who has long been involved in the Southern California Gay movement, has labored for twenty years with the original Hebrew, finally producing a translation aided by fragmentary pre-Masoretic texts which clear up the mystery. His 144 page book discusses how the text, originally written about 920 B.C.E., evolved from a frankly homophilic love poem sung in homes and taverns at a time when the Hebrews were not yet publicly homophobic (such poems were found in many ancient Near Eastern cultures), to the editing millenia later by Masorete scribes, who produced the presently confused text. By hiding the name of the true author and changing the gender of the lover or the beloved in many passages, they made The Canticle (its more proper name) appear to be a heterosexual love poem, with an incertain number of speakers.

A more accurate version appeared in several earlier scraps of the song found among the Dead Sea Scrolls in Qumram cave #4. The cover-up began in the first line, when the name Asher, one of Solomon’s many sons, apparently Black, was read as a preposition instead of a proper name. In the second verse, the Revised Standard Version of the Bible notes that the pronouns for the beloved, given as neuter in the text, are really masculine. Most Hebrew scholars admit parenthetically, that the speaker-lover in 85% of the poem is clearly male, as is the beloved. Yet all modern versions except that by Rev. Dr. Johnson make it appear as a heterosexual love drama. Direct quotes show otherwise: 4:10,11: “How delightful you are Caleh, My lover-man, my other half. “Your pleasing masculine love is better than wine. “The smell of your body is better than perfume. “Your moustache is waxed with honeycomb “Honey and milk are under your tongue. “The scent of your clothing is like the smell of Lebanon.”

As Johnson points out in this revolutionary booklet, this highly charged love poem was addressed by Asher to Caleh, a shepherd-soldier. It gets to the heart of the question of whether the Hebrews and early Christians were fundamentally homophobic, or whether, as John Boswell has maintained, homophobia was a later addition. Johnson has consulted with many Hebrew scholars, who reluctantly concede the validity of his revolutionary word-for-word translation. The Masoretes did not, happily, produce a homophobic text. They merely made a gay love poem appear to be hetero. And that was done to many ancient poems and stories. As this writer, as well as Dr. Johnson and others have noted, there are many wife-purchase stories in the Bible, but the only true love stories are same-gender.

The Song of Songs now stands as the most explicit homoerotic love poem in the Bible, with clear naming of this thing going into that thing. Johnson’s small book is a must for all Jewish or Christian gays, though many might be too timid to abandon conventional hetero mistranslations. This book is very useful for gays who wish to answer religious homophobes.


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