Some Debate about Gays & Lesbians in Luke 17

Alex Haiken has questioned my thesis that Luke 17:34-35 describes two gay and lesbian couples. (If you need to get updated on the gay theme in Luke 17, check the banner area above and click on “Gays and Lesbians in Luke,” or click here.)  I’m not sure how much more Alex has read of these posts, so he may already be aware of my replies.

Jumping to Conclusions Regarding Lesbian Grinding

In three of your posts it seemed you established that in the Hebrew Bible, “grind” was sometimes used as a euphemism for sexual intercourse, which is indeed true. You also established that “grind” was sometimes used as a euphemism for sex in both Latin, Greek and other languages, which is also true.

But then somehow you conclude that because the term could and sometimes was used as a euphemism for sex in these languages, and was used as a euphemism for sex in a poem written by Plutarch, who himself was Greek and lived around the same Luke did, that somehow we can conclude — without any context whatsoever in the Luke passage — that Jesus was referring to gay men and lesbian lovers here, and shows Jesus’ acceptance of non-celibate gays and lesbians.

How do we make that jump?

First: To have a credible case, it was necessary to establish several things.  First, that the word grind was used sexually in the Bible, and, more specifically, that it was thus used in the time of Jesus. I documented the sexual use of grind first in Hebrew, then in first-century Latin and Greek, the two most pertinent languages to a discussion of Luke’s gospel.

By itself, this first-century sexual use of grind only proves that it was indeed used sexually in the time of Jesus. If I could not document this use, then people could justifiably say, “There is no evidence that grind was used sexually in the time of Jesus. You can’t import twenty-first century American slang into an ancient Biblical text.”  And believe me, many people said precisely that. 

What I have proved are (1) that grind was used sexually in the Bible itself and (2) that grind was used in the two major languages in Jesus’ world (Latin and Greek) during his lifetime. The next step was to investigate the text of Luke 17 to see if there were any more gay thematic markers.

Second: It is incorrect to suggest that I argue for the sexual use of grind in Luke 17:35 “without any context whatsoever in the Luke passage.”  Among other things, chapter 17 contains two significant cultural symbols of same-sex relations: Sodom in Hebrew culture, and Zeus and Ganymede in Roman culture. 

Hebrew Culture and Sodom

Now please realize that I am not stupid.  Most of my readers will agree with me that, scripturally speaking, the sin of Sodom was not homosexuality.  I know that.  The references in Ezekiel includes:

Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. (Ezekiel 16:49)

Both here and in the gospels it is clear that the main Biblical understanding, perhaps the only Biblical understanding, is that the sin of Sodom was their violent lack of hospitality. But I am convinced that there is a difference between strictly exegetical interpretations on the one hand, and popular and emotional understandings on the other.  I suggest that when the average “man in the street” heard the story of the destruction of Sodom, the take-away was that Lot’s visitors were about to “take it in the ass” unless God intervened.

Careful exegetes were too respectful of the Bible to go much beyond what it said, but ordinary people are not so scrupulous.  Wartime rape of defeated males have always been part and parcel of the fear of enemy nations. Wartime male rape is specifically described in Lamentations 5:13, “They took the young men to grind, and the children fell under the wood.” 

Roman Culture and Zeus & Ganymede

The references to lightning and to eagles are both symbolic of Zeus, and the eagle figures highly in the story of Zeus’ kidnapping of Ganymede to be his sexual consort. The figures of Ganymede and the eagle (Zeus) appear on sarcophagoi, jewelry, statues, mosaic tile floors, etc. The symbols of Zeus & Ganymede were ubiquitous, even appearing on the coins in everyday use.

While the lightning and the eagles are separated in Luke’s text, the Q text had them together, and located nearer the beginning of the chapter. There are other contextual elements that confirm the same-sex theme in Luke 17.

Mistaken Assumption Regarding Mills

Alex continues his critique with this paragraph regarding women grinding.

