When I set out to study sexual references in the Bible, little did I know how many there’d be—or how God’s favorites are so good at it? Esther the slave girl became Esther the conquering queen after one night in bed with the king. (2:9).
Why would that be, one wonders?
I love it when Tamar, in Genesis 38, dresses up as a veiled prostitute, just when Judah is looking for one. “Allow me to come in to you,” he says, “for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law.” (NETS)
Nobody writes sex like God.
Sarai and Rebekah are waiting
When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace.
Sarai is beautiful and wise, and the Pharaoh wants her. Her husband, Abram, gives her over. He doesn’t protect her, but God does. The Pharaoh tries, but can’t have sex with her (12:17). It happens again in Genesis 20, to another king. But he has a dialogue with God, who explains: “I did not allow you to touch her.”
It happens again to Isaac and his similarly “beautiful” wife, Rebekah. By this time, kings are catching on: the protection of divine women is a special concern of God.
It’s leaves a bunch of funny sex scenes: kings try to take God’s beautiful women. She’s waiting, as they’re flops!
Samson and ‘grinding’
Although Samson appears to have sex with several women in the course of his narratives, my favorite sex scene with him is Judges 16:21. Is that weird?
Here’s the NIV: “Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding grain in the prison.”
That’s because the English translations are often determined to un-sex the text. There’s no ‘grain’ in the Hebrew original of Judges 16:21. There is only ‘grind’, and they add in the ‘grain’ to fix that context.
But Samson is . . . grinding. So you see where this is going?
As Shalom M. Paul notes, grinding is a clear cue to sex, understood that way throughout Jewish readings. A rabbinic rephrase: “Each one brought his wife to the prison in order that she might be impregnated by him.”
What a fun scene? Samson the Jewish superhero is captured, so all the enemy men send their ladies to get impregnated by him. They want lots of little Samsons! He pulls down the columns and kills them all.
He goes out with a bang.
Now Ehud had made a double-edged sword about a cubit long, which he strapped to his right thigh under his clothing. He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab, who was a very fat man. (NIV)
So this one is a little bit of work. In Judges 3, the Israelites are being oppressed, as a hero rises up. Ehud makes himself a peculiar little knife.
As Marc Zvi Brettler notes: “The possible sexual significance of Ehud’s sword in v.16, as short and double-sided, namely as a short straight sword, gains importance once we realize that the typical sword of the period had a curved side with which one hacked away at enemies, and this is a much less appropriate phallic symbol.”
Ehud makes a sharp, straight, possibly phallic-looking knife, and goes to meet the king who lords it over them. He hides his knife on his right side, where men don’t usually carry them.
Ehud has a secret. He’s left-handed. In the Bible, that’s the feminine side.
Eglon, the king, is not ‘fat’. The same Hebrew word used in Daniel 1:15, to mean ‘healthy’. Karolien Vermeulen affirms the meaning is “health, beauty, and attractiveness of the animal, or human as in this case.”
So we have Ehud, with his knife, going to see Ehud, who is . . . healthy and beautiful. You see where this is going?
When the translator Robert Alter notes the “deliberate sexual nuance,” however, a Christian reader is probably . . . shocked.
“I have a secret message for you, O king,” Ehud says, and for some reason, the ‘handsome’ king sends all attendants away, so they’re alone.
Geoffrey P. Miller notes that Ehud “gains the better of him by pretending to offer a homosexual liasion. The sexual imagery is so explicit that it hardly needs amplification.”
“The number of scholars who have resisted reading this as male-on-male sex is really quite astonishing,” says Christine Mitchell.
The king rises from his seat, and approaches. In the usual translations, Ehud moves for the kill. He takes out his ‘sword’ and “plunges it into the king’s belly” — as king’s bowels discharge.
Yael’s penetrating stare
The ladies have just as much fun. There could hardly be a more thrilling scene, though, than in Judges 5, when the enemy soldier Sisera is on the loose. Yael notices him, and lures him into her tent with sex.
Yael is always in control. And as Rhiannon Graybill notes, her narrative “inverts, subverts, or otherwise challenges conventional gender norms.”
The Bible is often that way.
