Friday, 31 July 2009

NISSINEN: Homoeroticism in the Biblical World

Marti Nissinen

Homoeroticism in the Biblical World

Nissinen's award-winning book surveys attitudes in the ancient world toward homoeroticism, that is, erotic same-sex relations. Focusing on the Bible and its cultural environment-Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, Israel-Nissinen concisely and readably introduces the relevant sources and their historical contexts in a readable way. Homoeroticism is examined as a part of gender identity, i.e., the interplay of sexual orientation, gender identification, gender roles, and sexual practice. In the patriarchal cultures of the biblical world, Nissinen shows, homoerotic practices were regarded as a role construction between the active and passive partners rather than as expressions of an orientation moderns call "homosexuality." Nissinen shows how this applies to the limited acceptance of homoerotic relationships in Greek and Roman culture, as well as to Israel's and the early church's condemnation of any same-sex erotic activity. For readers interested in the ancient world or contemporary debates, Nissinen's fascinating study shows why the ancient texts - both biblical and nonbiblical - are not appropriate for use as sources of direct analogy or argument in today's discussion.


From "Evangelicals Concerned"

This is the work of an Old Testament scholar at the University of Helsinki. Published by a major Lutheran press, it is comprehensive and succinct in surveying the primary texts on homoeroticism from the world in which the Bible was written. In his Preface, Nissinen says that, as he undertook his research, he “soon had to face the problem that sources that go back two or three millennia do not fit modern categories. Whether the texts I studied were biblical or Jewish, Assyrian, Greek, or Roman, the term ‘homosexuality’ was absent from them and the concept alien.” This early and sustained finding is precisely what those who use the Bible to wage a “culture war” against gay men and lesbians today do not take seriously – if they even understand it at all. (Ironically, lesbigayt apologists who take their own homosexuality back to the Bible make the same mistake.) He argues that any attempt to mechanically apply a few Bible verses on same-sex behavior to the phenomena of contemporary homosexual orientation and peer-relations fails in its hermeneutics. He is convinced – and convincing – that today’s discourse on homosexuality must not confuse modern phenomena with the various forms and perceptions of homoeroticism in the ancient Mediterranean world. Chapter by chapter, Nissinen illustrates the contemporary observation that sexual categories and interpreted sexual experiences are socially constructed and are not the same from culture to culture and from age to age.


Nissinen explains that in Romans 1 and 2, “What matters is the theology of justification by faith, not homoeroticsm as such.  Paul’s rhetorical strategy … seems to be to stimulate his readers’ moral indignation by listing sins traditionally associated with Gentiles, in conventional Jewish wordings – but this is a rhetorical trap: Paul turns the force of his criticism against” self-righteous Jews.  According to Nissinen and other scholars, the meaning of Paul’s terms in I Corinthians 6:9, often automatically applied today to homosexuals, “remains obscure.”  He says: “The modern concept of ‘homosexuality’ should by no means be read into Paul’s text.”   Indeed, he concludes: “No single passage in the Bible actually offers a specifically formulated statement about same-sex eroticism.”

   Thus, with no correspondence between the ancient texts and phenomena and our own responsibilities around contemporary homosexual orientation and behavior, Nissinen calls  his readers to “love [as] the central hermeneutical principle when applying biblical commands, advice, and ideals to the lives of people today.”

No comments:

Post a Comment