Monday, November 15, 2021

An Ugly Story

Paul Thomas, an English professor at Furman College in South Carolina, had a disturbing thread about book-banning and book-burning a few days ago. He chided Republican governors and school board members who claim they see “pornography” in their schools' libraries so often, and followed that with a question: "Should a book with this story be in schools?"

The description is hard to take. I'll shorten it substantially. Note that this is paraphrased and partially quoted from Thomas's version, and his is quoted from elsewhere:

An old man from the hill country came in from his work in the fields. He saw a traveler and asked where he had come from and where he was going. After he was satisfied with the answer and that the traveler, who was accompanied by a woman and young man, had bread and wine to share, the old man said, “You are welcome at my house."

While they were enjoying themselves, some wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted, “Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.”

The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. This man is my guest. Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his [the traveler's] concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But as for this man, don’t do such an outrageous thing.”

So the man took the concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. When her master got up in the morning and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold.

He said to her, “Get up; let’s go.” But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home. When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel.

The story is from the Bible, of course (Judges 19: 16-29), and Thomas's point is that, as a story, it wouldn't meet the standards of the book-banners.

I don't think I've read this part of the Bible before. It certainly shocked me (as much of the Bible's content does when it's made into clear language), and looking around online just a little bit now to see what interpretations are of this passage, I feel even sicker because most of them blame the woman even more than the passage itself, saying the mistreatment of the traveling man was evidence of the sinfulness of the people of the town. Whew.

I still don't want to ban the Bible, but I don't want it to be required reading, either. My opinion is that if it wasn't being pushed and sold by its many cultural and state institutions, it would have faded to near irrelevance by now.

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