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Unprotected Texts: The Bible's Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire Hardcover – Jan 17 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harperone (Jan. 17 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061725587
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061725586
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.9 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 499 g
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #530,142 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“[Knust mines] the Bible for its earthiest and most inexplicable tales about sex…to show that the Bible’s teachings on sex are not as coherent as the religious right would have people believe.” (Newsweek)

“[An] impressive and highly readable analysis of Old and New Testament Bible stories.... For those wanting to understand the Bible as a chronicle of human conduct for achieving the goals of survival, peace, and fulfillment, this is a treasure.” (Booklist (starred review))

From the Back Cover

Bible scholar Jennifer Wright Knust addresses the big questions that dominate today's discussions and debates when it comes to sex and the Bible: Is premarital sex a sin? When, and in what contexts, is sexual desire appropriate? With whom can I legitimately have sex? Are same-sex relations permissible? In an era where the phrases, "the Bible says," and "God says," are so often exploited, it is time to consider what the Bible actually does—or does not—say about monogamy, polygamy, homosexuality, gender roles, and sex.

Unprotected Texts directly and pointedly takes on widely shared misconceptions about sex, arguing that the Bible cannot—and should not—serve as a rulebook for sexual morality, despite popular claims to the contrary. From the Song of Songs' lyrical eroticism to the rigid sexual rules of Leviticus—and everything in between—Knust parses the Bible's contradictory, often surprising messages.

Skillfully revealing the latest insights from critical scholarship, Knust provides a compassionate and liberating model for navigating these deeply personal issues that affect us all.

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Wanda Costinak on March 5 2011
Format: Hardcover
In Unprotected Texts: The Bible's Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire by Jennifer Wright Knust writes:

'Whatever I am teaching...I usually begin by asking participants what they wish the bible said about the topic at hand...Whatever we wish for, I point out, probably can be found somewhere in the Bible, which is why it is so important to admit that we have wishes, whatever they may be. We are not passive recipients of what the Bible says, but active interpreters who make decisions about what we will believe and what we will affirm. Admitting that we have wishes, and that our wishes matter, is therefore the first step to developing an honest and faithful interpretation.' page 241.

There are extremists on both sides of the traditional family values debate that make most Christians roll their eyes and groan. Certainly they are bringing their 'wishes' to the biblical text and using them as a weapon for their particular side of the debate. Knust takes the complicated book called the Bible and shows that, while it is an excellent guide for life and sexuality in modern society, it is not an exact rule book for sex and desire and cannot be used as such.

The topics of discussion are: the Bible and the joy of sex, biblical marriage, evil impulse (disordered and ordered desire), sexual politics, strange flesh, and bodily parts (should be entitled bodily fluids). While I do not agree with many of the things the author asserts, she is correct that we need to have a serious look at where our Scriptural support comes from for our particular viewpoint. Too often our modern sexual perspective is projected back onto the ancient texts and societal views, leading to misinterpretation.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Pilgrim Quester on Jan. 2 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is an interesting read and particularly useful for giving a well-deserved "poke on the nose" to the religious right. It is very readable and brings in a number of interesting contemporaneous sources. However, Professor Knust plays a little fast and loose with facts (e.g.: after dealing with Jesus' statement on remarriage of divorced persons, she later claims that "the Pastor's" teaching on the remarriage of younger widows is at variance with Jesus' nonexistent general prohibition of remarriage) and I'm not sure that all of her historical references would accepted by mainstream historians. An interesting read but one which must be taken with a proverbial grain of salt . . .
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Format: Hardcover
Good to see some in depth comparisons for a change on this subject in the Bible. Enjoyed the authors point of view. Too many people fail to take off the Religion Glasses when doing this.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
bias and blasphemous. what was worse was my professor was a 'christian' and was using this text to teach in a secular university.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 40 reviews
81 of 100 people found the following review helpful
I've waited a long, long time! March 5 2011
By Trudie Barreras - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have just finished reading the amazing book entitled Unprotected Texts: The Bible's Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire. To say that I've waited a long, long time for a book this scholarly, honest, intelligent, and completely readable would still be a complete understatement.

