'Holy hustlers' of the Levant.
by Theodore W. Jennings, Jr.
Continuum. 288 pages, $26.95 (paper)
TO PROPOSE, on the one hand, that "the narratives of the Hebrew Bible lend themselves to a queer reading" is to make a carefully modulated statement, one for which the critical reader will be eager to examine the evidence. To refer, on the other hand, to the sacred ephod as Yahweh's "jockstrap" and to cultic objects as "sex toys"; to Yahweh as a "top" who possesses the dick of death and to Joseph as a "sissy boy"; to cult temple prostitutes as "holy hustlers" and ecstatic prophets as "dancing queens"; or to the prophet Ezekiel as the inventor of the porn industry's "money shot" and the retreat of Jephthah's daughter to the wilderness in the company of other female virgins as an early "wimmin's music festival"--this risks imposing a facile contemporary relevance upon ancient texts whose complex meanings seek to be recovered, and raises questions regarding the audience for whom the author is writing.
There is much in Jennings' book that I admire. He deftly sifts through existing scholarship to recover the terms and forms of ancient Israel's worship of a "hypermasculine divinity" whose ravishing of his male followers provided a model both for the warrior-leader's sexual relations with his male attendant and for the healer's cure of the sick through the infusion of phallic energy. Likewise, he shrewdly analyzes the transvestite implications of the Chosen People being repeatedly imaged as a lovesick or adulterous female yet invariably represented by a male hero like Moses and Jacob, whose wrestling with the Lord becomes a form of rape--or like David, whom Jennings credits with taming Yahweh's violent sexual aggression. I am particularly impressed by Jennings' conclusions regarding the extent to which the religious culture of ancient Israel anticipated--and represented in more complex social forms--the institutionalized homoeroticism of classical Greece.
In his determined advocacy of a queer-friendly Bible, however, Jennings overstates possible connections between the ancient world and the cultures of Tokugawa Japan, premodern New Guinea, and the contemporary gay world, failing to consider any of the striking cultural differences that render such parallels ineffective. To refer to David as Saul's "boy-toy," for example, imposes upon an ancient culture a sexual ethic familiar to West Hollywood and Studio 54, and one that diminishes considerably the intensity of the warrior boy's relationship with the emotionally distraught king whom he serves intimately.
More troubling are certain facile assertions to which even a sympathetic reader must object. Why, for example, should the hemorrhoids that trouble the Philistines be taken as "the mark of anal rape" when the term is loosely applied in the ancient world to any growth on the epidermis and is rendered in some translations of the Bible as "tumors," which have no anal association whatsoever? Must the child's sneeze following his restoration by Elisha from death represent sexual ejaculation, or might it not more literally signal his recovery of breath? Why should the animal blood that Joseph's brothers smear on his famous coat represent menstruation or anal rape? And while it is clear that the story of Ruth and Naomi depicts "how women loving women is itself an instrument of blessing and redemption," how can Ruth's being an ancestor of David possibly have influenced the latter's relationships with both his divine and his human lovers, when in fact the Book of Ruth was written significantly later than the First and Second Books of Samuel?
Jennings' often-fanciful parallels between biblical and modern gay and lesbian culture lend his work a welcome breeziness of tone, but they risk making his insightful readings of these highly provocative biblical texts easier to discount and, regrettably, to resist.
Raymond-Jean Frontain is the editor of Reclaiming the Sacred: The Bible in Gay and Lesbian Culture.
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|Title Annotation:||Jacob's Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient Israel|
|Publication:||The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2007|
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