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Unprotected Texts: The Bible's Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire

3.63  ·  Rating Details ·  241 Ratings  ·  59 Reviews
Bible scholar Jennifer Wright Knust addresses the big questions that dominate today's discussions and debates when it comes to sex and the Bible: Is premarital sex a sin? When, and in what contexts, is sexual desire appropriate? With whom can I legitimately have sex? Are same-sex relations permissible? In an era where the phrases, "the Bible says," and "God says," are so o ...more
ebook, 352 pages
Published January 25th 2011 by HarperCollins e-books (first published January 20th 2011)
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May 27, 2012 Naftoli rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012, sex
This book Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire by Jennifer Wright Knust is a gem. It is scholarly yet flows easily. Written for an educated audience that is also Bible-literate there is much to learn from Knust’s presentation of current issues as portrayed in Jewish and Christian scripture. Here is a religious scholar who is also an ordained Baptist pastor and yet she is able to speak critically about these sacred texts; one wonders if her windows are bul ...more
Jul 15, 2011 Terence rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People interested in Biblical interpretation
Recommended to Terence by: Interview on KPCC's AirTalk
“(T)he truth of the Bible is never obvious, but always in need of further thought and study.” (p. 244)

Jennifer Wright Knust’s Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire should terrify fundamentalists of any stripe. It should make even mainstream and liberal believers squirm in their seats for if her logic is carried to its end, her argument undermines the idea that there is a “Word of God” that is a meaningful, universal guide to human conduct. In her conclusio
Frankly, I read this book to try to get some support for my "I'm a Christian and I have premarital sex and I don't think that makes me terrible!" tirade. I get quite a lot of disapproving looks due to my choices, even though I'm a 22 yr old adult in a monogamous relationship. So I thought maybe I'd read up on other views and have some good arguments. Too bad her supporting evidence was weak (even though there were 50 pages of it in the bibliography) and not well argued. Honestly, due to my extre ...more
May 30, 2011 mike rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Raised as a fundamentalist Baptist but having drifted from the dogma, I am sympathetic to the author's point of view and was looking forward to well-argued and footnoted exposé of the Bible's internal contradictions.

What I got was certainly well-footnoted, but argued? Not so much. I measure these kinds of books in their ability to sway people of other viewpoints. This book plays to the like-minded but is unlikely to convert the born-again.

My key complaint is the author's tendency to cherry-pick
Peggy Bird
May 28, 2012 Peggy Bird rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Everyone who uses the phrase, "but the Bible says" should be required to read this book. The author, an ordained pastor and assistant professor of religion who holds a doctorate in religion and a master of divinity, points out that almost any position on matters sexual can be bolstered by what's actually in the Bible. After discussing all sorts of contradictions and differing interpretations on celibacy, sex before or during marriage, multiple marriages and bodily fluids (just to name a few subj ...more
Feb 21, 2011 Tucker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: finished
Worthwhile, extensive review of Biblical sources that present conflicting opinions on sexual morality.

Knust says "the Bible offers no viable solution to our marriage dilemmas. There is no such thing as a single, biblically based view of legitimate marriage." Under the Sinai covenant, "marriage unites free Israelite men with as many women and slaves as they can reasonably support" and "from the perspective of the Hebrew Bible there is nothing inherently wrong with visiting a prostitute." Initiall

1. The real sluts in the Bible, we learned, were women like Jezebel, the evil wife of King Ahab of Israel and rival of the prophet Elijah. I knew this story well. King Ahab made the mistake of taking Jezebel, daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians, as his wife. Following her lead, he went and served Baal, her idolatrous god (see 1 Kgs. 16:31). Seduced by the foreign queen, Ahab abandoned the one true God, Yhwh, for Baal, the perverse god of the Canaanites, and pretty soon both Israel and Aha
Nov 28, 2014 Tom rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 08, 2012 Mike rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: theology
The premise of the book is fascinating: Have we completely misunderstood what the Bible says about sex? And if we have misunderstood it, is there another legitimate way to interpret some of the more misunderstood passages?

Those are legitimate questions, but we will have to wait for someone more skilled at interpreting the Bible than Knust to answer them. It constantly seems like she has already made up her mind to arrive at particular conclusions (such as the legitimacy of extra-marital, homosex
Feb 13, 2011 Matt rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those interested in Religion and human sexuality
goodreads does not allow half ratings, but I really give the book 3.5 stars, rather than just three. It's a fine read in many ways: nice prose style, accessible, clear, and engaging. Certainly pleases you in the department of readability.

As far as the merits of the work as a piece of Biblical Scholarship my opinion of it is a little lower. This book certainly demonstrates that the Bible has no unified view of sexuality or sexually permissible behavior. But then again, that conclusion could not
Aug 01, 2012 Sheri rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
What does the Bible have to say about sex? Many contradictory things. If all the Bible's sex-related prohibitions were literally enforced, we'd have to stone or at least kill about a quarter of the population.

