The Bible is DIRTAY

Despite the whitewashing done to the Bible by fundamentalists and (many) evangelicals, the Bible is at times very risqué. Some of this is aided by translations that mask sexually suggestive language. For example, in Genesis 26 Isaac and Rebekah are in Gerar, a territory that controlled (anachronistically) by the Philistines (v. 1). When Isaac is asked by the men about Rebekah, he takes after his dad (cf. ch. 20) and tells them that she is his sister, fearing that if he said she was his wife they’d kill him “because she is attractive in appearance” (v. 7). But the jig is up just a short while later when Abimelech, the Philistine king, looks out his window and sees Isaac and Rebekah together. But what gave it away? According to the English Standard Version, Abimelech in v. 8 “looked out of a window and saw Isaac laughing with Rebekah his wife.” Laughing? Really?

The Hebrew word the ESV renders “laughing” (mǝṣaḥēq) is from ṣǝḥaq, a verb that does refer to laughing in plenty of other texts. But here “laughing” doesn’t communicate the meaning of ṣǝḥaq very well because it is clear that it is their mǝṣaḥēq that alerts Abimelech that these two are not siblings. As Robert Alter writes in his commentary on the passage (in which he renders the participle as “playing”), “The meaning of the verb here is clearly sexual, implying either fondling or actual sexual ‘play.'”[1] Thus, the NRSV renders mǝṣaḥēq as “fondling.” The ESV’s fumbling of this passage is perhaps indicative of evangelical aversion to sex. (Many other translations render it as “caressing” but this too seems like an attempt to render the passage so its PG-13 instead of R.)

Another way that fundamentalists and evangelicals whitewash risqué biblical texts is by interpreting as something other than texts about sex. (I need to trademark that: “Texts About Sex.”) The clearest example of this is the Song of Solomon (i.e., Canticles or Song of Songs). It is filthy but many Christians have managed to turn it into an allegory about Jesus and the Church, a hermeneutical maneuver that is at once supercessionist and, well, really disturbing. It takes the “Jesus is my boyfriend” style of evangelicalism to a whole new level. (It should be noted that many Jewish readers have thought of the Song as an allegory of Yahweh and Israel. Also a tad bit disturbing.)

In my view, the best way to read this text is as erotic poetry. It requires little more than a straightforward reading of the text, appreciating the various metaphors and similes used to communicate sexual desire. A recent video by YouTuber DarkMatter2525 really brings out how dirty the story is, using animation that has a couple using the language of the Song to describe each other. It ends up being a little slapstick. Also making an appearance is Ben “I’m terrified of women’s sexual prowess” Shapiro. The video isn’t perfect (its explanation of how Song of Solomon got into the canon leaves much to be desired) but it’s really fun and highlights just how sexually charged the Bible can be.

[1] Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2019), 1:90.

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