Thursday, June 02, 2005

Gagnon answers (shreds) revisionist's argument

The shoot out at the SBS coral is going guns ablazing today. Here is a little of what someone is going to want to save for posterity:

May 24th, 2005, 11:33pm, Brian Stoffregen wrote:

"In regards to cultic prostitution, TDNT says:

While cultic prostitution may not have been widespread on Greek soil, the TDNT goes on to state:

I think that the prostitution element of the word group, porn- remained in the minds of Paul's readers, especially those in Corinth. Thus, the words, even if not directly related to prostitution, still carried the ideas of "acting like a prostitute" or "acting like those who use prostitutes." "Promiscuous," is the word I think comes closest to these ideas. As such, I don't think that the words refer to a couple who "live together" in a monogamous relationship outside of marriage. That is not acting like one does with a prostitute. There are some good reasons to be against such extra-marriage living together, but I don't think that they can be found in this group of words in scriptures."

Rpbert Gagnon replied:

"The word porneia ("sexual immorality") and its cognates certainly includes "promiscuous" behavior but it is equally certainly not limited to such if by promiscuous you mean only multiple-partner, non-committed unions. Paul does not refer to the incestuous man in 1 Cor 5 as a pornos because Paul assumes that the sexual union between the believer and his mother will involve many other sex partners in a fly-by-night relationship. Adult incest is not rejected because of some kind of promiscuous bent but rather because it violates structural prerequisites for a valid sexual union, here having sex with someone who is already too much of a familial same. A similar problem exists with homosexual practice, on the level of sex or gender--arousal for what one already is and has as a member of a given sex.

Incidentally, Philo includes bestiality under the rubric of porneia, as indeed would all Jews of the first century, including Paul. Do you think that they would have had in mind only the non-committed, promiscuous dimension of bestial relationships? Or would there have been some other deeper structural prerequisites denied?

I note that you didn't deal with any of my arguments in my online critique of Jack Rogers (a former moderator of the PCUSA) who argued, similarly to you, that Paul in Romans 1 probably had in view cultic prostitution and promiscuous sexuality. Here are some of the reasons why such a supposition is wrong.

1. The historical anachronism regarding temple prostitution in Corinth. Any critical New Testament scholar knows that Strabo’s comments about temple prostitution at Corinth (Geography 8.6.20c) (1) applied only to Greek Corinth in existence several centuries before the time of Paul, not the Roman Corinth of Paul’s day; and (2) mentioned only female (heterosexual) prostitutes, not male (homosexual) prostitutes. Scholars agree that there was no massive business of female cult prostitutes—to say nothing of male homosexual cult prostitutes—operating out of the temple of Aphrodite in Paul’s day; and that there may not have been such a business even in earlier times (i.e., Strabo was confused).

2. The plain-sense meaning of Romans 1:24-27. There is nothing in the language of Romans 1:24-27 that keys into the issue of prostitution or indeed the issue of exploitation generally. What Paul expressed as the problem was not the particularly exploitative way in which some homoerotic relationships were conducted in the ancient world but rather same-sex intercourse per se: females exchanging sexual intercourse with males for sexual intercourse with females, and males likewise having sex with males.

3. The mention of lesbian intercourse in Romans 1:26. The fact that Paul mentions lesbian intercourse in Romans 1:26—which in the ancient world did not take the form of temple prostitution—proves that Paul did not have in view only forms of same-sex intercourse associated with idol worship or commercial transactions.

4. Mutual gratification and mutual condemnation in Romans 1:24-27. If Paul were condemning only exploitative forms of male-male intercourse, he would hardly have indicted in Romans 1:24-27 both partners in the sexual relationship. Yet he does condemn both partners—“males engaging in indecency with males, receiving back in themselves the recompense which was required of their straying.” This is consistent with the fact that he regards the activity as mutual and consenting: dishonoring “their bodies among themselves” and being “inflamed with their yearning for one another.” Far from painting a picture where one party is being degraded and exploited by the other, Paul portrays both partners as seeking to gratify their urges with one another and together reaping the divine recompense for their mutually degrading conduct.

