Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Sex and the Bible
If you can remember scouring your parents paperbacks in search of their spiciest pages, you can understand the impulse behind the recently-published book The Uncensored Bible: The Bawdy and Naughty Bits of the Good Book. After all, for hundreds of years, the Bible was the only book available in many households. Most of the spicier stuff is located in the Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible) which is more straightforward about sex than the New, if only because it is presents more narratives about imperfect (or simply randy) people. Here are some of the hotter (or weirder) chapters and verses:
Song of Songs 8:1-3
“If only you were to me like a
brother, who was nursed at my mother’s breasts!
Then, if I found you outside, I would kiss you, and no one would despise me. I would lead you and bring you to my mother’s house– she who has taught me. I would give you spiced wine to drink , the nectar of my pomegranates. His left arm is under my head and his right arm embraces me.”
Song of Solomon 8:10
“Dear brothers, I’m a walled-in
virgin still, but my breasts are full— And when my
lover sees me, he knows he’ll soon be satisfied.”
Song of Songs 1:2-4
“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth– for your love is more delightful than wine. Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes; your name is like perfume poured out. No wonder the maidens love you! Take me away with you–let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers. We rejoice and delight in you; we will praise your love (i.e., semen) more than wine. How right they are to adore you!”
Song of Songs 3:4
“Scarcely had I passed them when I found the one my heart loves. I held him and would not let him go till I had brought him to my mother’s house, to the room of the one who conceived me.”
Song of Songs 4:9
“You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace.”
Song of Songs 4:10
“How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much more pleasing is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your perfume than any spice!”
Song of Songs 4:12
“You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain.”
Song of Songs 5:4
“I slept but my heart was awake. Listen! My lover is knocking: ‘Open to me, my sister, my darling, my dove, my flawless one. My head is drenched with dew, my hair with the dampness of the night.’ I have taken off my robe must I put it on again? I have washed my feet, must I soil them again? My lover thrust his hand through the latch-opening; my heart began to pound for him.”
Song of Songs 5:8
“O daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you– if you find my lover, what will you tell him? Tell him I am faint with love.”
“How beautiful your sandaled feet, O prince’s daughter! Your graceful legs are like jewels, the work of a craftsman’s hands. Your navel is a rounded goblet that never lacks blended wine. Your waist is a mound of wheat encircled by lilies. Your breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle. Your neck is like an ivory tower. Your eyes are the pools of Heshbon by the gate of Bath Rabbi.
I said ‘I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit.’ May your breasts be like the clusters of the vine, the fragrance of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine. (The NIV Bible, Song of Songs 7:1-4, 8-9)”
According to the documentary film “Sex in the Bible” on A&E TV Station, the Hebrew translation to “Your naval” is referring to the woman’s VAGINA.
2 Samuel 11:2-4
“One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, ‘Isn’t this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?’ Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (She had purified herself from her uncleanness.) Then she went back home.”
Genesis 12, 20: "Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you."
To assure the goodwill of the Egyptians, the patriarch Abraham appears to give over his wife Sarai to the Pharaoh. Whether they engage in sex is unclear, although Abraham subsequently attempts the same ploy with another king, incidentally announcing that he and his wife are actually half-siblings. In each instance, God expresses disapproval — although oddly enough, to the monarch, rather than to Abraham. The couple's confusion will eventually be resolved and they will parent the line that produces the nation of Israel.
Genesis 19: "Behold, I have two daughters who have now known man; let me bring them out to you."
The story of Abraham's nephew Lot, meanwhile, is a double helping of twisted sex. Lot lives in Sodom, slated for extermination by two angels who have just visited Abraham. After his pleas fail to save the city, Abraham convinces the angels to recover Lot and his family. The debauched Sodomites (hence the modern-day slur) demand that Lot hand over the angels for what seems, on close reading, to be a gang-rape. Lot, the considerate host, offers up his daughters instead. (The crowd turns down the offer.) Eventually the whole family (minus Lot's wife, who looked back and was turned into a salt pillar) is spared and spirited off by the angels. However, in the safety of a hideout, Lot's daughters, believing he is the last man alive on earth, get him drunk, seduce him and become pregnant by him, eventually giving birth to the founders of the Ammonite and Moabite people. As The Uncensored Bible points out, whatever else it may signify, the tale is a kind of national slander, locating the origins of two of the Biblical Israelites' neighbors and enemies in an act of incest.
