Sexuality in the Old Testament: A Review Article


Revista Kerigma Ano 3, número 2, II Semestre de 2007


SEXUALITY IN THE OLD TESTAMENT: A REVIEW ARTICLE

Elias Brasil de Souza, Ph.D.
Coordenador e professor de Antigo Testamento do curso de Teologia
SALT, Cachoeira (BA)
ebsouza_2000@yahoo.com

 

Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament, by Richard M. Davidson. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007. pp. xxix + 844. $29.95 (paper). ISBN 9781565638471.

Flame of Yahweh
is a broad and detailed research written from a conservative
perspective by Richard Davidson. As the author himself states, this
work “undertakes the Brobdingnagian task of examining every passage of
the Hebrew Bible (HB) dealing with human sexuality, in an attempt to
lay bare the basic contours of a theology of human sexuality in the
final (canonical) form of the OT” (p. 2). In order to accomplish this
goal, Davidson builds on previous research and provides his own
original exegesis in several of the passages and topics discussed. One
of the central premises of Davidson’s  work is the notion that the
Edenic pattern for sexuality constitutes the foundation for the rest of
the OT perspective on the topic (p. 3).  Consistent with this premise,
he provides a comprehensive and, at the same time, detailed exposition
of the Old Testament concept of sexuality. An introduction, providing a
helpful survey the OT sexual vocabulary, is followed by fourteen
chapters divided into three sections. An afterword, drawing some
implications for a New Testament theology of sexuality, closes the
book.

The
first section (chap. 1 and 2) deals with sexuality in Eden, which,
according to Davidson’s major premise, reveals the divine design for
human sexuality. Chapter 1 expounds a theology of sexuality in the
beginning in ten topics emphasizing sexuality as a creation order,
heterosexual human duality and marital form, monogamous marital form,
equality of the sexes without hierarchy, exclusivity, permanence,
intimacy, procreation, and the wholesome and holy beauty of sexuality.
In chapter 3, Davidson demonstrates how the fall has affected the
relationship between man and woman, and asserts that the fallen
condition of humans prompted God to ascribe a servant-leadership role
to man. In a careful and detailed exegesis of Gen 3:16, Davidson
interacts with six major views regarding man-woman relationship in Gen
1-3. He rejects any kind of ontological subordination or inferiority of
woman to man and affirms the equality of both sexes as a creation
ordinance. According to him, after the fall, “there is a qualified
prescriptive divine sentence announcing the voluntary submission of the
wife to her husband’s servant leadership as a result of sin
” (p.
76, italics his). Thus, submission of woman to man must be restricted
to the domain of marriage and family and, therefore, does not apply to
that of society or church. But even in the context of marriage and
family, the original plan of harmony and union between equal partners
without hierarchy remains the ideal.

The
second section (chaps.3-12) undertakes a major survey of various
aspects, dimensions and distortions of sexuality, such as cultic
sexuality, heterosexuality, homosexuality, monogamy, polygamy,
concubinage, elevation versus denigration of women, prostitution, mixed
marriages, adultery, premarital sex, divorce remarriage, incest,
procreation, rape. Most of the chapters, as appropriate, begin with a
helpful survey of the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) background of the
topic under discussion, followed by an organized discussion according
to the three major divisions of the Hebrew Bible (i.e. Pentateuch,
Prophets, and Writings). In chapter 3, discussing sexuality as a
creation ordinance versus sacred marriage, Davidson provides an
insightful survey of ANE views regarding sex, according to which the
processes of nature are controlled by the relations of the gods and
goddesses. Such perceptions led naturally to the development of a
fertility cult theology in which the sex activity of the god (e.g.
Baal) is emulated in the high place by sacred prostitutes (males and
females) in order to stimulate the god to send rain and thus fertilize
the earth. In contrast, the OT “unambiguously, vehemently, and
uncompromisingly opposes the sacralization of sex that appears in
fertility cult theology and practice” (p. 130).

