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God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says Imitation Leather – October 1, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Readers looking for an unbiased appraisal of what the Bible says about premarital sex, homosexuality, and polygamy can trust Coogan, a biblical scholar of the highest order. Concise, clear, and accessible to general readers, this book covers all the usual topics plus a few that may surprise. A professor of religious studies at Stonehill College and editor of the New Oxford Annotated Bible, Coogan has also taught at Harvard and Wellesley. He covers predictable ground in unpredictable ways, frankly noting, for example, the pervasive biblical assumption that women ar`e subordinate while explaining how that reflects the Bible's foreign and ancient context. The author does not overreach the evidence to promote his own agenda, but notes the Bible's contradictions on certain issues and admits the limits of modern scholarship. Readers may be surprised to find a convincing discussion of evidence for God's own (sometimes unflattering) sexuality, in metaphor if not in fact. Coogan's reminder at the book's end that modern application of biblical texts requires interpretation and nuance is a welcome corrective to selective, literalist use.
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From Booklist

Revered by the devout as a revelation of God’s will, the Bible vexes many progressive thinkers as an obstacle to gender equality and sexual liberation. Coogan has written this book to help such progressives get past their vexations. He argues, for instance, that religious conservatives misunderstand some of the scriptural passages they wield against homosexuality. He reinterprets the Genesis account of Sodom, for instance, as a condemnation not of homosexual practices but rather of callous inhospitality toward vulnerable strangers. Even more audaciously, Coogan turns the tables on Hebrew prophets’ denouncing the worship of female pagan deities, suggesting that such worship provided a much-needed corrective to patriarchy. In scriptural passages affirming a sexual discipline offensive to modern sensibilities, Coogan sees only a deplorable cultural bias, sustained by worshipping God as a jealous and abusive husband. A critique as radical as this one will astonish conservatives, who will wonder why those who accept it would even bother with the Bible. But it will embolden social activists glad to weaken restraints rooted in traditional understandings of scripture. Expect media attention and controversy. --Bryce Christensen
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Product Details

  • Imitation Leather: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Twelve (October 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446545252
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446545259
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #988,182 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Coogan is Lecturer in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament at Harvard Divinity School and Director of Publications for the Harvard Semitic Museum. He has also taught at Stonehill College, Boston College, Wellesley College, Fordham University, and the University of Waterloo (Ontario), and has participated in and directed archaeological excavations in Israel, Jordan, Cyprus, and Egypt. He is the author of Old Testament text books and The Old Testament VSI.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

69 of 84 people found the following review helpful By John L Murphy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 7, 2010
Format: Imitation Leather
Professor Coogan teaches Scripture: "I am sometimes asked by relatives and students to suggest biblical passages for use at their weddings, but few are appropriate." If God wrote Holy Writ, he did so as a "forgetful" writer--and a "terrible" one. Not only is the Good Book full of inconsistencies, but its protagonist holds not only a powerful grudge against the men and women made in his own image. Coogan's quick, clear, and no-nonsense pages explain "what the Bible really says." No wonder that brides and grooms can find little in either Hebrew writings or Christian testament to celebrate married, monogamous, and licitly carnal love.

Sinless romance occurs rarely; for ancient societies obsessed with patriarchy and paternity, women count as chattel. Bought and sold by their fathers, tossed away by their betrothed, denigrated by their Creator, women's rank can be summed up in the Tenth Commandment. As Coogan reminds us, coveting our neighbor's wife ranks second, after envying our neighbor's house. Real estate took precedence, and women--while ranked ahead of the male and female servants, and the oxen next door--nevertheless mattered far more as breeders than as beloved.

Coogan's chapters, arranged with more care than much of Scripture, show few inconsistencies. He begins by analyzing "to know in the biblical sense." This phrase conveys the truth that the ancients knew: sexual intimacy conveys a deeper understanding of our partner. He shows where indirect terms for sexual intercourse lurk. When I studied the Book of Ruth in my Catholic high school, I was puzzled why widowed Ruth "uncovered the feet" of her wealthy relative, Boaz, to "lay at his "feet until dawn." This did not sound very romantic.

Coogan explains that the term for "feet" often disguised "genitals.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Dubious Disciple on January 17, 2011
Format: Imitation Leather
If you're hoping for a biblical Harlequin, look elsewhere. This is a heavy little book, even a little overwhelming, as it delves into the sexual inequalities of biblical times. I found the book rather dark in places; an obvious agenda of the author is to extol how grateful we should be to have outgrown the biblical view of women as property. Indeed there are multiple horror stories of how women were treated in the Bible, but is it healthy to overdose on this topic? Coogan touches only briefly on the other side of the coin--the radical change in treatment encouraged by Jesus and his earliest followers. Even Paul, says Coogan, suppressed women, as he argues against current scholarship that many of the suppressive teachings recorded by "Paul" were actually later writings.

But, thankfully, the book isn't entirely about sexual inequality. Some of the topics are more light-hearted. You'll learn about sexual innuendos which shed light on several passages in the Bible; you'll find out whether David and Jonathan were gay lovers (they weren't); you'll learn about the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah (it wasn't sodomy, or even sexual perversity); you'll learn about Yahweh's wife in Israel's most primitive beliefs, including several passages from the Bible. I highly recommend the book, and I guarantee you'll learn from it.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful By J. Davis on January 13, 2011
Format: Imitation Leather
God and Sex is a powerful argument against Biblical literalism. The author maintains that many Christian conservatives are misreading Biblical passages to shore up their arguments against actions they disapprove of, such as abortion and same sex marriage. Coogan argues the Bible is a flawed work of human beings, frequently edited over many years. He shows an impressive understanding of actual practices during Biblical times. For example, religious conservatives argue today that same-sex marriage is against "traditional Biblical values, i.e. one man and one woman raising a family." He shows this is false--there are repeated instances of men married to one more than one woman, having concubines give birth, etc.. This is a must read for anyone who thinks they know what the Bible says, and more importantly what it really means.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By treeofknowledge on February 9, 2011
Format: Imitation Leather Verified Purchase
This is an outstanding book that gives an honest review of the Bible. It feels like the author has a subjective view of the subject matter and is not trying to convince you to believe or not to believe. It is written in an engaging way that is easy to access for all level of readers. He does open up the Bible in a whole new way to people who are not taught those aspects of the Bible at Sunday Church. I highly recommend this book to anyone who believes or does not believe.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Crimson on August 31, 2011
Format: Imitation Leather
Written by one of America's foremost Old Testament scholars, this book is packed with information about the Bible's differing views on sex. While this book could easily be read over the weekend due to its size, it would probably be more beneficial to slowly read this micro-tome, which is packed with the cultural aspects of sex and the role of women during biblical times. It also touches on what the says about homosexuality.

Coogan begins and ends the book by stating that the Bible should be read with the understanding that all the books in it reflect the author of that book, rather than simply God. And if you have many different people writing about the same subject (in this case, sex) over a period of centuries, you will obviously have different views and even contradictions. People tend to read the Bible as if God personally penned all 66 books, while ignoring the influence of the author as well as the culture the author lived in. For example, throughout the book we learn that women are treated almost as property throughout most of the Bible with few exceptions, which is a reflection of the patriarchal society that existed in ancient Israel for centuries (for millennia, really), rather than that being the way God designed that society.

The only problems I had with this book is that it got a bit dry towards the middle-end. I guess because the author is a scholar, and while he did write this book for the laity, I got slightly bored with it towards the end, and I had to marshal my concentration skills to finish it. However, it's a short book, and most of it was indeed interesting.

Overall, it was a decent read. Some chapters I found more interesting than others, but it was all useful information.
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