I'm continuing my way through John Boswell's Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality.
not overly convinced by Boswell's interpretation of the biblical
passages that appear to condemn homosexuality. Boswell argues that Leviticus 18:22
does not condemn homosexual sex as a moral sin, but rather relates to
distinguishing Israel from the Gentiles, ritual impurity, or idolatry.
Boswell looks at the Septuagint for the passage and sees the Greek word bdelugma
being used for abomination, and he states that this particular Greek
word pertains to "infringements of ritual purity or monotheistic
worship" rather than "violations of law or justice" (page 101). But bdelugma can also refer to moral sins, as one can see in the LXX for Proverbs 11:1, 20; 12:22; etc.
Regarding Romans 1:26-27,
Boswell does not think that the passage is saying that homosexuality
violates the natural order, but rather is criticizing heterosexuals who
engaged in homosexual activity. For one, Boswell states that the
"concept of 'natural law' was not fully developed until more than a
millennium after Paul's death, and it is anachronistic to read it into
[Paul's] words" (page 110). Later, however, on page 148, Boswell states
that Philo of Alexandria (first century C.E.) and Platonist Jews
regarded "any use of human sexuality, potential or actual, which did not
produce legitimate offspring" as a violation of nature, implying that
Philo considered certain sexual acts to be unnatural. While Boswell
does well to point out that early Christianity differed from Philo in
that it did not place as high of a value on procreation, the fact that
Philo considered certain sexual acts to be unnatural invites the
question of why Paul could not have done so as well.
according to Boswell, there was a widespread notion in the Hellenistic
world that "homosexuality represented a congenital physical
characteristic", and Boswell states that "Plato and Aristotle had both
suggested variations on this idea, and it was commonplace of Roman
medicine" (page 110). This stood out to me because it appears
to suggest that there was a notion in the ancient world that
homosexuality was not necessarily a lifestyle choice, but that there
were people who were born gay. Boswell doubts that Paul was
aware of this difference, but Boswell does argue that Paul criticizes
homosexual acts committed by heterosexuals, not gay people.
essential point appears to be that, up to a certain time period, Roman
society and Christianity did not have much of a problem with
homosexuality. Boswell even states on page 135 that "Many
prominent and respected Christians----some canonized----were involved in
relationships that would almost certainly be considered homosexual in
cultures hostile to same-sex eroticism." The shift towards
intolerance, according to Boswell, corresponded with the "barbarian
invasions" of the fifth century, and the "dissolution of the urban
society of Rome and the ascendance of less tolerant political and
ethical leadership" (page 127-128). Remember from my last post that
Boswell associates intolerance against homosexuality with rural areas
and authoritarian governments.
(UPDATE: On pages 346-349, Boswell mentions Christians before the fifth
century who criticized homosexual activity or abuses: Tatian, Justin
Martyr, Eusebius, etc. Boswell's argument is that these figures
criticize homosexuality in some manner, yet they do not use a word
translated as 'homosexual' in I Corinthians 6:9, and so that word
probably does not relate to homosexuality per se.)
Boswell also appears to
think----and there may be more nuance to his argument than I am
seeing----that asceticism played some role in intolerance towards
homosexuality. Influenced by Stoicism and other ideologies,
there was a sense within Christianity that sex should only be used for
procreation, which would cast homosexuality in a negative light.
Boswell provides more nuance on Stoicism, which is often regarded by
scholars to be anti-homosexual, for Boswell argues that prominent Stoic
figures (i.e., Zeno, Seneca) either had no problem with homosexuality or
engaged in homosexual acts themselves. Whether Boswell contends that Stoicism became more anti-homosexual, I'll have to see as I read more of his book.
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