John Corvino opens Bible, reads what it says — why would ‘conservatives’ disagree?

“The Sodom and Gomorrah story may be the biblical passage most frequently cited against homosexuality,” John Corvino says in the video below. “It may also be the least relevant, because it’s not clear it has much to do with homosexuality at all.”

“Don’t take my word for it,” Corvino says. “Let’s look at the relevant text.”

“The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah” by John Martin (1852)

And that’s what he does. He opens the Bible and reads the relevant text, sticking to what it actually says.

I appreciate that conservative defenders of the authority of the literal reading of an inerrant Bible won’t like John Corvino’s playful tone in this lecture. He’s needling them lightheartedly — aiming perhaps to goad more than to persuade.

But set aside Corvino’s tone and just consider the substance of his exegesis here. I don’t see anything “liberal” in what he’s doing with this passage. He reads the text and accurately, without spin or interpretation, conveys what it says. It’s a straightforward, face-value reading of the text without any radical criticism or deconstruction or appeals to any esoteric scholarly theories. It’s just the kind of “common-sense” Bible study that conservative evangelicals profess to practice.

So I’m curious as to what the “conservative” Christians who cite the story of Sodom as a clobber-text against homosexuality make of this. They’re accustomed to approaching this story through the lens of preconceptions and expectations of what it supposedly teaches. Corvino dismisses those expectations, but he does not dismiss the story itself. He’s not dismissing the Bible, just reading what it actually says.

My guess is that Corvino’s reading will still be rejected as “liberal” — not because he takes any liberties with the text, but because he refuses to do so. His determination not to impose outside ideas onto the story, to stick with the text itself, means that he is unable to come to the officially sanctioned conclusions about what this story supposedly teaches.

That’s interesting. A conservative approach to the text doesn’t produce the expected “conservative” conclusion. Maybe that conclusion isn’t really all that “conservative” after all.

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  • aunursa

    From my Chumash:

    Hearing about the audacious visitors who had the temerity to spend a night in their city, hordes of Sodomites converged on Lots’ home — without even a single voice of protest — demanding that the guests be turned over to them. When the Sodomites said that they wanted to know them, they meant that they wanted to sodomize them (Rashi, Ibn Ezra). Their reason for so mistreating strangers was to keep impoverished fortune-seekers away. The Sodomites were notorious for every kind of wickedness, but their fate was sealed because of their selfishness in not helping the poor and needy. (Ramban).

  • Carstonio

    For many years I misunderstood the meaning of “know” in the Old Testament, and had been confused by the origins of the word sodomy. The passage about Sodom sounded as if the residents were simply demanding to find out who the strangers were and why they had come uninvited.

  • mroge

    The word “know” in the bible is used quite often as a sexual ephemnism. Not only that, but Lot offered his virgin daughter to be ravished instead of giving up his guests. From that standpoint it seems to be clear that it was referring to sex. However I think that aunursa makes some really good points and ties together two different accounts of why Sodom was punished because apparently the main reason was because they did not take care of the poor.

  • mroge

    Ooops, I think i misinterpreted what you said. Sorry I am very tired!

  • Carstonio

    No, you got my meaning correctly. I was saying that I wasn’t aware of “know” as a sexual euphemism in the book until perhaps my late 20s.

  • c2t2

    You’ll fit right in with the multitudes who were confused about lepers/leopards

  • Lorehead

    That particular translation has not aged very well. Likewise, “Is this not so?” when what is meant is, “That is not so, is it?” or “I will accept no bull from your house nor he-goat out of your folds.”

  • Cathy W

    I read this and I’m reminded of those places that have made it a criminal offense to set up tables with food for the homeless in public places.

  • ReverendRef

    The traditional rabbinic perspective – this is from my Chumash:

    This may be buried somewhere in the comments; if so, I apologize for the duplication. But I would say (and aunursa can correct me if I’m wrong) that this goes back before traditional rabbinic perspectives.

    Ezekiel 16:49-50a says, “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me;”

    It’s pretty clear to me that not only traditional rabbinic thought thinks S&G isn’t about sex but that God thinks it’s not about sex.

    The story of S&G is really about not being an ass.

  • FearlessSon

    A lesson which Jesus would later repeat with his famous “Don’t be a dick” sermon.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    According to the Sages, this cruelty stemmed from an attitude of, “What is mine is mine and what is yours is yours (Avos 5:10),” …

    Sounds like Atlas Shrugged

  • reynard61

    Really? Because when I read it I got the distinct impression that it was saying “What’s mine is mine and what’s *yours* is mine too.” Greed is not about “Live and let live”. Greed is, to borrow Jenner’s line from the movie The Secret of NIMH, about “Take what you can, when you can”.

  • AnonymousSam

    Earlier today, I was arguing with someone about Exodus 21:22-23. I pointed out that for centuries, the translation clearly specified that the death of the unborn was to be punished with a fine, no more.

    That someone continued to argue that the Bible was very clear that abortion was a wicked evil and HOW DARE I suggest that the death of an infant was nothing more than a matter of money.

    I quoted the relevant verse.

    He demanded to know HOW DARE I say such things when the Bible was very clear on this point.

    I linked to how multiple translations of the Bible were all in agreement on this point.

    He demanded to know HOW DARE I be such a wicked person as to think that a fetus was nothing more than a property crime.

    The fact that I was directly quoting from the Bible, which was crystal clear on the subject, was completely irrelevant: The Bible was very clear I was wrong.

  • aunursa

    Alas, it is a waste of time to argue with fools who won’t even listen to their own authorities. I just wish they would tell us at the beginning so that instead we could spend those lost minutes productively.

  • Hexep

    Once they buy into the notion that the Devil can quote scripture, though, it opens up the possibility that all the Scriptural quotations they’ve ever heard have come from the Devil in the first place.

  • stardreamer42

    And it’s amazing how many of them are convinced that the line “the Devil can quote scripture for his own purposes” is in the Bible. It’s not — it’s from The Merchant of Venice. Someone i know once got a “street preacher” asshole to spend nearly 15 minutes looking for it in the Bible before having pity on him and telling him where it’s from.

  • Lorehead

    Most of them think that all sorts of aphorisms are from “The Bible,” such as, “Heaven helps those who help themselves!”

    Another common variant is that all the parts of the Bible they want to ignore are called “the Old Testament” and all the important parts are called “the New Testament,” which, first, is not actually a rule they follow when deciding which parts they’re going to selectively ignore; and second, combines with the notion that Jews follow only “the Old Testament” to create a lot of antisemitism.

    In practice, people who say they believe iin “The Bible” usually mean the folkways of white people in the American South. There’s theoretically a book in existence that has all the answers, but they’re not very familiar with it.

  • b00tler

    Does anyone have a website collecting all those aphorisms people constantly use, that aren’t actually Bible verses? Another great example: “hate the sin, love the sinner.”

  • AnonymousSam

    Not a collection, but there are a bunch of sites that have done “things you won’t believe aren’t in the Bible” posts. Here’s one that focuses a bit more on aphorisms:

  • Lorehead

    What you’d actually want, I think, is to take a list containing some aphorisms, some real Bible verses that aren’t obvious (like maybe “gave up the ghost,” “Whoever spares the rod hates their children,” or “a city that is set on a hill”) and some ringers (“Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven” or “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!” are good examples), and do a survey of how many American Christians think each one is part of “The Bible.” Whatever they answer is what they, for all intents and purposes, really mean when they say, “The Bible.”

  • Hummingwolf

    Some college friends used to spout off some of those aphorisms that people think are Biblical quotes, then say “And that’s from the book of Second Heresies, Chapter 19.” I wish we’d kept a list of those sham verses.

  • Lorehead
  • GDwarf

    The fact that I was directly quoting from the Bible, which was crystal
    clear on the subject, was completely irrelevant: The Bible was very
    clear I was wrong.

    I think it was The Authoritarians that noted that there exist a, surprisingly large, subset of people who hold that nothing could convince them that the Bible wasn’t inerrant…including the Bible itself. Upon being asked if they’d believe the Bible was inerrant if it said it wasn’t, they said that they still would.

    Which of course just shows that it’s got nothing to do with the Bible. It’s all about what they currently believe. “Citing” the “inerrant” Bible just makes them feel more secure in their position.

  • Dan Hetrick

    Just reading The Authoritarians now, and I’m at the appropriate chapter. Such an incredible book.

  • Enopoletus Harding

    Nay, it is credible, not incredible. :-)

  • FearlessSon

    The relevant excerpt is thus:

    Ultimately the true believers were saying, “I believe so strongly that the Bible is perfect that there’s nothing, not even the Bible itself, that can change my mind.” If that seems like an enormous self-contradiction, put it on the list. We are dealing with very compartmentalized minds. They’re not really interested in coming to grips with what’s actually in the Bible so much as mounting a defense of what they want to believe about the Bible–come Hell or Noah’s high water.

    We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of dogmatism to the fundamentalist, even though it sometimes seems to surpass understanding. As noted in the last chapter, it takes no effort to be dogmatic, and you don’t need to know very much to insist you’re right and nothing can possibly change your mind. As well, dogmatism gives the joy and comfort of certainty, which fundamentalists cherish.

  • tatortotcassie

    For me, that is the point where faith crosses over into deliberate stupidity.

  • The Guest Who Posts

    Well, if the Bible is inerrant and says it’s not inerrant…

    I’d better stop before I cause my computer to explode.

  • ohiolibrarian

    Your name may be Mudd if …

  • Matt S
  • aunursa

    Upon being asked if they’d believe the Bible was inerrant if it said it wasn’t, they said that they still would.

    But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, let him not send her away.
    1 Corinthians 7:12

    Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy.
    1 Corinthians 7:25

    That which I am speaking, I am not speaking as the Lord would, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of boasting.
    2 Corinthians 11:17

  • Mark Z.


  • esmerelda_ogg

    Yep – I was just about to post a reply myself citing these passages. As it is, I’ll just comment that I’ve heard fundamentalists insist that even though Paul clearly thinks he’s writing these letters himself, really God was using Paul as a sock puppet and dictating through him. Just like God did with the entire Bible, and that’s how the very beginning of Genesis can obviously be literally true even though there weren’t any people around to observe the first few days of creation. So there. [/sarcasm, except that the people who take this position are perfectly serious about it. Earnest, even.]

  • Cathy W

    That just doesn’t make any sense. If your argument is that Paul was a stenographer, why would he claim to not be speaking for the being he was, in fact, taking dictation from?

  • JustoneK


  • Boidster

    JustoneK – Brilliant.

    Cathy W – I think the “argument” is that unbeknownst to Paul he was being God’s stenographer. So when Paul writes, “Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord,” God is snickering in the background.

    Think Professor X manipulating Paul’s mind, not Magneto forcing his adamantium skeleton to write the words. Yes, Paul had an adamantium skeleton. Duh.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    It doesn’t make any sense to me either. I’d say it makes it look like God is playing silly or malicious games with his creatures, and if I believed that I wouldn’t consider him worth worshiping.

    However, it does seem to satisfy fundamentalists. Why? How? The best I can offer is to repeat part of Fearless Son’s quote above from The Authoritarians:

    it takes no effort to be dogmatic, and you don’t need to know very much to insist you’re right and nothing can possibly change your mind. As well, dogmatism gives the joy and comfort of certainty, which fundamentalists cherish.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    I’ll just comment that I’ve heard fundamentalists insist that even though Paul clearly thinks he’s writing these letters himself, really God was using Paul as a sock puppet and dictating through him. Just like God did with the entire Bible…

    Begs the question — if so, then how does “Biblical Inspiration” differ from the “automatic writing” of occultists and spiritualists? And how does the Bible differ from Oahspe or Seth Speaks?

  • esmerelda_ogg

    You got me! This is one of various reasons I’m not a fundamentalist.

  • FearlessSon

    Begs the question — if so, then how does “Biblical Inspiration” differ from the “automatic writing” of occultists and spiritualists? And how does the Bible differ from Oahspe or Seth Speaks?

    Because Bible, that’s why.

    “Yes, but what about-”


  • Foelhe

    … Wouldn’t that still make the bible fallible, though? Because Paul said he wasn’t speaking for God, but he was speaking for God, so when the bible says he isn’t speaking for God, the bible is wrong.

    Wait, logic, never mind.

  • AnonymousSam


    “Uh… ‘true,’ I’ll go ‘true.’ Huh, that was easy. I’ll be honest, I might have heard that one before though. Sort of cheated.”

    “It’s a paradox, there is no answer! Look, the Earth is going to overheat if we don’t slow down global warming!”

    “Uh… ‘false,’ I’ll go ‘false.’ “

  • FearlessSon

    One of the funniest moments in the game, and you adapted it perfectly.

  • Matt S

    oh hell, I should have kept scrolling down so as not to be redundant up there.

    … OR I could take the position that there is no such thing as too many Portal references.

  • ShifterCat

    God was using Paul as a sock puppet…

    And yet they disapprove of fisting.

  • FearlessSon

    Do they? I do not recall any Biblical reference nor theologian offering opinion on the matter of inserting one’s entire fist into a bodily orifice.

  • ShifterCat

    Well, there’s no Biblical injunction against heterosexual anal sex either, but they manage to have a position against that. Officially, anyway. Their kids, on the other hand… (NSFW)

  • Lorehead

    Was this in reference to 1 Corinthians 7:25?

  • aunursa

    The Sodom and Gomorrah story may be the biblical passage most frequently cited against homosexuality

    My experience is that the most frequently passage cited by Christian conservatives is Leviticus 18:22, followed by some passages from New Testament epistles of which, as a Jew, I am unfamiliar.

  • Lori

    In the current debate probably so, but over time I’m guessing Sodom & Gomorrah beats Leviticus, considering our definition of “sodomy” and all.

  • AnonymousSam

    Probably Romans 1, which goes into a spiel about sexual immorality starting on verse 24. There are only a few other lines in the New Testament that address homosexuality.

  • Ben English

    Lines which in context would have been understood as pederasty and other wanton debauchery and not a loving and committed relationship.

