The Making of Fornication: Eros, Ethics, and Political Reform in Greek Philosophy and Early Christianity

The Making of Fornication: Eros, Ethics, and Political Reform in Greek Philosophy and Early Christianity

Kathy L. Gaca

Language: English

Pages: 376

ISBN: 0520235991

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

This provocative work provides a radical reassessment of the emergence and nature of Christian sexual morality, the dominant moral paradigm in Western society since late antiquity. While many scholars, including Michel Foucault, have found the basis of early Christian sexual restrictions in Greek ethics and political philosophy, Kathy L. Gaca demonstrates on compelling new grounds that it is misguided to regard Greek ethics and political theory—with their proposed reforms of eroticism, the family, and civic order—as the foundation of Christian sexual austerity. Rather, in this thoroughly informed and wide-ranging study, Gaca shows that early Christian goals to eradicate fornication were derived from the sexual rules and poetic norms of the Septuagint, or Greek Bible, and that early Christian writers adapted these rules and norms in ways that reveal fascinating insights into the distinctive and largely non-philosophical character of Christian sexual morality.

Writing with an authoritative command of both Greek philosophy and early Christian writings, Gaca investigates Plato, the Stoics, the Pythagoreans, Philo of Alexandria, the apostle Paul, and the patristic Christians Clement of Alexandria, Tatian, and Epiphanes, freshly elucidating their ideas on sexual reform with precision, depth, and originality. Early Christian writers, she demonstrates, transformed all that they borrowed from Greek ethics and political philosophy to launch innovative programs against fornication that were inimical to Greek cultural mores, popular and philosophical alike. The Septuagint's mandate to worship the Lord alone among all gods led to a Christian program to revolutionize Gentile sexual practices, only for early Christians to find this virtually impossible to carry out without going to extremes of sexual renunciation.

Knowledgeable and wide-ranging, this work of intellectual history and ethics cogently demonstrates why early Christian sexual restrictions took such repressive ascetic forms, and casts sobering light on what Christian sexual morality has meant for religious pluralism in Western culture, especially among women as its bearers.




















Septuagint Psalm 105 : 14 by his phrase “just as they [the Israelites] lusted (kéke›noi §peyÊmhsan §piyum¤an)” and “let us not tempt the Lord” (1 Cor 10 : 6, 9). Paul’s fairly unusual noun form §piyumhtãw at 1 Cor 10 : 6 similarly refers to and recalls another incident of God’s retribution against disobediently desirous Israelites in Numbers 11. The apostates in Numbers 11 are destroyed as a “lustful people” (laÚn §piyumhtÆn) (11 : 34) because of their persistent longing to rebel and return to

name partly by the way they conjoin the Platonic and Stoic senses of §piyum¤a with §piyum¤a in Paul’s adapted Hellenistic Jewish sense. 158 part ii CONCLUSION In the Septuagint Pentateuch rebellious sexual fornication refers to heterosexual acts of copulation that deviate from biblical endogamy and from the closely related norm of worshipping God alone. Forbidden acts of sexual intercourse include marital intercourse with spouses who remain polytheistic, other sexual worship of alien gods,

marital relationship alone. According to Seneca and Musonius, however, eros is irremediably impassioned. People should strive to be detached from sexual relations and to eliminate eros except where unavoidable in marital acts of procreation. This core aspect of Seneca’s and Musonius’s thought is Pythagorean, as shown in the following chapter. It is important to appreciate that Seneca and Musonius are not Stoic in their sexual ethics, for in much scholarship they have been described as

and distinct from the other group. Seneca and Musonius, however, take the additional step of 5. M. Nussbaum (The Therapy of Desire [1994], 389 – 401, 439 – 83) maintains that the Stoics as a whole strive to extirpate erotic love except where unavoidable (e.g., in reproduction). I show the problem with her argument in n. 55 below. On the tendency to interpret later Stoic sexual principles in this manner, see also M. Foucault as cited above; J. Brundage, Law, Sex, and Christian Society, 18 –21; J.

of Non-Conformity to the Torah and Jewish Vigilante Reactions (1995), along with the reviews by G. Sterling (1997, 368 –70), D. Winston (1998, 372– 4), and L. Feldman (1997, 154 –5). It is not subject to question, however, whether ardent followers of God’s laws supported the ideology that sexual and other nonconformists in the community should in theory be put to death through human and/or supernatural agency, for this they undeniably urge, as I discuss below (nn. 57 and 58). The debate turns

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