The Gay Theme of the Q Source

Ten YearsThere is a definite gay theme in the Q Source, or the Gospel of Q. Before we discuss the violent persecution of the Q community, and the individual behind that persecution, it is necessary to establish the historical grounds for the deadly anti-Q campaign. I will take you step-by-step through the case I have uncovered over the past several years. The Q community met with violent repression because among their numbers they welcomed and included sexually active gays and lesbians.

The gay theme of Q is found in four key passages. The first passage regards the Centurion and his pais (Q 7:1-10). The second deals with the references to Sodom (Q 10:1-16). The third concerns the Pharisee’s charges concerning Jesus and Beelzebub (Q 11:14-26). The final passage is Q 17:22-35, which describes the two gay and lesbian couples, in close proximity to two popular symbols of “homosexuality,” one in Hebrew culture and the other in Roman culture.

A Note Regarding Q Scripture Citations

Before I discuss the gay theme in Q I need to let you know about how academics cite Q. Scholars generally believe that Luke follows the original order of the Q material than Matthew, therefore they generally follow the verse numbering of Luke.  In Q literature then, Luke 10:1 becomes Q 10:1, Luke 17:34 becomes Q 17:34, etc.

Arland Jacobson: No Consensus on the Theology of Q

According to Arland Jacobson there is no consensus on Q theology, no “coherent perspective” that can unite Q’s various themes.

. . . the inability of recent research to reach a consensus concerning the theology of Q, despite agreement on many particulars, raises the question of whether there might be some coherent perspective which could embrace the various tendencies and themes that have been found in Q. In all these matters, the question of the literary unity of Q is crucial. [1] 

Jacobson desires “some coherent perspective” that can serve to unite the currently disparate materials in Q into a meaningful whole. I believe that the coherent perspective he calls for is not so much theological as a matter of praxis, that is, how the beliefs and practices of the Q community combined, and the historical results of their praxis. That coherent perspective, that praxis, involve the diversity of sexual orientation practiced in the Q community as evidenced in four passages.

Jesus and the Q community openly accepted and included sexually active gays and lesbians into their circle. This is consistent with bringing a sword, with dividing families, with letting the dead bury their dead, with violent persecution and martyrdom, with the resulting deuteronomistic threats, with fleeing from town to town, with trusting your Father in heaven to provide for all your needs the way he does the flowers and the birds, and with being taken before magistrates who have the authority to kill the body but not the soul.

The following case for a gay theme in Q, therefore, is valuable for two reasons. First, it promises to answer some questions that have puzzled Q scholars for some time. Second, and more importantly, it demonstrates that Jesus and his earliest Galilean followers openly accepted sexually active gays and lesbians, making them the first open and inclusive community of Jesus followers.

Gay Element One: The Centurion and his Pais

Pull Quote 1The first evidence of Q’s gay theme is the much discussed account of the centurion and his pais. This passage is well-known, so I will give it only a relatively brief introduction.  In Q 7:1-10 a Roman officer comes to Jesus in great anguish for his dying pais.  The centurion begs, indeed pleads with Jesus to heal his pais.  The emotion implicit in the begging and pleading suggests a bond deeper than we usually expect between a master and a slave.  Several facts bear upon identifying the pais as the centurion’s intimate partner. First, during this time Roman soldiers were forbidden to be married, leaving them only with alternatives.  Second, all slaves, both male and female, were subject to their owners’ sexual desires. While some Roman authors disapproved of homosexual relationships, many did approve, and there was no legal sanction against same-sex relationships between Roman males and non-Roman slaves. In John’s account, much later than Q, the pais becomes a “son,” but because of the exigencies of military service in the provinces, this is highly unlikely.

The centurion and his pais has been much discussed. If you want to research the more academic discussions, one of the best online papers is “Mistaken Identities But Model Faith: Rereading the Centurion, the Chap, and the Christ in Matthew 8:5-13,” by Theodore W. Jennings, Jr. and Ta-Siong Benny Liew, and published in the Journal of Biblical Literature in 2004 (click here). 

Slave owners had complete ownership of slaves as chattel property: “Slaves could be beaten, tortured, killed, and the fact that a slave, male or female, was at the disposal of his or her master for sexual use was so commonplace as to be scarcely noted in Roman sources. [2] (Walters, p. 39) In a reference that I believe is legendary, Queen Boadicea of Britain weighs in against Roman men, whom we might assume were Roman military officers: “There is evidence, in fact, that, like the Greeks, Roman men preferred male youth … or early majority. Indeed, Queen Boadicea [of Britain] criticized Roman men [because they] drank unmixed wine, and slept on soft couches with ‘boys past their prime.’” [3]

Ronald Springett calls pederasty the “most common form of homosexuality among Greek males,” and later among the Romans.  Pederastic practices involved adult males having sexual relations with boys (Gk. pais) and adolescents having entered puberty (Gk. meirakion). [4]

To further research this topic, begin with centurion and pais as your search terms, and start googling.

