In doing some of the research for last week’s Monday School post I came across some interesting articles, “The Condemnation of Homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9” and “The Condemnation of Homosexuality in Romans 1:26-27” both by David E. Malick, appearing in the journal Bibliotheca Sacra 150 (Oct-Dec 1993). Even though professor Malick seems to have an axe to grind, I found his articles insightful as to the evangelical understanding of the texts. Bouncing this off of my good friend and colleague Matthew (tumblr: embrace paradox) we discussed aspects of the homosexuality debate which concern Philo and Romans 1. In this post I want to discuss those aspects and to where the evidence points in the debate on the biblical stance on homosexuality.
To recap, 1 Corinthians 6:9 assembles pairs of offenses, in particular here are malakois and arsenokoites, that is young call boys and the older men who sleep with them. If homosexuality in general were the problem for Paul there would have been no reason to specify such particular groups. With this in mind it is appropriate to read subsequent Pauline passages in light of the Corinthian one, especially do to the early nature of the first letter to the Corinthians.
The next chronological link is the letter to the Romans. In Romans 1:26-27 Paul indicates actions he calls unnatural (para phusin).Aside from the idea that some sort of homosexual acts are being railed against Paul fails to fully describe what he means. Simply he indicates as dishonourable passions (pathe atimias).Considering how ambiguous this term is there is hardly any way to tell exactly what Paul means. The most likely explanation is male-male/female-female prostitution, perhaps in connection with the Dionysus/Bacchus cult, a major competitor for the Early Church in terms of dying-rising Gods. An interesting note is the close connection that this cult had in both Corinth and Rome, the two churches to which Paul is addressing this issue.
Following this is the pseudo-Pauline passage in 1 Timothy 1:10. Even though it isn’t authentic to the writer of the Corinthian or Roman passages the concept of sexual abuse seems to be maintained. Here the condemnation is not on passive acts bur rather active abuse against one’s fellows. This is inferred by the surrounding charges. Not only is some sort of homosexual act indicated, it is the same word used in the Corinthian passage (arsenokoites) indicating borrowing in both context and meaning—that of older men who prey on young call boys. Paired up with this term are liars (pseusais), slavers (andropodistais), and perjurers (epiorkois). The indication that this is less about sexuality is the instance that this is perhaps a more, do unto others, passage than a prohibition against acts.
The final piece of textual evidence is not found in the Bible but rather in the writings of the ancient Jewish theologian, and contemporary to Paul, Philo. In his De Specialibus Legibus 3:37, 39-41 Philo examines the Decalogue prohibition against adultery as well as the prohibitions found in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. Philo’s exegesis of the Pentateuch lends him to imagine the text to indicate pederasty (paiderastas). Though professor Malick disregards Philo’s testimony to contemporary Jewish interpretation of the scriptures, I feel that Philo hits the nail on the head.
What do you think about the evidence?
I have had a number of great conversations with a good friend about our respective approaches to religious study. He is a trained theologian while I am a textual critic. His approach is one of broad strokes and a bigger picture, he sees the overall versus the details. Mine is one of close scrutiny, examining each word for cultural context, dismissing overarching messages to highlight issues within the text itself.
It has long been my view that theology is like water. If you think you have found an issue within a theological argument, don’t celebrate too early because chances are there is a backup theological explanation. The theology will find a way to slip through your fingers. It has excuses to get out of textual problems waiting in the wings so to speak. It is a fine tuned machine, and it relies on thousands of years of erudite apologetic arguments which have been crafted to get it out of nearly any bind.
This is why I prefer textual studies. The text, while diverse in variants and forms (all supporting each of a veritable plethora of theories and arguments), is linear. It is tangible. There are few excuses to get out of a textual issue which don’t rely on theological acrobatics. However, I find that doing so diminishes the meaningfulness of the text. It seems that the time has long since passed that theology relied on textual evidence. Now, textual evidence can be dismissed on theological grounds. This brings me to my point. What purpose does a text serve to theology if theology can escape textual issues? Does modern evangelical theology even need the text anymore?