Knust breaks up the book into topics (e.g., marriage; desire/lust; body parts; the relationship between the sexes; etc.) and lays out in detail everything the bible offers on each topic. She takes care with the issue of translations, and how those have affected what we think the Bible says
Adam Ross
Oct 21, 2015 Adam Ross rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: theology
A fascinating book exploring the diverse texts regarding family and sexuality in the Scriptures. Knust is a careful scholar who opened my eyes with regards to a number of issues. She still sees Paul as fundamentally opposed to women and equality, however, and I am not convinced this reading is accurate. Still, it is a book well-worth wrestling over.
Caleb Ausbury
Knust's Unprotected Texts is an overview of biblical sexuality. However, unlike many popular opinions on the topic often found in the church, Knust, a biblical scholar and ordained American Baptist pastor, argues that there is not merely one uniform view of proper sexuality found in the Bible. Instead, she argues that there are many views on sexuality which reflect the various authors of the Bible, who are writing in response to their own cultural norms and unique circumstances. As such, Knust b ...more
Jan 07, 2015 Kacy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think this is the kind of book that you already need some background knowledge to really understand. She doesn't really go into the background of how the bible was written or the contexts of history at the time and instead just throws out an explaining sentence every fifty pages or so that doesn't actually clear up historical background. For example the author uses many different names for the different cultures living in the area during biblical times and uses several of the names interchange ...more
Steven Fouse
Sep 29, 2016 Steven Fouse rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion, sexuality
Unprotected Texts by Jennifer Wright Knust is my fourth read this year in my study of sexuality, Christianity, and ethics. It is a thorough survey of the sex texts of the Bible, providing cultural and textual context and insight from an academic perspective. It is an enjoyable read in addition to being a resource I will refer back to when studying particular texts, thanks to the index.

Chapter One, "The Bible and the Joy of Sex," studies the Song of Songs, the book of Ruth, and the sexual escapad
Oct 24, 2012 Emily rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, religion
I read this at about the same time as I read God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says by Michael Coogan. And then I got busy and waited a bit to write this review, so I'm afraid the two books are now hopelessly and inextricably smooshed together (yes, that's a technical term) in my brain. So please keep that in mind as you read the review...

Dr. Knust pulls out some fascinating contradictions about sex, marriage, and the body - both male and female - in the Bible between Genesis and Revelation, as
Hannah M.
All too often, religious beliefs make their way into arguments surrounding law-making. The huge debate over whether or not gay marriage should be made legal is only one example, but it is a good one. No matter where you go in the U.S. (even in my liberal home state) someone is going to say that The Bible says homosexuality is not to be tolerated, therefore, allowing gay marriage is not okay. But, what does The Bible really say when it comes to matters of sex and desire? In Unprotected Texts, Jen ...more
In Unprotected Texts: The Bible's Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire American Baptist pastor and professor of religion Jennifer Wright Knust does the academic legwork to show that the Bible does not have one singular message about sex, desire, and human bodies. Instead, she takes even readers not familiar with the Bible through its often contradictory messages about gender roles, homosexuality, and the role of sex in human life. It is well-footnoted and written in accessible "academi ...more
Renee Peterson
Aug 03, 2011 Renee Peterson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a fascinating read, and deserves at least one or more re-readings once you've reached the end. I was most impressed with the unbiased way the author presents the evidence- she neither endorses nor denounces the Bible as a Holy Book, but instead presents evidence in an impartial manner, detailing the differences between what society *thinks* the Bible says and what is actually written.

The author's ideas are well thought out, well presented, and appear very well researched. There are no c
Jan 28, 2016 Heather rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
I am having a hard time separating my own beliefs from this review. Huh? OK. Let me think …

The book is well-written, and the subject is very well researched (obviously, I suppose). The argument is presented quite well, and the book as just a book is done well. But, I don’t know if I’m buying the arguments presented in this book. I just don’t know. Honestly, I had to read this faster than I’d have liked in order to get my review done on time. This is a very thought-provoking book that one must ta
Apr 07, 2012 Jennifer rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012-reads
Nothing like getting a scholarly shout-out for being the home of a religious bigot. (Pages 113-114, reminding us why it's a good thing that Jacksonville rarely makes the national news.) Other than that small moment of personal shame, Knust's book is surprisingly readable, if perhaps a little too lingering in its examination of biblical circumcision.

While extremely similar to Coogan's God and Sex (which predates Knust's work by a year) in topic, the tone of the two works differs greatly. Coogan
Dec 25, 2014 Libby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
We hear an awful lot of people who feel obliged to tell us how to manage our most intimate activities these days. Mostly those folks feel we are a lot more sinful than they are, and they're mighty anxious to tell us that God doesn't approve of us and the Bible says so. Now I actually have read the Bible, all of it, more than once, and I never quite understood how that kind of folks could be so SURE they were right and all the rest of us are sinners. I was really gratified to read Jennifer Wright ...more
Apr 25, 2012 Troy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought the book pretty good with the analysis of certain verses and overarching Biblical concepts, with my only quibble being her "my translation" showing up pretty often.

