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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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