Week three! Almost missed this one because of a rather hectic schedule. For those who don’t know, I record a podcast with a few friends back on the east coast called This Non-Religious Life and we have transitioned into live shows on Monday mornings as of last week.
This week I want to discuss biblical sexuality, but not in the manner in which it is usually approached by discussing Leviticus 18:22 or some other aspect of heterosexual versus homosexual relations. We tend to think of the Bible as sex negative, but I want to demonstrate just how sexually positive the Bible can be. We need look no further than Song of Solomon to prove this point. This is the high point of biblical eroticism. Seriously, there is some stuff which would certainly make the clergy of any denomination blush. But what is it about? Well, traditional Jewish and Christian apology states that it is about God’s love of Israel and the whole sexuality thing is a metaphor. However, it isn’t that simple.
Song of Solomon is possibly one of the oldest traditions in the Tanakh, or Old Testament. The song is very likely based on a much earlier mythology, one of Ishtar and Tammuz. Tammuz was a dying and rising God and Ishtar was his consort/sister (hence why we find the inclusion of this within the song [4:9-10,12;5:1] despite being so anti-levitical) who would descend into the underworld to resurrect him each year. We see in 3:3 of the Song, that the woman passes the watchmen, a hint to the watchmen who Ishtar must get past to reach the dead Tammuz.
The tradition would therefore date to a time when the Israelites were polytheistic and worshiped gods similar to their neighbours. The names were expunged by later redactors though, through what Michael Goodacre would call editorial fatigue, some hints to who the characters originally were remains, i.e. calling the woman in the song a Shulammite may, as HH Rowley pointed out, indicate Ishtar of Uru-Silim-ma. This all makes sense when we also figure in Ezekiel 8:14 the claims that the Northern Kingdom of Jerusalem laments for the death of Tammuz each year. What do you think?
Yeah, week two! Still dedicated to bringing you rational responses and critical insight into various biblical mysteries. If you like what I am doing please leave feedback or check out my published work. Today I want to cover one of my favourite textual variants and its implication on how we should read the passage in which it is contained.
In Mark 1:40-45 Jesus is seen healing a leper. We all know the story, Jesus sees the poor sod laying on the ground and he beseeches Jesus to help him. Jesus, being infinitely compassionate, heals the leper and kindly send him on his way asking that he not tell anyone, though he does anyway. Most extant copies of Mark 1:41 rely on a version of the Greek word splagchnizomai (σπλαγχνισθεὶς) which means to be moved by compassion. However, in a few manuscripts there exists a variant reading which might be the original.
In the Codex Bezae, a unique codex for more than this one reason, the text has Jesus not moved by compassion but by anger. The Greek word in question is orgistheis (οργισθεις) or iratus in Latin (my copy of Codex Bezae is a Latin/Greek diglot). An angry Jesus is hard to imagine, especially in light of passages like, the admittedly late addition, the Pericope Adultrae (John 7:53-8:11).
In critical studies we call this an example of lectio difficilior potior, or preferable to the more difficult reading. Scribes could, and did, change passages to fit certain theological requirements. While scribes would have many reasons to reign Jesus in in making him more compassionate there are no reasons to make him angry with the leper, at least none which coincide with orthodox Christology.
Another way we can be sure that this passage is more likely the original is by examining the language around it. When Jesus casts away the leper at the end of the pericope the language is incredibly hostile. The term used for Jesus sending he leper away (Mark 1:43) is ekballen (ἐξέβαλεν), a form which the New Testament contains a mere five times. It appears in this passage; twice it is used in the cleansing of the temple narrative (Matt 21:12; John 2:15); and it is twice used as Jesus is casting out demons (Mark 1:34; Matt 8:16). The sending off here is much more forceful than when Jesus more peacefully sends people away, like at the feeding of the five thousand (Mar 8:10) where the word is embas (ἐμβὰς) or apostelo (ἀποστέλλω), the root of the word “apostle.”
In this same passage (Mark 1:43) the Revised Standard Version reads “And he sternly charged him.” But what does this mean? The term in Greek is embrimēsamenos (ἐμβριμησάμενος) which means to admonish sternly or to scold. Why would a compassionate healing end with Jesus admonishing the leper?
What do you think?