A
sustained discussion of human heterosexuality versus homosexuality,
transvestism, and bestiality is undertaken in chapter 4. After a brief
survey of ANE texts, Davidson investigates the biblical bearing on
these topics. By examining Pentateuchal legislation and narratives, as
well as material from the Prophets and Writings the author makes clear
that the canonical text of the Bible utterly rejects these sexual
practices as a distortion of God’s creation of a heterosexual union
between male and female. Particularly interesting in this chapter is
Davidson’s assessment and rebuttal of those views which see Ruth and
Naomi along with David and Jonathan as biblical examples of homosexual
relationships condoned by the Bible. Engaging in exegesis and
interacting with relevant scholarship on these matters, Davidson agrees
with those who regard such views as “speculation read into the text”
and demonstrates that the narrative about Jonathan and David does not
portray a “homosexual relationship but [a relationship] of friends who
rose to the heights of self abnegation” (p. 167).

The
discussion of monogamy versus polygamy/concubinage in chapter 5
commences with a notice of the Bible’s positive affirmations of the
Edenic divine design of a heterosexual and monogamous pattern of
marital relationship. A sample list of heterosexual monogamous marriage
partnerships mentioned in the Bible include couples such as Adam and
Eve, Noah and his wife, Isaac and Rebekah, Joseph and Asenath, Moses
and Zippora. Thus it becomes clear that although Bible narratives
record several polygamous relationships (e.g. David, Solomon), they
never met with divine approval. As a matter of fact, the biblical
narrators convey a tacit condemnation of this practice, inasmuch as the
polygamists themselves faced insurmountable problems due to conflicts
and rivalry between wives and children. Furthermore, Pentateuchal
legislation seems to recognize polygamy as a distortion of God’s design
and provides several restrictive measures against it (Exod 21:7-11; Lev
18;18; Deut 21:15-17).

Chapter
6, the largest chapter of the book, provides an insightful discussion
of the idea of elevation versus denigration of women in the OT. In
interaction with and responding to feminist writers, who see the OT as
fundamentally a patriarchal book, being therefore oppressive towards
women, Davidson successfully demonstrates that “the pattern for
husband-wife relationships established in Eden (both before and after
the fall) constitutes the assumed paradigm throughout the rest of the
OT” (p. 212). He argues that “there is a trend toward parity between
the sexes in the marriage as in Eden before the Fall” (p. 212), aptly
illustrated by OT narratives portraying a high valuation of women, as
seen in the Genesis matriarchs Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah,
Tamar, Shiphrah and Puah, the Egyptian princess, Jochebed, Miriam, the
seven daughters of Jethro, including Zipporah, the daughters of
Zelophead. These women were far from being passive instruments in the
hands of oppressive men/husbands. On the contrary, although submissive
their husbands leadership, they are proactive, taking initiative, and
interacting with men in very positive ways. They also participated in
the yearly festivals, shared in the rejoicing, singing and prayers, and
joined in the sacrificial meals. Pointing to the Pentateuchal
legislation regarding women, Davidson notes that although the legal
codes of the Pentateuch have been very often interpreted as setting
forth a view of women as inferior persons, more recent research has
revealed that this legislation actually intended to protect women,
since they were the more vulnerable members of society. After examining
several passages usually alleged to indicate the inferior status of
women in ancient Israel (e.g. Num 5; Lev 12:1-8; Lev 27:1-8; Num
30:4-17; Deut 25:11-12), Davidson concludes that “the biblical evidence
does not support a lowered and oppressed status for women in the
Pentateuchal legislation and accompanying narratives” (p. 255).

The
case of the suspected adulteress provides an instructive example. Some
feminists have considered this legislation to be the prime example of a
sexist passage in the Scriptures, since there is no reciprocal
provision for a suspected husband. In contrast, Davidson argues that
the purpose of the law was not to humiliate or punish the woman, but to
protect and defend her. After all, this is the only case in the
legislation in which Yahweh promised to render a verdict by
supernatural means. The woman, therefore, would be protected from any
hasty decision by the husband or people. “This law, then, does not
reflect a lower valuation of women than that of men, but underscores
the motivation to protect the weaker members of society from oppression
and abuse” (p. 245).