This becomes all the more problematic since we also know from commentaries such as the Bible Background Commentary which says referring to Luke 17:34-35: “Part of the Palestinian Jewish woman’s work was grinding at a mill; she would often do this with another woman. These women could normally work together regardless of religious convictions. Provided that the unreligious woman was not violating Pharisaic rules, even the wife of a Pharisee and the wife of a non-tither (whom Pharisees despised) could grind together.”

The “mill” he refer to is not found in Luke 17:35. The greek word for mill (muloni) is  indeed found in Matthew 24:41: “Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.” However, the word muloni is not found in the Luke passage. “Two women shall be grinding together at the same place, the one shall be taken, and the other left.” Just because the word mill appears in a so-called parallel passage is no justification for adding the word to Luke. 

It is incorrect to assume that the women were grinding flour in their mill. There are alternative understandings of verse 35.

Respecting the Differences between the Gospels

Remember one of the differences between the Sermon on the Mount in Luke and the Sermon on the Plain in Matthew? Matthew reads, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God,” whereas Luke reads, ” “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.” There is a big difference between being “poor” and being “poor in spirit.” Can you imagine the hue and cry that would go up if a translation added the words “in spirit” to Luke? You would be doing violence to Luke’s intended meaning to take words from Matthew for supposed “clarification.”

The same thing holds true regarding the word muloni.  Matthew specifies what is being ground, whereas Luke leaves it ambiguous.  These small differences in wording are what gives us insight into the comparative meanings of the Gospels. The mill simply is not present in the Greek text of Luke 17:35.

The Insertion of Muloni into Luke 17:35: Translator Bias

I have documented the publicly available expressions of the overt, anti-homosexual sentiment of two major Bible scholars who engineered the suppression of the presence of gays and lesbians in Luke 17, Bruce M. Metzger (editor and translator for the RSV and the NRSV) and Mark Strauss (translator for the NIV). The suppression of the gay and lesbian presence in verses 34-35 has been underway since 1946 and continues into the present. (See the three posts under “Translator Bias” in the banner area, or click here.) 

Old Testament Antecedents

Alex describes 19th century practices of sharing beds and rare luxuries.

We also know with regard to the “two men in a bed” passage that up thru 19th century and even beyond it was a common practice for men to share a bed in eras when private quarters were such a rare luxury. So where then is the basis for such a forced interpretation?

There is nothing “forced” about this interpretation. The only Hebrew Bible antecedent for two men in one bed are the very Levitical prohibitions against such a practice. 

Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. (Leviticus 18:22)

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. (Leviticus 20:13)

And the Hebrew word “lie” has the word “bed” as part of its root.  So we have, “You shall not bed a man as you would bed a woman.” This is nearly identical to the English usage. The prohibitions against men bedding other men are, again, the only Biblical antecedents for two men in one bed. Bringing up subsequent historical practices seems irrelevant.

To go one step further, we know words like “hand” and “foot” were often used euphemistically for “penis” as were words like “thigh” for “testicles.” But it would not be responsible to presume when we see these in the Bible, that the text is necessarily referring to penises or testicles — and all the more so when the word shows up in passage with no context at all.

I don’t recall using the words “hand” or “foot” in any of my discussions of Luke 17, so I’m not sure of the relevance of these comments. If you meant to compare my use of grind to your examples of hand and foot, then all I can say is that it would be foolish to suggest that every use of grind referred to sex. I have already written about Biblical “grinding gold,” “grinding teeth,” and “grinding the faces of the poor.” I never assumed that every instance of grinding necessarily referred to sex. I always realized that various kinds of evidence were necessary to successfully argue my case.

Also, to say that any of my case has “no context at all” is a bit premature. I have previously discussed the context in numerous posts under “Gays and Lesbians in Luke” in the banner area.

Even “if” Plutarch was referring lesbians in his poem, as you suggest, I still don’t see how one can responsibly make the jump that Jesus was referring to gay men and lesbian lovers and shows Jesus’ acceptance of non-celibate gays and lesbians.

