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In Matthew’s gospel Jesus says to his disciples:
For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 19:10-12)
This is a statement where Jesus stands with the more inclusive, progressive Jewish community interpreting their sacred texts. Others, like Rabbi Hillel, had interpreted the Torah in more progressive ways. In this passage we see Jesus doing something very similar.
Let’s go back to the Torah to see how Jewishly progressive Jesus was being. In Deuteronomy we read:
No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 23:1)
The “assembly of the Lord” was when Israel assembled for religious ceremonies. Eunuchs, men who had been castrated or were otherwise unable to reproduce, were considered non-normative within this society. Within this patriarchal culture, carrying on a man’s name through male offspring was the only way to ensure that his name and nation would endure forever. Passing that name down through generations was the ancient Hebrews’ idea of eternal life.
When it came to reproduction, many cultures during this period considered a woman little more than an incubation chamber for the baby being passed down from the male. This kind of patriarchal thinking still persists in Christian purity culture today.
During this period, people didn’t have the faintest scientific idea about the zygote being the combination of the female ovum and the male sperm. It was believed that the male seed contained everything needed for a human to be produced. All that was required was the fertile soil (the woman) for the seed to be planted in and to grow. It’s no wonder that many women were sometimes treated no better than dirt!
Being a eunuch within a patriarchal society, whether by birth or not, made a man “non-normative.” We’ll unpack this a bit more and consider its application to us today in part 2.