In
this connection, Davidson also addresses the fact of an Israelite
priesthood confined only to men. This situation, according to liberal
feminists, indicates male oppression over women; and according to
evangelical Christian hierarchicalists is a crucial indication that
women are impeded from having a leadership role over men in the
covenant community. Responding to both liberal feminists and
hierarchicalists, Davidson argues that priesthood was barred not only
from women, but from most men in Israel, since only males from the
family of Aaron qualified as priests. Although the exclusion of women
from priesthood may have been due to reasons, such as monthly ritual
uncleanness, low upper body strength to work at the sanctuary, and
place of women within the family, Davidson suggests that the main
reason may have been a polemic against ANE fertility cult. “Yahweh’s
institution of a male priesthood in Israel in the immediate aftermath
of the worship of the golden calf, linked to Egyptian/Canaanite
fertility cults-seems to have constituted a strong polemic against the
religions of surrounding nations, which included goddess worship and
fertility cult rituals. Since a primary function of the priestesses in
the ancient Near East during the last half of the second millennium and
in the first millennium was to serve as a ‘wife of the god,’ such a
function for a woman in the religion of Yahweh was out of the question.
The exclusion of women in the Israelite priesthood helped to prevent
the syncretistic contamination of Israel’s cultus with the introduction
of the divinization of sex and sexual immorality, which was so deeply
imbedded in Canaanite Baal/Asherah worship” (pp. 252-53 ). Thus, a male
priesthood in Israel “in no way implies denigration of women and
likewise in no way implies that women are barred from leadership
(teaching/administrative) roles over men in the covenant community” (p.
253). Mentioning a previous study on Deut 33:8-10, Davidson mentions
three essential duties of the Levites-judging, teaching; oracular
techniques; cultic functions noting that only the cultic function was
barred to women, “probably because of polemical concerns against ANE
priestesses involvement in the divinization of sex” (p. 253).

God’s
original purpose for the priesthood on earth included both male and
female, since according to Davidson Adam and Eve had the same role as
the Levites and priests in the original Eden sanctuary, being clothed
by God as priests. Moreover, in Sinai Yahweh’s original intention was
for Israel to be a kingdom of priests (Exod 19:6), an ideal restored by
the New Testament church (1 Pet 2:4-5, 9). Although Davidson’s line of
reasoning seems very compelling, one might ask whether God’s clothing
Adam and Eve really meant their investiture as priests or was simply a
gesture of grace due to their nakedness, as the biblical text implies.
Also a question might be raised about the precise sense in which the
concept of priesthood is being used. Israel might have been intended to
function as a priestly nation in the sense of being a witness of God’s
presence to the nations at large (Exod 19:6). Likewise the NT idea of a
priesthood of all believers (1 Pet 2:4-5, 9) might simply indicate that
all church members would have immediate access by faith to God’s
presence, without necessarily implying that women are to be ordained to
ministry.

Proceeding
to the prophets and writings, Davidson demonstrates how the canonical
structure of these books highlights the value of women. Rahab, for
example, is valued by God for who she is, i.e. a treasured testimony of
the mercy of God upon all humanity, her courage, her faith, and as an
agent of salvation, being eventually integrated into the community of
Israel. Other prominent and proactive women are Achsah, daughter of
Caleb, Deborah, Manoah’s wife, Hannah, Ruth, Esther, among others. It
should be noted, however, that the author is not oblivious to the fact
that the OT reports some cases of exploitation, denigration, and abuse
of women, such as Hagar, Jephthah’s daughter, the Levite’s concubine.
Furthermore, it is mentioned that with the rise of the monarchy there
entered a systematic abuse of patriarchy and abuse of women. But it
remains clear that such outrageous situations are by no means met with
approval by the inspired narrators of the Scriptures.