  • AnonymousSam

    That would be my interpretation as well. I don’t think Paul (who I’m pretty sure was celibate; certainly he wasn’t big on any kind of relationship, sexuality or marriage) really understood the idea of consensual homosexuality, and if recent years have proven anything, it’s that people are still perfectly willing to generalize any form of sexuality they don’t understand as disgusting and abusive perversion.

  • AnonymousSam

    Homosexuality. *Edits*

  • Bethany

    A book I read recently suggest that the fact Paul and his friends would have been comparatively low-status youths growing up in a Greek city means they could well have put up with sexual harassment around town themselves. Wouldn’t have given him warm fuzzy feeling about the whole pederasty thing if so.

  • Anton_Mates

    A book I read recently suggest that the fact Paul and his friends would have been comparatively low-status youths growing up in a Greek city means they could well have put up with sexual harassment around town themselves.

    Really? Paul was a Roman citizen and the son of a citizen, and his family was cosmopolitan and sufficiently well-to-do to send him to one of the best-known schools in Jerusalem for education. What would have positioned him as low-status, let alone sufficiently low to be in particular danger of sexual assault? (As far as I’m aware, the Romans had stronger laws against sexual assault of free youths–including unmarried girls–than either the classical Greeks or the Jews.)

  • Carstonio

    Do you mean the context of the original audience? Without knowing that context, my impression of the text is that it lends itself to either interpretation, homosexuality or debauchery. I doubt that most modern readers know much about the context and culture of the OT, and I suspect this is true to a lesser degree with the NT. The sexual practices of Roman culture appear to have been caricatured and exaggerated over the centuries, usually by people with a sectarian agenda.

  • Michael Albright

    And Bob Guccione.

  • Carstonio

    Good point. At least Guccione was honest about his goal of appealing to the prurient interest. Other folks would condemn sexual sins while conveniently providing very graphic detail. Do you think Paul is doing some of this in Romans?

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Um. I’ve read the ancient Roman poet Martial, and he’s perfectly comfortable talking about his sexual preferences. Which I think I’ll rot13 for those who might find them triggering.

    Jung Znegvny pynvzf ur cersreerq jnf encvat lbhat fynir oblf (gbb lbhat gb funir; bapr n obl terj juvfxref, vg jnf fbpvnyyl vanccebcevngr gb pbagvahr hfvat uvz.) N pbhcyr bs irel qvfgheovat cbrzf wbxr nobhg ubj zhpu gur oblf qvfyvxrq gur fvghngvba. Naq gurfr cbrzf jrer bcrayl choyvfurq naq qba’g frrz gb unir pnhfrq nal yrtny be fbpvny ceboyrzf sbe Znegvny. Fuhqqre.

    Returning to clear text, Roman “homosexuality” did not involve consensual relations between adults.

  • Carstonio

    Martial’s practices were criminal by any reasonable definition. From my reading, Paul appears to be condemning consensual relationships between adult men, or adult women, unless “men” was intended to include boys. Are you suggesting that Paul didn’t understand how the Romans defined homosexuality, or that he broadly objected to same-sex relations no matter what the age of the partners? My point was that Rome has been characterized as having no boundaries when it came to sex, and that appears to have influenced interpretations of Paul’s epistle over the centuries.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    I’ll agree that Paul appears to condemn relationships between women – and he may not have had much information about women’s private lives. I’m suggesting that if we assume that Paul knew exactly how the Romans defined homosexuality, he was talking about something that we would strongly condemn too.

    As for Martial as a criminal – yes, we would consider him a criminal and a pervert. What shocks me is that other rich and powerful Roman men seem to have found his tastes within the range of acceptable behavior. (Keep in mind that the biographer Suetonius takes the time to mention that the emperor Claudius was only interested in women, as if that was unusual.)

    The Romans had boundaries with regard to sex. But their boundaries were different from ours, and we would find some of their behavior abusive and very unacceptable.

  • Carstonio

    Yes, our boundaries regarding sex seem to involve principles of consent. From what you describe, the Romans may not have distinguished morally between rape and, say, rampant promiscuity with consenting partners. Ironic that modern opponents of homosexuality don’t seem to make that distinction either.

    I admit that my knowledge about their actual practices is limited. I’m suggesting that later proselytizers and writers had their own agendas, such as exaggerating the level of Christian martyrdom in that era. Las Vegas has been similarly exaggerated, not just by modern proselytizers but also by Cold War propagandists – one Soviet defector said he expected to see the Strip lined with couples copulating and gangsters having shootouts.

  • AnonymousSam

    On the other hand, you CAN indulge gluttony to your heart’s suicidal content at the Heart Attack Grill, home of the 9,982 calorie Quadruple Bypass Burger, where anyone over 350 pounds eats free. If the burger isn’t to your satisfaction, add 20 slices of unadulterated bacon (the cooking grease isn’t drained) for $3.69. There’s also Flatliner Fries deep fried in pure lard, the Butterfat Shake (made from 100% butter fat cream), and “Just like Dad!” brand candy cigarettes for your children.

    Well, for the foreseeable future at least. Given that two spokespersons and a few patrons have actually died from heart attacks in recent years, they’re not doing so well.

  • Carstonio

    Apropos from The Godfather novel: “You know, it’s a funny thing, you can smoke yourself to death, drink yourself to death, work yourself to death, and even eat yourself to death. But that’s all acceptable. The only thing you can’t do medically is screw yourself to death and yet that’s where they put all the obstacles.”

  • AnonymousSam

    … Apparently they have recently one-upped themselves with an Octuple Bypass Burger. Duly note how it literally drips grease.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Dear Luna…I think I may have just lost my appetite *side-eyes her Sonic*

  • reynard61

    Sweet Celestia! If that ain’t a Sarah Palin-esque, Real True Libertarian-style “Don’t-tell-*ME*-what-I-can-or-can’t-eat-or-drink!!!” food fantasy, I don’t know *what* is! Just wash it down with a few cans of bacon flavored Jolt (wouldn’t surprise me if there is such a thing) and *feel* that freedom clogging your arteries!

  • AnonymousSam
  • reynard61


    I notice that there are tomatoes and onions on those burgers. Now every Real True Libertarian *knows* that vegetables are *good* for you. (Luna knows how many times my own mom tried to impress that fact on *me* when I was but a lad!) So, by RTL logic, aren’t veggies heretical if one is trying to achieve cholesterol nirvana?

  • AnonymousSam

    Presumably the vegetables are soaked in beer. o.O I would be completely unsurprised if someone had already tried that at this place. I was more giggling at the fact that their own menu had Jolt right there, wondering if this is really a thing.

    “I think I’m going to go out and eat the unhealthiest thing I can find. Hmm. And since I’m not assaulting the other major internal organs in my body… JOLT AND SMOKES.”

  • P J Evans

    There’s no lettuce, which is one of the vegetables they’d recognize *as a vegetable*, because it’s naturally green.

    (I’ll take a Double-Double, with grilled onions, over one of those. It isn’t actually good for you, but it’s much less likely to kill you. And it normally comes with lettuce.)

  • The Guest Who Posts

    New life goal: I’m going to go to Vegas and eat one of those mofos.

  • Dragoness Eclectic

    The key phrase here is “slave”. Roman slaves had no legal personhood or rights. (The one exception: Roman slaves were allowed to hold property of their own…) Their owners could do anything they wanted to them legally, including rape, torture and execution.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Okay, second third try at posting this reply…

    Dragoness Eclectic – You have an excellent point. I’ve read that Romans sometimes referred to slaves as “talking tools”. And yet, if one of these “tools” was freed, they immediately became almost complete people, and the freeborn children of former slaves just melted into the general population. Some powerful compartmentalization going on there.

    Come to think of it, during the Roman republic, the only “real” people were male heads of families. (That is, the oldest living man – a Roman in his fifties wasn’t the head of the family if his father – or grandfather – was still alive.) The paterfamilias had pretty much the same rights over his children as he did over his slaves – he could kill them if he saw fit, and while he often allowed slaves or sons to manage some of the family property, that didn’t mean they owned any of it.

  • Linzweed

    The diet we would find equally abusive and very unacceptable …

  • ohiolibrarian

    To what extent was this normal practice of homosexuality versus the ability to use and abuse slaves? Were other inferior-in-rank persons approached/coerced into sex as well?

  • esmerelda_ogg

    From what I’ve read, using slaves was what the elite defined as “normal” homosexuality. There seem to have been occasional consensual relationships between adults, and they were considered very improper because there was no clear definition of who was in control of whom.

    As far as I can make out, to Romans “correct” sex was more a power issue than a love issue. Of course, it’s a long time ago, and we’re talking about millions of people most of whom never had the chance to write down what they thought.

  • Alix

    Roman sexual mores were very much about power, in a way that can be kind of hard for us to wrap our minds around. With the understanding that humanity even then was varied, and that there were always plenty of people who went against the typical mores of their societies, here’s Roman sexual mores in a nutshell:

    If they’re your social inferior, you can penetrate them.

    There are a whole host of other mores impacting on this (Romans seem to have had a strong aversion to oral sex, for example; one of the strongest insults you could make was that someone deserved a face-fucking) and there were a lot of practical concerns (it … is not a good idea to try fucking your neighbor’s wife, or a youth of your social rank, even though neither would’ve been considered perverted), but that’s the basic line for determining whether or not you were a pervert in ancient Rome.

    THAT SAID, there’s a lot of interesting, subtle evidence that Roman sexual practices were a hell of a lot more varied. For one, Rome was not monocultural, though it sure in hell tried to be. For another, we have tons of Roman writing on the morality of sex, usually going through all the ways various things were perverted; odds are pretty damn good they wouldn’t have spent so much time railing against all these “perverted” practices if they weren’t, well, being practiced.

    We also have evidence from the lives of a few emperors (Hadrian comes to mind) that there were people engaged in loving homosexual relationships, within or without the mores of the time. Granted, the emperor can basically do whatever the hell he wants, but it still goes towards things being more complicated than that.

    (…Er. Sorry for the essay.)

  • Alix

    Addendum: It also wasn’t as simple as slave vs. citizen, either. Romans had at least three, and early on four, major classes of citizens: slaves, freedmen, free-born non-citizen subjects of the empire, and citizens. In approximately that order of rank. (The third category was later eliminated by a law that made all free-born subjects citizens by default.)

    Women and children were of inferior rank to men of their class; there were further breakdowns of the citizen class along further lines of socioeconomic and political power. And the age-based social rank was not as simple as child vs. adult, either.

    Romans, in short, were really obsessed with rank and power, and thus drew an awful lot of distinctions around these.

  • ShifterCat

    No need to apologize. That was an interesting read.

  • Anton_Mates

    I’m suggesting that if we assume that Paul knew exactly how the Romans defined homosexuality, he was talking about something that we would strongly condemn too.

    It seems to me that he was talking about relationships we’d strongly condemn and those we wouldn’t. Classical Greeks, Romans and Jews were all familiar with the idea of consensual sexual relationships between free adult men; they just didn’t approve of such relationships, by and large.* Classical Greeks disapproved because adult men shouldn’t let themselves be penetrated. (Although they found it more understandable if the relationship had begun as pederasty and continued after the boy reached adulthood.) The Romans disapproved because free men shouldn’t let themselves be penetrated. And the Jews disapproved because they disapproved of any sexual relationship between males, unless at least one male was a young boy. (Sexual relationships with children weren’t super-healthy either, according to Talmudic scholars, but they were much better than homosexual or adulterous relationships with people old enough to procreate.)

    The epithet “malakoi” was primarily applied to free adult men. I think that Paul–raised as a Greek and a Jew–was condemning men who allowed themselves to be penetrated and those who penetrated other men, consenting or unconsenting; I doubt he would have considered modern homosexual relationships acceptable either. Which does not mean we need write him off completely; pretty much every ancient writer would have some unacceptable moral positions from our perspective, and vice versa.

    *Bearing in mind that, as Alix observes, plenty of Greek and Roman freemen were obviously in such relationships, even as other men condemned them as perverts. Their relationships attracted ridicule and occasional legal trouble, but they were not so unthinkable that the men involved were immediately executed or disenfranchised. Indeed, aristocratic Roman men sometimes conducted public marriage rites.

    A couple of very disturbing poems joke about how much the boys disliked the situation.

    While in other poems, Martial asks for a boy who will “force me against my will and refuse me when I want it.” He clearly had BDSM interests, some part of which could be ethically explored in modern society, some part of which definitely could not be ethically explored period.

  • Alix

    Martial’s practices were criminal by any reasonable definition.

    Not to the Romans.

  • Carstonio

    True. I mean reasonable in the sense that sexual mores based in consent are more beneficial to individuals and to society than mores where some individuals are forced to pleasure others.

  • Gregory Peterson

    If ancient memory serves, the word in Paul that’s usually translated as “homosexual,” starts with an “a,” is so obscure and rare that without a good context, it’s pretty much untranslatable…though somebody said that in the few usages he found, it seemed to have an economic component…like perhaps procuring boys or something.

    That doesn’t mean that Paul would condone consensual, adult same gender loving relationships…but then, he apparently wasn’t all that enthusiastic about other-sex marriages, for that matter.

    When a man quotes Paul to me, I ask him if he married his wife because she quenched his sexual desire.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Arsenokoites. I thought the best guess was ‘male temple prostitute’.

  • Alix

    Paul’s epistles contain the first known instances of the term. From context, it’s unclear; a literal translation from the roots gets “lying with men,” though Paul’s use seems more specific than that. “Male temple prostitute” is certainly a possible gloss, but short of finding it in another document with more context, there’s no way to really know.

  • Anton_Mates

    “Male temple prostitute” seems a bit unlikely, given that there’s pretty much no evidence for such prostitution in the Greek-speaking world of Paul’s day. Even for female prostitutes who might be employed by temples, the closest thing we have is Strabo asserting that Corinth had a bunch of them several hundred years earlier.