[Mind you, I’m not suggesting God has a problem with gay people who are sexually active, as you averred in another comment. Fact is I spend my life in many ways helping gay people integrate a theologically-sound, committed Christian faith with their sexuality and in connection with this, it has become increasingly clear to me that the people who truly do well in the long run are those who accepted they were gay and sought after a same-sex monogamous partnership.]

Alex, it is not necessary for me to make “jumps” or “leaps” in my case for gays and lesbians in Luke 17: 34-35. I have already discussed the context of the references to two cultural markers for same-sex relations, the Roman and the Hebrew, as well as the lack of a muloni for the women. In addition to this, all of the action takes place at night (verse 34).

But for the reasons stated above, I do not see how one can responsibly derive from Luke 17:34-35 without taking some serious liberties that Jesus was referring to gay men and lesbian lovers.

-Alex Haiken

I have taken no “liberties,” Alex. I have identified no less than four same-sex thematic elements in Luke 17, not to mention the poetic parallelism of verses 34 and 35. This parallelism is consistent with Hebrew poetry, which is characterized, not by rhyming, but parallel ideas. The parallel ideas here are, by my interpretation, same-sex love-making. I insist that Jesus did accept gays and lesbians.  

How his acceptance is demonstrated depends on your pre-existing theological or interpretive assumptions. (1) If you believe in the popular idea of the “rapture” (which I do not), then verses 34-35 show one gay and one lesbians being raptured out of judgment.

(2) If you are a preterist, which means you believe books like Revelation describe historical events that occurred, say, before 70 C,E., then verses 34-35 do not refer to future events.

Synopsis of the Pharisaic Persecution of Jesus’ Gay and Lesbian Followers

I have become convinced that, based on research that I have only recently begun to publish, Luke 17:34-35 reflects the persecution of one of the earliest Christian communities, the Q community.  Based on evidence in Q, this community included many gays and lesbians, and that the couples mentioned in verses 34-35 were ethnically mixed Jew and Gentile. 

The eminent founder of Yavneh, Rabban Yohannan ben Zakkai, made nocturnal visits to suspected same-sex couples, catching them in flagrante dilecto, with sufficient witnesses to make the arrest of the Jewish partners for trial and execution. Generally, unless the gentile magistrate deferred, it was necessary to leave the gentile partner untouched since Torah generally had no jurisdiction over gentiles.

This persecution occurred between 30 and 40 C.E. in northern Galilee, and much of it was centered around the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Arav. Jesus pronounces judgment on Chorazin and Bethsaida, which are just north of the Sea of Galilee, and are only a few miles apart. From Yohannan ben Zakkai was stationed in the town of Arav between 20 and 40 C.E., which overlaps the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and the likely date of the end of the Q community.  Arav is only 17 miles north of Chorazin and Bethsaida, the cities Jesus warned. 

My case is that the Q community, the group responsible for the writing of the Q source, had a significant number of gay and lesbian among their members, as evidenced by the gay theme found throughout the Q source. Jesus’ earliest followers included many gays and lesbians, which is discernible in what remains of their sojourn with Jesus. Now before anyone suggests that I am making unwarranted “jumps” in logic, you’d better wait until you’ve at least read a previous post: A Famous Rabbi Destroys the Gay and Lesbian Q Community

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About Ron Goetz

Lay leader, intellectual, struggler, disciple, writer, activist. Husband, father, grandpa, friend, son.
This entry was posted in Lesbian Grinding, Lesbians, Sodom, Two Women Grinding Together, Zeus Ganymede and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Some Debate about Gays & Lesbians in Luke 17

  1. thayes9217 says:

    “There is no evidence that grind was used sexually in the time of Jesus. You can’t import twenty-first century American slang into an ancient Biblical text.” This is what was stated that critics could say if one could not document a sexual connotation of “grind” in the time of Jesus.

    I am no biblical scholar by any means, but it is my understanding that there was no word for “homosexual” in either biblical Greek or biblical Hebrew. How is it possible, therefore, for some current biblical translators to insert that word into the ancient texts and leave it in to be printed for the modern-day reader? Translator bias?

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