In
chapter seven, Davidson addresses complex topics such as prostitution,
mixed marriages, masturbation, sexual blemishes and impurities. At the
outset, he emphasizes the positive affirmations of the Edenic ideal for
sexual behavior shaping the theological contours of the OT Scriptures.
From the Edenic ideal of sexuality emerges the concepts of wholistic
anthropology, whole family, complementarity and the wholeness of sexual
organs and freedom from ritual impurity. Contrary to Egypt and
Mesopotamia, where prostitution/harlotry was tolerated and even
recognized as a social institution, and the cases of
prostitution/prostitutes reported in the narrative texts of the OT,
Pentateuchal legislation clearly prohibits this practice and the rest
of the Hebrew canon gives no endorsement to prostitution, sacred or
otherwise. Mixed (interfaith marriages) also represented a threat to
the Edenic ideal of sexuality. Such distortion of God’s design was
blatant at the time of the Flood (Gen 6:1-4) and continued to be a
temptation to God’s people throughout history. A deep concern for
spiritual as well as physical wholeness in marriage seems to underlie
the decision of the patriarchs in not providing pagan wives for their
children (e.g. Isaac, Jacob). That this is not an issue of ethnic
purity, but of preserving the faith in Yahweh, may be noted in the
marriages of, e.g., Joseph and Moses, who married non Israelite women
but who presumably accepted the religion of the true God. In the case
of mixed marriages faced by Ezra, Davidson argues that terminological
indicators suggest that the issue was not a breaking of legitimate
marriages, but of nullifying those which were contrary to the law, in
order to preserve the spiritual heritage of Israel (p. 322). As regards
masturbation, Davidson observes that there is no clear reference to it
in the OT. The narrative concerning Onan (Gen 38:9) does not suggest
masturbation, but coitus interruptus. However, in the light of the
seventh commandment, sexual lust or sexual fantasies about a person
other than one’s spouse is prohibited, and by implication it may be
said that the act of masturbation is opposed to the will of God.
Davidson still adds that “habitual substitution of masturbation for
regular sexual relations with one’s spouse when the latter is available
is not fulfilling the highest ideal for sexual wholeness in marriage”
(p. 325).

In
the discussion sexual blemishes and ritual uncleanness related to
sexuality, Davidson addresses issues regarding the prohibition of the
“one whose testicles are crushed” or whose penis is cut off” (Deut
23:2) from entering the assembly of the Lord. This may represent a
protest against some acts of mutilation performed in the context of
fertility cults. The rationale for such prohibition is given in the
previous verse (Deut 23:15): “For you are a people holy, therefore your
camp must be holy.” Further developing this idea, Davidson suggests
that “this legislation, while theologically pointing to a divine call
for holiness, may be seen as a ritual regulation, intrinsically bound
up with the presence of the holy Shechinah dwelling in the midst of
Israel. Consequences for violating this ritual regulation included
exclusion from the assembly of Yahweh, which presumably met in session
at the cultic center of the sanctuary. When the sanctuary and Shechinah
no longer existed on earth, however, this ritual exclusion no longer
retained its applicability” (p. 326). Other important Pentateuchal
legislations deal with sexual matters in the context of ritual
uncleanness. Particularly noticeable are those defiling impurities
resulting from body fluids or genital discharges.