Genesis 38: "And what he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord."
Where does the word "onanism" come from? In this passage Judah, one of the sons of the patriarch Joseph, arranges a marriage between his own son, Er, and a woman named Tamar. But Er dies before the wedding, and his younger brother Onan is expected to take his place. Rather than fathering a child who could compete with him for Judah's inheretence, Onan famously "spilled his seed on the ground." The authors of The Uncensored Bible note helpfully that the writer Dorothy Parker named her parrot Onan "for the same reason."
God, unamused, strikes Onan down, leaving Tamar unhusbanded and untethered from Judah's line. Desperate, she dresses as a prostitute and has sex with Judah. When she reveals her identity to him, he admits that "She is more right than I, since I did not give her to [his third son] Shelah." One of the resulting twins was an ancestor of King David, and (on paper, at least) of Jesus.
Leviticus and Deuteronomy: "When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be charged with any business."
The code of law distributed through the Bible's first five books prohibits any number of sexual activities, from the much quoted "You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; it is an abomination," to "you shall not have any sexual relations with an animal." But the Uncensored Bible folks have also sleuthed out "If two men fight together and the wife of one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of the one attacking him, and puts out her hand and seizes him by the genitals, then you shall cut off her hand." Certainly a vivid word-painting of a certain kind of brawl, but perhaps a hint that some of the old Biblical remedies need to be modified.
Ruth 1-4: "And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly..."
Unlike the passages from Genesis, where sex is a plot point (and not particularly romantic,), Ruth regards sex (if it is sex) as a seal and preview of married love, and with a joyful indirect consequence. Ruth was the daughter of a Moabite family (see above) who, against odds, married a descendent of Judah (see above again). Her husband died, however, and she ended up gathering up remainders from the fields of his relative, Boaz. Boaz took to Ruth, and at harvest's end Ruth's mother-in-law Naomi had her bathe, put on scented oil, and lie down next to him, uncovering his feet. Ruth asked Boaz to "spread his cloak" for her, which was a metaphor for taking her hand in marriage, which he eventually did. The sexy question is whether or not the couple-to-be jumped the gun, since scholars agree that the Bible often uses the words "hand" or "foot" as euphemisms for the male organ. In any case, one undisputed Biblical takeaway is that the union between citizens of two oft-contending nations eventually produced a king and, depending on your creed, a Christ. They were the grandparents of King David, who was himself recorded as an ancestor of Jesus.
Song of Songs, 1-8: "While the king was on his couch, my nard gave forth its fragrance."
The Song of Songs has no real narrative element: It is straightforwardly erotic. Whether the poem, which begins with the exhortation, "Oh, that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth," is about human love or, as Jewish and Christian tradition have it, an allegory for God as the "husband" of his people or for Christ's love for the church, its manifest meaning is unblushing both in its descriptions of the two lovers' bodies ("Your belly is a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies") and easily-decipherable euphemisms for sexual acts ("With great delight I sat in his shadow and is his fruit was sweet to my taste/ He brought me to the banquet house and his banner over me was love.") Given scripture's dual-use of hands and feet, the verse "My beloved put his hand by the latch of the door, and my heart yearned for him" becomes even steamier than on first glance. The Uncensored Bible authors also point out that some of the poem's common English translations, such as the line "your rounded thighs are like jewels," add mystery to the original, where the word "thighs" might better be rendered as a more intimate part of the anatomy. The song, which has been used as a kind of marriage guide for generations of believers, deserves to be read, without snickers, as one of the West's great love poems.