Gay Element Two: Sodom and the Unrepentant Towns

The second piece of evidence of the gay theme in Q when Jesus’ compares the fate of Sodom to the fate of towns (in context, comparable to Chorazin and Bethsaida) that refuse to repent, even after witnessing the mighty works of Jesus. This is one of the “deuteronomistic” passages in Q.

[But whenever you enter a town and] they do not receive you, as you go [out of that town], shake off the dust from you feet. I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on [the] day for Sodom than for that town. Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, [ ] in sackcloth and ashes.  (Q 10:10-13)

First, this mention of Sodom’s destruction would have been an ideal opportunity for Jesus to weigh in against Sodom, if indeed Jesus understood the sin of Sodom to be the sin of same-sex relationships. The absence of any word of condemnation for Sodom in a passage whose theme is God’s judgment is important. People who confidently assert that Jesus believes that homosexuals should be stoned have good reason to be disappointed and embarrassed by Jesus’ silence here. Of course, anti-gay Christians say this is an argument from silence, but it is in fact significant that Jesus mentions Sodom with no word of censure.

I believe that the perpetrators behind the persecution of the Q community believed that the sin of Sodom was anal intercourse.  The belief that the sin of Sodom was homosexuality was widespread among Jewish teachers at this time, which we will see in ancient, non-Biblical Jewish sources.

There is a difference between responsible exegetical accuracy and popular understanding, even popular religious understanding. Today the dominant understanding of the traditionalists is that the sin of Sodom was same-sex relations, while more careful Bible exegetes teach that the sin of Sodom was the lack of hospitality, the inhospitable, humiliation of subjecting visitors and outsiders to rape.  Even conservatives academics are being forced to acknowledge that the sin of Sodom, Biblically speaking, was not male homosexuality, but involved the requirement for hospitality to strangers and the brutal denial of this requirement vis-à-vis stranger rape.

Technically, the more careful Bible exegetes are correct, based on references to Sodom in both the Greek and Hebrew scriptures.  Traditionalists, however, have on their side the vivid, shocking imagery of Genesis 19. The Genesis account is even more effective because the impending rape only occurs in the imagination; and that imagery must be generated in the minds of the readers. The engagement of a reader’s imagination makes the reader an active participant of the story’s creation.

Pseudepigrapha: “The Sin of Sodom was Anal Sex”

The same interpretive difference existed in the first century. Academic Jewish sources Pull Quote 4understood that the sin of Sodom was the lack of hospitality, but less respectable Jewish sources identified homosexual sex as the sin of Sodom. Numerous non-canonical writings attack homosexuality (the Testament of Solomon, the Testament of Benjamin, the Sybilline Oracles). There are several non-canonical books which identify male homosexuality (penetration of the anus in the manner of Sodom) as the sin of Sodom, or euphemistically as a departure from the natural order. Books that label the sexual penetration of the anus as the sin of Sodom are I and II Enoch, and the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs (specifically, the Testament of Naphtali).

The Book of Enoch definitely connects Sodom with homosexual intercourse. While the dating of ancient manuscripts is always subject to debate, R.G. Loader’s comments (despite his anti-gay bias) are nevertheless instructive.

MS P of Enoch, which arguably preserves the uncensored text, is very specific, speaking of judgment for “sin which is against nature, which is child corruption of the anus in the manner of Sodom” (10:2) and the wickedness of those sowing worthless seed, including “abominable fornications, that is, friend with friend in the anus, and every other kind of wicked uncleanness which it is disgusting to report” (34:1-2), here apparently addressing both pederasty and adult to adult consensual male same-sex relations. [5]

The book of II Enoch is considered by most scholars to be written by a sectarian Jewish group, although that group has not been identified.  Again, like I Enoch, anal intercourse is identified as the sin of Sodom.

And I said, “Woe, woe! How very frightful this place is!” And those men said to me, “This place, Enoch, has been prepared for those who do not glorify God, who practice on the earth sin which is against nature, which is child corruption in the anus after the manner of Sodom, of witchcraft, enchantments, divinations, trafficking with demons, who boast about their evil deeds—stealing, lying, insulting, coveting, resentment, fornication, murder . . .  (2 Enoch 10: 4)

In a general sense, the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs (second century BCE) identifies Sodom (and Gomorrah) with sexual sin.

