Help me plan a course about Gender, Sexuality and the Bible

Next year I’ll be teaching a course titled, ‘Gender, Sexuality and the Bible’. I’ve inherited a module description, which includes the following elements:

Module Summary
The module will introduce the range and complexity of the Bible’s approach(es) to sex and relationships, surveying key texts around issues such as: gender identity, hetero and homosexuality, polygyny, prostitution, sexual violence, and bodily ideology. The module will on the one hand seek to help students situate the Bible’s approach to such issues within its original historical milieu and, on the other, will use contemporary academic discourse on sexuality to enable students to reflect critically on the way the Bible is deployed in contemporary discussions around these issues.

Indicative Outline Content
The module addresses a range of important texts, approaches and critical frameworks in some detail, beginning with perennial questions over the nature of the Genesis texts before broadening out to introduce some lesser-known biblical stories and some lesser known responses to Bible from particular communities who do not identify with dominant cisgendered perspectives.

1. Gender Theory and the idea called “Sexual Identity”
2. Gender and Genesis: Eve and her Daughters
3. Gender in Genesis: Abraham and his Sons
4. Homosexuality? Sodom and Leviticus
5. Queer Readings of the New Testament
6. Tutorials in Preparation for Assessment
7. Marriage and Metaphor
8. The Bible and Sexual Violence
9. The Transgender Jesus
10. Onan in Biblical Reception
11. Is the Divine Body Gendered?
12. Class Debate: The Bible’s Role in Sexual Ethics

Indicative Reading
Beale, Timothy and David M. Gunn, eds., Reading Bibles, Writing Bodies: Identity and The Book (London and New York: Routledge, 1997).
Boswell, John, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1980).
Blyth, Caroline A. ‘I Am Alone With My Sickness’: Voicing the Experience of HIV- and AIDS-Related Stigma through Psalm 88. Colloquium: The Australian & New Zealand Theological Review, 44.2 (2021), 149-162.
Butler, Judith, Bodies that Matter (London: Routledge, 1993),
—Gender Trouble (London: Routledge, 1990).
Cornwall, Susanna, Intersex, Theology and the Bible: Troubling Bodies in Church, Text and Society (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).
Gagnon, Robert, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermenutics (Abingdon Press, 2002).
Goss, Robert E. and Mona West, eds, Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible (London: Pilgrim Press, 2000).
Macwilliam, Stuart, Queer Theory and the Prophetic Marriage Metaphor in the Hebrew Bible (Sheffield: Equinox, 2012).
Moore, Stephen, God’s Beauty Parlor and Other Queer Spaces in and Around the Bible. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001).
Myles, Robert J., and Caroline A. Blyth, eds., Sexuality, Ideology and the Bible: Antipodean Engagements. (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2015)
Nissinen, Martii, Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: A Historical Perspective (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998).

I’m trying to work out how much I want to adapt that outline to reflect my own areas of interest and (comparative) expertise (it’s not straightforwardly my area!). I’m tempted to include some material on sex work in the Bible, particularly some bits of Avaren Ipsen’s “Sex Working and the Bible”. I’d love to find some good material that things about marriage and sexuality from a Marxist perspective, or at least from the perspective of questions of households, property and inheritance. I’d like to find some resources for thinking about the relationship between sexuality and purity laws in the Hebrew Bible, especially some work on menstruation and purity from, ideally, a Jewish feminist/queer theoretical perspective. And in general, I’d like to find a bit more work on gender in sexuality in the Hebrew Bible by Jewish scholars.

I’m also trying to think through how I want to balance the biblical texts themselves, secondary material on those texts, and more general theoretical work on gender and sexuality. I’m wondering whether to structure the course by giving them some introduction to theoretical questions relating to gender and sexuality, then getting them to spend some time looking at biblical texts in class, then sending off to read secondary materials on gender and sexuality in those texts; but I’ve never run a class on that structure before and am nervous it might prove a logistical nightmare! As an aside, none of the students will have any knowledge of biblical languages (and mine is miminal). So, any thoughts, reading suggestions, dire warnings of what not to do etc would be gratefully received!

3 thoughts on “Help me plan a course about Gender, Sexuality and the Bible

  1. This looks like an amazing class so far! I don’t have a lot to offer with regard to the specific areas you raised (Marxism, menstruation, etc.). Roland Boer has always been interested in Marxism, gender, and sexuality, to varying degrees in different publications, so you might look at him? I haven’t read his latest book, but it looked interesting.

    I can make a couple other suggestions. In the Hebrew Bible class I just TAed, we used a couple Jewish feminist books: Rachel Adler, Engendering Judaism: An Inclusive Theology and Ethic (Boston: Beacon, 1998); Ilana Pardes, Countertraditions in the Bible: A Feminist Approach (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992). Adler deals with marriage and metaphor, and Pardes treats some of the other topics. Carol Meyers, Rediscovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013) is also a classic.

    I’m also obliged to mention my advisor: Ken Stone, ed., Queer Commentary and the Hebrew Bible, JSOTSup 334 (Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim, 2001) has a lot of great articles on gender and sexuality, but Stone’s intro on queer commentary is especially helpful.

    A couple more things: Ronald Hendel, Chana Kronfeld, and Ilana Pardes, “Gender and Sexuality,” in Reading Genesis: Ten Methods, ed. Ronald Hendel (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 71–91 has a good reading of Genesis 19, and Mark D. Jordan, The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997) may be useful on that subject too.

    Maybe those are helpful? In any case, I look forward to seeing other comments on this, as I’ll be teaching a similar class next spring, and I want to find out about all the resources I’d missed. You’ve already pointed out a couple things I hadn’t seen yet!

  2. I have a couple of suggestions! I am ambivalent about anyone using Robert Gagnon because he’s queer and trans antagonistic (which also effects where he sees homosexuality in the Bible).

    But some readings on Gender and Sexuality that I have found helpful:
    – Daniel Boyarin, “Are There Any Jews in ‘The History of Sexuality’” is good.
    – Saul Olyan’s “”And with a Male You Shall Not Lie the Lying down of a Woman”: On the Meaning andSignificance of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13″ is also good but a bit technical.
    – Beth Alpert Nakhai’s “Gender and Archaeology in Israelite Religion” might be of some use as well.
    – Caroline Johnson Hodge’s “Married to an Unbeliever: Households, Hierarchies, and Holiness in
    1 Corinthians 7:12–16”
    – Joseph A. Marchal. The Politics of Heaven: Women, Gender, and Empire in the Study of Paul.
    – Dale B. Martin, The Corinthian Body.

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