Sex Texts from
The Bible

Selections Annotated and Explained
Teresa J. Hornsby
(SkyLight Paths)
Many years ago, I ran into a book called The Black Bible. It pulled the most fearsome, salacious and violent passages from the Bible, held them up for the reader --- those who hadn't made their way through the Holy Book before --- so they could see that those who believe that it is the inspired book of God find some fairly ungodly doctrines.

Like the stoning to death of adulterers. Like the fact that a man may have many wives, and even more slaves. That women had to be "submissive" to their husbands. That to be naked was a "curse." That men who had "lost their stones" (their testicles) could not be admitted to a place of worship.

It was an interesting work, but it had one flaw. That is, the author was an atheist. And his laughing at and loathing of the Bible was so hard-hearted that it made tough going for those of us who had grown up on the King James version, and who --- despite its flaws and its constant misuse by angry fundmentalist Christians --- had some affection for it.

Comes now Teresa Hornsby, of Drury University, in Springfield, Missouri. To her, the Bible is an old friend. And she has written Sex Texts from the Bible neither as a lampoon nor as a bomb. Her worst fear, she says in the "Acknowledgments," is that her academic colleagues "will dismiss this book because of its simplicity." She also fears that her "Ozark neighbors" will see her book as disrespectful. "I love the Bible," she says, simply: "its history, its stories, and the hope it gives."

    I am also aware of the damage it can bring. It's like a knife: in the hands of a killer it's a weapon; in the hands of a surgeon it's a lifesaver.

Having said that, Ms. Hornsby plunges into the most controversial passages of the Bible, those that your friendly local preacher blocks from his mind, the ones that Pat Robertson blocks out of all of his sermons. Like Genesis 47: 29: When the time of Israel's death drew near, he called his son Joseph and said to him, "If I have found favor with you, put your hand under my thigh and promise to deal loyally and truly with me. Do not bury me in Egypt."

As Hornsby explains, calmly, "There are several examples in the Bible of having someone make an oath by placing his hand under a man's genitals."

    This makes sense if you consider the power and respect that the most powerful man's penis and testicles must generate. This is the source of all his power: the future generations, the progeny of his worth. A person swears on his or her most powerful and sacred object.

We are impressed by three things here. First is the author's respect for the Bible as written, not as we want it written. Second, the grace and calm of her writing: "For us today, this would be one of the most awkward father-son moments imaginable." Finally, she knows her Bible, and we have the knowledge that the writer is not being pulled this way or that by a translation filled -- as so many are nowadays --- with euphemisms. Ms. Hornsby has done her homework, has provided her own renderings.

§     §     §

From 2 Samuel 1:26: "I am distraught for you, my brother Jonathan; I loved you so much, your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women." The notes on this passage tell us:

    Homoeroticism in the ancient world, particularly after Hellenism, was not something that only "certain" men did exclusively. An aristocratic man would most likely have a wife, a mistress, and a younger male lover.

Yet at the same time, the author quotes the far more famous passage --- much adored by the fundamentalists --- of Leviticus, 20:1, that a male who "lies with a male as a woman ... shall be put to death." Understand, she tells us in her notes, the death sentence seems "harsh" even by today's standards, but "this sexual act was a death sentence for the whole community." Leviticus is

    making sure that things stay in their proper category.

Not only does the author have a sincere affection for the Bible, she knows its history, the realities of the times during which it was written. This is a reasonable commentary, by an honorable religionist. Yet we assume that this book will not be appearing in your local Christian book store. More's the pity.

--- Les Watterson

The Last Voyage
Of Columbus

Martin Dugard
John McDonough

(Recorded Books)
The fourth voyage of Columbus began in 1502 and, according to those who participated, it seemed to go on forever. There were hurricanes, upwellings from the sea, waterspouts, miasmas, sea-worms, mosquitoes, scurvy, beachings, sailors overboard, angry natives, mutinies, lack of food, lack of water, lack of hope, week-long becalmings, and, most of all, a decided lack of sanity on the part of the captain. He just couldn't quit seeking the passage to India which he always thought was just around the next bend.

After a little more than a year poking around the western Caribbean, he and his exhausted crew made it back to Jamaica, where he beached his last two caravels. Columbus would not allow the sailors to leave --- he suspected they would never come back. He was right: if you had a chance to escape from a beached, pestiferous, cramped worm-eaten vessel on Montego Bay run by a madman and could go off to party with the stoned Rastafarians in Kingston, which would you choose?

Since he was not a party animal, Columbus' two year sojourn was fairly awful, almost as bad as the time you and I spent on one of those fat cruise ships making its way around the Cape of Good Hope. But, still: this recounting of a dismal, final journey does make one wonder why Columbus was so fond of storms, teredo worms, mutiny, and sunburn.

The story as told by Dugard --- and adequately narrated by John McDonough --- does not begin to hang together until the hurricane of 1502. By then, Columbus knew tropical storms: the Spaniards did not. That particular hurricane sank twenty-four of the vessels bound for Cádiz; it merely blew his mind.

How do we know? Because, after this last voyage, Columbus claimed to have actually found paradise. He wrote,

    I have come to another conclusion respecting the earth: namely, that it is not round as they describe, but of the form of a pear, upon one part of which is a prominence like a woman's nipple ... I believe it is impossible to ascend thither, because I am convinced that it is the spot of terrestrial paradise, whither no one can go but by God's permission.
--- Carlos Amantea

Ambers Aglow:
An Anthology of
Contemporary Polish
Women's Poetry

Regina Grol,

(Host Publications,
2717 Wooldridge
Austin TX 78703)
There are twenty-nine poets represented here, over two hundred poems in a well-organized face-en-face edition.

Most readers will recognize the Nobel Prize-winner Wislawa Szymborska, but names of few of the others will ring a bell.

The subjects and passions are not just wondrous, there are many that are unapologetically bitter. The word might be "feminist" but that would be too easy. Better, the works of Benka, Hartwig, and Kapuscinska represent centuries of women being cast down, cast out as inferiors. Between the Germans and the Russians, the lot of most Polish women in the twentieth century was horrific. If the writing is bloody and ferocious, the pain of being brutalized merits such.

This anthology appeared over a decade ago. It was not widely appreciated, nor reviewed. It deserves better.

--- Ruth Stein
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