The Bible, Gender, and Sexuality

Critical Readings

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Editor(s): 
Lynn R. Huber, Rhiannon Graybill
  • London: 
    Bloomsbury Academic
    , October
     2020.
     392 pages.
     $270.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780567677556.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In The Bible, Gender and Sexuality: Critical Readings, editors Rhiannon Graybill and Lynn. R. Huber present a path-breaking collection of intellectual conversations on the complex representations of gender and sexuality in biblical texts and contexts. This volume comprised of twenty-two classic essays critically explores the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and a few noncanonical texts to broach imbricated topics of gender, sexuality, sex, femininity, masculinity, bodies, and their meanings through a range of reading approaches including queer, feminist, masculinist, disability studies, and postcolonial. 

The introduction effectively synthesizes the volume’s contents and provides crucial history of interpretations as well as background information of key concepts. The introduction is followed by neat summaries preceding each of the three sections and references for further readings. Comprising over two decades of eminent scholars’ works from reputable publishers, this volume is a timely intervention in biblical studies, for engaging biblical texts in explicit conversation with contemporary discourses on gender and sexuality. While the ensemble piece addresses several overt and covert intricacies of this subject matter, I have selected for review certain chapters that address my interests.

The first section focuses on gender in and around biblical contexts and spotlights how scholars offer more nuanced understandings of gender representation in biblical texts and contexts. Beth Alpert Nakhai espouses archaeological insights to reconstruct biblical depictions of gender roles within an ancient Israelite context. Archaeological insights on the roles of ancient Israelite women in domestic rather than public spaces evince multivaried contributions of women in Israelite society in contrast to the representation offered in the Hebrew Bible. Julie Kelso employs a literary approach to assess the “radical silence” and repression of the maternal body typified in Genesis 34. This perspective suggests that women are commodified in a male-constructed economy in which they function as “conduits for relation” among men. Brittany E. Wilson explores classical history to contextualize the characterization of Paul and Peter in the book of Acts and evaluates the complexities inherent to Greco-Roman understandings of masculinity to show that Luke offers a refiguration of ancient elite understandings of masculinity. Thomas Hentrich engages masculinity and disability analytical approaches to assess the representation of disability in tandem with masculinity in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, to advance the notion of progressive change in gender inclusiveness in early Christianity.

The second section discusses sex and sexuality in and around biblical contexts. These contributions challenge and reevaluate presumptive and dominant interpretations and approaches to texts about sexuality in the Bible. Ken Stone evaluates the “fall” story in Genesis and questions readings that link the pericope to sexuality rather than food. In addition, Brett Krutzsch contends the assumptions about Boaz being heterosexual in the book of Ruth, with the claim that the text provides no clear suggestion that could disclaim his identity as a queer figure. J. Cheryl Exum posits ten reasons to counter the Song of Songs as a text in favor of women as commonly presumed in feminist readings. Timothy R. Koch defies common anti-homosexual textual reading approaches by voicing the inadequacies inherent to three reading techniques assumedly in support of homosexuality.

Critical assessments of gender and sexuality with respect to biblical texts and contexts is the focus of the final section. Many of the contributions in this section reassess canonical and noncanonical texts to highlight its relevance in light of contemporary sociopolitical challenges related to gender and sexuality. Mukti Barton engages a womanist interpretive lens to broadly examine the larger concerns around the characterization of Zipporah and Miriam in Numbers 12, and to address the conundrum between Western feminist and womanist interpretations of texts on gender and racial injustice. Through an intersectional lens, Margaret Aymer examines how gender, race, and class oppression features in Rhoda’s depiction in Acts 12, and the implication of this when contextualized in the current experience of immigrant Black women in the American context. Lynn R. Huber through a queer-lesbian reading of the image of the Great Whore in Revelation 17–18, redirects the focus on this text as an apocalyptic rhetoric, to offer insights into a reassessment of the situation of LGBTQ community living in the United States.

This collection is a tour de force on gender and sexuality in biblical studies. Its strength lies in the rich and extensive approaches that the contributing authors employed in filling crucial gaps on interpretation and contextualization of this topic in biblical studies. The conversations engender illuminating perspectives through a reconstruction, rethinking, and reconfiguration of old hermeneutical techniques in exploring biblical texts and contexts. As a researcher interested in Western antiquity, I found it particularly fascinating that many of the conversations exemplify and reinforce how insights into understanding of biblical contexts and histories are enriching for biblical hermeneutics.

While this sort of project involving adoption of text-topical interests to address specific concerns or issues typifies the traditional clerical-scholastic-apologetic-project, which is common not just in biblical studies but also in the humanities more broadly, the common concern often posed by this technique includes broader extratextual issues influencing and shaping the hermeneutical approaches to texts (see Vincent Wimbush, “Race, Scriptures and the Postcolonial World,” in The Oxford Handbook of Postcolonial Biblical Criticism, edited by R.S. Sugirtharajah; Oxford University Press, 2019). I found myself wanting to know more about the various influences that may have shaped many of the authors’ diverse viewpoints in these reprints, as the range of entries in this collection also fails to capture the biographies of the authors to acquaint readers to the affiliation, specific areas of research, and geographical coverage of the contributions.

Nevertheless, this volume is notably a masterpiece and broadly expand earlier conversations on gender and sexuality in biblical studies. A product of clearly written scholarship of well-acclaimed intellectuals, beautifully structured, and finely edited into a succinct collection, the book is a must have for scholars and students of gender and sexuality, biblical scholars, religious institutions, and classical historians.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Florence Egbeyale is a doctoral student in religion at Florida State University, USA.

Date of Review: 
September 22, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Lynn R. Huber is assistant professor of religious studies at Elon University in Elon, North Carolina.

Rhiannon Graybill is associate professor of religious studies, Millard Professor of Religion, and program director of gender and sexuality studies at Rhodes College, USA.

Keywords: 

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