What the Bible Really Says
Michael Coogan 2010
Geoffrey W. Sutton
Coogan sets the stage for a biblical view of sex by citing the popularity of the Bible in US society--over 90% of us have "The Book." He challenges readers who believe the Bible is simply "God's Word" rather than a collection of works by multiple authors to consider some obvious inconsistencies easily recognized by anyone who has taken the time to read the text. Coogan want readers to see the unfolding of the biblical message in ways that allows a nuanced approach to modern life. Thus, he will write about women as equals, sexual prohibitions, and the stories of rape.
We begin with an invitation to see the biblical past as life in a foreign country with a different language, culture and values. He quickly shows readers love and sex through the eyes of the Song of Solomon. Then opens readers' eyes to biblical sex by lifting the veil of euphemisms. Soon, sex is everywhere. And we begin to hear women's voices.
It is still common in Christianity to find only male leaders in Christian churches and organizations. Coogan provides several examples of the subordinate role of women in the Bible. He even shows us what a woman was worth by age. The highest value was 30 shekels of silver compared to 50 for men in the age group 20 to 60. This is based on the redemption vows. There's more here. We learn about widows, virgins, and the roles of women in public and the home.
In this chapter, Coogan looks at marriage and divorce. Abortion and polygamy fit here. There are no comments on abortion and birth control in a culture where children are valuable assets. Infant mortality is a horrific 50% based on some estimates. Coogan explains the familiar pro-choice argument about ending pregnancies and shows the problem with the poets recognition of life in the womb. Following comments on polygamy, Coogan looks at the restrictions on divorce explained in the context of Jewish culture and law.
Here we learn about forbidden relationships like adultery, incest, and rape. An important reminder to moderns is an understanding of women as a man's property. Incest is of course part of the list of forbidden relationships. The value of a virgin daughter to her father is a noteworthy point of ancient culture. Next Coogan offers his take on same-sex sexuality. He offers the cultural context for the disapproval and challenges modern moralists to consider their views about same sex-sex prohibitions in view of culture and their inconsistent stance on other moral matters.
This essay is about rape and prostitution. The familiar Bible stories are revisited. We learn the oft told stories of righteous prostitutes like Tamar and Rahab, but we also see how they were marginalized.
Coogan introduces ideas about God and his wives and the problem of polytheism in ancient Israel. We know Israel was warned by the biblical writers of metaphorical adultery in their pursuit of other Gods. Coogan reminds readers that ancient cultures told stories about gods having relations with humans. And he finds evidence for these beliefs in the Scriptures.
I quoted Coogan's work in A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures to help readers appreciate various interpretations of scriptures dealing with contemporary issues like sexual abuse, abortion, and the role of women.
Coogan's work overlaps with other similar books aimed at helping Christians be careful with their moral proclamations. Frankly, I doubt many Christians will take the time to peruse alternative interpretations of their firm beliefs about biblical marriage and sex as presented by their clergy and in books by evangelicals. Nevertheless, Coogan's work is well documented and offers a cautionary message to modern zealots even as it helps readers appreciate an ancient culture so distant in time from our own.
Sex Topics: adultery, marriage, divorce, homoeroticism, pregnancy and abortion, women, biblical language about sex
Religious focus: The Hebrew Bible / Christian Old Testament
Coogan, M.D. (2010). God and sex: What the bible really says. New York: Twelve.
Sutton, G. W. (2016). A House Divided: Sexuality, morality, and Christian cultures. Eugene, OR: Pickwick. ISBN: 9781498224888
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