Knust does something that I've been trying to do myself to a very limited extent, and that is to point out the extraordinary absurdity of claiming the Bible speaks with any kind of coherence on the notion that marriage is meant to be limited to "One Man, One Woman". However, she speaks from the perspective of a minister and scripture scholar, and though her work is scholarly, it is not in any way dry, dull or ponderous. She has produced a beautifully detailed, completely annotated discussion of sexual and marital norms as portrayed in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, set against the backdrop of the cultural and political circumstances within which these norms existed.

As I've observed on my own, Knust makes emphatically clear that all Hebrew statements concerning marriage and sexuality were based on the primary principle that women were considered to be chattel. Above slaves, children and livestock in the hierarchy, they were none-the-less the property of their fathers or brothers if they were unmarried, and their husbands after marriage. All the restrictions on adultery related to a man's property rights over a woman. Although a man was permitted more than one wife in patriarchal times, women were NOT permitted more than one husband. Men, of course, were not censured for sexual activity with slaves or prostitutes, although there were definite restrictions on the "how, where and who".

Another very valuable contribution Knust makes is to compare - in easy-to-understand tabular form - the variety of attitudes towards marriage, sexual activity and celibacy discussed in the various epistles that have been included in the Christian canon. This saves the reader a tremendous amount of effort in terms of flipping back and forth between one text and another, and sets these ideas in the context of the changing perspective in the Early Church concerning the immanence of Christ's return. She also, and I am extremely grateful for this, investigates the flawed historical assertions that there was significant "Sacred Prostitution" practiced as part of the ritual of non-Hebrew cultures at the time of Christ. Additionally, she compares the attitudes towards marriage and sexuality in the Roman Empire at the beginning of the Christian Era, and quotes a number of Greek and Roman sources that parallel the writings of early Christian apologists.

The key point that of course is of most significance to me is the realization that the misogyny and devaluation of women, which was apparently a major driving force in ancient times, is still, unfortunately, a very major part of our current cultural and spiritual landscape. From the incredible abuse of women that is still practiced under what Islam calls Sharia Law, to the Roman Catholic insistence on priestly celibacy and the refusal of holy orders to women, to the conflicts the US military is still having about what particular roles to allow women in the armed forces, the issue remains. I recently heard an interview with a female general who discussed the insistence of the army less than a generation ago that women should not be eligible for promotion to command rank because it was generally believed that by the time they got to that point in their careers, they'd be undergoing menopause, and "everyone knew" how unstable women were during their "change of life"! Whatever view we take, what another writer has termed "pelvic issues" tend to oppress women the most.

I would like to quote part of the concluding paragraph of Knust's book, because I believe it focuses her thesis so beautifully, and says exactly what I've wanted to hear said for so long:

"Those who attempt to belittle or demean a class of people, denying them rights on the basis of an unexamined interpretation of a few biblical passages, are expressing not God's will but their own limited human perspective, backed up by shallow and self-serving reading of the biblical text. No one should rejoice when Jezebel is eaten by dogs. Slavery is never acceptable, whatever the bible says. And it is a tragedy, not a triumph, every time some young person somewhere is crushed by the weight of taunting and shame inspired by cruelty masquerading as righteousness. If the Bible is truly the word of God, as Christians have claimed for centuries, then surely it deserves to be treated better than this. If human bodies matter to God as much as some ancient Israelites, Jewish Sages, and early Christians taught, then surely they deserve both protection and high regard, no matter what. The Samaritan woman desired living water capable of quenching thirst forever, not still water trapped in a bucket and available for one thirsty afternoon. When it comes to the Bible, may we imitate her example, seeking abundant life in all the interpretations we offer." (pp. 247 - 8)
23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Comprehensive=good, writing style=alarming April 30 2013
By Scott Loven - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I found this book to be quite useful in terms of learning some of the apocrophal teachings surrounding these issues. For example; her writing on the Nephilim, i.e. "sex with Angels" being the only sexual act condemned in the Bible, according to Knust's interpretations, and the various extra-biblical texts which discuss this issue (like the book of Enoch).

