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Unprotected Texts: The Bible's Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire [Hardcover]

J Wright Knust
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 17 2011
“An explosive, fascinating book that reveals how the Bible cannot be used as a rulebook when it comes to sex. A terrific read by a top scholar.” —Bart Ehrman, author of Misquoting Jesus

Boston University’s cutting-edge religion scholar Jennifer Wright Knust reveals the Bible’s contradictory messages about sex in this thoughtful, riveting, and timely reexploration of the letter of the gospels. In the tradition of Bart Erhman’s Jesus Interrupted and John Shelby Spong’s Sins of Scripture, Knust’s Unprotected Texts liberates us from the pervasive moralizing—the fickle dos and don’ts—so often dictated by religious demagogues. Knust’s powerful reading offers a return to the scripture, away from the mere slogans to which it is so often reduced.

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Review

“[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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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.0 out of 5 stars
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars From One Extreme to the Other 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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3.0 out of 5 stars Good but . . . 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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4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed this point of view Nov. 13 2011
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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Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  33 reviews
73 of 89 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I've waited a long, long time! March 5 2011
By Trudie Barreras - Published on Amazon.com
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)
27 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profound exegesis - no matter what your flavor of faith March 25 2011
By Stopdown - Published on Amazon.com
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.
27 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's about time! March 2 2011
By Donna - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It's about time someone like Jennifer Knust, a scholar and a Baptist minister, wrote about this highly heated subject between right wing or conservative Christians, Jews or any other dogmatic religion, and those who aren't. For me, the whole point of the book is to strongly point out the 'myths' people have about the topic of sex in the Bible and to look at the historical facts based on years of research, not the 'beliefs' of what was given to people as children to believe as the 'truths' in the Bible. My hope is that this book will help take the blinders off of people who read into what the Bible writes to defend their narrow view of what the Bible is truly about, and that is to "Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself." Perhaps this book can open a dialogue between all Christians to look inside of themselves first before throwing stones at those who don't 'believe' the 'myths' of their childhood.

I sincerly hope this book helps heal the division between the various factions of Christianity and other religions.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars an interesting interpretation of "biblical values", but needs some "tightening of the arguments" April 24 2013
By D. Peter Humphrys - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
Jenifer Knust has written an interesting book dealing with the surprizing variety of "values" argued for in the Biblical text, namely that they are not consistently the same despite the claims of some segments of society who claim that the Bible communicates only one consistent set of values.

She does take a critical perspective in her interpretation of the Bible, so Paul is not the author of about half the letters ascribed to him, Moses did not write the Pentateuch/Torah/first five books of the Bible and in fact these books were written after some of the historical books, though she is a little less clear about with which Canon (Protestant, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox or other Orthodox) she works - in fact she tends to blur the borders of any known canon in her analysis by referring to books long out of common use but once popular among Bible readers. In any case, she provides a decent bibliography and she has clearly thought and researched a fair bit about the issues which she addresses and though some reviewers have complained that her style is dry academic, I would reply: try reading Leviticus though in one sitting with enthusiasm!

However, there is a serious lingering problem with this work which she really does not address. How is the message of Bible to be life transforming if we can interpret it any which way we feel?(Here I sense that one is operating from a Protestant world view lacking a church heirarchy to guide interpretation such as the Catholics, Orthodox, and Anglicans to a lesser extent have and so many people operating from this world view may find what follows to be irrelevant or answered by their own tradition). Will the bandit, con-man, theif, abuser, drunkard, rabble rouser, or adulterer be convicted of sin (if such exists) and so change his wayward ways if he too can read his Bible and find support for what he is seeking? To me it really begs the question of why bother with the Bible at all, why not go back to the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers and look for their moral advice - from a singular individual, Seneca for example, it should be more consistent than the multiple voiced Bible? Why was it that the Romans abandoned their ancestoral religions and philosophers and adopted this strange Jewish sect called Christianity anyway? (Though again I think that the Catholics and Orthodox would respond differently, and that may be another weakness in her book, she tends to lump all those who argue for Biblical values in the public square into the same camp. Hence, while it is true that both Roman Catholics and many evangelicals may oppose same sex marriage, though some in both camps would support it, how they come to such conclusions will differ, teaching magisterium of the Catholics versus a more "common sense" evangelical reading of the text for Protestants and upon reflection I think that she is really having a bit of a fight with her Protestant co-religionists, she is Baptist after all, rather than engaging Catholic or Orthodox Exegesis and biblical interpretation which really does not argue for using the Bible as a rulebook when it comes to sex, and ethics but rather the authority of the church and tradition, the keys to properly interpreting the biblical text from their perspective. So the reader should be aware of the rather Protestant flavour of her argument.

That rather large quibble aside, I rather like what she has done and would like to see her expand her work to address the Quran and whether it too speaks with one voice on various moral issues. After all, she is concerned with the simplicity of the rhetoric in the American cultural wars and Islam, whether people like it or not, is now part of the American social fabric and I think that it would help to ask the same questions put to the Jewish (Tanak) and Christian Bible of the Muslim Qu'ran and even the Book of Mormon since "Christian educator" Bonnie Park (p.46) whom she criticizes strongly is actually a Mormon - I looked her up on the internet. Actually, it might be useful to have a book on the Holy Book in Comparative Perspective, deriving ethical values edition, or something to that effect. I suspect that a really interesting finding of such might be that many Evangelical Protestants and "militant" Muslims operate from a similar point of view, the text is clear and self explanatory, and their is no need for tradition and religious authorities to guide the interpretation of the text and finding the core consistent values therein.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All People Who Say, "The Bible Says..." Should Read this Book Feb. 8 2014
By Terrel Pochert - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
As certain "Christian" groups continue to push away those who don't fit into the "Christian tradition", I would suggest that everyone including those who call themselves "conservatives" read this book. After reading this this book, open the Bible and "really" start reading it. Don't just listen to the screaming pastor in the pulpit, but actually study and listen to what the scripture is telling us. We need to realize that the Word of God is for everyone and that we need to welcome all people into Christ's Church. Let us bless all types of marriage, love those whose marriages have not turned out and celebrate our sexual nature. Let's talk openly about our love for each other whether it is a gay or straight relationship, mixed race, age difference. Remember that true love heals and will grow Christ's Church here on earth.
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