The Harlot by The Side of The Road: Forbidden Tales of The Bible

More praise for
The Harlot by the Side of the Road

 

“Jonathan Kirsch’s new book is guaranteed to turn the heads of bookstore browsers from coast to coast. In a time when so many decry biblical illiteracy,
The Harlot by the Side of the Road
is a welcome addition to the growing genre of Bible scholarship that has slowly been moving from the rarefied confines of universities and cloistered seminaries into the hands of everyday believers and skeptics alike.”


Los Angeles Times

 

“Fascinating reading … Demonstrating meticulous research and an enticing style.”


Booklist

 

“Kirsch succeeds in bringing these ancient stories to vivid life, and in revealing the human passions and frailties often left out of the telling of familiar Bible tales.”


Publishers Weekly

 

Also by Jonathan Kirsch

Moses: A Life
King David
The Woman Who Laughed at God: The Untold History of the Jewish People

To Ann, Adam, and Jennifer
With love, as always.

 

Remember us in life,
and health, and strength,
O Lord who delighteth in life,
And inscribe us in the Book of Life…

 

“When the kings had died, a pauper, barefooted and hungry, came and sat on the throne. ‘God,’ he whispered, ‘the eyes of man cannot bear to look directly at the sun, for they are blinded. How then, Omnipotent, can they look directly at you? Have pity, Lord; temper your strength, turn down your splendor so that I, who am poor and afflicted, may see you!’ Then

listen, old man!

God became a piece of bread, a cup of cool water, a warm tunic, a hut, and in front of the hut, a woman giving suck to an infant. ‘Thank you, Lord,’ he whispered. ‘You humbled yourself for my sake. You became bread, water, a warm tunic and my wife and son in order that I may see you. And I did see you. I bow down and worship your beloved many-faced face!’”

—NIKOS KAZANTZAKIS
THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST

 
CONTENTS
 

Maps

Chapter One
           Forbidden Tales of the Bible

Chapter Two
           Lot and His Daughters

Chapter Three
         Life Against Death: The Sacred Incest of
                                 Lot’s Daughters

Chapter Four
           The Rape of Dinah

Chapter Five
           “See What a Scourge Is Laid upon Your Hate”:
                                 The Strange Affair of Dinah and Shechem

Chapter Six
             Tamar and Judah

Chapter Seven
         The Woman Who Willed Herself into
                                 History: Tamar as the Harlot by the Side of the Road

Chapter Eight
          Zipporah and Moses

Chapter Nine
           The Bridegroom of Blood: Zipporah as the
                                 Goddess-Rescuer of Moses

Chapter Ten
             Jephthah and His Daughter

Chapter Eleven
        A Goddess of Israel: The Forbidden Cult of
                                 Jephthah’s Daughter

Chapter Twelve
        The Traveler and His Concubine

Chapter Thirteen
     God and Gyno-sadism: Heroines and Martyrs
                                 in the Book of Judges

Chapter Fourteen
    Tamar and Amnon

Chapter Fifteen
      The Rape of Tamar: The Politics of Love and
                                 Hate in the Court of King David

Chapter Sixteen
      God’s Novel Has Suspense

Appendix
                 Who
Really
Wrote the Bible?

Chronology

Endnotes

Acknowledgments

Recommended Reading and Bibliography

 

 
CHAPTER ONE
FORBIDDEN TALES OF THE BIBLE
 

T
HE
N
AKED
N
OAH
T
HE
F
ORBIDDEN
B
IBLE
T
HE
F
ORGOTTEN
B
IBLE
T
HE
L
IBERATING
B
IBLE
“A N
EED TO
T
ELL AND
H
EAR
S
TORIES

 
 

T
he stories you are about to read are some of the most violent and sexually explicit in all of Western literature. They are tales of human passion in all of its infinite variety: adultery, seduction, incest, rape, mutilation, assassination, torture, sacrifice, and murder. And yet every one of these stories is drawn directly from the pages of the Holy Bible.

“You mean that’s in the
Bible
?” is the common reaction of the reader who knows the Bible, if at all, only from the occasional sermon or some dimly remembered Sunday school lesson.

Even readers who think they know the Bible may be unfamiliar with these stories precisely because embarrassed rabbis, priests, and ministers have sought to hide the plain language of the original Hebrew text behind fuzzy euphemisms, unlikely interpretations, or intentional mistranslations. Although the Bible is Holy Writ to three religions, a few of its most shocking stories have been banned outright by clergy who were not entirely comfortable with telling their congregants what
really
happens in the Bible.

As a result of these efforts at bowdlerizing, we are sometimes given the impression that the Bible is mostly a dry and preachy work—a list of stern
“shalts” and “shalt nots” that condemn all but the narrowest range of human behavior, a forbidding black book with little to say to worldly men and women whose lives are far messier than what we imagine the Bible to allow. But the fact is that the Bible offers some surprising insights that we might profitably recall when confronting the toughest issues of our own times, from the debate over abortion to the search for peace in the Middle East, from sexual politics to world politics.

To be sure, the Hebrew Bible includes generous portions of strict moral instruction, starting with the Ten Commandments and bulking up to include some 613 other dos and don’ts. For that matter, there is little that one
cannot
find in the Bible, which is actually a fantastic grab bag of law, legend, history, politics, propaganda, poetry, prayer, ethics, genealogy, hygienic practices, military tactics, dietary advice, and carpentry instructions, among many other things. But, as we will see, the Bible is also a treasury of storytelling that recounts the lives of men and women who were thoroughly human, which is to say that they were as confused, conflicted, twisted, tortured, and vulnerable to the weaknesses of the flesh and failure of the spirit as any character in Homer, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, or any of the soap operas, bodice rippers, and tabloids that amount to the literature of our own times.

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