In the lead up to Valentine’s Day when Christian (and other) women look forward to receiving gestures of romantic love from men, I thought I would ask AI to clarify what is the nature of love as portrayed in the most famous lovers book in the Bible: “What is the Hebrew word used for the kind of love portrayed in the Song Of Solomon?”
ANSWER: The primary Hebrew word for love in the context of the Song of Solomon is ‘ahabah’. Although it does not explicitly refer to romantic love or sexual desire, within the context of this love song, it conveys deep affection, longing, and desire.
Even in the Septuagint, which includes a Greek translation of the Song of Songs, the word used is agape, though clearly the term eros is also applicable to the lengthy descriptions of longing and desire that take place between the two lovers. Ahabah, agape and eros described in this book are examples of reciprocal love, and they are not equivalent to the medieval practice of romantic love which requires sycophantic male love service toward a pedestalised woman. With these distinctions in mind, we can say that Christians who wish to celebrate romantic love, whether on Valentine’s or any other day, can be justifiably be charged with practicing heretical versions of love.
As a second note of clarification, St. Valentine had nothing to do with the concept of romantic love during his life, nor did romantic love play a part in the early legends that surrounded him. His namesake only later became associated with courtly & romantic love through a fanciful revisionism in the Middle Ages via poets like Chaucer who fabricated a link between the saint and romantic love. That conflation was continued by William Shakespeare, John Donne and many other poets, leading to the popular conception of romantic chivalry we inherit in today’s Valentine’s celebration.