A
first rationale for such legislations may be inferred from Lev
15:31-33: “Thus you shall keep the sons of Israel separated from their
uncleanness, so that they will not die in their uncleanness by their
defiling My tabernacle that is among them. This is the law for the one
with a discharge, and for the man who has a seminal emission so that he
is unclean by it, and for the woman who is ill because of menstrual
impurity, and for the one who has a discharge, whether a male or a
female, or a man who lies with an unclean woman” (NASB). It becomes
evident that “God radically separates sexuality from any ritual
activity in the cultus. As part of a polemic against the divinization
of sex in the fertility cults, God makes a clear and distinct
separation between sex and sanctuary” (p. 329). Approvingly quoting
Hyam Maccoby, Davidson adds a second point: “Everything that is a
feature of the cycle of life and death must be banished from the Temple
of the God who does not die and was not born. Not that there is
anything sinful about birth and death, which are the God-given lot of
humankind. But the One place in the world which has been allotted for
the resting of the Divine Presence must be protected from mortality.
When entering the Temple, one is entering the domain of eternity” (p.
330 quoting Maccoby, Ritual and Morality: The Ritual Purity System and Its Place in Judaism
[Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 199], 207). Davidson further
observes that this life/death opposition is not only linked to
holiness, but goes back to creation and the separation of boundaries
between life, creation, and death, uncreation (p. 333).

A
third rationale identified by Davidson helps one to see the relevance,
at least in principle, of the laws of impurity. The Hebrew term qo4des]includes
in its conceptual field the idea of “health/wellness” which points to a
hygienic or humane component in some of these laws. Worthy of attention
are those laws concerning female uncleanness, particularly regarding
menstruation. One law that has continuing universal applicability and
transcends a ritual context, according to Davidson, is the one
prohibiting sexual intercourse during menstruation (Lev 18:19; 20:18).
This prohibition is placed among laws of universal significance
applicable to both Israelites and the stranger/alien. Davidson points
out that there is no provision for ritual cleansing, if this provision
is violated, because most probable it is not related to ritual
uncleanness. And Ezek (18:6; 22:10) places this prohibition in the
midst of list of ethical moral, not ritual laws (p. 333). Thus it seems
that this legislation concerns the woman’s physical and physiological
well-being. Davidson further argues that “a growing body of scientific
evidence seems to point out toward a health related (i.e.
holiness/wholeness-related) rationale for this legislation. For
example, studies have revealed a markedly lower incidence of cervical
cancer among observant Jewish women, who refrain from sexual
intercourse during menstruation, compared with the general population.
Regardless of the rationale, a biblical theology of sexuality must
highlight what is often overlooked in modern sexual ethics: the
prohibition against sexual intercourse with a menstruating spouse is
placed on the same universal level with the prohibition of incest,
polygamy, homosexuality, and bestiality” (p. 334).

The
affirmations of the divine ideal of exclusivity in the marriage
relationship, the high value of virginity and the distortions of
adultery and premarital sex are discussed in chapter 8. The model for
relationships in marriage outside the Garden of Eden is provided by Gen
2:24, according to which the marital relationship between Man and Woman
is to be characterized by exclusivity, permanence, and intimacy (p.
337). Adultery is distortion of this ideal and a violation of the
Decalogue, which represented Israel’s commitment to Yahweh in the
Sinaitic covenant. Adultery in Israel as in other ancient Near Eastern
law codes, received the capital punishment. However, in contrast to ANE
law, Israel understood adultery as a sin against God and not just a
civil offense. God takes adultery so seriously because it threatens the
stability of the household, which was “the basis upon which the
people’s relationship with God rested, therefore any attack upon the
stability of the family in Israel constituted a potential threat to
Israel relationship with God” (p. 349). Another distortion of the
divine ideal consists of premarital sex which in Biblical law received
varied degrees of punishment ranging from capital punishment to payment
of fine according to order of responsibility. E.g., if a man had sexual
relations with a virgin betrothed to another man, such a crime received
capital punishment (Deut 23:23-27). However, if the woman was not
betrothed, the man was to marry her without any permission to divorce
(Deut 22:28-29; Exod 22:16-17). The Prophets and Writings portray the
devastating results of sexual impurity and are consistent with the
Pentateuchal ideals demanding sexual purity from God’s people.