    Personally, it seems to me that a literal “lying with men” translation is consistent with all the surviving appearances of arsenokoitai, at least for the next four hundred years or so after Paul. And if (as often suggested) it was coined based on the Greek translations of Leviticus, that would explain why it doesn’t show up in pagan writing at all; it would have had no particular resonance for them. But yeah, more documents with more context would be very helpful.

  • Alix

    “Male temple prostitute” seems to be extrapolating from other Mediterranean cultures, and it’s important to remember that Paul was writing letters to specific places and people, not just writing things for broad dissemination. In theory it’s possible that the idea, or some practitioners of such a cult, spread to Corinth, but that requires more evidence than just a new word in a letter.

    IOW, I agree. I suspect people are trying just a bit too hard to explain away all the anti-homosexuality in the Bible, just as some witches I know try to explain away all the anti-witchcraft stuff.

  • Ross

    I don’t think “trying too hard” conveys the right sense. They’re trying and failing to explain something based on a radically different understanding of human sexuality in terms of our understanding of human sexuality.

    Whatever Paul meant and whatever he would think of modern relationships, the people he is talking about had an entirely different understanding of their own sexuality from people who would identify as homosexual today, and pointing at the two guys who live down the road that the newspaper used to describe as “confirmed bachelors” and saying “Yeah, that’s the sort Paul and Leviticus were saying are abominations,” is a profound misreading, even if we can’t exactly find a good way to describe who he was talking about because the thing he’s talking about is utterly alien to the way we think of sexuality.

    (Though, as I said in my previous post, it probably boils down to the idea that for Paul, sex, all sex, was about demoting someone from “person” to “hole I stick my dick in for sexual release”. And that was maybe just acceptable if the other person was a woman — who he reckoned only just barely counted as human anyway* — but demoting a man like that was contrary to his understanding of the “Don’t treat other people as less than human” bit of Christianity.

    * And even then, you should really only do that to a woman if it’s the only way to keep your pent-up lust from becoming a distraction)

  • Alix

    Fair enough. But it still strikes me that there’s a difference between trying to figure out what Paul meant by homosexuality and how that fits with changing understandings of sexuality, and trying to reinterpret the text on little or no evidence to push it as far from homosexuality as one can.

    Arguing that Paul meant something a bit different by “laying with men” – that, say, in the context of his time it was seen as demeaning, or perverted, or as a kind of exploitation – is a bit different than trying to argue that the word that literally translates as “laying with men” means something radically different (that conveniently no longer exists), when we have no evidence for it ever meaning that.

    …I’m probably not explaining this well. :/

  • Anton_Mates

    “Male temple prostitute” seems to be extrapolating from other Mediterranean cultures, and it’s important to remember that Paul was writing letters to specific places and people, not just writing things for broad dissemination.

    And it’s, at best, unclear that there were any other cultures to extrapolate from. I’m not an expert, but so far as I can see from the literature, there are no clear attestations to male temple prostitution anywhere in the Mediterranean. Classical writers never mention it. The Old Testament contains two or three instances of a word, qadesh, which might mean “male temple prostitute” because it’s the masculine version of another word qedeshah which might mean “female temple prostitute” because it occurs next to another word zonah which more clearly means “female prostitute.” But these words might also mean “male/female temple functionary” without any sexual connotation, or the female version might have a sexual connotation that the male lacks. In addition, these terms are being used by hostile writers, some of whom commonly use prostitution as a metaphor for apostasy and impiety. So figuring out what a real-life qadesh actually was is even harder than figuring out arsenokoitai.

    For that matter, AFAIK there are no first-hand attestations to female temple prostitution either*, except maybe a commissioned drinking song by Pindar, and it’s a bit hard to distinguish truth, metaphor and bullshit in that poem. Nobody claims to have been such a prostitute, to have patronized them or even to have seen them. We only have stories about how distant, barbaric societies and/or the people of ancient times had this weird custom.

    All that makes me doubt that Paul even believed in the existence of male temple prostitution, let alone considered it worth lecturing his audiences about.

    *by which I mean “prostitution which had ritual significance, or was conducted by temple functionaries with official sanction.” There were certainly prostitutes going to temples, making sacrifices and financial offerings, and participating in certain religious festivals, just as farmers and artisans and merchants and aristocrats did.

  • Alix

    There are some similarly vague mentions in some Babylonian records, but they’re similar to the qedeshah-zonah thing; we know one word means “prostitute” and infer via context the other means “ritual prostitute.” I know people have interpreted some things – especially ones that sound like divine marriage celebratory poems – as sexual rites, but that’s an inference from mythology and thus makes me deeply uncomfortable. It seems like many scholars just sort of assume it happened and roll on.

    It’s possible they existed. Just because it’s your enemies recording something doesn’t mean it’s not at heart true – the Romans happily recorded the human sacrifices of the Celts and Germans, and while the issue’s still contentious, there’s some support for both cultures having practiced some form of it. So people might not have been completely blowing smoke about the ritualized prostitution, but there needs to be more evidence we don’t seem to have.

    The other thing that bugs me is that people seem to often jump from “this culture had a [somewhat] positive view of sex/sexuality” to “and therefore temple prostitutes,” like with the possible divine marriage stuff. Like, y’know, there’s some innate reason that couldn’t have been reenacted, if it ever was, with one’s own wife. And a lot of the people I run into today seem to really want temple prostitution to have existed, because they can point to that as some sort of way societies supposedly honored women and sex.

    I … tend to be pretty conservative when it comes to extrapolation, and some of this stuff sets my teeth on edge. You can’t argue from mythology, or from ritual purity codes, or anything like that without either a lot of other documentation or serious archaeological proof to back it up.

  • Anton_Mates

    There are some similarly vague mentions in some Babylonian records, but they’re similar to the qedeshah-zonah thing; we know one word means “prostitute” and infer via context the other means “ritual prostitute.”

    And in the Babylonian/Akkadian/Assyrian stuff, the case for prostitution is (I would say) even weaker, because more facts about qadistus have survived than in the Hebrew literature (with the caveat that these sources span hundreds of miles and thousands of years). They served as wet-nurses and hosted midwives, could legally marry, have children and owned their own property, and apparently (like widows) had no legal male “master” and belonged to no household but their own, unless they married. It seems pretty clear that they were involved in mundane, magical and religious activities associated with motherhood, but nothing is said about their being prostitutes. The closest connection is that they were socially located “on the street,” as prostitutes were–but so would be any other person unaffiliated with a larger household.

    Like, y’know, there’s some innate reason that couldn’t have been reenacted, if it ever was, with one’s own wife.

    Or–if it’s an official ritual with community significance–perhaps reenacted by a chosen priest and priestess, or by the local king and queen. As opposed to a bunch of priestesses and random laymen with sufficient cash, which doesn’t necessarily seem like a great formula for performing an important ritual correctly.

    And a lot of the people I run into today seem to really want temple prostitution to have existed, because they can point to that as some sort of way societies supposedly honored women and sex.

    Right, because there’s nothing more feminist and sex-positive than a religious organization commanding its female employees or slaves to sleep with strange men and pocketing the money they make…

  • Alix

    The Babylonian stuff was about a different term, but I can’t remember it at the moment, and it was, anyway, just as tenuous as the other stuff.

    I think another problem comes from the modern understanding of religion as something where all rites, or almost all, are open to all believers. I mean, that’s not a totally new idea – it was a large part of the appeal of the Romanized Isis movement – but a lot of Mediterranean religions were either mystery religions requiring initiation, or were state religions which were tied up in the structure of society itself, including all the class issues. And priests were often a separate class, even if there was some mobility into that class, as was the nobility/king. So what applies to an official ritual, as you say, can’t just be assumed to apply broadly to any believer with appropriate equipment.

    Right, because there’s nothing more feminist and sex-positive than a religious organization commanding its female employees or slaves to sleep with strange men and pocketing the money they make…

    No kidding. :/ But the idea, as earnestly explained to me many a time, is that this was before prostitution was seen as wrong or dirty (uh, no), before the demonization of sexuality which totally only happened with the medieval Church and not, say, the ancient Greeks, and before the Church/monotheism made women inferior. And it was totally natural and sex-positive and not exploitive at all!

    And, well, that’s not impossible. Not by a long shot. Not all cultures see sex as evil or even prostitution as wrong. But I’m skeptical of such a system in the Near East, and I don’t see any evidence for it.

  • Ross

    I’m inclined to suppose that almost every time you hear the ancients speak disparagingly of men identified by some term we translate as “homosexual”, a more useful translation would be “Men who treat other men as if they were as lowly and subhuman as we are totally okay with men treating women”

  • Anton_Mates

    I’m inclined to suppose that almost every time you hear the ancients speak disparagingly of men identified by some term we translate as “homosexual”, a more useful translation would be “Men who treat other men as if they were as lowly and subhuman as we are totally okay with men treating women”

    I have a bit of trouble with the latter translation, because “treating others as lowly and subhuman” doesn’t have a very consistent or precise definition across cultures and subcultures. We define degrading/dehumanizing sexual treatment mostly in terms of consent and the balance of social power, but ancient writers defined it mostly in terms of penetration and essentialist notions of adulthood and gender, and it may be helpful to use a translation that makes more of this definition explicit.

    *Or some of us do, anyway. Needless to say, there are also a lot of modern social conservatives who are strongly concerned with gender/age essentialism and the politics of penetration. “Men who treat other men as if they were as lowly and subhuman as we are totally okay with men treating women” is probably a good summary of how they see male homosexuality.

  • AnonymousSam

    Job 36:14? “They die in their youth, among male prostitutes of the shrines.” (NIV)

  • EllieMurasaki

    Job wasn’t written in Greek, though.

  • AnonymousSam

    True, I was just thinking that the concept isn’t that huge of a stretch if the Bible itself acknowledges the concept.

  • Randy Kopycinski

    Yes, I guess Jung Znegvny was a Fuhqqre in a pretty ironic sense.

  • Tony Prost

    That is why you buy slaves.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    And Romans 1 is a type of literary convention called a “decline narrative”; considering it was written by an educated Jew, you could preface it with the Talmudic expression “For these are the things which the goyim do.”

  • misanthropy_jones

    sadly, most of those who make such citations are, as christians, at least equally ignorant…

  • The_L1985

    In re: misinterpreting “to know,” when I heard the story as a kid, I pictured mobs of nasty, thuggish folks, licking knives and saying in a cruel, sarcastic tone, “Hey, Lot. We hear you’ve got some guests over. We’d like to meet ’em.” At which point, of course, Lot basically begs them to do whatever they want to his daughters, but to leave the guests alone. And the people of Sodom refuse.

    I didn’t fully understand the text or what was going on, but I had a much better idea of the Sodomites’ motivations than the people who read that passage and dubbed consensual anal sex “sodomy.”

  • ShifterCat

    The bit that always got me is that Lot throws his daughters to this bloodthirsty crowd, and somehow gets off scot-free.

  • AnonymousSam

    Well, yes, they were only daughters. In the worst case scenario, they would have gotten married. &lt/sarcasm>

  • Joykins

    There’s a similar passage in Judges where the woman is thrown to the crowd and murdered. (I know, sarcasm, but still).

  • Alix

    If I’m thinking of the same passage (Judges 19), it gets even weirder, where the man who throws her to the crowd then cuts up her corpse and mails the pieces to all the tribes, to agitate for war.

    But the thing with that passage is that in context, I really don’t think we’re supposed to be comfortable with anything that happens there. There’s one telling line at the beginning of that chapter: “In those days Israel had no king.” Like the Sodom story, it’s not showing righteous behavior, but how bad humanity can get when the social structure’s wrong – living in cities in Genesis, being without a king in Judges.

    The fact that I’ve met people who take Lot’s throwing of his daughters to the crowd as righteous, or the whole weird thing with the concubine as good, really disturbs me, and not just because I don’t think they’re really framed that way in the texts.

  • The Guest Who Posts

    I’ll give you the passage in Judges, but Lot and his family *were* supposed to be the only righteous people in Sodom. So you’d expect his actions to be righteous when trying to save the angels.

  • Alix

    Well… Not really. I mean, yes, I know Lot was supposed to be among the righteous, but Genesis also does a really good job of pointing out that Lot is … kind of stupid, and possibly also somewhat corrupt. (There’s at least some suggestion that the wickedness of the cities rubs off on Lot, and that something was wrong with him for wanting to settle in a city in the first place.)

    I really suspect that “righteous” in the context of Genesis means something far more akin to “part of our tribe” than “morally good.” Given that there is a very pronounced us vs. them theme in Genesis, that reading almost makes more sense.

    …And, well, there’s the undeniable fact that by the moral standards of his day, Lot might well have been behaving righteously, if ineptly. It’s still a bit of an open question whether hospitality trumps the well-being of one’s daughters in the ancient Near East.

    The Genesis account also notably doesn’t praise Lot’s actions, and he was numbered righteous before that incident, by an uncle who probably hadn’t seen him in a while. Lot also goes on to lose his chosen home and his wife, and then is raped by his daughters (well, by a literal reading) and goes on to father the founders of enemy tribes. Genesis … really doesn’t approve of Lot overmuch.

    Genesis is folk history/culture-founding myth. That makes it a hell of a lot more ambiguous morally than a lot of people like to admit.

  • Alix

    Oh. Wait.

    Apparently, I misremembered, because Lot is never actually called “righteous” directly, not in any translation I can find. Abraham in Gen. 18 pleads for Sodom and Gomorrah, that God not destroy the cities if a certain number of righteous people are found there, but he never expressly names Lot. Genesis 19, where the cities are destroyed, never uses the word for him, that I can find. And after that Lot drops out of the story.

    It is implied, maybe, in Gen. 18 that Lot would be among the righteous, but never actually directly said. If anyone can find where it does expressly say that, or find another translation that does, I’d love to know where to find that.


  • Baby_Raptor

    Not only does he get off scott-free, he’s later hailed as righteous for that very act.

    Yip, it’s easy to believe god loves women.

