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First Person

Sex scholar

BU religion professor Jennifer Wright Knust, 44, on the Bible's ambiguous stance on holy matrimony.

Jennifer Wright Knust (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By James Sullivan
February 27, 2011

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What will readers learn from your new book, Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire?

That the Bible is incredibly fascinating and complex – there’s not a straightforward teaching about anything, let alone sex.

In fact, on marriage, you say the Bible “is almost entirely contradictory.”

It really is. We can find support for polygamy in the Bible, no problem. We can find celibacy. We can find premarital sex. What is your vision of marriage? You have to make that decision. You can do it in conversation with the Bible, but the Bible will not tell you which one to pick.

Do your own personal politics matter?

I’m not promoting a particular political agenda. I’m inviting people to have a look at what the Bible might actually say. Clearly there are political implications.

You begin with an anecdote about being called a “slut” in seventh grade. Why?

As scholars, even when we pretend we have no personal investment, we do. That story taught me how people employ charges about sexual behavior to hurt one another.

If gay marriage is the polarizing issue today, just a few decades ago it was interracial marriage. Why are we still dealing with absolutes?

Gosh, that longing for certainty never goes away, does it? We just wish we knew. And I’m sympathetic. I wish I had been born with something on my toe that says, “This is what you should do with the rest of your life.”

Speaking of toes, I had no idea that there was so much foot fetishization in the Old Testament.

I know! The Hebrew is very polite, so there’s this fun euphemism about “uncovering the feet.”

You say Jesus felt more strongly toward his disciples than his family.

It’s not sustainable to go around arguing that people should be celibate, not get married, and run off to spread the Gospel. But the early followers really thought the Kingdom of Heaven was coming in their lifetime. [They were in] emergency mode. Marriage in that context is a waste of time, really.

  • February 27, 2011 cover
  • Feb. 27 cover
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