The book was also useful because it was frankly, comprehensive. It covered every possible passage one could think of which could have bearing on sexuality. I learned a lot by having all of these passages collected and discussed together in an intensive fashion.

Anyway, I thought I would mention that I found her writing style somewhat alarming throughout. She would often times declare statements along the lines of "this interpretation has since been dismissed by contemorary Bibllical scholars" etc. without a reference or more importantly, without an explaination of how it has been contradicted. Such writing practice is alarming because many readers (including myself sometimes) would simply glance over such a statement and soak it in without considering the implications. Furthermore, such statements are not even reliable anyway; as if Knust could speak for all contemporary scholars.

I also was quite alarmed by the fact that a number of Knust's assertions are based on Biblical passages which she translated herself. Perhaps this is a loaded issue (who has the right to interpret, and how could we trust those people?).

The take away? Knust states that everyone brings their own "wishes" (read: pre-conceived notions) to the text which affect the interpretation thereof. "Whatever we wish for, I point out, probably can be found somewhere in the Bible, which is why it is so important to admit that we have wishes, whatever they may be. We are not passive recipients of what the Bible says, but active interpreters who make decisions about what we will believe and what we will affirm." That is more or less true. However, "Admitting that we have wishes, and that our wishes matter, is therefore the first step to developing an honest and faithful interpretation."-- This I find hard to swallow. I have never believed that our wishes mattered above the will of God. I believe that it is necessary to approach the will of God with fear and trembling and above all love. It's heavy stuff, and not to be tossed aside this easily.

By the way: I do not at all feel this book was difficult to read. It was academic, but it had to be. A little effort never hurt any reader.
30 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Profound exegesis - no matter what your flavor of faith March 25 2011
By Stopdown - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book, though very well written in highly readable English, is nevertheless going to be a challenging (but not daunting) task for those unfamiliar with the Bible, or the principles of Biblical exegesis. But make no mistake: the author's thorough work has done exegesis a favor, by accepting the texts of the Bible as they are published, and using the internal logic and accepting the underlying principles of faith as they are given to us. Her approach is that the texts are what they claim to be, the word of God, and in no instance has she resorted either to proof-texting, or to textual (aka 'higher') criticism. In fact, she provides us with a rich and colorful tapestry that weaves the old testament, new testament and inter-testamental eras into a unified whole, and places important passages - both well known and overlooked - in literary, theological and cultural contexts.

As someone who reads the Bible every few years from cover to cover, and hails from one of the faith propositions that most would label as 'conservative,' I can recommend this work to anyone of like mind who enjoys an honest, open, and deep traverse of Biblical theology and exegesis. The quality of this work is indisputable.
16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Disappointing Sept. 1 2014
By waxy_pallor - Published on
Format: Paperback
I was really hoping to like this book, but I was disappointed. I'm a staunch feminist, and a devout (socially liberal) Christian, and for me, reading this book was exhausting and discouraging. Ever verse or story was presented in its most misogynistic interpretation. The author makes unsupported assumptions about the meanings of words, authorship of texts, and cultural implications of certain phrases. I would have liked to see more evidence. In addition, many of her arguments are supported by non-canonical proto-gospels and anti-body gnostic commentators. I'm not sure what this book is trying to accomplish, because for a book that is ostensibly about the Christian scripture, it is remarkably lacking in hope or mercy.
15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Entertaining angel (sex) and other dubious intepretations Nov. 28 2014
By Tom Braun - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Jennifer Knust's central thesis is that the Bible cannot be taken as a guide to sexual behavior because it is entirely and completely self-contradictory on the subject. This is a provocative thesis, so surely she has convincing evidence and powerful arguments on her side, right??

Well, she has arguments. Lots of them. Knust's approach is to bombard the reader with every possible argument against whatever aspect of Biblical sexuality she is attacking. She will even present two different arguments against a text even if they seem mutually contradictory. And she holds up strange fringe interpretations of passages as proof of those passages supposed incoherence.