  • Theo Axner

    IIRC the only place where anyone calls Lot himself ‘righteous’ is the very late pseudepigraph 2 Peter. Reading the Genesis story itself and the later story about how Lot drunkenly fathered the ancestors of two enemy tribes with his own daughters, I always thought it looked pretty clear that Lot was by no means a righteous man himself – Abraham just wanted to save his sorry ass because he was family.

  • heckblazer

    One interpretation I’ve read is that Lot is the screw-up nephew of Abraham, sort of a Goofus to Abraham’s Gallant. So when the angels show up Lot tries to be hospitable and protect them from the mob…but then does so by offering his daughters *facepalm*.

  • Alix

    Lot is the screw-up nephew of Abraham

    Genesis 13 really, really strongly implies this. It makes a point of noting he chose to settle in an area notorious for wickedness, and then follows it up with him getting captured by being in the way when a war was on.

  • Alix

    Well, except it’s at least implied in the passage where Abraham bargains with God over the destruction of Sodom. Then again, that was pre-angel visitation, so Lot might no longer be among the righteous after that.

  • Persia

    Yeah, Abraham’s just trying to save the city and he’s arguing God down.

  • Gregory Peterson

    I read that as “Lot’s daughter’s took turns drugging and raping their father.”

  • The_L1985

    And remember, kids, Lot was the one good person in the city!

  • aim2misbehave

    I was watching the History channel’s “The Bible” series and noticed that they did NOT include that in the Sodom & Gomorrah story. They had lots of implications that the cities were hyper-sexual, including a belly dancer in a totally modern-looking Indian outfit… but no mention of the fact that Lot was like “Here, rape my daughters instead!”

  • aim2misbehave

    I was watching the History channel’s “The Bible” series and noticed that they did NOT include that in the Sodom & Gomorrah story. They had lots of implications that the cities were hyper-sexual, including a belly dancer in a totally modern-looking Indian outfit… but no mention of the fact that Lot was like “Here, rape my daughters instead!”

  • AnonymousSam

    I would totally pay for a televised version of the Biblical stories uncut, leaving in all the material they usually cut out to keep the narrative nice and simple. I’ve always wondered why they leave out things like, oh, God trying to murder Moses for not being circumcised shortly after commanding him to confront Pharaoh (Exodus 4:24-26).

  • Alix

    FWIW, that passage is one of many people have used to support the notion that the Bible stories were originally polytheistic.

    …I’d totally pay for your uncut Bible show, too.

  • ShifterCat

    Well, there was Robert Crumb’s version of the Bible. My store had it and I got to have a look at it, though not read the whole thing. I am thinking of picking it up some time, though.

  • Alix

    That show was … weird. I tried watching it, got pissed off at the hamhandedness, and bailed.

  • Ross

    That’s a shame. I’d like to see that acted out, and not for the “So that they don’t sugarcoat the terrible things in the bible” reasons; I think it could actually be compelling drama to try to portray Lot as an actually righteous man, who’s got an angry mob outside his house and has become so desperate that he (maybe correctly) thinks that his only choices are “Let this angry mob rape my daughters” or “Let this angry mob rape my guests, who also happen to be angels.”

  • ngotts

    Suppose the Bible did say clearly that homosexual sex and abortion are abominable crimes punishable by death? Would that make the conservatives’ misogyny and homophobia right? After all, it pretty clearly approves of genocide, child murder and rape under some circumstances, tells slaves to obey their masters in everything, and as ShifterCat notes, approves of Lot handing his daughters over to gang rape.

  • Kirala

    It’s splitting hairs, but important hairsplitting to me: the Bible never actively approves of Lot handing his daughters over. Unless you think it also approves of Lot sleeping with his daughters himself. The acts are presented without outside comment within a few paragraphs of Genesis, are never approved, and the closest it comes to “approval” is calling Lot righteous at one point in 2 Peter (where the author is mostly trying to reassure a bunch of confused and scared people that God is still in control). And the Bible regularly calls righteous people who committed heinous acts which are called out as heinous acts (David and Uriah immediately come to mind). “Righteous” doesn’t mean “always good by definition”.

    And your questions are immaterial to the point of the post. The point is not “the Bible is silent on these issues, and therefore liberals are morally okay” – the point is “the Bible is silent on these issues, and therefore, conservatives, you should be too.” It’s not a tool for arguing objective morality, it’s a tool for arguing against Christian conservative authoritarianism in their own language.

  • Mark Z.

    The Bible isn’t univocal, so any statement that “the Bible approves of X” is pretty dubious. Even “the Bible says X”, without further qualification, is misleading. It’s an anthology. It has authors who say things.

    As you say, the narrative voice in Genesis (traditionally called “Moses”, so sure, let’s go with that) doesn’t really comment on the morality of Lot’s actions. As for the other Biblical authors, several of them talk about Sodom, but Lot is only mentioned twice. Once is by Jesus in Luke 17, just to establish setting: “In the days of Lot…”.

    The other is 2 Peter, which is just weird.

    I’ll point out that Lot does distinguish himself from the other Sodomites by apparently being the only one who will offer shelter to foreigners (and nearly getting himself lynched for it).* So the statement that he’s “righteous” is not totally groundless.

    As for offering his daughters to the mob, three thousand years ago in Mesopotamia that wasn’t an issue. They’re his daughters; their function is to be bargained away for the survival and prosperity of the family.** And to the author of 2 Peter it’s still not an issue, because he’s interested in examples of God destroying the evildoers while sparing the righteous. For that purpose, what matters is that Lot was just less awful enough not to be obliterated with fire from heaven like the rest of Sodom.

    * Corvino jokes that the angels were going to sleep in the town square because “they didn’t get paid a per diem”; I think there’s some substance to that. Jewish tradition says that Sodom was notoriously brutal to the poor to discourage them from immigrating. (See aunursa’s comments.) So the angels come in the guise of migrant workers and try to sleep in the public square and see what happens. That’s the test that Lot passes and everyone else in the city fails.

    ** Even a son could be bargained away if necessary; see Isaac, and the son of Mesha of Moab in 2 Kings 3:27.

  • ShifterCat

    As for offering his daughters to the mob, three thousand years ago in Mesopotamia that wasn’t an issue. They’re his daughters; their function is to be bargained away for the survival and prosperity of the family.

    The historical context I understand. But when anyone asks me why I don’t subscribe to “Biblical morality”, my go-to answer is, “The same morality that says women are disposable?”

  • Alix

    The last time someone asked me that to my face (the “why don’t you subscribe to biblical morality” thing), I told them that I did. I subscribe to the Biblical morality that says we’re supposed to argue with God when we think he’s in the wrong.

    I was promptly informed nothing like that happened in the Bible, and they walked off while I was still goggling at them.

  • Gregory Peterson

    I always say that I agree with Rabbi Hillel the Elder’s ‘stand on one foot’ teaching: It’s about the Golden Rule, everything else is commentary. Though I finish that with: go learn how to tell the difference.

  • Alix

    The Bible isn’t univocal

    Quoted because it can’t be repeated enough.

  • Alix

    Well, y’know, the bible says all sorts of things about the rightness of slaughtering Canaanites and stoning your children to death, and most of us don’t consider those morally acceptable anymore.

    I’m … not entirely sure where you’re going with your comment, actually, though I think I agree with you?

  • ngotts

    Where I’m going is that the Bible is completely useless as a guide to morality (the responses about its tendency to call people who committed heinous acts “righteous”*, and its multi-vocality, support this point), and that no decent person, Christian or otherwise, uses it as such. I suspect a lot of Christians who post here agree, but in my experience many “online Christians” tie themselves in knots to avoid this conclusion, even if they act in accordance with it – for example, by explaining away its condonation of slavery and genocide, and in the case of liberals its misogyny and homophobia.

    *I concede the point that Lot handing over his daughters for gang-rape is not directly approved.

  • Alix

    ‘S where I thought you were going. Thanks for explaining – I can be a bit slow on the uptake sometimes.

    I more or less agree, though I think it’s not entirely useless as a moral guide, if one a) takes into account that it really is a multivocal set of documents, not The Direct Line to God, b) allows oneself to argue with it, and c) feels free to cut things out. But The Inerrant Unarguable Word of GOD ™ … yeah, no.

    I’m a mashup of pagan and heretic, so I have no problem treating the bible as an interesting collection of folk history, mythology, ancient legal codes, poetry, wisdom texts, and so forth.

  • Christopher Goetzke

    “I’m a mashup of pagan and heretic.”

    I’m totally stealing that description.

  • Nick

    What people seem to be forgetting is that is that it isn’t just a story of a gay sex, but of gay *rape.* Reading the story as condemnation of homosexuality in general is like saying that a story about an ax murderer is really about the ax.

    Even if all the clobber verses comport to their traditional interpretations, the fact remains that the Bible says absolutely nothing about love or relationships between two people of the same sex, only sex acts. Doesn’t that indicate that appealing to Scripture here is about as useless as looking to Scripture for a working theory of cold fusion? The ancients simply did not have the relevant thought categories to talk about homosexuality in any context other than degrading lust.

  • Carstonio

    Would that have applied to the ancient Greeks? I haven’t been able to determine whether they viewed the Achilles and Patroklos relationship as a romantic one.

  • histrogeek

    The Greek sexual mores are almost impossible to categorize by modern standards. Degrading lust was a pretty late concept for them, mostly the Platonic school and its later offshoots, and that was pretty much all sex, not homosexuality in particular. One thing that does tend to run through most Greek and Hellenistic descriptions of sex is the notion of hierarchy, rather than consent and equality.
    Achilles and Patrokolos wouldn’t have been seen as anything shocking, romantic or not. Brother warriors on campaign, deeply involved with each other emotionally, would have been pretty normal. For that matter the Books of Samuel are cool with David and Jonathan, even if they aren’t necessarily ok with everything else David did. Some Greek city-states, Thebes especially, even used homoeroticism as the basis for their armies.

  • Nick

    I’m no expert but I think the love of Achilles and Patroklos is more of a filial bond, sort of like blood brothers or maybe even what we would describe as a “bromance.”

    This could have included sex, but doesn’t seem to have really required it or featured it as important the way a marriage would, whereas to the Greeks as well as the Hebrews, marriage was first and foremost predicated on sex and child bearing. I think the psychology involved is completely different.

  • Alix

    Maybe, maybe not. Homosexuality was approved of and even encouraged between men in ancient Greece, and the Sacred Band of Thebes was famous for using sexual relationships to promote unit cohesion and ferocity on the battlefield. Many city-states, such as Athens, promoted older men mentoring youths in explicitly sexual relationships as natural and a normal part of society. Marriage in a lot of Greece, including Athens and especially in Sparta, was seen as existing primarily for childbearing, not primarily for sex, though of course they knew there was a connection. :)

    Women, wives most certainly included, were seen in a lot of ancient Greece, if not all of it, as lesser and even dangerous. Men were expected to bond with other men and spend most of their time with other men, and we know of a number of famous Greeks who really hated their wives – like Socrates.

    Back to Akhilleus and Patroklos – it’s ambiguous in the Iliad. Both Aeschylus and Plato thought it was a sexual relationship, but Xenophon agreed with you, and he was hardly the only one. Alexander the Great almost certainly fell in the Aeschylus-Plato camp. What Homer thought – who knows. We don’t actually know that much about Homeric Greece, especially not when you compare it to later ages, so the whole question’s up in the air.

    To my reading, the two had what essentially amounts to a romantic relationship, whether or not they ever had sex; they had at least the kind of very close friendship that had them sleeping together and intimately understanding each other, and honestly I don’t see how that’s any different from a romantic bond. (Romance doesn’t always have a sexual component. /obligatory asexual interjection.)

    …Man, I have got to stop answering folks in essays. I blame y’all for bringing up interesting topics. ;)

  • Nick

    Hah, no problem. Thanks for the info.

  • Persia

    I love that even Homeric epics have historical shipwars.


  • arcseconds

    … and of course, it’s well known that Homer didn’t write the poems that are attributed to him, but rather another poet by the same name :-)

  • Alix

    Or even a few poets – it seems that attaching a famous name to a text to give it the ring of authority/authenticity was pretty common. See also: Paul’s letters, most (if not all) of the Bible, the Gnostic gospels, etc.

    As an aside: it fascinates me how scholars can look at texts and figure out who wrote them, or who didn’t. If there’s one scholarly superpower I wish I had, it’s being able to look at a given text and see all those tiny details about the authorial voice these people pick up on.

    (Actually, I lie. My favorite scholarly superpower would be an ability to read any language. The authorial-voice-sight would be #2.)

  • arcseconds

    …and Plato! There’s at least half-a-dozen dialogues attributed to him that aren’t now thought to be his works, and a few more which are disputed.

    My favourite name that’s come out of this kind of thing is Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, just because it’s so damned weird as a name. I’d have taken that as my nom-de-internet, except it’s a pain to type, and I’d probably actually have to read the works…

    A slightly more sympathetic motive I’ve often seen given for this kind of thing is that it was seen as presumptuous to write under your own name.

    Someone else already has dibs on your superpower:

  • Alix

    The question of authorship always fascinates me. I mean, in a few thousand years, people are probably going to have the same problem with the stuff we’re writing today, at least as far as “was there really a Homer/Paul/whoever” thing goes. (“Thomas Jefferson was totally a mythic figure!”)

    Well, except we (apparently) have some stuff people wrote under their own names. Although I do wonder if there was some kind of a class/status issue at play, or if it was something akin to, say, an artist farming out some of the work to apprentices but still taking credit for the overall work – except that the artist is, well, dead. (…Vampire Plato, or Zombie Paul. Hee. In retrospect, probably not the best attempt at analogy ever.) But I could easily imagine a school expanding on the works of their masters, with all respect. If that makes sense.

  • arcseconds

    Sure. Pythagoras seems like an example of this.

    I can remember reading someone saying once that they thought that ‘Bertrand Russell’ would one day be understood to be the name of a committee, the composition of which changed over time, because there was so much written, over such a long period of time, and over such a wide variety of topics, with the focus and even opinions changing reasonably frequently.

