But if you want to take Sex in Holy Scripture 101, this is the show to watch. What is presented is a selection of Biblical stories involving sex or some sexual theme-usually a perversion-and the expert analysis which you have come to expect from these documentaries.
The choice of stories are fairly predictable: Judah and Tamar, the incest of Lot and his daughters, the illicit relationship of David and Bath Sheba, and in the New Testament, the alleged prostitution of Mary Magdalene and the celibacy of Jesus and St. Paul. A&E is to be commended for some of the outstanding commentators they acquired, including Rabbi David Wolpe and Dr. Ruth Westheimer (don't you love to hear her talk about sex in your grandmother's accent?)
What is sad-but I guess necessary in this age of scandal and ratings-is how the show tries to dredge up perversion. The ugly face of Biblical patriarchy is also found in every narrative and a strong feminist agenda, alleging how much the Bible degrades women, is to be found in virtually every comment. Thus, Judah doesn't recognize his daughter-in-law Tamar, who is decked out as a prostitute, because "he probably took her from behind and didn't even care about her face. Such was the contempt that men had for women, they were only sex objects."
The Christian orthodoxy that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute is similarly challenged on the grounds that, once the early Church fathers saw a woman gaining influence in the Church, they tried to discredit her by saying that she was a harlot. (That's funny, I always thought Magdalene had more credibility as a prostitute who turned her heart toward piety).
But what's really missing from this program (aside from some much-needed humor) is an examination of the subtlety and earth-shattering statements the Bible makes about sex, which are so difficult to categorize. Never does the show mention that the word sex does not appear in the Bible. Indeed, the Hebrew language does not even have a word for sex. The word is "knowledge," and the Bible believes, very radically, that carnal knowledge is the highest form of knowledge. Similarly, when the Bible later describes the lovemaking between Isaac and Rebecca, it uses the word metzachek, which means celebration, having fun.
I similarly found it astounding that A&E makes no mention of the fact that in the Bible a man is obligated to pleasure his wife sexually. Indeed, he is commanded, as one of his three essential responsibilities, to give his wife pleasure in bed before he has his own. How about them apples!
In Jewish law, a woman cannot be married against her will. This is derived from the story of Rebecca and Isaac, in which Abraham's representative, Eliezer, wants to whisk Rebecca off to marry his master's heir. Yet, he is told, "We must ask the maiden." Similarly, Jewish husbands are commanded to treat their wives with greater respect than they treat themselves. And yet, the show goes down the old road of alleging that in the Bible a wife is considered her husband's property, with no proof for such a ridiculous allegation whatsoever.
Similarly, the expert commentators contrast the Old Testament with the New, noting that the former allows harlotry and prostitution. They base this on the story of Judah and Tamar. However, the story clearly shows that Judah was ashamed to admit that he had had sex with the prostitute, which would indicate to any reader that he had done something shameful and illegal.
But even as a Jew I found it somewhat surprising that the show would go so far as to suggest that Jesus had a wife and was sexually active. Now, I do not affirm the divinity of Jesus, so it would not bother me if he did have a wife. Having said this, it is sacrilege to a Christian. So why make the point when there is no proof?
I do, however, give very high marks to the show for its beautiful treatment of Solomon's Song of Songs and I especially loved Dr. Ruth's beautiful remarks about the eroticism of the poem. That particular segment eloquently captured how, in the Bible, G-d's greatest joy is when a man and a woman have committed themselves to each other, and show both passion and intimacy, the essential ingredients for any kind of Kosher Sex.