16 Comments on “Beard Stroking Time Again

  1. Hi Peter,

    Let me try again. I think I put this under the wrong posting. Sorry! Greetings from the US. Thoroughly enjoy your posts and the responses you get. Regarding readings of Romans 1, Douglas A. Campbell, Associate Professor of New Testament at Duke, has a big book on Paul coming out this month entitled “The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul.” In it (like he briefly did in his last book “The Quest for Paul’s Gospel”) he argues that Romans 1 is largely irony, and that Paul is quoting the words of opponents. I’m not sure I buy his argument, but Campbell is one of the most interesting young New Testament scholars and is worth checking out for your series of upcoming posts. Cheers.

    • No, you’re not too late Blair. My reading and writing on this has been slightly postponed because of other events, so I will have time to read Alison’s essay and to see whether I can respond (or even endorse) aspects of what he says.

      Enough time then for you to sort yourself a Gravatar!

      • Um, yes… *realises has forgotten how, yet again…*

        Also, what about Gareth Moore OP’s book, ‘A question of truth’? Am just looking on Google books to see how much you can see online – on Romans 1, it’s pages 86 to 105 that are relevant. Unfotunately Google’s preview stops at p56… Realistically would you be able to get hold of a copy? Am just wondering if I have time to summarise and e-mail you, but maybe not…

        in friendship, Blair

  2. Peter,

    have found that Gareth Moore has a section on ‘malakoi’ in ‘A question of truth’ (pp106-107) so I’ll summarise it here.

    Moore notes that ‘malakos’ means ‘soft’ when applied to inanimate objects, but that in 1 Cor 6:9 it’s being used pejoratively about people. He suggests that the use of the male gender is significant – the word for drunkards, for instance, in the same vice list is in the male form but obviously Paul doesn’t only object to drunken men, whereas with ‘malakoi’ Paul “almost certainly” has only men in mind. “The ‘malakoi’ are probably men who are not behaving as men should, but as women stereotypically do”, says Moore. But he adds that it isn’t certain whether this is referring to specifically sexual behaviour or something broader, citing the differing translations of the word – the KJV renders it ‘effeminate’ but the NRSV has ‘male prostitutes’. So it’s very difficult to say with precision what Paul is condemning.

    However, Moore goes on to suggest that there could be reasons, other than sexual acts / behaviour, why Paul might have condemned the ‘malakoi’. “In the Hellenistic world, masculinity – associated among other things with strength and self-control – was much prized, and femininity and its associated qualities correspondingly disparaged. Softness in men could itself be derided and despised, apart from any association with ‘feminine’ sexual behaviour”. He quotes a chunk of an essay by Paul Veyne (I don’t know who he is either…) to expand on the point – it basically says that a passive man’s effeminacy was deemed a vice whether or not he had same-sex sex, because it was taken to denote a lack of virility, in turn seen as a moral failing. Moore himself then comments that, even if Paul had some kind of same-sex sex in mind when speaking of the ‘malakoi’, it may be that he disapproves of this not because it’s ‘homosexual’ “but as ‘feminizing’, or unfitting precisely for a man, because it makes him soft. If this is so, then there is no distaste for homosexual acts underlying his condemnation of the ‘malakoi’, but rather a particular vision of what it is to be a man and a concern for ‘masculine’ qualities”. He adds that this might also explain why there’s no reference to sex between women in Paul’s vice list here.

    Moore sums up: “In short, there is uncertainty about exactly what Paul means by ‘malakoi’, and there is certainly no reason to think that he is condemning any kind of homosexuals”.

    Not the briefest summary I realise… but see what you think.

    in friendship, Blair

    • I think some of that fits into what I wrote in my first post on Sexuality and Slavery about C1 attitudes towards homosexuality and in particular dominance and receptance. Remember, in some parts of the Roman world, it wasn’t homosexual activity per se that was objected to, but your “position” (as it were) within such activity.

      I’m having quite a bit of joy at the moment in fleshing out what “soft” might mean and how malakoi is used in the LXX and the Apocrypha. Interesting stuff, and challenging to C21 Western understandings of “gay”.

    • Makes me think of the situations I’ve seen in schools over the decades ( and even today sometimes) when “camp” boys’ lives are made a misery by bullying and constant ridicule, regardless or not of whether they are “out” to others or even themselves. It makes me most uncomfortable to think the persecution of men who are seen as “feminised” might be sanctioned in the bible.