    As an interesting example of almost the exact opposite, there is (or was — I think they’re still publishing, but their heyday has past) a collective of constructivist mathematicians that published under the name Nicolas Bourbaki. You should check them out :-)

  • Alix

    You should check them out

    I definitely will. :)

  • arcseconds

    by some strange coincidence, I happened by this today (from McGrath’s ‘interesting links’)

    Ehrman seems to have a strong argument that pseudepigraphy (a new word for me!) wasn’t actually tolerated in the ancient world. It’s just that lots of people did it and got away with it. Burrows, the blog author, agrees, but thinks Ehrman is being too black-and-white with his notion of fiction.

  • Alix

    Ooh, thanks for the link! That post is interesting.

    That actually makes some sense, and the point about “copyright curses,” for lack of a better term, is really interesting. I imagine that people were, by and large, not generally any happier with the notion that people might go around abusing their name and ideas then than we are today, and it’s not like stuff today doesn’t ever get misattributed, sometimes deliberately. We’ve just got more ability, in a purely practical/logistical sense, to catch out and call out this stuff.

    The whole argument about pseudepigraphy makes me really wonder if it’s a much more complicated issue than we’d like – that maybe some people did see it as acceptable at some times, and others really didn’t. It would be interesting to see if we could map, even roughly, when and where “copyright curses” were used, and when and where pseudepigrapha appeared, and if there’s any trend or correlation in the points.

    …It always boils down to maps somehow, for me. XD

  • ngotts

    Apparently, they disagreed among themselves whether it was sexual, and if so, whether it was a standard erastes/eromenos relationship between males of unequal status. Similar issues arise over the probably historical relationship between Alexander “the Great” and Hephaistion. Alexander, accompanied by Hephaistion, sacrificed at the supposed tomb of Achilles and Patroclus.

  • Gregory Peterson

    That is the problem with retroactively applying “homosexual” to pre-modern eras. Like with other-sex relationships, somebody had to be the “woman,” a person in a state of submission.

    With “Gay,” which is essentially an egalitarian movement, more or less, somebody has to be the other consenting adult.

  • Cythraul

    “Reading the story as condemnation of homosexuality in general is like saying that a story about an ax murderer is really about the ax.”

    Can I steal that? That’s fantastic.

  • Nick

    I got it from Jay Michaelson so go ahead lol.

  • AnonymousSam

    Well, unless you belong to the school of thought which suggests that the word translated as “eunuch” was used as euphemism to refer to something completely different. XD

  • Nick

    Yikes, Aramaic primacy nuts!

    I’ve never really looked into that argument, but since we don’t find modern ideas of sexual orientation anywhere else in the Ancient literature- it would seem odd to posit that Jesus brought up a completely new and anachronistic concept in his sermons only to pass over it without elaboration.

  • Alix

    we don’t find modern ideas of sexual orientation anywhere else in the Ancient literature

    That’s … a bit overgeneralized. Sure, you don’t see words like “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” thrown about, and many of the best-known examples of sexual mores are a lot more concerned with relative social status than the feelings of the participants, but it’s not as if the ideas of men who preferred (sometimes exclusively) other men, or women who preferred other women, or people who exclusively preferred members of the opposite sex, are entirely new.

    You can’t really look at ideas of proper sexual behavior for views on the emotional aspects of sex, even today. What you really need to look at are love stories and scurrilous gossip. Esmerelda_ogg noted upthread that it was notable enough that Claudius preferred women exclusively that it got special note in a biography. I earlier mentioned Hadrian, who was so “improperly” distraught at the death of his lover Antinous that he had him deified. Those are Roman examples, but there are plenty of others from all around the ancient Mediterranean and Near East. (I can’t speak to other places.) Myths are actually a great source for this – not for examples from real life, but for examples of how ancient societies were absolutely aware of the idea of sexual and romantic preference.

    As for the “eunuch is code for homosexuality” thing – I understand the argument, but I’m not sure I buy it, largely because eunuchs as eunuchs were a major part of many ancient societies, and there’s really not much reason, in my mind, to think it’s not referring to the obvious.

  • Nick

    Preference, yes, but I don’t think you’ll find the idea that it is a deeply ingrained part of someone’s identity that they may or may not have been “born with.”

    That’s what I meant by the modern concept.

  • Alix

    Ha! Found what I was looking for.

    Plato’s Symposium includes a long and very interesting story. The relevant quote, from the Internet Classics archive so I can’t link straight to the passage (search on “Aristophanes” and it’s the 11th or so), is this:

    Each of us when separated [from the primal double-souled beings], having one side only . . . is always looking for his other half. Men who are a section of that double nature which was once called Androgynous are lovers of women; adulterers are generally of this breed, and also adulterous women who lust after men: the women who are a section of the woman do not care for men, but have female attachments; the female companions are of this sort. But they who are a section of the male follow the male. . . . When they reach manhood they are loves of youth, and are not naturally inclined to marry or beget children,-if at all, they do so only in obedience to the law.

    Now, admittedly, this is Aristophanes, reported secondhand by Plato. So. But the idea that there was something intrinsic to human sexual-romantic preferences did exist, it just wasn’t given preeminence like it is in our society.

  • Hummingwolf

    Thank you for this quote. It’s one I read years ago, but forgot about as time passed.
    And I for one am enjoying your comment-essays!

  • Nick

    Ok. Fair enough. Thanks.

    I guess the next task is to determine to what extent the Hellenistically educated Paul or the author of Jude (who would seem to be an unknown quantity) knew about or interacted with such views.

  • Alix

    That’s the million-dollar question, and I’m not sure it’s actually answerable. Unfortunately.

  • Nick

    Yeah, I’m not sure its answerable either.

  • Ross

    Also, that bit was just setup for Socrates to swoop in and say, “No, that’s stupid. Obviously true love is about a mutually beneficial exchange wherein a younger and less-powerful boy gets support and mentorship to help him grow into a responsible member of society, while an older and more powerful man gets to fuck someone cute and supple.”

    (That said, Aristophanes’s speech there contains one of, IIRC, only two references to lesbians in all of classical greek philosophy)

    (And Symposium is one of only two times that Socrates starts out by saying that he actually knows the answer to this one; all the rest of the time, he leads off with “Now, I’m very stupid and don’t know anything about this subject, but let’s see if I can demonstrate how the rest of you are wrong working purely from first principles”)

  • Alix

    True. But it at least shows that the idea existed; people don’t tend to waste their breath refuting nonexistent ideas.

    …I really rather loathe Socrates, fwiw. Though I do sometimes wonder if Plato wasn’t taking the piss, a bit, with the occasional mention of how he wasn’t there for that dialogue, or we shouldn’t trust anything written down.

  • Ross

    I will point out: when Plato became a student of Socrates, Socrates made him burn all his plays. In The Republic, Socrates basically declares that theater has no place in The Republic and is philosophically worthless, though he concedes that he might reverse his position if someone can come up with a good argument in defense of theater.

    Ever notice how Plato’s dialogues are all written like scripts?

  • Alix

    Oh, interesting! I never realized that.

  • arcseconds

    I’m going to demand a reference for this one :]

    (not the Republic, the idea that Socrates made Plato burn all his plays)

  • Ross

    Unfortunately, the professor who kept shouting it every class died about twelve years ago, so I’m going to have to defer to an actual expert.

  • ShifterCat

    More proof that Aristophanes rocked. Doubly so considering his time.

  • arcseconds

    see now Alix, this is why it’s important whether Plato is an author or a biographer/documentary maker. You’ve got ShifterCat believing Aristophanes rocked, when it should be Plato!

    (*stomps feet*)

  • arcseconds

    What makes you think that it’s Aristophanes, reported second hand by Plato, rather than Plato’s story, put in the mouth of Aristophanes?

  • Alix

    For the purpose to which I was quoting it, it doesn’t really matter. Either way, it’s evidence the idea of innate sexual orientation was at least thought of.

    Honestly? I tend to suspect the latter with most everything Plato wrote, or at least that he heavily editorialized. (I am not a fan of the Dialogues.) But they’re framed as Plato recording dialogues that happened, and so unless there’s a reason to bring it up, I usually just roll with that.

    Sort of like how I usually go with the idea that Herodotus was actually recording stories he heard and not completely making shit up.

  • arcseconds

    Are they so framed? Ross has just pointed out the similarity with plays — you presumably don’t think Aristophanes is reporting actual events about Socrates in The Clouds.

    There’s plenty of other reasons to suppose that the dialogues aren’t mean to be (and weren’t) understood as recordings, and the editor of the Hackett critical edition of the complete works (John Cooper) warns against such a reading.

    (All the stuff I’ve encountered about Plato from scholars always just assumes they’re literary/philosophical work, too — not that I’ve read heaps, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be a common reading, and I’d be a bit surprised (and irritated) if there turned out to be a debate about this which all my sources just failed to even mention)

    It’s irrelevant to your point, yes, but you seem to have considerable interest in, and knowledge of, classical studies, and it’s important to understand what genre the primary sources belong in.

    Our opinions of the dialogues aren’t relevant to the discussion about homosexuality either, but seeing as you’ve offered yours, I may as well say I’m a great fan of them :-)

    They’re extremely clever, and often quite hilarious.

  • Alix

    Um. I’m not sure anyone thinks any work of ancient literature is a complete and accurate recording, even the stuff that’s trying to be.

    I’d sort of separate philosophical from literary. The Dialogues were certainly philosophical works. They’re also literary for certain in a broad sense.

    Them being framed as something recorded is interior to the dialogues – Plato is at least pretending they’re actual conversations between real people, kind of like how the Iliad, according to itself, is recounting a real historical event. It’s implicit to the way they’re written.

    None of that means they really are recordings, in the sense we’d think of them. That doesn’t necessarily mean these were works of fiction like we’d understand the term – the same thing is true of all Greek and Roman histories, for example, and Thucydides at least is candid about how he made up all the speeches but “captured the sense.” So.

    That said, Plato does take a number of sly potshots, intentionally or not, that sort of undermine them as real accounts – a few of them we know can’t be records of things he witnessed, because he expressly says he wasn’t there. From what I recall, and with the caveat that Socrates is really not my favorite topic, the Dialogues were seen to contain historical information but not be historical themselves, and there was a big debate over which ideas presented were really Socrates’ and which were Plato’s own.

    I guess, genre-wise, I’d say they were philosophical texts, but not presented as fiction. But with the caveat that they weren’t exactly what we’d call nonfiction, either.

    On the irrelevancy – I don’t mind tangents. :) I just wasn’t sure if your comment was meant as one or not.

    Most people I know hold that opinion about the Dialogues. :P I had to read all of them for school over a semester, coupled with lots of intensely crazy philosophical discussion “in the Socratic method”. I hated everything almost by default, because that was really not a well-run class. :/ I keep intending to go back and reread Plato on my own, without the weird pressures of that class, but I can’t say it’s exactly high on my priority list.

  • Ross

    My inclination, and this is largely the fault of the afforementioned professor whose special interest was the intersection of philosophy and theatre, is that the philosophical content of Plato’s dialogues was drawn from his lessons with Socrates, but the actual narratives that he used to convey them were largely his own invention, something akin to a parable, only one trying to convey a philosophical rather than moral lesson.

  • Alix

    I’m inclined to agree, though I suspect at least a few of his stories might have been based on real life incidents, but heavily altered.

    It’s not like Plato ever claimed to be writing history anyway.

  • arcseconds

    I’m pretty sure the standard view is (or was for some time in the 20th century at any rate, which probably means it’s still being taught as the standard view) that the ‘early’ dialogues show us a figure that’s pretty close to the historical Socrates, and were inspired by actual conversations that Socrates had, whereas the ‘middle’ and ‘late’ dialogues show more and more Plato producing his own ideas.

    This idea is in part based on the observation that the ‘early’ dialogues show Socrates engaging in the famous socratic question-and-answer format (which we have independent testimony for, e.g. Xenophon) , whereas the ‘late’ dialogues tend to be monologues and often the main figure isn’t even Socrates, and the ‘middle’ dialogues are transitional between the two (including for example Republic, where there is some kind of a conversation in parts but it’s largely just Socrates laying it all down).

    We do have somewhat good reasons for thinking the late dialogues were actually written late (e.g. the Laws was apparently still unfinished at the time of his death), but other than that, this is all just speculation, and my impression is that contemporary scholars tend to not put much truck in it (e.g. Cooper). However, I really don’t think anyone thinks that the late dialogues represent anything other than Plato’s own work and ideas, and many think basically all the dialogues do that.

    You can read a discussion about this here:

    It strikes me as a very strange position to take to think that Plato is mostly acting as a record-keeper, even if a biased one who’s inclined to ‘tweak’ things. How did he get a (contemporary) reputation for being a great philosopher, for a start?

  • arcseconds

    Well, they’re framed internally as being discussions, yes, but that may well be in rather the same way as Frankenstein is framed as being a letter from a sea-captain to his wife, who heard most of the story from Dr. Frankenstein.

    They can still contain historical information, even if the discussions themselves are largely fictional. If somehow only literary works survived from the 20th century, you could probably learn a lot of historical information from Tom Stoppard’s Travesties, but you’d be well advised to keep in mind that while the characters portray real people, they never actually met nor had the conversations portrayed therein.

    One question to ask is how the contemporary readers of the dialogues would have understood them. As far as I can make out, ancient Greeks (the devout ones at least) did take the Iliad seriously as a kind of history, but I’d be very surprised if Plato’s original readers thought the same about the dialogues (and I’m pretty sure Aristotle at least refers to stuff that we find in the dialogues as Plato, not Socrates).

    It’s also worth pointing out that Ross’s old teacher isn’t the only person to have thought that the dialogues (or at least some of them) are designed to be read out.

    However, the framing of many of them doesn’t really allow for this. Symposium is a good example: it’s framed as being a discussion between Apollodorus and his unnamed friend, during which Apollodorus recounts a discussion he had with Aristodemus, who was there at the party, and totally remembers what went on even though it was decades ago and he got drunk and passed out.

