Author gives perspective about women, sex in Bible

An activist visited a local bookstore Feb. 11 to offer a new perspective on women and sex in the Bible. 

Phoenix Books presented author Matthew O’Neil to discuss his book “What the Bible Really Does (and Doesn’t) Say about Sex: The How, When, Why, and With Whom of Scriptural Prohibitions and Permissions.”

He touched upon preconceived notions of what the Bible truly does and does not say in regards to topics surrounding sex and gender.

Sophomore Sam Frankel said religious scholars can be intolerant and close-minded regarding sexuality. The book is an attempt to counter this view of religious figures by giving a more “open-minded interpretation” of the Bible and initiating conversation about contradictions found in the text, O’Neil said.

The Bible contains instances both of women being powerless and subservient to men, alongside women who wield a great deal of power and influence, he said.

In one passage, a woman named Deborah is shown to be a powerful leader in Israel, O’Neil said. Yet while Moses and Abraham are familiar figures, Deborah isn’t a name most people readily recognize, he pointed out, despite the fact that they were clearly a force to be reckoned with and praised by God for their strength.

Somehow, through varied interpretations and changing societal contexts, historically significant women were forgotten, O’Neil said.  Women are presented as wives, mothers and supporting roles, even though they were often center stage. As a whole, people like to be reassured, not to be proven wrong, he said. In an attempt to counteract this, he said he hopes to present a clearer picture of the context of Biblical stories.

The Bible was influenced by specific cultures, societies and concepts that largely don’t exist today, O’Neil said. As a result, this makes it difficult for modern-day readers to connect and apply those lessons to their own lives.  For example, the only women who were independent of male power were virgins, he said. Women during this time were property given to and traded by men, but if they were able to avoid marriage, they had many more opportunities.

“The female virgin was powerful because she was not yet a man’s private property,” O’Neil said. O’Neil’s hope for his book is for it to simply “be read,” and have it encourage others to read “a little deeper and discover the powerful women just under the surface,” he said.