In
chapter 9, Davidson tackles the thorny issue of divorce/remarriage,
which is regarded as a distortion of God’s ideal of man to cling to his
wife in permanent relationship. In a detailed investigation of Deut
24:1-4, in what might appear to be a passage legitimating divorce,
Davidson points out that this legislation, in the larger context of
Deuteronomy, corresponds not to the seventh commandment, but belongs
within the section dealing with theft. This law prevents a man from
treating the woman as mere chattel or property, serving “to protect the
woman from being robbed of her personhood” (p. 403). After a survey of
several texts referring to divorce in the Pentateuch, Prophets and
Writings, Davidson asserts that although “divorce is tolerated,
conceded, permitted,” it is “never commanded, commended, or approved by
divine legislation” (p. 384).

Intimacy
versus incest is the topic discussed in chapter 10. In contrast to
several strands of ANE literature, which depicted gods, goddesses, and
humans of royal descent engaged in incest, the OT contains specific
legislation against incestuous relationships (e.g. Lev 18:7-17). Cases
of incest mentioned in the OT receive attention, such as the incident
of Lot and his daughters (Gen 19:30-38), Reuben and Bilhah (Gen 35:22;
49:4), Judah and Tamar (Gen 38), Absalom and his father’s concubines (2
Sam 15-16), Amnom and Tamar (2 Sam 13). Davidson also undertakes a
brief examination of the alleged incestuous relationship between Ham
and his mother (Gen 9). Although some interpreters have suggested that
“uncovering the nakedness” of the father would indicate an incestuous
relationship with the father’s wife (see Lev 7, 8, 14, 16), Davidson
rightly argues that Ham’s sin consisted in viewing his father’s
nakedness with an attitude of disrespect, a case of “visual incest” (p.
430).

Chapter
11 offers an instructive research on procreative sexuality versus
problems/distortions such as childlessness, children born out of
wedlock, and abortion. To deal with the problem of childlessness,
adoption was largely employed in the ancient Near East, and possibly in
Israel. The latter can be inferred by the frequent metaphors of
Yahweh’s adoption of the nation Israel and the David king, which
suggests that adoption might have been a common experience in the daily
life of ancient Israel. Davidson also reminds the reader that all the
matriarchs of the Hebrew people experienced childlessness, indicating
that, above the differentiation of sex, it is Yahweh who is the God of
Fertility and Israel should depend on him in order to obtain the
fulfillment of the promises (p. 455). An instructive section on
Levirate marriage considers purpose and qualifications for someone to
act as levir. Along with ensuring the continuation of the line of
descent and thus perpetuating the family property, Davidson notes that
protection of the widow may also have been in view. Based mainly on
intertextual linkages within the Hebrew Bible, the author holds that
the one to perform the duty of levir should be an unmarried brother or
other unmarried relative. Commenting on Gen 38:8-10, the author
concludes that the sin Onan was not masturbation as the misleading
English term onanism indicates but “coitus interruptus,” an act
intended to avoid fulfilling the levirate duty.

In
a discussion of Pentateuchal legislation forbidding children born out
of wedlock to enter the assembly of the Lord (Deut 23:2), the author 
argues that such legislation intended to underscore the sanctity of
marriage, a vital issue in the survival of the community of the
covenant. Regarding reproduction/population control and abortion, he
notes that several birth control practices were employed throughout the
ancient Near East, such as celibacy, coitus interruptus, exotic
potions, castration, and the abandonment of unwanted female babies (see
the allegorical allusion in Ezek 16:4-5). As for abortion, it seems
that Sumerian laws and the Code of Hammurabi do not seem to give the
human fetus the legal status of person, since the penalty of
miscarriage is just a monetary fine (491-92). In contrast, argues
Davidson, the Pentateuchal legislation (Exod 21:22-25) and other OT
passages (e.g. Job 10:8-12; Psa 139:13-16) grant the fetus the status
of full human being, thus possessing a spiritual/moral nature already
before birth.

