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Sex and Religion in the Bible

Sex and Religion in the Bible

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Sex and Religion in the Bible
    Book Description:

    If we look to the Bible for historical accounts of ancient life, we make a profound error. So contends Calum Carmichael in this original and incisive reading of some of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament's most famous narratives. Sifting through the imaginative layers of these texts with an uncanny sensitivity and a panoptic critical eye, he unearths patterns connecting disparate passages, providing fascinating insights into how ideas were expressed, received, and transformed in the ancient Near East. Ranging from Jacob's encounter with Leah to the marriage at Cana to Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well, these readings demonstrate the remarkable subtlety and sophistication of the biblical views on marriage, sexuality, fertility, impurity, creation, and love.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15378-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xii)

    If we go to the Bible to find out how people in that time lived their sexual lives, we make a profound error. While the rules and narratives surely do give some idea about prevalent customs, the biblical text was never meant to give a factual account of life back then. Most scholars assume that the varied materials that constitute the Bible give an accurate portrayal of sexuality and religious belief in an ancient society. That kind of historical reconstruction is, indeed, the aim of much scholarly work.¹ My purpose here is to focus on certain well-known narratives in both...

  5. 1 Procreation
    (pp. 1-11)

    I begin with a discussion that raises the question of developments in social history: the duty to procreate. The observations bring out, however, the difficulty in writing much that is actually historical about the topic.¹ Emerging instead are ideas that prove compelling at all times and reveal just how sophisticated biblical narratives are in conveying them.

    The first text in the Bible to raise the topic of sex and religion is in Genesis 1:28. There is increasing recognition that Genesis through 2 Kings is a fully coherent composition and that we should view its chronicle of events through the eyes...

  6. 2 The Marriage at Cana
    (pp. 12-27)

    The use of marriage as a metaphor for the intimate relationship between a master and his disciples is brilliantly exploited in one of the strangest and most compelling narratives in the New Testament, the account in John 2:1–11 of a marriage at Cana in Galilee. The narrative reveals just how powerful the metaphor is. That the account is owing to the inventive genius of a Gospel writer reflecting on matters long after the death of Jesus is a sure indication that it would be unwise to speculate about the attitude to sexuality on the part of the historical Jesus....

  7. 3 A Sexual Encounter
    (pp. 28-43)

    The appeal to the nature of the created order in Genesis 1 continues to exercise its hold in another famous narrative that, of all the events related in the four Gospels, unquestionably brings out a sexual relationship between Jesus and an unnamed woman of Samaria. The very boldness of the depiction of the liaison plus the mode of interpretation employed by the author of the Fourth Gospel are sure indicators that he uses the sexual encounter in a special way. The narrative is, nonetheless, one of the most remarkable in biblical literature. I should point out that the use of...

  8. 4 Seduction
    (pp. 44-63)

    The sexual seduction of the Samaritan woman by Jesus leads—and it was so intended—to a religious conviction on her part that he is the Messiah. The link between sexual seduction and religious conviction is, in fact, such a common one that John’s mode of presenting how she came by her belief need not be so surprising. Yet it is surprising for at least three reasons.

    First, where wrongful religious attachment is thought of in terms of sexual seduction, the aim is to depict a negative development: the person seduced becomes an idolater. That is, when a writer speaks...

  9. 5 Contamination
    (pp. 64-84)

    The climax to the Book of Ruth informs us that King David is the descendant of Boaz and Ruth, a grandson in fact (Ruth 4:18). The lineage begins with Perez, the son born of Judah’s intercourse with his daughter-in-law Tamar, who had disguised herself as a prostitute (Gen 38), and concludes with David. The much later genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 has David at its center because the concluding person in it, Jesus, is depicted as a new David. Of the many mothers who could have been mentioned in Jesus’ lineage, puzzlingly only five are named. What is striking...

  10. 6 Adultery
    (pp. 85-107)

    Matthew’s genealogy begins: “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham begat Isaac. . . .” One famous woman not named in Matthew’s genealogy is Sarah, Abraham’s wife, even though like the other women mentioned she too can be cited for blatantly outrageous sexual conduct (Gen 12, 20).

    Recall how at one point Abraham is traveling in unfamiliar territory and is accompanied by his attractive spouse, Sarah: “Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon” (Gen 12:11). Abraham has her agree to pass herself off as...

  11. 7 The Suspected Adulteress
    (pp. 108-134)

    To understand Jesus’ argument opposing capital punishment for the woman caught in the act of adultery in John 8, I indicated in the previous chapter that the biblical law of the suspected adulteress is relevant because of the interpretation put on it at the time. I turn now to addressing the original significance of that much discussed law.

    There are many reasons why the law of the suspected adulteress receives so much attention. First, the topic of sexual wrongdoing is always likely to attract interest; a husband suspecting his wife of adultery makes us curious as to the grounds of...

  12. 8 Incest
    (pp. 135-157)

    The topic of incest readily commands attention. In Roman Egypt, for at least two hundred years, we have detailed evidence of marriages between full brothers and sisters—publicly celebrated, with wedding invitations, and entailing marriage contracts, dowries, children, and divorce.¹ In the Bible, Paul cites the case in 1 Corinthians 5 of a man who is living with his stepmother, the father having died or divorced her. Paul does condemn the union in question, but it has to be pointed out that in doing so he has to counter a fundamental Christian doctrine that is very much associated with him,...

  13. 9 Desexing
    (pp. 158-176)

    A matter is sometimes sexualized in order to impress its nonsexual message on an audience. For instance, a spiritual idea such as God’s love for a religiously unfaithful Israel is discussed in terms of a husband who is married to a scandalously promiscuous wife (Hos 1:2, 3, 2:2–13). Or, the search for wisdom is the pursuit of an attractive woman whose qualities, while the opposite of those of a loose woman, are yet similar—imitation par opposition(Prov 9). The Qumran Psalms Scroll (in Hebrew) on Sir 51:13–30 eroticizes the quest for Wisdom to an extraordinary degree. So...

  14. Abbreviations
    (pp. 177-180)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 181-200)
  16. Index of References
    (pp. 201-207)
  17. Subject Index
    (pp. 208-210)