12 January 2008

Sex and the Bible

While rummaging through some old files, I found this article I wrote ages ago.

Is the Bible pornographic?

In these days [1972] when the sword of legislation is hanging once again over the heads of those who think it proper to print or to film stories about man’s sexual nature, another glance at the book least likely to be banned by the Board of Censors or by the Bureau of Posts might be of some help.

Few literary critics will maintain that there is no such thing as pornography, but most literary critics would contest the definition of pornography as anything that deals with the sexual activities of man or uses words that are normally associated with the sexual act. Even moralists would not say that the simple use of words such as “semen,” “vagina,” “intercourse,” “clitoris,” “fuck,” and “coitus” constitutes pornography. But some senators and generals apparently think themselves much more knowledgeable than literary critics or moralists and are preparing legal swords that will, unwittingly, render the Bible suspect and pornographic.

For anyone who has read the Bible knows that sexual imagery and sexual subject matter are important features of this book said to be inspired by the Holy Spirit.

The Bible is full of words that, in a modern book, would make the censors think twice. “Fuck” is an English word, but it is a safe bet that its Hebrew equivalent was used in the passages now harmlessly translated into “go in to her.”

“Fuck” (or “go in to her,” as the modern English translation puts it) is used in several places, among them, Genesis 38:2: “There Judah saw the daugher of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua; he married her and went in to her.” In Judges 16:1, “Samson went to Gaza, and there he saw a harlot, and he went in to her.” The book of rules, Deurenonomy, is explicit about what it forbids: “If any man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and then spurns her, and charges her with shameful conduct … then the father of the young woman and her mother shall take and bring out the tokens of her virginity” (22:13-15).

The old Jews were very particular about menstruation and wet dreams. In Leviticus, the law provided that “if a man has an emission of semen, he shall bathe his whole body in water, and be unclean until the everning” (15:16). The emission of semen became more complicated if the man were married or had a mistress: “If a man lies with a woman and has an emission of semen, both of them shall bathe themselves in water, and be unclean until the evening” (15:18). One wonders if a Filipino author can get away so easily using the word “semen” in a short story.

One of the more interesting habits of the Old Testament people was that, after a big battle, they would collect the foreskins (the fold of skin that covers the end of the penis) of their enemies and pile them neatly in one mound as a sign of victory. (The Indians in cowboy movies content themselves with their victims’ scalps.) Use of the word “foreskin” was so much taken for granted that one of the beautiful theological metaphors in Deuteronomy uses the image: “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (10:26).

But even if modern purists will excuse the use of so-called “bad words” in the contexts above, the Bible still offers sexual subject matter as fair game to the censors. Seduction is the theme of the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:7-19). Adultery is the theme of the story of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:2-5). Incest is the shocking meaning of Lot’s being “raped” by his two daughters (Genesis 19:30-36). Tape is added to incest in the story of Ammon, David’s son, and his sister Tamar (2 Samuel 13:1-14). Premarital sex is not even a matter for debate in the story of Samson and Delilah (Judges 16:4-20).

Ribald tales, such as those which appear in certain magazines, seem to be below the dignity of a holy book, but the Bible has a genuine ribald tale in the sotry of Susanna (Daniel 13).

But the most offensive (in the sense that the word is used by modern Victorians) is the Song of Solomon, a full eight chapters of erotic poetry. The song, which is considered one of the most beautiful poetic expositions of the relationship between Christ and his Church, is full phrases not normally associated with deeply religious feelings. The lover is “to me a bag of myrrh, that lies between my breasts” (1:13). The woman longs for the horizontal position (otherwise known as the missionary position): “O that his left hand were under my head, and that his right hand embraced me” (2:6). The woman’s “two breasts are like two fawns” (4:5). The lover makes his desire obvious in “You are stately as a palm tree and your breasts are like its clusters / I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its branches / Oh, may your breasts be like clusters of the vine” (7:7-8).

Breasts, incidentally, figure prominently in the Lord’s metaphor of Samaria and Jerusalem in Ezekiel 23:2-3: “There were two women, daughters of one mother; they played the harlot in Egypt; they played the harlot in their youth; there their breasts were pressed and their virgin bosoms handled.”

It might be an uncharitable thought, but those who claim that they are guardians of morality might do best to read that sourcebook on morality, unless, of course, the Bible is going to be banned for all children unless read aloud to them by their parents.

(Published in PIC: The Ultimate Magazine, August 1972)

Today, essays such as this abound on the Web. For example:


lyn said...

good day! do you have any writings about global literacy?
thank you vey much.

lyn said...

good day! do you have an article/s about global literacy?
thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

Susanna? Daniel only has 12 chapters... :)

gillian said...

Daniel only has 12 chapters :)

Isagani R. Cruz said...

Daniel has 13 chapters in the Roman Catholic version.