Wednesday, 12 August 2009

BOSWELL: Same-sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe

Boswell, John
Same Sex unions in Pre-Modern Europe

Harper-Collins, 1994
412 Pages

Christianity, History, Same Sex Unions, Lesbian & Gay

Strongly Recommended by QTC

If "Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality" created an academic revolution in the still unfolding story of LGBT history in the church, this was the book that really threw the cat among the pigeons. With scrupulous academic rigour, Boswell collected strong evidence that not only was 'gay marriage' legal and commonplace in classical civilization, but that the Christian church recognised and blessed some kind of same-sex union in a formal liturgical rite. The reaction has been fierce, with counter-arguments that these rites were not about 'marriage', but simply about 'friendship'. To make sense of the debate, one has to recognise that in classical times the very concept olf 'marriage' as we now understand it, simply did not exist. If the rite Boswell describes was not "gay marriage", nor was any other form of marriage comparable to what we now know as "straight marriage".

However you choose to interpret the institution, it seems that two things are now clear: It is now widely accepted that whatever the precise significance, some form of "same-sex union" existed and was recognised by liturgical blessing within the church; and that academics might disagree with Boswell's interpretation, but can no longer ignore it.

This book should be compulsory reading for anyone with a serious interest in same- gender relationships in church history.

From Google Books:
"Boswell convincingly establishes that, from ancient times to the 18th century, throughout Christian Europe, same-sex union rituals honored a form of ""gay marriage."" Working from church manuscripts, mainly in ancient Greek, that describe the ceremonies, Boswell carefully traces the historical context in which these practices occurred, exploring premodern beliefs about love and marriage, both gay and heterosexual."
-Editorial Review - Kirkus Reviews

"JOHN BOSWELL'S Same-Sex Unions in Pre-modern Europe, .. is both a virtuoso display of learned ingenuity and the same old mixture much as before. Readers familiar with Mr. Boswell's Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (1980) will find here, if anything, an even more dazzling tableau of linguistic versatility, apparently exhaustive investigation, flashing insight, and relentless inventiveness. ......

Yet as in the earlier book, Mr. Boswell's extraordinary skills and industry are deployed with such tendentiousness, exaggeration, special pleading, and occasional banality that the work deserves, at very best, the distinctive verdict of the Scottish courts: not proven."

- David Wright in National Review, 1994

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