5. The Genesis connection. That Paul had the other-sex prerequisite in Genesis in view is obvious from the clear intertextual echoes to Genesis 1:26-27 found in Romans 1:23-27—eight terms of agreement between the two sets of texts, in nearly the same order. It is no accident, too, that the other major Pauline text dealing with same-sex intercourse, 1 Corinthians 6:9, is cited in close proximity to Gen 2:24 (1 Cor 6:16). And it is also no accident that these are the two key creation texts lifted up by Jesus in Mark 10:6-8 as prescriptive norms for defining all human sexual behavior: “male and female he made them” (Gen 1:27) and “For this reason a man will . . . be joined to his woman (wife) and the two shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). The story in Genesis 2:18-24 clearly images marriage as the sexually intimate “re-merger” of the constituent parts, man and woman, split from an originally undifferentiated sexual whole. There is no realistic possibility that Jesus, in citing Gen 1:27 and 2:24 as prescriptive norms, missed this other-sex prerequisite—“male and female,” “man and woman”—so clearly embedded in these verses and their surrounding narrative and so staunchly embraced by Jews everywhere in Jesus’ day. (Many other arguments could also be made for adducing Jesus anti-homosex stance; see ch. 3 [pp. 185-228] of The Bible and Homosexual Practice or pp. 68-74 of Homosexuality and the Bible). And the fact that Paul had the Genesis creation accounts in view when he indicted homosexual practice proves that he recognized their implication for abrogating all forms of same-sex intercourse (The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 289-93).

6. The parallel between idolatry as an act against creation and same-sex intercourse as an act against nature (see The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 266-69). Paul emphasizes in Romans 1:18-32 that human beings are “without excuse”—even unbelievers who do not know Scripture—because God’s will is evident to them in creation/nature. Exhibit A (on the vertical level) is idolatry and exhibit B (on the horizontal level) is same-sex intercourse. Both alike represent attempts at suppressing the truth about God in creation or nature, transparent to human minds and even visible to human sight. Both acts are spoken of as “exchanges” of clear natural revelation for gratification of distorted desires (1:23, 25 and 1:26 respectively). Both acts are depicted as absurd—foolish or self-dishonoring—denials of natural revelation. The parallel—and not merely consequential—relationship between idolatry and same-sex intercourse is confirmed in Testament of Naphtali 3:3-4, where both idolatry and same-sex intercourse are viewed as exchanging the order of nature. In short, the parallel between idolatry and same-sex intercourse in Rom 1:18-27 is evident: Those who had suppressed the truth about God visible in creation were more apt to suppress the truth about their sexual bodies visible in nature.

7. The other vices in Romans 1:29-31 not dependent on idolatry. Yes, Paul sees idolatry as leading to an increase in same-sex intercourse as well as to an increase in the other vices cited in Rom 1:29-31. But to say that Paul was limiting the indictment in Rom 1:24-27 only to homosexual cult prostitution is like saying that the continuation of the vice list in Rom 1:29-31 had only idolatrous contexts in view. Obviously, persons who reject the clear revelation of a transcendent God in creation are going to be more likely to engage in forms of sexual behavior that suppress the truth about human sexual complementarity accessible in nature. Equally obvious, however, is the fact that Paul recognized that it was not necessary to worship idols to commit any of the immoral behaviors cited in Rom 1:24-31.

8. Sexual uncleanness in Romans 6:19. Later in Romans 6:19 Paul warns believers not to return to the kind of “sexual uncleanness”—akatharsia, the same Greek term employed in 1:24 of same-sex intercourse and other sexual offenses—that characterized their lives as unbelievers. He certainly was no more restricting the use of the term to sex in the context of temple prostitutes than he was restricting any of the other instances of “lawlessness” to activity conducted in the context of idolatrous worship.

9. The distinction between idolatry and male-male intercourse in 1 Corinthians 6:9. To say that Paul was limiting the indictment of male-male intercourse in 1 Cor 6:9 to homosexual cult prostitution is like saying that Paul was only opposed to incest (the case under discussion in chs. 5-6) in idolatrous and commercial contexts. In fact, “idolaters” are listed as a separate category of offenders, distinct from those who commit incest, prostitution, fornication, adultery, and male-male intercourse. The case of the incestuous man in ch. 5 involves a self-professed Christian with no linkage to idol worshipping or to prostitution. And the discussion of prostitution in 6:12-20 certainly is not tied only to temple prostitution. The reasons for the proscription of incest and same-sex intercourse are similar: sex with someone who is too much of a same, whether a familial same (incest: sex with the “flesh of one’s flesh,” Lev 18:6) or a sexual same (homosexual behavior: males who have sex with males).