    So it’s a flashback within a flashback, basically. Perhaps they’d play some appeggios on a lyre, and wave some gauze in front of the audience, and dim the lamps and introduce new actors every time a new layer of narrative is introduced?

    This kind of framing really seems like a literary device to me, something that if anything draws attention to the recounted conversation between Socrates, Aristophanes, etc. as something kind of legendary or mythic, rather than something that has been faithfully recounted as it actually happened.

  • Alix

    I agree with all of this.

    To clarify, when I mentioned in my comment way upthread that the story was “Aristophanes as reported secondhand by Plato” – it’s a general policy of mine to accept the framing of a story, if they’re any stripe of nonfiction*, so long as the proper attribution doesn’t actually matter to my point. I have a similar policy with reported authorship – we know a bunch of Paul’s epistles weren’t written by whoever wrote the other bunch (heck, for all we know, neither was really Paul), but unless that’s an important point I usually just call the author of any Pauline epistle Paul.

    *I don’t think the Dialogues really fit into our modern categories of fiction or nonfiction.

    On a completely random side note, it’s perfectly possible to do flashbacks, even layered ones, in theater or in dramatic readings. Probably especially if the audience is used to the style. I have some vague memory of flashbacks showing up in Greek drama somewhere, but it is going on 3 am and my brain is shot, and Greek drama’s not my specialty anyway.

    There’s also a pretty good case to be made that myth was never seen as literally true in quite the way we mean that term – it was probably Campbell (who annoys me, but sometimes has good ideas) who said there aren’t two modes of truth (true/false), but three: myth, fact, and falsehood. But it is really hard to figure out what people thought about the veracity of their own myths; about the best we can do is compare it to contemporary believers of polytheistic or traditional religions, and the concept of myth-time as opposed to historical time does often (but not always) show up. But with contemporary stuff there’s always the possibility of contamination, if you will, from more rationalist philosophies, and people can be really gullible or ignorant or incurious or otherwise accepting of “crazy” stories, and religious thought varies wildly even across members of the same population in the same place at the same time, let alone across centuries in a changing culture.

  • arcseconds

    I think we have to be very careful in applying our categories of truth and fiction to works from other cultures, yes. In fact, even within Western culture we can be led astray, I think.

    Some people, I reckon, just don’t really believe in truth like the rest of us do. There’s just a bunch of stuff people say, and if by saying something different from what other people are saying, you can get them to react in the way you want, that’s a good outcome. David Irving has struck me a bit like that.

    (of course, it’s really difficult to tell. you can’t just ask them ‘do you believe in literal truth?’, because even if you can get them to be ‘honest’ (and what does that even mean to them?) they could say ‘yes!’ but mean something different. I couldn’t even really tell you what i mean by ‘literal truth’ anyway… )

    While I don’t want to anachronistically imbue ancient peoples or other cultures with sophisticated postmodern attitudes towards narratives and truth, I do think these categories are often more flexible for them than they are for most westerners. ‘Conflicting’ narratives don’t seem to be much of a problem, for example. And sometimes they may be quite sophisticated — the midrashic literature has struck many people this way, just as one example.

  • Alix

    I have nothing to say but “word to all that.” :)

    …Actually, I lie, I have one thing to say, which is that I sometimes wish we were a bit more fluid in our own definitions of “true”. I mean, we sort of are – we understand that philosophical truth and historical/scientific truth are two different things – but we seem a bit more rigid, and in a way that’s not always helpful.

    Like the whole thing about the “literal truth” of the Bible. I … often want to bang Biblical literalists (Christian or not) over the head and say, dear, it’s okay for it to be mythology. It doesn’t have to be scientifically accurate, and Jesus doesn’t have to have been a historical person, for it to still be true. But that’s the “mythic” mode of truth, for lack of a better term, and people seem to have more or less lost the concept that something can be factually false and still true.

  • Nick Gotts

    “something can be factually false and still true”


  • Alix

    It can be philosophically true, or emotionally true, etc.

    It’s like how fiction isn’t really true or false – it’s outside that argument.

  • Alix

    Replying again just because.

    rather than something that has been faithfully recounted as it actually happened

    You can’t take anything as a faithful recounting of what actually happened, though, at least not pre-recording devices, and, well, not even always then. And the further back in time the text is, the less you can trust it, because context is increasingly lost.

    I’m primarily focused on military history at the moment*, and I’ve done a little stuff on reconstructing ancient battles, and even with some of the best-documented ones, there comes a point where you throw up your hands and go “That makes no sense – it’s either propaganda, hearsay, or poor memory.”

    I mean, we know from criminal trials and such that humans are ridiculously unreliable witnesses. It kind of boggles me that we then tend to assume that if the witness was ancient, or the text is sufficiently venerable, that the recounting must be accurate.

    *Closest I could get at my uni to the focus I’m really interested in – you guessed it, ancient Mediterranean history. :P

  • arcseconds

    by the bit you quoted, i didn’t mean what our attitude should be, but rather what the text presents itself as, with its original readership particularly in mind. As I said, i don’t think Plato thought of himself (in most cases, anyway) as doing anything remotely resembling history (well, no more than a ‘based on fact’ Hollywood movie does, anyway), and I don’t think his immediate readers took him to be doing this either, and in some cases the dialogues themselves strongly discourage such a reading through their structure.

    Are there any particular howlers you’d care to discuss from military history? I don’t have much of an interested in military matters, but I do rather like stories that make no sense whatsoever :]

  • Alix

    Are there any particular howlers you’d care to discuss from military history?

    Well, there’s the perennial problem of reported numbers. According to Herodotus, for example, the Greeks fought off what was apparently the population of half the world at the time at Thermopylae. (I’m exaggerating. But not by much.)

    The one battle I’ve done the most reconstruction work on is the battle of Kadesh circa 1274 BCE, between the Hittites and the Egyptians – what drew my attention to it is that we not only have the relatively famous Egyptian accounts, from Ramesses II, but a few from the Hittites, too.

    Ramesses takes great pains to make sure you know that he totally knew that two spies were leading him on, and it was all part of his great plan, really. And he was an incredible badass who fought off the entire Hittite army singlehandedly when they routed the rest of his men with a surprise attack. And he totally won that battle, despite the fact that he actually never succeeded in capturing the city and left post-haste for Egypt.

    The Hittite accounts are much less bombastic and essentially “haha we totally tricked Ramesses. Oh, and we won, so there.”

    It’s … pretty clear that Ramesses was tricked, and screwed up badly by basically marching straight into the Hittite army, and obviously he lived, so there probably really was a desperate scramble until the rest of his divisions arrived. But his account is incredibly bombastic, and really kind of funny, especially because he tries so hard to minimize his screw-up, but still has to admit it anyway, because, apparently, everyone knew of it.

    …In addition to all this, there are problems with the geographic locators – specifically, we know Ramesses fought across and drove the Hittites back into some body of water – but not the main river, ’cause it doesn’t fit the description and he’d already forded it anyway, and apparently not the tributary, because this river was in front of the city. So either the city is not quite where we (and, well, archaeology) think it was, or there was a pretty damn big canal in front of the city that we don’t have much evidence for. We have no idea what body of water Ramesses meant, and in fact there’s been serious speculation that he managed to get entirely turned around and basically re-forded the river he’d already crossed, then re-forded it again when he figured it out to go harass the city itself.

    …It’s fun stuff. XD Especially because so much is assumed – it’s assumed that everyone knows Kadesh’s geography, when things can change quite a lot over thousands of years, and it’s assumed that we know how chariots were used, though there’s a lot of debate over that. So it’s damn hard to work out what really happened, despite the battle being one of the best-recorded battles in the ancient near east.

  • Ross

    If my memory serves me correctly, Froissart’s chronicle of the hundred year’s war is a fun one, because he wrote it three times for three different patrons, and there are considerable differences in the versions based on what the respective patrons wanted to hear about their respective kinsmen.

    There’s also a pretty common thing in military history especially where military historians tend to have a lot of contemporary knowledge of military procedure and tactics that they use to fill in the gaps in their sources. Alfred Burne is heavily criticized for essentially this: he came up with the concept of “inherent military probability”, which basically means “When writing military history, if the sources aren’t clear on what happened, assume that what happened is what a trained 20th century military commander would have done,” which is all well and good from a consistency standpoint, but you end up writing history books where medieval generals think like World War 2 generals.

  • Ross

    Keep in mind, though, that the way the ancient Greeks did theater was “A succession of guys in masks come out and shout monologues at the audience about things that happened off-stage”.

  • arcseconds

    Yeah, alright, I’m probably going too far in saying it’d would be impossible or incredibly difficult to stage the dialogues, even the ones that have the real discussion highly nested.

    I just kind of threw out the Greek theatre does 60s American-TV style flashbacks because I thought it was funny :]

    I still think a non-nested dialogue is a more obvious target for staging than a nested one, though, and the fact that many of them are heavily nested tends to make me think they weren’t really intended to be read out (in a dramatic way

  • Ross

    Ooh ooh. I know this one.

    I got in a fight over it once with someone who claimed to be famous on the internet for always being right about everything.

    Apparently, the only reason we can say that Aristophanes is not reporting actual events about Socrates in ‘The Clouds’ is because in Plato’s ‘Apology’, Socrates says so. Otherwise, we would be legally required to assume Arisophanes was giving an accurate report of actual history, since fiction was not invented until the 19th century.

  • EllieMurasaki

    fiction was not invented until the 19th century.

    How now, spirit, whither wander you?

    Over hill, over dale,
    Thorough bush, thorough brier,
    Over park, over pale,
    Through flood, through fire,
    I do wander everywhere,
    Swifter than the moon’s sphere;
    And I serve the fairy queen,
    To dew her orbs upon the green.
    The cowslips tall her pensioners be:
    In their gold coats spots you see;
    Those be rubies, fairy favours,
    In those freckles live their savours:
    I must go seek some dewdrops here
    And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.
    Farewell, thou lob of spirits; I’ll be gone:
    Our queen and all our elves come here anon.

  • arcseconds


    oh, well, if they’re famous for always being right, that’s different…

  • Alix

    Putting this in a second reply, for easier reading.

    I think it’s important to distinguish between homosexuality/heterosexuality/etc. as psychological aspects of a person, and the -sexualities as social constructs. Like a lot of things, they seem to be both, and there is no society I am aware of that has not had a percentage of the population who preferred their own sex, or preferred no one. So on a personal psychological level, yes, it seems that at least something of sexual preference is innate. Societies handle the expression of those preferences in different ways: some by embracing them, in various ways, some … not. And societies often try to construct social narratives for how things are, including, obviously, for sexuality. So there’s of course a complex interaction there, where the individual tries to understand oneself and express one’s identity within the bounds of their society’s understanding of such things.

    But I really don’t think we can say there is nothing innate about human sexual preferences, or that somehow thousands of years of human history went by entirely oblivious to this. And they weren’t.

    (Totally random aside: it belatedly occurs to me that the Symposium quote I extracted is one of the few explicit references to female homosexuality I’m aware of in classical literature.)

  • Nick

    Right, I agree. Though I think it’s a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg problem as to how much of this innate component comes from biology and how much from culture (ie. are there more homosexuals in a modern society which is more open to acknowledging and/or embracing their existence or has social awareness just led to more biological homosexuals recognizing this orientation in themselves)?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Do you mind not nouning adjectives, specifically to include the noun use of the adjective ‘homosexual’?

  • Nick

    But what else is QUILTBAG but a series of nouned adjectives? I don’t want to offend anyone, but I’m kind of at a loss for wieldly terminology here.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Everywhere you said ‘homosexuals’, you could have said ‘gay people’, and your meaning would have come through just as clearly and without the insinuation that we are nothing but our orientation.

  • Nick

    Fair enough. Sorry, I did not mean to insinuate that.

  • Gregory Peterson

    Yes, I live and work in a very diverse environment, but I don’t know anyone who self-identifies as “homosexual.”

    To me anyway, there were use to be “homosexuals” and “Negroes,’ but at about the same time, Gay” and/or “Black” people appeared. I mean, who wants to self-identify with the terminology and the self-serving, negative social constructs of the oppressor?

  • AnonymousSam

    Don’t know if I represent anyone, but I self-identify as bisexual. Perhaps because bisexuals slip between the cracks too often to be negatively labeled?

    Then again, the phrase “I am a bisexual” feels grammatically incorrect and subtly insulting. The same goes for referring to people as “gays.” I don’t get the same twinge from being called “a homosexual” (which I do group myself as even while noting it’s not technically correct) but perhaps because that’s a scientifically accurate term, where as “you’re a gay” sounds to me like the kind of thing someone would say with a finger up their nose and their fly unzipped.

    Maybe it’s a regional thing. I still flinch when people refer to each other as “queer” because that word was akin to a racial slur in the areas I grew up in (central Michigan) and you wouldn’t want to call anyone that (whether it was “you’re queer” or “you’re a queer”) unless you were willing to throw down with them about eight seconds later.

  • Gregory Peterson

    To me anyway, “homosexual” has an objectionably clinical sound to me. I’m not a patient with a medical condition that wants treating. Could that be what you’re feeling about “bisexual?” So…what could be a better Bisexual community appellation? It’s your community, you get to name it.

    “Gays” does have a “you people” feeling, doesn’t it?

    I’m with you on “queer,” though context makes it acceptable, or not acceptable, to me.

  • David Policar

    FWIW, I preferentially identify as “queer,” though I will accept both “gay” and “bi.”

    Mostly because it lets me bypass the whole “who is gay, who is bi, where exactly do we draw these overwhelmingly important lines through the middle of our community?!?” silliness.

  • AnonymousSam

    Touché! Maybe I’m just pedantic, but I prefer specificity. I feel like bisexual people fall between the cracks in the equal marriage debate — there are times it feels like everyone (both advocates for and opponents against) just assumes, hey, it’ll work out either way because bisexuals can just marry the “right” sex person!

