Re: Boswell

On Fri, 16 Sep 1994, MADAVIDS.US.ORACLE.COM wrote:
> Hi - 
> At the risk of cutting off scholarly discussion, might I offer one word: 
> dayenu! Enough, already. I feel that both sides have analyzed, exegesised, 
> interpreted, and cited enough sources and lexicons to stock the New York City 
> Public library.  
> I find it very difficult to believe that there is really anything new under 
> the sun linguistically speaking; if Leviticus 18:22 really only referred to 
> male prostitution, then why hasn't one of the commentators of the past come up 
> with this interpretation (especially as this type of behaviour was certainly 
> not unknown in the Hellenistic period)? Seems to me that most of the Jewish 
> commentators in particular loved to interpret, argue, and expound on what the 
> scripture meant - not unlike the discussions that have ensued on b-greek on 
> this topic.  
> Has one single reputable commentator (i.e. non-Boswell, whose motives are 
> suspect and scholarship appears sloppy) ever come up with this interpretation 
> before? If not, then perhaps it is because A is A; Leviticus 18:22 is exactly 
> what it appears to be. 

At the risk of breaking Leo's moratorium on Lev. 18:22 (I had already 
moved it to B-Hebrew myself), I would like to say something about this.  
First of all, it is only in modern times that Christians or Jews have 
started to think realistically about the origins of their religion.  
Today we don't think twice about assuming that religion changes over 
time, or that the Biblical texts reflect differing conditions, cultures, 
and situations, as opposed to our ancestors who thought that the entire 
Bible was a unanimous, univocal, homogeneous statement.  Archaeology, 
comparative cultural studies, etc. show us that the world in which the 
earliest parts of the Bible were written (including Leviticus) were very 
different from those of later Bible times.  Certain critical moments in 
Jewish history effaced or distorted the memory of earlier conditions and 
beliefs.  That is why it is perfectly reasonable to assume that the 
original meaning of, say a Leviticus passage, might have been lost until 
present day reconstructions.  As you say, Jews of later times were 
certainly able to *argue* about the meaning of a text, but because their 
methods were so poor you could hardly expect them to recover an original 
meaning any more than you could have expected them to look for real 
evidence when they considered what we would now call scientific 
questions.  Their legal twistings and pullings were often transparently 
disingenuous even to them.
     For at least the existence of a disagreement over Lev. 18:22 in 
ancient times, see Sanhedrin 33b.  The Sadducees, who were usually more 
conservative in their interpretation of the Law than the Pharisees (who 
often exaggerated commandments and generalized them), were apparently 
in the habit of acquitting those the Pharisees would condemn to death 
because of Lev. 18:22.
     You say Boswell's motives were suspect: well so should everyone's 
be.  I suspect the motives of most every interpreter of Lev. 18:22 until 
now, considering how homosexuals have been treated since late 
antiquity-early middle ages.  In the same way I would suspect the 
motives, or even abilities to think clearly, of male interpreters of 
texts relating to females, considering that there has almost never been a 
woman in a position of authority to interpret a text since the early 
middle ages.  And if you think Boswell's scholarship was sloppy, then his 
conclusions could be dismissed by more careful scholarship.  So far I 
haven't seen any.

Greg Jordan