Jennifer Wright Knust, Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire (Harper One, 2011) $25.99 ISBN 9780061725586. Reviewed by Mark McGinniss
When a book about the Bible gets reviewed by USA Today (4/12/2011) and Newsweek (2/6/2011), and that book is about sex in the Bible, it naturally drew my attention. Unfortunately it does not live up to its title. Based on Knust’s hermeneutic, her book does not turn out to be much of a surprise. Since Knust rejects authorial intent and single meaning of a biblical text, she is able to read “against the grain” and create supposed contradictions. But the “contradictions” are of her own making and are not a product of the biblical text. While she desires to move past the “harmful messages of Biblezines…toward a larger understanding of what the Bible does have to say about bodies, sex and gender” (21), her lack of single meaning leaves the reader to wonder what part of the Bible should one follow as it concerns bodies, sex and gender!
Jennifer Wright Knust is “a Bible scholar, an ordained American Baptist pastor and professor of Religion at Boston University” (10). Her motivation for this book is her “tiredness of watching those who are supposed to care about the Bible reduce it to stories and its teachings to slogans” (ibid). While I understand her fatigue, her revealing of so many so-called biblical “contradictions” makes me wonder why any one would take the Bible seriously or even take time to read it. Knust’s premise is that “the Bible fails to offer girls—or anyone—a consistent message regarding sexual morals and God’s priorities” (5).
While this volume is easy to read and she herself is well-read, Knust rejects almost every sexual biblical norm that would provide a consistent theological message concerning sex for a modern audience. Her reason for such a rejection is due to the fact that in our past history the church misread the Bible concerning slavery (11-13) and it stands to reason that the church has misread the rest of the Bible on sexual standards and practices as well. Knust admits that the Bible will not “determine our sexual ethics” but rather we ourselves must decide (21).
To that end Knust sides with Jezebel (16-17), holds that the Song of Songs celebrates sex outside of marriage (23, 32), suggests that Ruth and Boaz had sex on the threshing floor (36, 39), believes that David had a homosexual relationship with Jonathan (42), notes that the “Bible offers no viable solution to our marriage dilemmas” i.e. same sex marriage (48, 56), proposes that the Israelites spies of Joshua’s time, were derelict in their duties and instead of spying out the land; spied out a house of ill-repute and slept with Rahab (134-36), and states that the sin of Sodom was not that the men of the city wanted to rape the men who visited Lot, but the sin was actually that the men of Sodom wanted to rape angels (162). Concerning this same pericope, she writes, “the notion that the story of Sodom involves a moral judgment against homosexuality is not the least bit obvious” (164). She further believes that “ancient Israelites had no hope of eternal life” (188) and “the descendants of Abraham believed that they would live on though their progeny alone” (189).
Knust concludes that “the Bible is often divided against itself” and “it is up to the readers to decide what a biblically informed and faithful sexual morality might look like” (245).
If the reader is left to determine for him or herself what is a “faithful sexual morality,” and the Bible cannot be trust to be an objective standard for sexual ethics, it would seem that we are on our own and everyone is left to determine “what is right in their own eyes.” One wonders if Knust would see the parallel between her conclusion and the last chapters of the book of Judges; or would she simply write off Judges 21:25 as another contradiction.