I started John Boswell's Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality.
first heard of this book at my undergraduate university. An LGBT group
on the campus invited a gay evangelical to make his case that the Bible
did not condemn homosexuality, and a book that he recommended was
Boswell's Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality.
I'm interested in reading Boswell's case about the Bible and
homosexuality, but I'd also like to read about how homosexuality was
viewed in the Greco-Roman world, something that Boswell's book also
In my latest reading, Boswell discussed a variety of
issues. I will not talk about all of those issues in this post, but
I'll mention some select ones. First of all, Boswell tried to trace the
reasons for social intolerance against homosexuality. He argued that
rural societies have been more intolerant towards it than urban
societies (with exceptions), since survival in rural societies is rooted
in defined roles within the family, whereas urban societies tend to
"transcend kinship" (page 34). Boswell also makes the claim that
authoritarian societies were more intolerant than more pluralistic ones.
the same time, moving on to the second issue, Boswell contends that
homosexuality was accepted in Rome, both during the Republic and also
during some of the emperors. Boswell even says on page 82 that "Nero
married two men in succession, both in public ceremonies with the ritual
appropriate to legal marriage."
Third, on the issue of Sodom and
Gomorrah, Boswell on pages 93-94 appears to define the position with
which he agrees: "Briefly put, the thesis of this trend in scholarship
is that Lot was violating the custom of Sodom (where he was himself not a
citizen but only a 'sojourner') by entertaining unknown guests within
the city walls at night without obtaining the permission of the elders
of the city. When the men of Sodom [in Genesis 19:5] gathered around to
demand that the strangers be brought out to them, 'that they might know
them,' they meant no more than to 'know' who they were, and the city
was consequently destroyed not for sexual immorality but for the sin of
inhospitality to strangers."
Boswell states that the Hebrew word for knowing (yada)
is sexual only ten out of 943 times in the Hebrew Bible. He also notes
that early Christians rarely referred to Sodom's sexual sins, and this
was even the case with Origen, who had an interest in sexual issues.
Rather, the focus is on other things, such as Sodom's inhospitality.
When reference is made to Sodomite sex, as occurs in the Book of Jude,
the issue is not homosexuality, but rather the Sodomites' desire to have
sex with angels.
I'm not convinced that there was no sexual
meaning in "know" in Genesis 19:5, and the reason is that Lot in Genesis
19:6 highlights to the mob that his daughters have not known a man, and
there it is sexual. Boswell still raises a good question, however,
about why early interpreters did not focus on homosexuality in the Sodom
and Gomorrah story.
(UPDATE: On page 346, Boswell says that Philo and Josephus "both
believed----following a Jewish apocryphal tradition of their day----that
the Sodomites were punished for homosexuality...")