In a very godly reversal, in Judges 5:26, Sisera has sex with her, as she returns the favor. There is also a left-handed trick here. It reads a little funny in English, but I like the NETS translation of an expanded version found in the Codex Alexandrinus.
She put her left hand to a peg, her right hand to the cutting off of weary ones, and she beheaded Sisara; she crushed his skull, and she shattered and pierced his jaw. Between her feet he doubled up and fell; he lay between her feet; where he doubled up, there he fell, wretched.
“The phallic nature of her banging a tent-peg through Sisera’s temple, which seems obvious to me, is often not even commented on by recent commentators,” notes Christine Mitchell.
David’s horizontal dance
I love the scene of David dancing in 2 Samuel 6. He wants to show God he loves Him, so he throws himself into a nearly-naked, exuberant dance in front of all Israel. God is really pleased, but David’s fiancé Michel kind of isn’t.
She mocks him: “How the king of Israel has honored himself today, who was uncovered today in the eyes of his own slaves’ maids . . .”
“I will play and dance before the Lord,” David replies, “and I will again be uncovered thus, and I will be worthless in your eyes and with the maids with whom you said I am held in honor.” (NETS)
That got him a little testy, didn’t it? But if Michel won’t have him, he’ll go off with the servant girls! Knowing David, probably all of them.
The girl’s sexual “Song”
“My lover thrust his ‘hand’ through the ‘hole,’ and my inward parts were stirred for him” (5:4)
In the Song of Songs, a woman is talking about sex—a lot. The book is from her perspective. She owns and claims her desire.
“I am black and beautiful,” she says (1:5). As Pablo Andinach notes: “From this point she strikes with force against the rigid structures of her time and ours. She wants to liberate women and men from the chains of prejudice so that they may meet, touch each other, and look straight into the face of the other.”
For established religion, however, the Song is a bit of a problem?
The lovers are married, they’d try to say. Except they’re not.
The refrain of the Song—“Do not stir up or awaken love until it desire!” (2:7; 3:5; 8:4)—was interpreted as a prompt to be abstinent, careful, guarded!
As Brian P. Gault notes in a close textual study, a better phrasing of the Hebrew text is: “Do not rouse nor disturb this lovemaking as long as it desires.”
It’s a request for privacy! As Gault notes, “the Song depicts sexual desire as something to be celebrated and indulged, repeatedly reveling in the satisfaction, not restraint, of passion.”
Sex with Wisdom
I keep waiting for a pastor to give a sermon from the Dead Sea Scroll translated in Patrick W. Skehan’s 1971 paper “The Acrostic Poem in Sirach 51:13–30”:
I burned with desire for her, never turning back.
I became preoccupied with her, never weary of extolling her.
My hand opened her gate and I came to know her secrets.
For her I purified my hands; in cleanness I attained to her. (v.19–20)
The ‘hand’ that opens her ‘gate’, as in Song of Songs 5:4, is a penis. The ‘secrets’ means, literally, ‘nakedness’.
A sex scene. The ‘female’ . . . is Wisdom, the female aspect of God.
T. Muraoka, the great scholar of Hebrew, in a 1979 paper, “Sir. 51, 13–30: An Erotic Hymn to Wisdom?” adds that “my hand forced open her portals” is clearly sexual. And the phase translated “never weary of extolling her,” might be better expressed, he thinks, as: “in the moments of her exaltation [i.e. orgasm], I will not let up…”
Wisdom is orgasmic, but the spiritual seeker doesn’t stop. He wants God to remain in that heightened state, and he develops the skill to keep her there?
Spiritual insight and understanding continues to flow from their coitus.
It might be different in Christianity at times, but here we see that in Jewish spirituality, notes William Loader: “Eros and the sacred are not at odds.”
This isn’t just the Dead Sea Scrolls either. Annette Schellenberg’s 2018 paper “May Her Breasts Satisfy You at All Times” takes this portrait of Wisdom as a cue that all references to Wisdom are sexual.
The “loving” of Wisdom (cf. Prov 4:6; 8:17, 21; 29:3), or “embracing” Wisdom (Prov 4:8), do seem, as she says, “erotically loaded.”
May we have Wisdom today!