I found her analysis pretty common-sensical; the Bible says this, but then it says this other thing which contradicts this. 50 pages of bibliography means she did her homework, not to be summarily tossed by the wayside as "her tone was sarcastic".

In the reviews here, and in a lot of the ratings given with no reviews, I simp
Rick Edwards
Jul 24, 2011 Rick Edwards rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jennifer Wright Knust examines a range of biblical texts relating to sex and sexuality, highlighting the differences of narrative setting, theological purpose, and ethical postures represented. As she proceeds, it becomes ever clearer that the Bible does not speak on these matters with one voice. Particular portions of scripture need to be read and considered with bookmarks in several other places so that you can move back and forth. New Testament writers referring to Sodom and Gomorrah rarely r ...more
I received this copy of Unprotected Texts from Goodreads First Reads Program. Thank you Goodreads! In this book, Jennifer Wright Knust, a professor of religion at Boston University, highlights the many contradictions in the Bible concerning areas such as marriage, sex, desire, and so on. Her research seems very well documented (with over 50 pages of notes at the end of the book), giving credibility to her interpretations. She writes about these topics in a generally accessible way, using uncompl ...more
M Christopher
A very useful book by a fellow American Baptist pastor/scholar. The research is well-done and the writing is clear but it fails to be compelling, perhaps because it is essentially trying to prove a negative. Dr. Wright Knust's thesis is that the Bible does not present a unified stand on sexual issues and she proves it well but the conclusion that there is no conclusion is rather unsatisfying. Still, it's a good entree to discussions of sexual ethics, especially if one is looking for arguments ag ...more
Mar 12, 2012 Daniel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written scholarly look at the wide variety of positions that the Bible posits on sexuality and sexual behavior. It is a shame that more people who claim "Biblical Authority" don't both actually read the Bible and read more scholarly critiques of the Bible. The attitude of the book is best summed up by the author herself: "Those who attempt to belittle or demean a class of people, denying them rights on the basis of an unexamined interpretation of a few biblical passages, are expressing not ...more
Mar 12, 2011 Alison rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't read 100% of this book (it's a little deep for the layman) but it was a good read. I like that it gives an alternate perspective to what is generally accepted by fact by many Americans. What I ultimately got out of the book was that the Bible is too complex and written from too many perspectives separated by too much time to be taken as having one opinion about anything, be that homosexuality, slavery, marriage, premarital sex, etc. Regardless if the reader agrees with the author's view ...more
May 08, 2014 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow! If all Christians upheld the reality that the Bible is a collection of contradictory views about sexuality and marriage, then I might actually want to be Christian.
Jul 15, 2012 Erin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I didn't find it surprising.

I don't think that what author calls contradictions in the Bible actually are different things with opposite intent. What Paul says about the preference of celibacy does not negate what any other Bible writer says about having sex or getting married. They are statements made hundreds of years apart and can co-exist in context, not conflict.

Much of what Knust points out as novel or unknown is not actually the text in Scripture, but the lens through which ancient Jews a
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Jennifer Wright Knust is Assistant Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Boston University. She came to BU from the College of the Holy Cross, where she taught Religious Studies for five years. At BU, she is appointed to the faculties of the School of Theology and the College of Arts and Sciences and is affiliated with the Religion Department, Judaic Studies, and the Women's Gender a ...more
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“The Song of Songs, the book of Ruth, and the cycle of stories associated with King David demonstrate that biblical perspectives on sexual desire and family ties remain much more complicated than is often thought. The appropriate expression of desire is not limited to marriage between a man and a woman, but can include the love of a son of a king for his charismatic ally, the love of rabbis and theologians for God, their “husband,” and the love of a faithful Moabite for her Israelite mother-in-law. The nuclear family is also not idealized: Naomi, Ruth, and Obed are a family, bound together by their common love for one another, and, in the Song of Songs, the woman’s mother supports her daughter’s premarital encounters over the objections of her sons, who seek to control their sister’s sexuality and are overruled. King David never even bothers to pursue marriage as commonly envisioned today. His” 0 likes
“Biblical desire refuses to be limited to marriage: the lovers of the Song consummate their longing before any marriage ceremony takes place, Ruth “uncovers Boaz’s feet” before Boaz has established his “right to redeem,” and David fathers a child with Bathsheba while she is still married to Uriah. In other words, when all the biblical books are taken into account, no simple message regarding the meaning and limits of desire can be found. In fact, the passages considered in this chapter suggest that nonmarital desire can be both limitless and productive. If Ruth, Naomi, Boaz, Jonathan, David, or Bathsheba had listened to Christian educator Bonnie Park, Obed and Solomon would never have been born. As” 0 likes
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