In fact the author seems drawn, almost compulsively, to the weirdest interpretations she can find. If any scholar or interpreter in history has ever read something particularly bizarre into a passage, she takes it as gospel. This happens throughout the book, but perhaps the most glaring example is the chapter in which she claims that Biblical authors were obsessed with protecting people from having sex with angels. She bases this on a four word tag on a passage where Paul recommends that women in church should cover their heads, "because of the angels."

I'll grant this is a somewhat strange aside in Paul's writing, but your average reader probably wouldn't leap from these four words straight to the conclusion that Paul was paranoid about sexually aggressive angels. For Knust, however, this is the only possible explanation, and once stated will be taken as fact throughout the book. Similarly, the ideas that David and Jonathan were gay lovers and that Ruth administered oral sex to Boaz in the middle of a crowded barn obviously need no further defense (oh and Ruth and Naomi were of course lesbian lovers).

Knust can't seem to tell a good argument from a bad one. On the occasions that she does offer up something that makes the reader go "hmmm" she will inevitably follow it up with one that is so ridiculous that the reader is likely to forget about the first one entirely.

She deploys all sorts of logical fallacies in her zealous pursuit of her thesis. Frequently she will claim that passages forbidding this or that sexual behavior cannot be valid because the Israelites in other texts engage in that very behavior. But the fact that the Israelites were extremely bad at following Mosaic law is almost the entire point of the Old Testament. It's hard to credit that a Bible scholar and theologian would not know this, so it simply seems dishonest.

Knust also cherry picks the passages she quotes with a fervor that would make any Bible-thumper blush. And just to make doubly sure the text says what she wants it to say, she frequently uses her own translations for passages. There are many, many extant translations that have been vigorously vetted by large committees of experts, but when these don't say what Knust wants she just rolls her own. At least, that is how it will come across to many readers.

The author also claims that since the Bible was once used to defend the institution of slavery that it cannot be trusted on sexual issues. Why this is the fault of scripture rather than the fault of the defenders of slavery is not made clear. Even more troubling for Bible believers, if they were to accept this argument it is not clear why it would not simply discredit the entire Bible end to end rather than just the parts about sex and sexuality.

In fact it's hard not to shake the conviction that this is just what the author is after. Although 'Unprotected Texts' is book-ended by proclamations of faith in and respect for the scripture, the actual meat of the material reads like something a very arch atheist academic might write.

This brings up the question of who exactly the author is writing FOR. From the beginning and ending, where she repeatedly notes that she is an ordained pastor, you might expect she is writing to fellow adherents of the Christian faith. But the text itself is extremely academic, steeped in the post-modern style of a typical liberal arts professor. And frankly, the weaker her arguments the more academic Knust gets.

This confusion is most evident in the final chapter which is about circumcision and impure discharges. While these topics do relate somewhat to sex, very few religious people these days are concerned about either; but Knust goes and on and on at great length as though she is delivering an obscure thesis paper on the subject to a group of seminarians. In addition, after enumerating the many ways in which the Bible is remarkably consistent on the topic of menstrual impurity across the Old and New Testaments, she concludes this chapter by claiming she has demonstrated precisely the opposite!

Reading 'Unprotected Texts' was not entirely without value. I will grant that the author is clearly very widely read on her topic. I did learn some things, and, as I said, she occasionally stumbles across a compelling argument that made me want to dig deeper. But readers who want a serious re-examination of what the scripture says about sex will be disappointed. Readers who came simply to point and laugh will, I suppose, be amused when they aren't being bored to tears.

Readers of this book who are Christians will find the author's attitude and intellectually dishonest arguments off-putting. Readers of this book who are not Christians will find it lacks academic rigor. Both kinds of readers will probably wind up confused about who, exactly, this book is for.

The fact is that the author is trying to fit her square peg of a thesis into the round hole of actual Biblical texts. It just doesn't work. This book is poorly argued and it's not going to convince anyone who wasn't already convinced that the Bible doesn't have anything useful or important to say about sex.