03 July 2020

Homosexuality in Ancient Greece

It is a centuries old misconception that the Bible condemns homosexuality. It is almost as old a misconception as that the Ancient Greeks approved of homosexual relationships. In fact neither is true. So what is it the Bible is so concerned about in the "texts of terror" which have been used for centuries to justify vilifying, condemning, and sometimes even murdering members of the LGBTQ community?

First of all, what is the LGBTQ community? If we are going to understand how the ancient past was different, it is important to understand the people we are talking about today. LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer. Lesbians are women who are sexually attracted to women. Gays are men who are sexually attracted to men. Bisexuals are men or women who are sexually attracted to both men and women. Transgendered persons are biological men or women whose gender identity is of the opposite sex. Queer persons are those whose sexuality or gender identity does not fit neat categorization.

These labels are broad definitions and do not go nearly far enough to define the intricacies of sexual and gender identity. However, these do give us a starting point to talk about how the cultural norms of today as embodied by these labels would be very different from the cultural norms of Ancient Greece and Ancient Israel in the time of the Bible's writing.

It was expected in Ancient Greece that every man would marry a woman and every woman would marry a man. Heterosexual marriage was very much the norm.

There were alternatives to heterosexual marriage in Ancient Greece, but they were not very pleasant (although I suppose that may be a matter of personal taste, as I would not consider them very pleasant). For example, prostitutes were forbidden from later seeking a more reputable life by marrying. Virgin women could dedicate themselves to the gods and remain unmarried forever. Men, similarly could become eunuchs (castrated men) if they wished (or were forced) to hold certain positions in service to the gods or as guards of women.

For men, an acceptable "homosexual" relationship in Ancient Greece would not look anything like an "acceptable" homosexual relationship today. A pederastic relationship between an older man ("erastes") and a young boy ("eromenos") was a socially acknowledged romantic relationship which was largely idealized in Ancient Greece. The erastes was a married man of good social standing who took on the role of mentor, educator, and lover to an eromenos, who was generally between 13 and 20 years of age. The relationship was idealized to be for the betterment of the eromenos.

A romantic relationship between two men of equal social standing (like a modern gay relationship) was considered shameful. Similarly, it was considered shameful for a man to pursue boys for sexual gratification. Such a man may be called a "corrupter of boys" ("paidothoros") or said to be "boy crazy" ("arrenomanes").

Pederastic relationships in Ancient Greece were considered normal, but today we would call this "pedophilia" and consider it a serious crime, the sexual abuse of a child, regardless of its 'intended' purpose or cultural context. Would the Bible agree? Is the Bible condemning sexual abuse or a consensual, loving relationship between two adults? Now that we have the cultural and historic context, we can look at what the Bible actually says.

Until next time,,

Peace be with you.

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