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Unprotected Texts: The Bible's Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire Hardcover – January 25, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In a refreshingly sensible tone, Knust, assistant professor of religion at Boston University, tackles today™s most contentious biblical texts and brings to light some intriguing others in this effort to detail and explain what the Bible says about sex. Although it is academic in its embrace of biblical scholarship and treatment of texts, this is also a personal book. Knust, a lifelong Baptist (and ordained as an American Baptist pastor), begins with an anecdote from her childhood that defends the value of studying and questioning the Bible. Matters of how biblical interpretations bear on real issues for people today are never far from the discussion. As Knust is clear-eyed in showing the Bible™s acceptance of polygamy, slavery, prostitution, and premarital sex, she calls into question facile judgments and absolutist claims about œwhat the Bible says. In her able hands, readers will learn and appreciate the variety of ways that the Bible treats and judges sex. She also demands of readers that they then think for themselves about how biblical texts should be interpreted and applied. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Knust’s impressive and highly readable analysis of Old and New Testament Bible stories explores mores of ancient cultures, which supported prostitution and polygamy along with slavery and patriarchy. In doing so, she makes a convincing case for religious leaders and others to take greater care and responsibility in extracting wisdom needed for healing contemporary society. Knust cites several examples of prominent figures who have misused the Bible to support wars, slavery, and the oppression of women and children. Her analysis of the story of Ruth and Naomi reveals that sex outside of marriage does not always lead to ruin. Likewise, she asserts that the downfall of Sodom and Gomorrah came not because of rampant homosexuality but as a result of society’s excesses and its leaders ceasing to seek justice, rescue the oppressed, and protect widows and orphans. The book also explores a plethora of taboo subjects: female sexual desire, divorce, infidelity, homosexuality, celibacy, menstruation, cross-dressing, and circumcision as well as the perennial need for intimacy and human contact. 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. --Susan DeGrane

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; First Edition, 1st Printing edition (January 25, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061725587
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061725586
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #424,451 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

79 of 97 people found the following review helpful By Trudie Barreras VINE VOICE on March 5, 2011
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".
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30 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Stopdown on March 25, 2011
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.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Scott Loven on April 30, 2013
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.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Tom Braun on November 28, 2014
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.
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