Chapter
12 presents rape as major distortion of the wholesome beauty of
sexuality. After survey the ancient Near Eastern background, Davidson
surveys Pentateuchal narratives (Gen 19 [Lot’s daughters]; 34 [Dinah])
and laws (Exod 22:16-17; Deut 22:28-29) dealing with rape. Outside the
Pentateuch the case of the Levite’s concubine (Judg 19), Bathsheba (2
Sam 11), and Tamar (2 Sam 13) receive attention. But, understandably,
it is the narrative of David’s adultery with Bathsheba that receives a
more detailed treatment. After careful analysis of the text and its
broader context, Davidson concludes that “Bathsheba was not a sinister
character, nor an accomplice in the events described in 2 Sam 11, but
an innocent victim of power rape on the part of King David (p. 532).

Chapters
13 and 14, which make up the third section of the book, constitute the
climactic point of the entire work. In these chapters Davidson argues
that the Song of Songs, to be interpreted literally, portrays a return
to the Garden of Eden, inasmuch as “the theology of sexuality in this
song is the quintessence of profound theology in the OT the holy of
holies” (p. 551). After stressing that “in the Song of Songs we have
come full circle in the OT back to the garden of Eden” (p. 552) as
woman and man are in harmony after the fall, ten facets of a theology
sexuality emerge from Davidson’s work. First, sexuality is a creation
order and the Song extols and enhances the creation of sexuality in Gen
2. Second, sexuality is for heterosexual human couples. Third,
sexuality is to be enjoyed in a monogamous marital form. Fourth, the
song highlights egalitarianism, mutuality and reciprocity between the
lovers, as suggested by an intertextual linkage with Gen 3. While Gen
3:16 reads: “Yet your desire (te6s]]u=qa3te3k) will be for your husband, and he will rule over you," Song 7:10 declares that "I am my beloved’s, and his desire (te6s]]u=qa3to=) is for me.” Thus, “whereas the judgment of God in Gen 3:16 stated that the woman’s desire (te6s]]u=qa=) would be for her husband and he would “rule” (ma46s]al) over her (in the sense of servant leadership), now the Song describes a reversal the man’s desire (te6s]]u=qa=)
is for his lover. But contrary to feminist readings that see here a
movement away from a distorted use of male power (which is their
[misguided] interpretation of Gen 3:16),” Davidson finds “here a
reaffirmation of the divine ideal of full equality (‘one-fleshness’)
between husband and wife as set forth in Gen 2:24, without denying the
validity of Gen 3:16” (p. 577).

Fifth,
the concept of wholeness is highlighted by the presence/absence of the
lovers to each other. The lover’s are eager for the each other’s
presence and becoming fused into one, thus implying a wholistic view of
the human person as a sexual being (p. 581). Sixth, sexual love as
described in the Song requires an exclusive relationship. As in Gen 2,
lovers are to remain free of outside interferences in order to develop
a spontaneous and intimate friendship. Seventh, the relationship is to
be permanent. Davidson notes that 4:1-5:1 contains a description of the
wedding ceremony between Solomon and the Shulamite. Two verses are
central to the entire symmetrical structure of the Song (4:16 and 5:1).
These verses seem to be equivalent to marriage vows or represent the
consummation of marriage in the bridal chamber (p. 590) and the voice
in 5:1e “is that of Yahweh himself, adding his divine blessing to the
marriage, as he did in the first garden wedding in Eden” (p. 591).
Eighth, the relationship between woman and man in marriage is to be
characterized by intimacy, which is to be reserved for the matrimonial
relationship. Davidson concurs with the idea that there is no
indication that the woman lost her virginity prior to the consummation
of marriage at 4:16-5:1 (p. 600). This intimacy, however, goes beyond
the sexual union to include emotional, intellectual, aesthetic,
creative, recreational, work, crisis, conflict, commitment, spiritual,
and communication intimacy (p. 601-602). Ninth, the conspicuous absence
of the procreative function of sexuality in the Song is noted. If, on
the one hand, this absence may have served as an implicit polemic
against fertility cults, on the other, it may also have served to
highlight that sexuality does not exist only for the purpose of
reproduction. “Lovemaking” is “for the sake of (married) love, not
procreation is the message of the Song” (p. 605).

