As this interesting article in the Daily Beast notes, two new books by university scholars take on the bible's teachings on sex. Although literalists claim that the bible is extremely precise about sexuality (banned outside of marriage and between same sexes) and marriage, the authors prove that this is not the case at all. Apparently sex is often hidden in the bible and described in code (for example, "feet" are sometimes used to refer to genitals).
I've been attending a women's study group called "Bras, Bibles, and and Brew," and we've been poring over the stories of women in the bible (so far in the Old Testament). As we've discussed, women are treated like chattel in the bible, with very few rights. And as these books confirm, traditional marriage does not exist in the bible. Polygamy, incest, and prostitution (in the form of fathers giving away or selling their daughters) are more the norm.
"The Bible contains a “pervasive patriarchal bias,” author Michael Coogan writes. Better to elide the specifics and read the Bible for its teachings on love, compassion, and forgiveness. Taken as a whole, “the Bible can be understood as the record of the beginning of a continuous movement toward the goal of full freedom and equality for all persons.”
The bible constantly contradicts itself and has been used to justify slavery, genocide, war, wife and child abuse, kidnapping, racism, and polygamy. In the few stories about women in the bible, many of them are flat-out depressing. Especially for his time, Jesus was a feminist. Even though the bible was written by men, one can't help but fail to see his compassion for women and belief that they were whole persons, worthy of respect and love. He appreciated their intelligence. I would wager that he had female apostles, too, but the male writers of the bible did not include them.
I know I'm an unconventional Christian in that I take some things out of the bible and leave others. Truth be told, I have a lot of challenges with the bible. As a high schooler, I used to edit the bible with a purple felt pen...just cross out the parts I hated. Perhaps that's the best way to read the bible after all.