      • Absolutely, but remember, part of what we’re doing in this series is to look at what the words would have meant 2,000 years ago to help us understand what the Bible might be saying to us today. The fact that today we would come down hard on such bullying shouldn’t stop us accepting (and exploring) the fact that 2,000 years ago there were certain societal norms which would explain the usage of certain language in Scripture, societal norms which may have had less to do with patriarchal power models and more to do with agreed cultural expectations.

        One of the more fascinating things to come out in my study so far is that given the complexity of the Roman / Hellenistic world, there were competing “norms” in place. I may explore this further when I write about “malakoi” (because I think that’s where I’m definitely going to go next).

        • But doesn’t your comment here implicitly acknowledge not only that societical norms differ from age to age (a given really)but also that many of the attitudes arising from “agreed cultural expectations” in the bible, such as Paul’s disapproval of feminised men, are (rightly) no longer acceptable.

          Also don’t those “agreed cultural expectations” arise, at least in part, from patriarchal power models? There is always some sort of ideological basis behind the “norms” of any society.

          • I don’t think so. There are two matters being engaged here. Firstly, what would the Scriptures mean in the context of those who originally wrote and read them. Secondly, what do they mean today. The two are not necesarily mutually exclusive, but they are separate questions.

            You might be right that the cultural expectations of the C1 arose from patriarchal power models, but we shouldn’t assume such unless we can first demonstrate the fact. I am worried that too much analysis of C1 culture assumes certain models of societal expectation without ever studying whether such assumptions have a basis in the contextual evidence.

            • At least you can see that the two can be separate things and that Scripture is context bound.

              I must confess that, although it is important to look at context and not to be sloppy in our translation and study of scripture, I am not sure we can ever establish a definitive understanding or agreement on every point. Nor do I think it the “most important thing.”

              To me, scripture is context bound, but its guiding principles transcend a given point in time and have a universal application.

  3. Hi Peter,

    having seen your latest post today, have realised that’s bought me some time to summarise Gareth Moore’s work. But also had the thought that Rowan Williams writes about Romans 1 in his essay ‘Knowing myself in Christ’, from The Way Forward, ed. Timothy Bradshaw. Do you have a copy of this? Just in case it’s a no, here’s a quotation or two:

    “What makes this text [Rom 1] less than completely decisive for some contemporary Christian interpreters is that the ‘phenomena’ in view here are described in terms of considerable imaginative ‘violence’ – the blind abandonment of what is natural and at some level known to be so, and the deliberate turning in rapacity to others. To see this as an account of ‘the phenomena of homosexual behaviour’ is to beg the question somewhat, when it is cast as a self-conscious flouting of a truth already made known. It would have to be said, if this passage is indeed to be read as about the phenomena of homosexual behaviour in general, that homosexual desire is not only intrinsically disordered but also intrinsically rapacious in a way that other kinds of desire are not… It is quite possible… to ask whether and how we can be sure that the ‘phenomena’ under review are the same. Christians have applied this technique with notable success and sophistication to the matter of lending money for interest or deliberately slaughtering the innocent. Is it not a fair question to ask whether conscious rebellion and indiscriminate rapacity could be presented as a plausible account of the essence of ‘homosexual behaviour’, let alone homosexual desire, as it may be observed around us now?” (pp15-16)

    “If the Church is to ‘give constant encouragement in following Christ’ even to those who do not settle for either celibacy or marriage because of their orientation, can it really and honestly do so without at least admitting that an account of homosexual identity dominated by Romans 1 cannot be the whole story? Even the homosexually inclined person living prayerfully in a celibate state might well ask whether their prayerful self-understanding was properly respected by the model that I think the document [ie the St Andrew’s Day Statement] as a whole assumes” (p18).

    in friendship, Blair

    • Thanks Blair,

      I’ll be handling Romans 1 later on, but I do have that quote and I think Rowan separates out the issues very well. Firstly, are those who engage in homosexual behaviour doing so out of a deliberate choice to reject a “norm”? Secondly, is it fair to always describe such behaviour as “rapacious”, or indeed does the text of Romans 1 actually take us to that conclusion in the first place?

      Interesting stuff.

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