At one point in "Sex and Violence in the Bible: A Survey of Explicit Content in the Holy Book," author Joseph W. Smith III writes "The Bible is, in fact, refreshingly matter-of-fact in its approach (to indecent matters)."
The same could be said for Smith's book itself. The survey, for the most part, handles everything from fun euphemisms for sex (you'll never think of feet the same way again) and the moral ramifications of extramarital affairs, to the raw details of ritual sacrifices and just generally gross things (one chapter is subtitled "Bowels, Boils, Tumors and Leprosy") with a sober attitude and straightforwardness that one doesn't typically find in relation to these taboo subjects.
In the introduction, Smith anticipates criticisms of his treatment of the material by saying, "I realized that in sticking strictly to the texts at hand, and keeping my own opinions to a minimum, I run the risk of presenting what is essentially a list..."
Now, in many cases, the encyclopedic nature of a text like this would be boring or off-putting, but when the subject itself is so captivating, providing entertainment, offense, horror and complexity simply by being what it is - sex and violence, there's no need for Smith to worry.
If someone's interest isn't at least peaked by the discussion of The Bible's "praise for the bosom" or the many ways the Bible refers to the male member via metaphor ("feet," "thigh," "hand" and "body" all act as stand-ins in different verses), then there was no hope from the beginning.
But one can imagine the very same things that make this book entertaining being horrifying to bashful churchgoers, who might find themselves shocked by reading about King David "leaping and dancing" around, "uncovering himself today before the eyes of his female servants."
But Smith, during one of his spurts of editorializing, has an answer for this.
Basically, he says that if the Bible isn't afraid to tackle perverse subjects then maybe Jesus' followers shouldn't be either. He says, "There's a lot of sex and violence in the Bible ... My purpose has been simply to show this, in a rather focused and concentrated form, and thus to demonstrate that Christians needn't be terribly squeamish about explicit content."
"Squeamish" is a good word for how I felt sometimes reading the second part, the violence section of the book.
My apologies to Mr. Smith, but I definitely skimmed over some of the paragraphs about teeth-breaking, eye-gouging, flogging and torture, because even though contemporary comedy has made me all but immune to frank descriptions of sexuality, my stomach is still fairly weak when it comes to gore.
Maybe it won't be so bad for the "CSI" or "Saw" crowds, but for me, it definitely required a few snack breaks and walks around the block.
"Sex and Violence in the Bible" is a fascinating look at many of the most provocative parts of the Bible that forces believers to confront passages in the holy book almost never touched on in Sunday sermons.
The book's educational nature helps to combat its inherent problem: the fact that the very things that make it most intriguing, are the "naughty bits" many contemporary Christians find most distasteful.
Now, there is no real narrative here, so, as Smith notes in the introduction, the text might be best enjoyed in part rather than as a whole, but as far as surveys are concerned, I think you'll have trouble finding one that more interesting, disturbing, scholarly and thought-provoking.
Smith will be at Otto Bookstore on April 4 during First Friday events for a book signing.