The title is the Hebrew way of saying "the best of songs". There has been speculation that it might have been written by a woman[1 p.105]. It was probably written in the 5th or 4th century B.C.E. but attributed to Solomon[1 p.111]. It concerns physical and emotional love between a man and a woman. (See comment on Proverbs 14:30 concerning emotion.) Some see five collections comprising 31 poems in all; others see ten incidents which might occur in a single day, as the king and a concubine desire each other but are unwilling to let a forbidden relationship destroy their places in society. There are five plausible ways to interpret it:
Steve Aisthorpe argues for the first option above, saying that it is placed with the Wisdom literature so that scripture celebrates "two of the Lord's most precious gifts". Reynolds prefers the second option, but adds that the book does not encourage such an interpretation, so it should be understood at face value first.
The book has always been controversial yet curiously influential. John of the Cross (a Christian mystic) based almost all of his theology on the Song of Solomon (also known as the Song of Songs). It shows how the Jewish faith is grounded in physical reality rather than Greek denial of the physical as relevant to the eternal and spiritual. Also it seems to contain no reference to God, so Esther is not alone!
The reader should certainly look for allegorical meaning to some extent. One who takes the view that the book is purely allegorical (No.2 above) would look for allegory only. Someone who sees the book as an erotic love poem (No.1 above) would, in seeking a reason why the Bible includes the book, have to consider how human sexuality expresses truth about God, (for example, developing ideas about human sexuality being modelled on some deep truth about God) so the allegorical question arises again. A reader seeking information about deities (No.3 above) would need to seek a connection between the sexual imagery and the observeable world, because otherwise the book's content is irrelevant to us. And lastly, a reader looking for concealed historical information must assume that the meaning is coded somehow, because it is not apparent.
© David Billin 2002–2021