The
tenth and last facet, to which chapter 14 is devoted, affirms that
sexuality is “beautiful, good, and wholesome, to be celebrated without
fear and embarrassment” (p. 607). Several intertwined themes serve to
emphasize this concept of paradisal love. It is stunningly beautiful,
wonderfully sensuous, an exuberant celebration, a thrilling adventure,
an exquisite delight, highly erotic, a light-hearted play, a romantic
love affair, powerfully passionate, and an awe-inspiring mystery.
Finally, Davidson emphasizes the importance of the term s]]alheb{et{ya=
(“flame of Ya[haweh]) in 8:6, which reads: "Put me like a seal over
your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death,
jealousy is as severe as Sheol; Its flashes are flashes of fire, the
very ‘flame of the LORD’ (s]]alheb{et{ya=)” (NASB). “[I]f the
blaze of love, ardent love, such as between a man and a woman, is
indeed the flame of Yahweh, then this love is explicitly described as
originating in God, a spark off the Holy Flame. It is therefore, in a word,
holy love” (p. 630). Furthermore, “the love between a man and a woman
is not just animal passion, or evolved natural attraction, but a holy
love ignited by Yahweh himself! The love relationship is not only
beautiful, wholesome, and good but holy. Lovers, then, will treat each
other with godly self-giving because they are animated by a holy self
giving love” (p. 630).

The
work concludes with an afterword in which Davidson traces some of the
trajectories of sexual theology from the OT to the NT and notes the
unity and consistency in the way the two Testaments approach sexuality.
A considerable amount of space of devoted to discussion of the role of
women in the home and the church. On this issue, two major camps within
evangelical scholarship have taken opposite views, which are
denominated egalitarians and hierarchical complementarians. Davidson
sides with egalitarians arguing that “NT passages [1 Cor 14:34; Eph
5:21, 24; Col 3:18; Tit 2:5; 1 Pet 3:1, 5] regarding headship and
submission between men and women are limited to the marriage
relationship between husbands and wives; never is there any widening of
the Edenic pattern to include the headship of men over women in general
or submission of women to men in general” (p. 648).

Throughout
the work, Davidson keeps a very sober and irenic tone. Although
discussing highly sensitive issues such as homosexuality, abortion,
divorce, among others, he makes clear that restoration and healing can
be achieved. Every chapter, as appropriate, concludes with a section
pointing to the availability of divine grace and forgiveness for those
who happened to be hurt or hurt others in maters of sexuality.

A few misspellings and typos were found. E.g. “qxc” instead of qxc (p. 98, n. 61); “BibRev” for “BRev
(p. 450, n. 13); “Judge” for “Judges” (p. 536); “hearth” for “heart”
(p. 586); “is” for “it” (p. 623). The word “hand” seems to be missing
in the phrase “the word for [hand] used in the previous verse” (p.
478). Regarding the physical quality of the book, the reviewer’s main
criticism would be directed toward the publisher who placed such a
massive work in a paper binding. The pages are glued at the spine, and
in fact some pages of the review copy easily got loose. These however
are very minor afflictions.

Davidson’s
work is a remarkable example of a thorough and careful research on what
the Bible teaches on a single topic, i.e. sexuality. Furthermore,
Davidson demonstrates a comprehensive mastery of the secondary
literature, as shown by his extensive interaction with scholarship as
reflected in 2368 footnotes and a 152-page bibliography. Indexes of
modern authors and biblical and extra-biblical references are important
adjuncts to the book, providing helpful resources for further study.

Summing
up, this voluminous, broad, and detailed research has advanced the
understanding of the canonical OT theology of sexuality. One may not
agree with every single detail of Davidson’s exegesis and
interpretation of the many biblical passages investigated; one may even
take issue with his stance regarding the role of women in the church.
However, no serious student of sexuality in the Bible can afford to
ignore Davidson’s research. This is not merely another volume to be
added to the scholar’s shelf, it is an encyclopedic research that will
remain a reference work for years to come.

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