    (Never mind that in my mind, this is arbitrarily marking off a large portion of the population that my body and mind insist are perfectly valid options…)

  • David Policar

    One of the reasons I don’t often bother correcting people when they describe me as gay is that I’ve been in a monogamous relationship for 20+ years with my now-husband. Which is, no question, pretty gay. But people then get confused when I mention being attracted to women, so it sometimes requires explanation.

    That said, even monosexuals “arbitrarily mark off” the vast majority of the population when they enter into monogamous relationships. I am attracted to men and women, but married a man. I am attracted to blonds and brunettes and redheads, but married a brunette. Etc.

    That said, I support marriage equality for polyamorous relationships as well. It’s not the kind of family I want to be in, but I endorse treating families with equal support and respect even when they aren’t the kind of family I want to be in.

  • AnonymousSam

    Well, there’s a self-made line between “acknowledge as attractive” and “want to pursue some form of relationship with” that can slide into place the moment one enters a monogamous relationship, but I would assume that line is voluntary in most cases. You wouldn’t just stop finding people attractive altogether because you were in a relationship, would you?

    Sincere question, that. I’m discovering that I have somewhat polyamorous tendencies, although they conflict with my desire to have a committed relationship. I suppose my ideal situation could be described as “We’re free to explore relationships with other people as long as we come home to each other with no unpleasant surprises,” but actually living that situation has left something to be desired (namely, my SO and I appear to be in a situation of no longer being together while still living together, and I have no idea how this is going to end, but “poorly” feels like a good guess).

  • David Policar

    You wouldn’t just stop finding people attractive altogether because you were in a relationship, would you?

    I’m not sure. I mean, I don’t, but as for whether I would want to… perhaps it’s more correct to say I would probably prefer to stop finding people attractive when I decide I don’t want to find them attractive. This is not unrelated to being in a monogamous relationship, but not coextant with it either.

    And I’m sorry things are going poorly with your SO.

  • AnonymousSam

    *Pauses* That was probably TMI. I suspect I’m a little on edge. Lest it be misconstrued, I’m glad you’ve had success in your relationship, especially given the adversarial nature of our culture toward same-sex relationships. Seriously, seeing numbers like “20+” make me feel good. Envious, yes, but as happy for a person as I can naturally manage.

  • Lectorel

    For me (Speaking as someone barely into her twenties, ftr) it’s hard to think of queer as a intrinsically negative word. I’m an ace, and I’d identified as queer for a long time before that, because I knew I wasn’t heterosexual, but couldn’t articulate it further than that. Queer is – argh, words are hard. It’s my word, my identity, and I’m pleased with it, to be labeled as such and to label myself. It sayys I’m not straight, not normative, without needing to explain the precise details of that unless I choose.

  • Alix

    Yeah, queer’s about the best word I can find for me, too – the joys of not really fitting into any boxes, sexuality- or gender-wise. Also, as an asexual who does form romantic bonds, “queer” saves me a hell of a lot of potentially-insulting interactions with well-meaning people who have no effing clue that there’s a difference between sexual and romantic attraction.

    Besides, queer is … freeing, in a way no other word that I know of is. I don’t have to meet a particular standard to be queer, I can just be me, with my fluid self-perception and fascination with guises. And I’m sure there’s a regional (and possibly age-group) thing here too, in that while I have heard people use queer as an insult, I’ve heard it very rarely, and it’s usually a “weak” one – one that someone throws out ’cause they can’t think of an appropriately snappy comeback/insult.

    (I suspect a generational thing because to my mother, queer is either a heinous insult or a quaint archaism, depending on context. But that could be regional too – Mom grew up clear across the country.)

  • AnonymousSam

    That might actually be why I use it. I have a background in psychology, so, yeah…

    I do have to wonder at the lack of casual terminology specifically referring to bisexual orientation. The unique only word or phrase I can think of is “swings both ways”, which I’ve never actually heard said disparagingly. I have been told I’m “just confused” or “just going through a phase” though, as if I’ll eventually just snap into my proper orientation. (Still waiting on that!)

    “Gays” is one of those words I’ve just never heard not said disparagingly, kind of like “homo”… maybe that’s also part of why I don’t like it. Shorthand references always seem slightly insulting. I tend to be inclined toward a full term and to use any form of abbreviation sparingly, if not cautiously. (This might actually be a good argument for me falling somewhere on the autistic spectrum instead of having APD…)

  • David Policar

    Is “bi” not casual? While I’m more inclined to describe myself as “queer” than as “bi,” I use both terms, and “bi” is more commonly used in my social circle.

    I’ve also heard “gays” used nondisparagingly, though usually as part of a construction like “gays and lesbians” (which of course raises all kinds of issues around unmarked gender).

  • AnonymousSam

    I’ve never actually heard anyone call themselves or be referred to as “bi” outside of Hollywood. It always struck me as like referring to marijuana as “Mary Jane”… ubiquitous, but nonexistent.

  • David Policar

    Interesting. My social circle is centered around the Boston and Bay Area tech communities, if that helps to know.

  • AnonymousSam

    Now I’m curious… it’d make sense that some of these terms are more common in one region than another, but I don’t know if anyone’s ever studied it. It would be interesting to see what terms and assumptions are common to which branches of culture.

  • Alix

    I’m now curious, too.

    As a data point: “bi” is used as a casual identifier in Northern Virginia.

  • Alix

    It is a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem, like pretty much everything about human behavior and psychology.

    That said, societies tend to be conservative when it comes to their social roles/narratives – they don’t tend to invent roles that aren’t filled, if that makes any sense. (In fact, I can’t think of an example where that happens.) That implies, to me, that there’s a reason for the development of these roles/narratives, and that implies something innate, though probably not entirely innate in the sense of unshaped by culture at all.

    …I am not sure that paragraph makes sense. :/

  • Nick

    It makes sense, I think. As societies evolve, the acceptable social roles change based on people’s psychology- women start working outside the home, men can be stay at home dads and learn to cook, etc.

    In this case, gay people are moving from the role of marginalized underground culture to accepted part of the landscape of gender and marriage options.

  • Alix

    That, but also that there’s human psychology underlying social roles/narratives from the dawn of prehistory. I sometimes think people swing too hard towards “it’s all sociocultural” – I have to keep myself from doing that sometimes, too.

    And, y’know, like you’ve been pointing out, a lot is socialization and culture. And an awful lot of supposedly “immutable” things really aren’t. But there are also things that crop up again over and over in human societies, and that strongly suggests there’s something more than just socialization and cultural narratives going on there.

    I also find it somewhat problematic that we argue on the one hand that sexual orientation is innate when discussing modern gay rights, but that it’s a new thing when discussing ancient people.

  • Nick

    I guess what I was leaning toward is the position that there have always been people who were gay or straight to whatever extent biologically, but in the case of the ancient world, they would not have recognized or identified as such beyond “I prefer women” “or I prefer the stable boy.”

    Where culture comes into it (and where the chicken-egg thing *really* comes into it) is the modern cultural concept that a good 10% of the population is strongly wired to, not only like people of the same sex, but to identify with others of like minds in what has become a robust subculture.

    The biological urges would always have been there but the way in which they are expressed and conceptualized and even perhaps *amplified* changes with culture. Makes me wonder if some 1st Century Christians could witness today’s climate, they might not be as inclined to see homosexuality as an aberration that some people incline to like any other sin, but as something which is capable of resulting in stable, God-fearing families.

  • Nick Gotts

    Or are there actually more people biologically inclined to homosexuality in modern societies? (I know of no reason why there would be, but it’s another possibility.)

  • BringTheNoise

    Possibly the wrong thread to bring it up, but I believe we have a few gamers in this community and so I wanted to put in a plug for a podcast I have just started co-hosting. It’s called Zerolife and in my first episode, we discusss Alex Kidd In Miracel World, Eternal Darkness and Resident Evil 4.

  • Jake

    I can’t get the video to play, so I don’t know if this is just a rehash of what it says, but…

    I was raised without any religion, and I was in my 20s the first time I read the original Sodom and Gomorrah (KJV, obvs). I was astounded by how little it seemed to have to do with homosexuality. To me, the two main messages of that story are
    1) don’t rape people
    2) women aren’t people.

  • Geds

    To me, the two main messages of that story are
    1) don’t rape people
    2) women aren’t people.

    Well isn’t that conveeeeeenient?

    [/Church Lady]

  • histrogeek

    I won’t disagree with the interpretation. The Biblical attitude (ancient in general for that matter) toward women is appalling and not at all worth defending.

    One thing though is that Lot is pretty much never held up as an exemplar of anything other than running a really bad household. Not that Abram is going to win husband and dad of the year by a long shot but Lot makes his uncle look good.

    I think one problem we moderns often have with Genesis in particular is that we expect the characters to be models of moral or godly behavior and they just aren’t. Even by the medieval period, that was obvious.

  • Jenny Islander

    Yes, this. My mainstream religious education put a lot of emphasis on how people who appear in the Bible are shown as going wrong, but apparently there is a very strong strain of Bible-worship that will not admit that there are non-holy non-admirable non-saints all over the text.

    Also note that Lot offers his daughters for rape and later in the story they rape him. Lot is saved because Abraham begs God for his life. Not because there is anything special about him or his family.

  • Bethany

    I’ve read most of the way through The History of God — bogged down about 2/3 of the way though — but one thing that’s clear is that the Old Testament in general, the Pentateuch in particular, and Genesis in even MORE particular, is a VERY complicated document, encompassing probably thousands of years’ worth of oral tradition over several different cultures and probably even over different religions and different deities.

    I think we tend to want to boil it down to, “God says” or “the Bible says” when even “Genesis says” is making things much too simplistic as Genesis is very much not a unitary entity.

  • AnonymousSam

    *Nods* One of the explanations I’ve always thought was most credible was that Genesis was formed by merging the oral traditions of at least two tribes together, hence why several characters have more than one name, why events are repeated with slight variations, why God is referred to as YHWH and Elohim (and why Elohim is a somewhat curious choice of name), why the mountain where God resides alternates between the names Sinai and Horeb…

  • histrogeek

    Genesis is pretty much believed to come from at least 3 sources, J and E from the two different Hebrew kingdoms (probably based on two earlier tribal stories) and P from the Exile period, plus the much harried redactor who tried to bring some order to the mess without annoying anyone.

    The rest of the Torah has at least two additional sources, D and H. D for Deuteronomy from the late Kingdom of Judah and H for the Holiness Code, which is a little hazier and occasionally gets lumped in with P.

  • AnonymousSam

    I always thought the Priestly source came in on the latter half of Exodus, where it starts with “this is the law” and ends with “GIMMIE GIMMIE GOLD FOOD JEWELS INCENSE OIL OR YOU ALL DIE.”

  • histrogeek

    P is mostly law codes especially everyone’s favorite Leviticus, but Genesis 1 is generally believed to be P. It borrows ideas from Babylonian “science.” (I’d like to add because it comes up WAY more than it should that Genesis 1 is NOT at all the Babylonian Creation Story, Ennuma Elish. There are far too few slain chaos dragons for that.)

    Exodus has some P, but the better part of it is J and E.

  • EllieMurasaki

    The slain chaos dragon is mentioned somewhere in the Bible. Job, I think, but I can’t remember offhand. Hold up while I go find the article that told me this…

    Aha, it was Job. And Isaiah.

    The third has a connection to the Babylonian creation story. (Enumah-Elish, “when on high”). The earth was created in six time periods. Afterwards, Tiamat, goddess of salt water, is disturbed by the noise that the gods make in creating the earth. She is about to attack the gods, and in order to quell her (she represents chaos), the gods create Marduk, the ultimate god of order, out of fresh water. Marduk defeats Tiamat, splits her body in two, and makes part of it into the sky and part into the water). This story in the Bible is fragmentary and can be found in Job 26:12-13 (a hymn written to the god of Israel) and in Isaiah 27:1 and Isaiah 51:9-10, which have YHWH getting credit for what Marduk did.

  • Alix

    Probably more directly borrowed from the Canaanites (assuming the Hebrews didn’t already have their own version), who had a very similar story about Baal defeating Yam, who was somehow associated with a monstrous sea serpent named Lotan, from whom the name “Leviathan” probably derives (or is a cognate of). But it’s a very common Near Eastern myth, and there are still traces of it at the very, very beginning of Genesis 1.

  • histrogeek

    I certainly didn’t mean to imply that Enumah-Elish wasn’t an influence in Genesis 1, but there are a lot of people who seem to think that it’s basically the same story, which it definitely isn’t.
    Job might have been referring to Marduk. Isaiah 21 probably was Hebrew interpretation of the western Semitic religious traditions Baal, Yam, and Lotan that Alix mentioned. First Isaiah wouldn’t have known Babylonian mythology enough to refer to it. Second Isaiah could have, Third might have.

    The physical defeat of Chaos embodied is a pretty common theme in nearly all creation stories (except oddly enough Genesis 2 where chaos isn’t mentioned). In most Chaos is personified as the earlier gods or monsters. In a handful including Genesis 1 and some of the Hindu stories, chaos is more a physical thing, “waters” in both cases.
    Bringing order from chaos is such a common theme, it’s sometimes hard to test for paternity. In any event, it’s not like P was sitting down with a tablet of Enumah-Elish on one side, translating it into what became Genesis 1.

  • Lectorel

    I read a really interesting book a couple years back that argued that a)The basis of the bible was largely J’s writing, and everything else got added on and built in from there, b) J was an educated noblewoman from a kingdom in decline (can’t remember the specific name) and c)J wrote her stuff as a fictional novel.

    I would pay good money to see the fundamentalists react to that.

  • Alix

    Out of curiosity, do you remember the name of that book?

  • The Guest Who Posts

    I’m not certain, but it sounds like Harold Bloom’s “The Book of J” to me. I haven’t read it myself, but I know that it argues that J was female.

  • Alix

    Ooh, thanks!

