Re: Boswell (was Re: Lexicons)

Boswell's thesis on arsenokoites has been widely criticized for many of 
its details, but his conclusion has generally been accepted.  There is no 
reason to retain the understanding of arsenokoitai as referring to male 
homosexuals in general.  First of all, there is a significant doubt that 
Paul would have known of a term for "homosexual," in our contemporary 
usage.  No other ancient language had such a term, and the earliest Greek 
writers used a wide variety of periphrastic constructions to render a 
similar conception.  It might be argued that Paul was only concerned with 
a particular sexual behavior, say anal intercourse between males, 
frequent among male homosexuals of the time.  There is no evidence that 
Paul condemned anal intercourse between men and women or between men, or 
that he saw physical affection between males as something to be avoided.

I think it would be completely unnecessary to demonstrate how Paul 
rejected much of the arbitary legislation of the Pentateuch; that is 
sufficiently well known.  I have, though, demonstrated that even the 
Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 passages do not reflect the general condemnation 
of homosexual behavior as usually assumed.  Although the word 
arsenokoites contains stems mentioned in Lev. 18:22 and 20:13, it is 
very unlikely that Paul coined any new words: the context of his letters 
implies his term would be easily understood.  The term appears only in 
contexts dealing with greed, prostitution, adultery, idolatry, and lack 
of self control.  Although it is a rare term, its use is probably best 
connected with those male prostitutes who are clearly condemned in 
the Old Testament, and who would fit in with those temptations which drew 
Paul's audience toward idolatry and greed, whether they were tempted to 
become such prostitutes or take advantage of their services.

It is abundantly clear from the evidence of later Christian usage that 
the term arsenokoites changed meaning from its original use by Paul: it 
eventually came to refer to anything from child molesting to anal 
intercourse with one's wife.  This semantic drift probably occurred 
because Paul's warnings were so successful that the phenomenon he 
addressed actually disappeared from prominence in Christian-controlled 
areas of late antiquity/early medieval times.  After the fall of 
paganism, temple prostitutes would have become a thing of the past, and 
male prostitutes, always probably fewer in number than female 
prostitutes, probably dwindled to extreme rarity.  Later Christians, not 
readily seeing the meaning of arsenokoitai, would then have inserted a 
meaning they wished to see there, a practice not exactly unheard of in 
Christian circles.

Reading arsenokoitai "homosexuals" is an example of eisegesis.  
Homophobes who want to find condemnations of homosexuals in the Bible 
are capable of reading their prejudice into any given passage, just as 
their predecessors were capable of finding abundant encouragement for 
anti-Semitism and racism in the Bible.  Do we now read the "mark of Cain" 
as black skin, as many American preachers in the past did?  Do we now read 
"May his blood be upon us and our children forever" in the Gospel of John 
as our marching orders to massacre Jews, as medieval European Christians 
did?  In the end, as some have already indicated, the responsibility for 
correct exegesis is not merely a scholarly one - it is an ethical one, 
too.  I hope everyone who cares about this issue puts as much prayer and 
thinking into this as they do page turning.  At Judgment Day I don't think 
we will be held accountable for not harrassing those we thought were 
sinners; we will be held accountable for acting fairly and responsibly 
towards those who depended our actions.

Greg Jordan