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?
Sorry for the delay, it has been nearly a month since I did one of these. I didn’t want to do the same things over and over and finally I found a good one after a lot of contemplation due to conversations in which I have been included lately.
In the whole Christianity versus Homosexuality debate a few passages often come up. You’ll often hear Leviticus 18:22 brought up, but that is Old Testament. Moreover, it is a law about purification with regards to sacrifice. For this reason, we shouldn’t focus on that but rather what the New Testament says about it.
The first place one ought to look is what Jesus says about the issue. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be a pressing subject for Jesus and he remains silent on the issue entirely. That doesn’t mean people won’t try to force a teaching into his mouth. In this case people often bring up Matthew 19:4. This teaching, however, is about divorce, not homosexuality. But the appeal is to make Jesus seem to be expressing that heterosexual relationships are the only ones to be considered valid. Of course the language about male and female opens up a whole new can of worms when it comes to culturally conditioned gender roles, but that is another story.
If Jesus had nothing to say about homosexuality, then who did? Paul did, at least that is what is brought up by Christian apologists. In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth he mentions a list of people who will not see the the Kingdom of God. What I never noticed until today is that he is very much speaking in pairs.
“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 KJV)
Notice he mentions first fornicators and idolaters. This is what throws people off scent first. But let’s think about to where Paul is writing, Corinth. This city had a very large cult of Bacchus, whose worship ceremonies often turned into orgies. Thus the fornicators and idolaters are coupled.
Next he mentions the effeminate and the abusers of themselves with mankind. After getting thrown off track by the first couple there are few who could piece this one together. Part of the problem with this one is the fact that neither of these roles exist anymore. The word translated effeminate is μαλακοὶ and refers specifically to a catamite, or a young boy kept as a sexual companion. The second word, which has an incredibly vague translation in the KJV is ἀρσενοκοῖται. This word refers specifically to a man who practices sex with other men, or in the case of this couple, young boys. The word gives way to the power dynamic in its roots, αρρην and κοιτη. The first root word indicates a male, but an older, more powerful one, while the second indicates sexual relations. This relationship is more clear when we examine the Latin Vulgate which defines the two roles as molester and molested (masculorum concubitores and molles). I have seen this word broken down to mean a male rapist because of the two word combination, but I think given the coupling of the two condemnations, it expressly means a pederast.
The third couple is of course theives and the covetous. One wishes to take and the other does. One leads to the next. This is almost like Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount when he says that lust is equal to adultery and anger is equal to murder. Or perhaps Paul is merely repeating something he likes from the Decalogue.
Paul rounds out his condemnations of who will and won’t enter the Kingdom with a triplet. The drunkards, revilers and extortioners. His wording seems to indicate that he thinks drunkenness leads to reviling which leads to extorting. Or perhaps he means that these three, a capstone of sorts, lead to the three previous couples.
This is all quite an interesting thought experiment, but we must remember when doing exegesis, not to allow our modern understanding of a text cloud our view of what the text says. We must take a step out of the twenty-first century and back into the first. We must go from a Western perspective to a Near Eastern one. We must take the time to learn about cultural expectations and norms from their culture if we wish to take any lessons away from the text. My challenge to believers is this, do you condemn homosexuality because you find it in the Bible, or do you look for it in the Bible because you wish to condemn homosexuality?
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?
So I want to try something new. On Mondays, as often as I can, I will expose one particular aspect of scripture which is often overlooked by the religious. I want to do this on Monday as a response to the religious indoctrination which occurs in churches across the world on Sundays.
This week I want to examine one of the aspects of the Old Testament, one which I cover in my first book, The Pentateuch: A Source Critical Version of the Five Books of Moses. In Genesis we find the list of patriarchs. These names should be familiar to all of us: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We should also all be familiar with the story of Abraham being commanded to kill Isaac as a sacrifice and then sending an angel to stay his hand at the last second.
It is an interesting point that when the text is dissected into its individual sources via the documentary hypothesis the Elohist narrative regarding Isaac ends with “And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son,” (Genesis 22:10). This might indicate that in the Northern Kingdom of Israel they believed that Abraham did kill Isaac. While there are later references to Isaac as the father of Jacob in the E source, Isaac himself never again appears. We should also note that Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, is never mentioned by the Elohist authors. Isaac may well have been Abraham’s one and only son as far as the Israelites were concerned with Ishmael being a fictive character created by the people of Judah.
But why, and how, would this make sense? Well as we know from contemporary Jahwist and the later Priestly materials that there was the expectation of first born males to be dedicated to God. In the Priestly materials this meant, for humans at least, dedication to the priesthood as acolytes. But what if it meant, as is the case for all other animals, that the first born were meant to be a burnt offering. If this was the case it was certainly discarded as we see the polemic against Molech in the post-exilic creation of Leviticus.
What are your thoughts? Do you think that filicide was a a common practice in the northern kingdom later erased from history by the ecclesiastical redactors?
Why do I, as a non-believer, write at length about the Bible? Because, while I don’t think you should drink the kool-aid, I do think people should know the contents of the punchbowl.
So while I am constantly reading sections of the Bible in Koine Greek, or cross-referencing manuscripts, or comparing conflicting stories in various books it has been a while since I went back and read the whole Bible. I remember the first time I read the whole Bible. It was around the time when I was twelve years old, right after my apostasy from the church. Having experienced Episcopalian, Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist traditions I decided to read the book in its entirety to see if I could figure out which was right. I came to the conclusion upon finishing the book that none of them were right and perhaps the book was wrong too. There were too many questions, too many contradictions, too many conflicting stories to make the whole thing truthful… I was twelve.
The time has come for me to delve back into this enormous project and I hope to document it all here. Unlike the last time I tackled the whole Bible I will not be beginning with Genesis and moving straight through to Revelation. I will be beginning with the New Testament first of all, mostly because Christian scripture and church history is the most interesting aspect of the whole thing to me. I will also be reading, rather than from the King James Version alone, from various translations including the Revised Standard Version and the Lexham English Bible English-Greek Reverse Interlinear New Testament alongside the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece 27th Edition. I will also be referencing the manuscript tradition when I feel something might be better expressed or to note interesting textual variants.
I hope to document as much of the process as I can. I will be reading not only the testaments out of order but I will be reading them in a very specific order which I believe helps shed light on the themes hidden below the surface of the Bible. I will be starting with Mark, the first gospel written, and then on to Matthew and Luke, its textual dependants. Then on to Acts, Luke’s sequel. From there I will be reading the Gospel of John and the Johannine Epistles (1, 2, & 3 John). Then to Paul in the order of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon, Galatians, Romans, Ephesians, Colossians. Leaving Paul for the time being I will move to James then to Pseudo-Paul’s Pastorals: 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. I will finish with 1 & 2 Peter, Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation. I will also be interspersing my readings with various translations of other non-canonical works such as the Gospel of Thomas, Letter of Ignatius, Acts of Paul and Thecla and the Didiache.