  • histrogeek

    Harold Bloom put forward the idea that J was a woman. His argument was that some of the stories, especially regarding Abram and Sarai, show a sensitivity to women’s condition that would be at best improbable in a man of that era. I like the idea; it genuinely fucks with some stories of the Bible to imagine a woman writing the Temptation story for example. Fundies though wouldn’t go for it though. The documentary hypothesis (the idea that the Bible comes from multiple sources) was one of the earliest conflicts between them and the mainstream of Christian scholarship.

    The kingdom in decline idea, it would certainly have been Judah, is odd. The conventional explanation is that the J source was complied during David and Solomon’s reign. That era was certainly a time of great upheaval, changing from a traditional semi-tribal people to a centralized, Egyptian-style monarchy. It was a decline of the traditional society to be sure.

    A fictional novel would be anachronistic for the era. Novels weren’t anywhere until the medieval Japan; Cervantes was the first western novelist. It could be argued though that J was recording legends like the Brothers Grimm did, that is, without believing they actually happened. Or she could have created some as well knowing they didn’t happen.

    Ancients in general weren’t especially picky about what really happened, probably because they were by necessity accustomed to being ignorant.

  • hf

    2) women aren’t people.

    If we accept the AU fanfic that appears at the end of Judges (warning: do not read the end of Judges) raping a woman could still have destroyed their city.

  • Alix

    “AU fanfic”?

    warning: do not read the end of Judges

    No reason not to. We are discussing Sodom and Gomorrah in this post, with a long digression into Roman sexual mores, after all…

  • histrogeek

    Or lead to her brothers killing you while you’re recovering from circumcision (Dinah) or your dad’s soldiers hacking your ass to pieces (Tamar).

  • Gregory Peterson

    Gang rape is, as near as I can figure out, isn’t all that much about predatory sexual pleasure, and much more about violently breaking the victim down into a state of abject submission.

    Many females in antiquity were already in a state of submission to men. Perhaps Lot’s daughters were rejected because, unlike the strangers who just happened to be angels, they didn’t need to be gang raped to be enslaved.

    I wonder, being a person of my time and place, if revenge for being offered up to a howling mob might have been an unconscious part of the daughters’ (or the writer’s) motivations for taking turns drugging and raping their father, a little later in the story.

  • Eric the Red

    Oh Fred, why must you be such a lying liar? This is no “plain reading” of the text.
    First, he reads Genesis 19:3-5 and makes a hard stop to make a baseless assertion as to the mob’s motives.
    He then jumps to Ezekiel 16:49 while omitting verse 50, as you liberals always do.
    Then he abuses Jude 1:7 and tries to retrofit today’s definition of heterosexuality to “hetero” flesh.
    Romans 1:27? Meh, let’s just skip over that one.
    Back to Genesis 19:6-8. Refusing the daughters is not evidence of homosexuality due to ‘Lot is a terrible dad!’ non sequitur. “They could have raped Lot but they didn’t” (ifyouignoreverse9).
    Let’s conflate this issue with Judges 19. Look! A completely unrelated mob behaved differently and raped a woman! Isn’t rape terrible?
    Finally, we’re xenophobic today so obviously that was the mob’s driving intent CAN”T YOU SEE THAT?
    Fred, you’re a lying liar because you’re fully aware of all these omissions but presented this swiss-chees exagesis as “just reading what it actually says.

  • JustoneK

    Well, I’m convinced.

  • Eric Boersma

    Ezekiel 16:49-50:

    Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it.

    I think you may be confused, because verse 50 doesn’t change the meaning of verse 49 taken in isolation *at all*.

  • Eric Boersma

    Regarding Jude 1:7; the key function there would seem to be the use of heteras, a greek word which is usually translated as “strange” or “from a strange tribe”. It’s pretty obvious that the writer of Jude wasn’t trying to imply that the sexual immorality of Sodom was necessarily related to their desire to have sex with humans at all. That you approach it with a world view that suggests he was says more about you than homosexuality.

  • AnonymousSam

    Heck, “from a strange tribe” would go back to the xenophobia. Marrying outside the tribe is condemned many, many times in the Bible.

  • Carstonio

    While I’m not as knowledgeable about the OT as others here, my impression is that preservation of tribal and cultural identity is a dominant theme. Not surprising from a culture that existed in a hostile geopolitical environment and that spent many years in captivity. Christian fundamentalism in the US has strong Southern roots, and appears to venerate the OT at the expense of the NT. Almost like this ideology is projecting Lost Cause revisionism onto the OT theme.

  • Eric Boersma

    Christian Fundamentalism in the US venerates Republican ideals at the expense of both the OT and the NT.

  • Jenny Islander

    And this is always in tension with what God actually does. Ruth, for example, is a foreigner, and her descendants include David. The writers of the Gospels extend this theme. providing genealogies for Jesus that include outsiders.

  • Alix

    preservation of tribal and cultural identity is a dominant theme.

    Yep. There’s also a very strong secondary theme of “cities/settled people are really evil,” which, y’know, also underlies the Sodom story.

  • Alix

    (Replying again ’cause I somehow missed this earlier.)

    Almost like this ideology is projecting Lost Cause revisionism onto the OT theme.

    Oh, damn. I never noticed that before, but I think you’re right.

  • mountainguy

    well Mr Pendejo, then could you provide a conservative plain reading of the text, that happens to be more plain than the “liberal” plain reading of Mr Corvino?

  • Jim Roberts

    This may rehash some points made already, but I can’t post from work and it kind of ticks me off when people complain about a person’s lack of adequate exegesis by posting a series of verses with no exegesis whatsoever.

    Okay, so they didn’t do the exegesis you wanted. Please, allow me.

    Ezekiel 16:50

    The next verse in Ezekiel says that the people of Sodom were “haughty” and did many “detestable” things. How does this make it MORE likely that they were motivated by homosexuality, and not the xenophobic desire to drive our outsiders?

    I’m guessing, though, that you’re using one of those translation who says
    that they performed abominations or were abominable and, well, everyone knows that homosexuality is an abomination, so there you go. Problem – the word for “abomination” here is used a total of 117 times in a total of 112 verses, most of which have nothing to do with sexual conduct. It’s a very, very poor and very, very loose connection, so it’s poor exegesis to even mention it, really.

    Jude 1:7

    Jude uses the word “heteros,” hence the reason Mr. Corvino used that word, “hetero flesh.” Given that Sodom was, in the Jewish tradition, actively attempting to procreate with fallen angels, it seems appropriate to call it “strange” or “other” flesh. Again, you’re interpreting it as referring to the flesh of teh menz, but the Scripture does not require you to do that. In fact, the next verse refers to “polluting their own bodies” and abusing angelic beings, so it seems most reasonable to interpret this verse as referring to angelic abuse, not homosexuality, based on the passage as a whole.

    Romans 1:27

    I don’t get how including this verse changes anything – men engaged in
    perverse sexual practice with men the same as women, in the eyes of Paul when talking about pagan rites. That’s all it really seems to add, unless you’re meaning the “receiving due penalty” part of the verse, in which case I still don’t think you’re building a case for anything other than, “Having sex with a dude because the horse god told you to is a bad idea and will end poorly.”

    Genesis 19:9

    Man, you’re stretching here. It appears your evidence that they weren’t hot for Lot is that they said they would hurt him, but failed because God
    (and his angels) stopped them. I mean, really? I’m guessing Mr. Corvino
    didn’t go over this verse for the sake of brevity, but I kind of wish he had because, honestly, it strengthens his case – the people of Sodom weren’t looking for those two dudes, they were looking for an outsider – an alien – to punish for being uppity.

    It’s also worth noting here how deep their hate goes – Lot is described as sitting at the gates of the city with the city’s elders. He’s as much one of them as an outsider can be, and yet they turn on him at the first sign that he might show hospitality to outsiders.

    Judges 19
    Are you familiar with the exegetical importance of parallelism? Similar
    passages often lend themselves to similar interpretations and, where we’re trying to interpret the motives of people long-since dead and buried, in cultures that are alien to ours, it’s most useful.

  • histrogeek

    The problem with any attempt to put a “plain meaning” on Genesis in particular is that there just isn’t any plain meaning to it. A lot of stories, some repetitive, some contradictory, most about as morally uplifting as Homer and Sophocles, and less historical as the Greek epics.

    There are plenty of ways of getting meaning out of Genesis, for good or ill, but there just isn’t a plain meaning of the book.

  • bmk

    We talked about this in a Sunday school class a couple of weeks ago, in relation to criminalization of homelessness and feeding the poor. Specifically, I mentioned that we don’t have to struggle to interpret the story of Sodom & Gomorrah – Ezekiel does it for us!

    > This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it. (Ez 16:49-50)

    It’s not quite the same as Peter explaining his own vision in Acts (one of Fred’s hobby horses), but it’s still pretty useful. And Ezekiel’s interpretation meshes nicely with the Babylonian Talmud and other Rabbinical traditions.

  • Enopoletus Harding

    It’s a straightforward, face-value reading of the text without any
    radical criticism or deconstruction or appeals to any esoteric scholarly

    -Sorry, Fred, but the part at 2:01 is, to the fundamentalists, “radical criticism”, “deconstruction” and an appeal to an esoteric scholarly theory.

  • fencerman

    The sin of Sodom does seem to be about a bunch of men who want to commit a homosexual rape. It’s just odd that the “homosexual” part is considered more important than the “rape” part.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Well, it may look like that, but God later says himself that S&G’s sin was being greedy jerks who didn’t take care of the poor among them. (Ezekiel 16:48-50)

    Curiously, this is always roundly ignored when the “FEAR TEH BUTTSECZ” crowd starts talking.

  • Gregory Peterson

    Gang rape is about quickly and violently breaking the victims down into being enslaved. Doesn’t really have much to do with “homosexuality” anymore that it would have something to do with “heterosexuality” if the victim was female and the rapists male.

    (Speaking of rape, a little while later, Lot’s daughters take turns drugging and raping him…the Bible can be such a soap opera.)

    I live and work in a very diverse environment, but I don’t know anyone who self-identifies as “homosexual.” There use to be homosexuals, like there use to be Negroes, but today, there are Gay and/or Black people.

    In any case, Gay is basically a world wide egalitarian movement that cherishes the concept of “consenting adults.” Homosexuality is an ever more dubious, much abused modern-era social construct that has a lot of discredited scientific baggage…does that remind you of “race?”

  • Ed Lucas

    Another common misreading on this story comes a bit later when Lot’s wife is turned to salt for looking back at the city as it is being firebombed. Usually that deed is attributed to the LORD but there really isn’t anything in my NRSV that suggests that. The story pretty much says she was warned and didn’t heed warning. Nothing about divine action directly acting on her, only that she was told to GTFO of a dangerous situation and she didn’t. What would have happened to Forrest Gump if he didn’t run? He’d get his ass whooped or shot dead. Kinda like that. No LORD needed. It’s a cautionary tale.

  • Alix

    The pillar-of-salt thing is also a just-so story, explaining the presence of vaguely humanish salt pillars around the Dead Sea.

  • Parasum

    That was most impressive. Gen. 19.1-29 (AKA the Sodom story) is a very important – and immensely interesting – passage. The human attempts to copulate with heavenly beings carries on the theme, found several times in Genesis, of “crossing boundaries”. Gen.6.1-4 is one such story: the “sons of God/the gods” marry “the daughters of men”: the result – the Nephilim AKA the giants. (Stories in which male divine beings have intercourse with mortal women are very widespread; for some reason, it is dangerous to men for goddesses to have intercourse with them).

    Gen.6.1-4 comes directly before the account(s) of the Flood – and both narratives, one very short, the other extending over chapters 6.5-8.22, are echoed in the Sodom story. The destruction of Sodom is in effect a Flood by fire, on a small scale. And it follows an attempt by men to have intercourse with divine beings: in that respect, it is an inversion of 6.1-4. Genesis 19.30-38 echoes the story of the drunkenness of Noah in Gen.9 – Lot is made drunk, and his daughters have sons by him; a Noah-related story, though not a Flood-story.

    As to the hospitality motif – it’s present, and is v. important. Lot plays the part of the one person in a town of inhospitable people to give a welcome to guests who are – in fact – divine beings. His reward is to be spared the destruction that falls on them – just as in the Greek & Latin myths of the same kind. The reason for the presence of the divine beings, is that there has a been a rumour of the wickedness of the community that ends up being destroyed – and the equivalent of that detail is found in Genesis 11, when God “goes down” to the building of the “Tower of Babel”. Hospitality was of immense importance in the kind of society reflected in the “Abraham cycle” of which Gen. 19.1-29 forms part. Refusal of it, or the abuse of it, would have been met with a strength of condemnation that we urbanised & industrialised modern Westerners may find very hard to imagine. There is what seems to be a subversion of the motif of the Visit by Heavenly Beings, in Acts 14, when the people of Lystra mistake Paul & Barnabas for Hermes & Zeus, & try to sacrifice to them, to the horror of those Apostles.

    About the passage in Jude – it may rely on & refer to the account in 1 Enoch of how some angels (as the “sons of God” had become by then, in the course of Jewish & Christian tradition) lay with women. What makes this seem likely is that Jude verses 14-15 quotes 1 Enoch.

    The significance of the Sodom story is probably not “gay-friendly” – the main theme in the Abraham-cycle is the promise of a son for Abraham, and this promise is itself a realisation of the blessing of fertility in Genesis 1. The two stories in Genesis 19 seem to be intended as stories about uses of sexuality that do not result in fertility; and Gen 38 may be another of the same kind, in part at least. The quotation from Ezekiel 16 shows the Sodom story was important in the 6th BC – no Biblical story is referred to so often within the Biblical books; but Ezekiel gives us Ezekiel’s use of the story; it is not a guide to what the author(s) of Genesis thought.

  • Jenny

    Although I remain convinced that the Bible explicitly condemns male homosexuality, I agree that this man makes some good points about tying gang rape to zenophobia and public humiliation. I’ve read that aversion to male homosexuality in the West Indies is largely due to the long, sad history of plantation foremen “sodomizing” slaves as a way of degrading them and making them submissive workers.