Review of Ken Stone, Practicing Safer Texts: Food, Sex and Bible in Queer Perspective

By Adam, Klaus-Peter | Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality, January 2009 | Go to article overview

Review of Ken Stone, Practicing Safer Texts: Food, Sex and Bible in Queer Perspective


Adam, Klaus-Peter, Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality


Review of Ken Stone, Practicing Safer Texts: Food, Sex and Bible in Queer Perspective (London/New York: T&T International, 2005), vi + 185 pp.

Books written by authors with a thoughtful opinion are fun to read. Not only is it most enjoyable to profit from the specialist's expertise but one also listens to a voice of an outspoken authority who provides irredeemable testimonies of the state of the art for readers that are less acquainted with the field. Practicing Safer Texts offers an example of a fresh and inspiring hermeneutical reflection on the multifaceted interface between food and sexuality in the bible.

Methodologically, Stone understands Practicing Safer Texts in analogy of safer sex. He compares the positive and negative effects of texts on particular readers and for particular contexts and thus takes a "pragmatic" approach on the reading of biblical texts. With respect to food and sex, Stone's main intention is to take scripture seriously in contemporary matters and to read it from an informed perspective that understands the religious links between ethics of food and sexual ethics as pointed out by Michel Foucault (p. 17). In order to come to terms with modern conceptions of sexuality relating to biblical texts, the author presents "anthropological insights as a valuable reading lens" of biblical texts (p. 17). This approach is most fruitful when it comes to sexuality. Stone points to numerous, partly misleading attempts in the history of understanding biblical narratives. His core question is how to decide whether a particular biblical text sheds light on our contemporary understanding of sexuality (p. 24). For example, with respect to Gen. 2-3, a story that has often been read as referring to sexuality, Stone points to the diversity of a number of interrelated sets of concerns: mortality and immortality are connected to food, just as they are in the epic of Adapa and in the Gilgamesh-epic. There, notably, Enkidu's transition from beast to human is marked by practices of eating and drinking. Also, agricultural production and the securing of food as well as sexual reproduction are part of the issues of Gen. 2-3 that cannot be neglected (p. 43).

Undoubtedly, Stone's scholarly investigations are of great value in the current field of biblical studies. Scholars continue to misinterpret Gen. 2:23-24 as an etiology for the coupling of women and men, and some can state that the "bodily state as men and women ... brings with it the acceptance of our mortality" (23, quoting C. R. Seitz). Here, the complex diversity of interrelated concerns in Gen. 2-3 offers a more adequate interpretation of Gen. 2-3.

Chapter 2 is concerned with food and sex ethics as a means of constructing ethnic and religious boundaries of identity. The argument builds on a dialogue with anthropology (Mary Douglas) and ends with addressing questions of queerness in the story of Tamar, the Canaanite (Gen. 38) in order to challenge boundaries currently used to construct identities. Chapter 3, "Before the eyes of all Israel--Public sex, marriage and food in the bible," begins with a queer perspective on the public or private character of sex and confronts biblical passages with this understanding. Stone comments on the spectacular instances of public sex in a number of the David narratives. When Absalom goes to the concubines of his father David "before the eyes of all Israel" (2 Sam. 16:22), his concern is prestige and power vis-a-vis other male, and, notably, royal characters. Here, Stone suggests that Israel's god must be understood as a cause of public sex, similar to the case of David and Bath-Sheba in 2 Sam. 11-12. These sexual actions send obvious messages of judgment and approval to David, the protagonist. More specifically, Stone understands this as a narrative about the interrelation of sexuality and a male hierarchical system. He concludes that public, non-monogamous sex is not divinely prohibited but is, instead, divinely sanctioned and even involves divine participation (p. …

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