Ladies and gentlemen, be prepared to be blown away. This is easily one of the best nonfiction books I’ve encountered in the last ten years.
Jewish and Christian Views on Bodily Pleasure: Their Origins and Relevance in the Twentieth-Century, by Robert Cherry (c)2018, Published by Wipf & Stock, is one I received from the Speakeasy Review Network (standard disclaimer applies) and here’s what I think.
Overview: 5/5 Stars
This text tracks, as the title suggests, both Jewish and Christian views on all manner of bodily pleasure (yes, sex, and yes, beyond sex) from the earliest documentation to the twentieth century. Cherry happily admits that he is not a researcher, he’s an aggregator, meaning that he reads a stunning amount of other people’s research and observations and findings that may or may not seem to be connected, and he finds the red thread between them. And then he spins that into a fascinating tale that is frankly, hard to put down.
This is an excellent book in its readability, its relevance, and the amount of joy it brings me. Also, combing through the ten-paged, fine print bibliography has helped me to figure out where I want my reading to go in the next two years.
First and foremost, Cherry and his editors have created an absolute joy to read. The tone is easy, and despite the fact that Cherry is synthesizing a tremendous amount of academic material he is clearly one who can break down complex subjects and make clear the soon-to-be obvious connections that illumine our assumptions and give pause to those thoughts we may have considered the normal-way-it’s-always-been. Following Cherry through the narrative from ancient times to present as he calls on the best scholarship is like doing on a curated white water rafting trip with a guide you can trust.
Cherry is a professor of economics (rather than of some manner of religious studies) at Brooklyn College, and you might imagine this would be a hindrance and yet, his lack of religious bias is so clear and refreshing that the material can simply stand on its own merit, and it does.
As a side note, the forward written, as if often is, by someone else is execrable. Skip it and start with the Preface & Acknowledgments, because that’s where the fun starts.
Here’s my bias. I LOVE understanding the cultural context of the bible, and of the moral assumptions that my religion and other world religions make. Not only do I understand that the cultural context makes our own understandings deeper and richer, it also honors the cultures from which our holy scriptures are drawn, and – here’s the kicker – it sometimes DRASTICALLY changes the meaning of the text.
Also, I have an obsessive preoccupation (until the book is published, that’s what I call it. After the book is published, I’ll just refer to it as ‘Oh, yes, I wrote a book on that subject’) with the not-actually-heretical concept that Sex Is Not Evil. So…
I think this book is perfectly relevant to our times as the well-meaning but ill-informed point to the Christian and Jewish holy texts as rationale for harsh and condemning views of bodily pleasure.
If it wasn’t clear yet, I really enjoyed reading this book, and I still have a pen and highlighter stuck in it because I’m not yet done mining it’s awesomeness. It was an excellent read, I learned so much and more that I already knew was put into new perspective. And to be honest, I was hyper-critical as I began and quite ready to tear it apart. And then I was swept away on this white water rafting adventure. Thanks, Cherry.
You can find the book on Amazon (no, I don’t get a cut, this is just for your convenience).
This book was sent to me free of charge so that I would review it honestly. I’m not required to give a positive review, which is good because the next book I got from Speakeasy was dreck, and I’m about to write that review, too. The full disclaimer is here.