Tuesday, May 03, 2005

I AM SURPRISED that none of Julie Saltman's readers who responded to her call for books to add to Alabama legislator Gerald Allen's list of titles and authors that he wanted banned from public school libraries mentioned the most obvious candidate: the Hebrew Bible. No book in existence can lay claim to more illicit sex, rape, homosexuality, incest, and all kinds of perversions than the Bible.

So number 1 on my list of books that are harmful to the "minds, hearts, and souls of children" would have to be the Bible. Number 2 would be The Harlot by the Side of the Road: Forbidden Tales of the Bible, by Jonathan Kirsch. I happen to know about this book because I proofread it when it was in the editorial production process. Here is the description of Harlot in Publisher's Weekly:

Arguing that several stories in the Bible have often go[ne] untold because of the graphic nature of their sexual content, writer and attorney Kirsch here sets out to retell the stories, ranging from the "sacred incest of Lot's daughters" to the rape of David's daughter, Tamar, in contemporary language, using dialogue and descriptive detail to make the stories more accessible to today's readers. The stories may be surprising to those whose only familiarity with the Bible is from childhood, since they deal with ... adult issues like prostitution, incest and rape. For example, the chapter on "Lot and His Daughters" continues the story past the usual Sunday school ending. Since Lot and his two daughters are the only survivors after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, each daughter in turn seduces her father and conceives a child in order to continue the human race.

And of course there is Tamar, the harlot by the side of the road. After her husband dies without giving her a child, she marries his brother. He also dies, with Tamar still childless. There is a third son, but his father, Judah (brother of Joseph, who was sold into slavery in Egypt) fears that if he lets Tamar marry this last son, he may die, too. Thus Judah violates Tamar's right to pass on heirs, which is one of the few sources of power and protection that a woman has in this highly patriarchal society. So, in order to ensure her own survival and safety, Tamar disguises herself as a prostitute, waits for Judah by the side of the road, and seduces him. Thus she becomes pregnant, and gives birth to twin sons, Peretz and Zerach. We find out later in the Bible that one of Peretz's descendants is David, who of course is, in Christian belief, the progenitor of Jesus.

The lesson is clear. Life is complicated, and if it hadn't been for a whole lot of immoral behavior, Christians like Gerald Allen who want to prevent schoolchildren from reading anything that has a hint of sexuality in it wouldn't be here now.

Kirsch said it best: "The Bible is a map of the human heart, and no secret chamber or hidden passage is left out."

Could it be that the Gerald Allens of this world are not comfortable with the depth, mystery, and complexity of that human heart?

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