I admit it, I was seduced by a book title. When asked if I wanted to review Unprotected Texts by Jennifer Wright Knust I almost couldn’t pass up a book with such a clever title. This book, subtitled The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire, Unprotected Texts looks at just that, the ways in which the Bible and the writers of the books of the Bible are frequently contradictory in terms of sex and sexual morality.
Once I read the introduction, I was sure I was going to love this book. Part of the inspiration for this book came from the fact that she was repeatedly called a slut in middle school, even though the people calling her that didn’t know what her sexual activities were. Jennifer was not a “slut” as society defines the term, but anyway, was being a “slut” really so bad? So Knust decides to analyze what the Bible actually says about sex.
Two things are keeping me from giving this book a good review and neither of them are really Knust’s fault. First, this book ended up not being anything like I imagined and second I am not the targeted audience for this book. So let’s deal with the first problem. I thought that this book was more a social commentary informed by what the Bible actually says, rather than an in depth analysis of Biblical passages. Unfortunately, there was little social commentary in this book at all. Knust does sometimes address major political figures, like Jerry Falwell, but only talks vaguely about more common problems within evangelical Christian sects when it comes to sex, virginity, marriage and gender inequality.
Second, I’m really not the targeted audience for this book. While I’m very interested in Christian history and the Bible as literature, I’m not exactly interested in it as a moral guideline. Though I grew up in the Christian/Catholic tradition, I am nonpracticing and am not what you would call a believer. I don’t think that Knust’s book is necessarily only for believers, but I am just not as interested in the amount of biblical detail that Knust provided. I want more commentary rather than analysis of the specific Biblical passages. How is what Knust finds going to influence society? Is it going to change anything?
When Knust did talk about modern society in relation to the biblical, I was very impressed. I wish the whole book were like this quote:
Whatever I am teaching, however, I usually begin by asking participants what they wish the Bible said about the topic at hand. Do we wish that the Bible would reject war as a political strategy? Or perhaps we believe that the Bible should support defensive if not offensive wars. Do we wish that the Bible would confirm gay marriage, instead of rejecting it as so many Christians insist? Or perhaps our concern has to do with the role of women. Perhaps we wish that Paul had not told women to be silent and learn from their husbands at home, especially since talkative and independent women can be found throughout the Bible just as often as silent, obedient women. 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.
Once upon a time, the followers of Jesus knew that they were interpreting the Bible, not simply extracting truth from a set of divinely inspired texts. (241)
I think that Knust has a brave, important thesis: the Bible is so contradictory about sex and sexual morality that we cannot know or judge based on what we believe the Bible to say. Almost any opinion can be supported by a passage in the Bible. As such, those who are quoting the Bible to justify what they are doing, need to back up and think again. It’s very clear, from the length of the bibliography and notes alone (almost the same length as the actual text of the book) that she knows her stuff. She is a Biblical scholar, minister and professor at Boston University.
Unfortunately, I just don’t know that this book really has the power to change people’s opinion. I sincerely hope that it does get some people thinking and maybe even inspire the book I actually wanted to read.
Like I said, ultimately, none of this is really Knust’s fault, just the unfortunate experience of expectations unmet.
Proud Book Nerd also wrote a post about Unprotected Texts. Did you? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add you to this list.
Special thanks to TLC Book Tours for sending me this book to review. For more information about the tour, click here.