• “Happy” Valentine’s Day from the Romans

    February 14, 2012

    Since it’s Valentine’s Day, and since we’ve recently been thinking through Paul’s letter to the Romans, I thought it might be appropriate for us to look at how the ancient Romans celebrated this day of love, if only to point out just how different their culture really was from ours, and, therefore, how different their context for homosexuality likely was from ours. My point in recent posts has been to encourage us to reconsider whether it’s fair to cut and paste Paul’s comments on homosexual conduct from his world to ours, when those worlds were so unalike.

    I’ve received a few comments recently that suggest some folks remain unconvinced that the cultural differences between ancient Rome and modern day America were all that great. Sure, maybe they were a bit looser in their morals, but hey, human nature is human nature, right? People are basically the same throughout the ages, right? So of course we can apply Paul’s writings to today without any concern that we might be wrenching them from their context. That seems to be the thinking anyway. I’m not sure we’ve fully appreciated yet just how different Roman society was from ours today.

    NPR.org recently posted a story on how those “crazy” Romans “loved” one another on what became our day for celebrating romance. NPR’s Arnie Seipel writes,

    “From Feb. 13 to 15, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia. The men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain.

    The Roman romantics ‘were drunk. They were naked,’ says Noel Lenski, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Young women would actually line up for the men to hit them, Lenski says. They believed this would make them fertile.”

    Just like today?

    No. Not so much.

    I continue to believe it is only fair to consider the differences in our world and Paul’s when reading his thoughts on homosexual behavior. When he speaks of gay sex acts in relationship to idolatry in Romans 1, he is almost certainly referencing heterosexual men engaging in homosexual sex rites to honor the goddesses of the day. In 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, it seems at least a good possibility (I would say probability) that malakoi and arsenokoitai have some abusive, exploitive characteristic in mind in whatever they specifically reference because that was the nature of the homosexual conduct of which Paul would have been most aware. Pederasts (child abusers), call boys (male prostitutes), and emasculated temple priests do not a modern day gay relationship make. The culture was simply and significantly different.

    Posted in: The Gay Posts

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