10. The expression “contrary to nature” as applied to same-sex intercourse. In all the critiques of same-sex intercourse as “contrary to nature” that can be found in the ancient world, not a single one ever refers to the idolatrous or commercial dimension of same-sex intercourse. For example, the physician Soranus described the desire on the part of “soft men” to be penetrated (cf. 1 Cor 6:9) as “not from nature,” insofar as it “subjugated to obscene uses parts not so intended” and disregarded “the places of our body which divine providence destined for definite functions”(Chronic Diseases 4.9.131). Moreover, numerous cases of same-sex erotic relationships involving neither prostitution nor cultic activity can be documented for the Hellenistic and Roman Imperial periods.

11. Early Jewish critiques of same-sex intercourse. When one reads the critique in early Judaism of homoerotic practice—especially in Philo and Josephus—one notices rather quickly that the remarks focus on the compromise of sexual identity, not issues such as exchange of money or idolatrous connections. The same holds for rabbinic literature. See The Bible and Homosexual Practice, ch. 2.

12. The link between “men who lie with males” in 1 Cor 6:9 and the absolute prohibitions in Leviticus. The term arsenokoitai in 1 Cor 6:9, a distinctly Jewish and Christian term—literally, “men who lie with males”—is derived from the absolute prohibitions of male-male intercourse in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 (Septuagint: koite = “lying [with],” arsen = “a male”). That these prohibitions have to do, first and foremost, with sexual intercourse and not with idolatry is evident from their sandwiching in the midst of the sex laws in Lev 20:10-21, separate and distinct from the regulation against sacrificing to Molech in 20:2-5. They are no more tied to idolatry or prostitution than are the laws against adultery, incest, and bestiality that surround them. Neither Second Temple Judaism nor rabbinic Judaism (nor Patristic Christianity) restricted the relevance of the Levitical prohibitions to male-male intercourse conducted in the context of idol worship or prostitution.

13. The main objection to the homosexual cult prostitutes in the Old Testament. The Old Testament—particularly Deuteronomy and the “Deuteronomistic History” (Joshua through 2 Kings)—does condemn “homosexual cult prostitutes” (the so-called qedeshim, “consecrated ones”). But even here, parallel figures in the ancient Near East—the assinnu, kurgarru, and kulu’u—were held in low regard not so much for their prostitution as for their compromise of masculine gender in allowing themselves to be penetrated as though women (The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 48-49). Even Phyllis Bird, a prohomosex Old Testament scholar who has done as much work as anyone on the qedeshim, acknowledges that the writers of Scripture emphasized not the cultic prostitution of these figures but rather their “repugnant associations with male homosexual activity.” On the qedeshim, see The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 100-110.

14. The meaning of “soft men” in its historical context. The term malakoi in 1 Cor 6:9—literally, “soft men”—was often used in the Greco-Roman world as a description of adult males who feminized their appearances in the hopes of attracting a male partner. Jewish and even some pagan moralists condemned them, not for their role in temple prostitution—most were not temple prostitutes—but for their attempted erasure of the masculine stamp given them in nature. See further The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 306-12; and Homosexuality and the Bible, 82-83 with online notes 96-98.

15. A Corinthian critique of male-male love. The pseudo-Lucianic text Affairs of the Heart records a debate between Charicles, a Corinthian, who defends the superiority of male love for women, and Callicratidas, who defends the superiority of male love for males. Interestingly, the Corinthian never focuses on the association of male-male love with temple prostitution. Instead, he notes that men who engage in sex with other males “transgress the laws of nature” by looking “with the eyes at the male as (though) at a female,” “one nature [coming] together in one bed.” “Seeing themselves in one another they were ashamed neither of what they were doing nor of what they were having done to them” (cited in The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 165-66 n. 10). What does this critique have to do with temple prostitution? Absolutely nothing. Yet Rogers would have us believe that Paul’s view of same-sex intercourse, and that of Scripture generally—which every historical piece of evidence indicates was more absolutely, consistently, and strongly opposed to same-sex intercourse than anything found in the Greco-Roman world—was actually more accepting of homosexual behavior than the cultural milieu out of which emerged.

How, after these numerous considerations, is it possible to argue that Paul was in any way limiting his indictment to homosexual cult prostitution or even to promiscuity generally?"

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