You teach the Lord’s commands out of greed for gain; married women you profane; you have intercourse with whores and adulteresses. You take gentile women for your wives and your sexual relations will become like Sodom and Gomorrah. (Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs 14: 6) [6]

But one section of that book, the Testament of Naphthali, “refers to ‘Sodom, which departed from the order of nature’” (Testament of Naphthli 3:4). Again, departures from “the order of nature” are considered perversions, unlike simple incest or adultery.

Thus, we see that many zealous, religious Jews of this era equated the sin of Sodom with anal intercourse. It doesn’t matter that this is not strictly Biblical, it was true for many at the popular level.  I believe that the recorded mention of Sodom in this context of prophetic denunciation is specifically relevant to the gay and lesbian members of the Q community. This connection should become more clear as we continue.

Gay Element Three: Jesus’ Master Beelzebul Promotes Sodomy

The third element of Q’s gay theme is found in what is sometimes called “the Beelzebul Controversy” (Q 11:14-20), in which Jesus is accused of casting out demons by the power of the Prince of Demons.

And he . . . cast . . . out a dumb demon. And when the demon was cast out, the dumb person spoke. And the crowds were amazed. But some . . . said, By Beelzebul, the ruler of demons, he casts out demons. But others were seeking [from heaven] a sign. But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a house [divided against itself will not stand]. And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if by the finger of God I cast out demons, then upon you the kingdom of God has come.

This passage will be important in a couple of ways as we proceed, but right now it demonstrates, somewhat obliquely, Q’s gay theme.  Its significance in this context derives from evidence, again found in non-canonical Jewish literature.

I’ve already referred to the significance of the Testament of Solomon in the Jewish
propaganda war against Gentile influence as epitomized by homosexuality. Much of the Testament of Solomon deals with demonology and deliverance, in which, according to legend, Solomon had considerable expertise. In fact, the Testament of Solomo

Pull Quote 3

Testament of Solomon deals with demonology and deliverance, in which, according to legend, Solomon had considerable expertise. In fact, the Testament of Solomon is a means of propagating knowledge of demonology by connecting the teaching with Solomon.

Much of the book consists of individual conversations with a host of demons, one of whom is Beelzebul. In this conversation, we find out something very pertinent to the present discussion. Beelzebul has a special interest in sodomy.

In the opening passage of the book Solomon encounters a sickly little boy whose strength is being sapped by the fierce demon Ornias who, judging by the transparent symbolism, is daily being raped by the demon. A little later in the chapter, Solomon asks what Beelzeboul does, and after a long list of wicked things, Beelzeboul reaches his climax of evil.

I Solomon said unto him: “Beelzeboul, what is thy employment?” And he answered me: . . .  I inspire men with envy, and [desire for] murder, and for wars and sodomy, and other evil things. And I will destroy the world” (Test Sol, 1:27).

References to Beelzeboul (and its variants) occur in II Kings 1: 2-3, 6, 16, in the Testament of Solomon, and in the Q passage we’re looking at now. Given the lively interest in demonic deliverance among both Jewish and Christian exorcists, and the temporal proximity of the Testament of Solomon and the Q community, it seems likely that the Testament of Solomon figures more highly than the II Kings passage in the content of Q.

To put it simply: when he was accused of casting out demons by the authority of Beelzebul, Jesus was being associated with a demonic power with a particular interest in sodomy. Today the Testament of Solomon is an obscure book known by relatively few people. In the time of Jesus, however, it was of particular interest to Jewish exorcists, referred to in the very passage we are examining: “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges” (Q 11:19).

We have looked at three gay elements of the Gospel of Q: 1) the centurion and his pais, a gay servant/companion, 2) the reference to Sodom with its popular associations with anal intercourse, and 3) associating Jesus with the demon with a particular interest in sodomy, Beelzebul. Now we turn to the fourth element of the gay theme in Q, the two gay and lesbian couples in Q 17:34-35.

Gay Element Four: Gay and Lesbian Couples in the Q Apocalypse

Jesus specifically mentioned gays and lesbians in Q 17:34-35.

I tell you, in that night,
          there shall be two men in one bed;
                the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.
          Two women shall be grinding together;
                the one shall be taken, and the other left.
           (Luke 17:34-35, KJV)

Don’t be put off by my use of the King James Version. I have made ample use of the Greek, and of Q. There are no textual difficulties here, only issues of translation. I have documented the efforts of what I believe are deliberate, coordinated, and anti-gay translation.  I have documented the bias, beginning with Bruce Metzger (RSV and NRSV) and continuing through Mark Strauss (NIV). To read these posts, click herehere, and here.

I will demonstrate that 1) “grind” was a very common expression for sex in ancient languages, most importantly in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, which supports the lesbian “double entendre” in verse 35;  2) “two men in one bed” has as its O.T. antecedents Lev 18:22 and 20:13, which specifically forbid two men in one bed,  3) “two men in one bed” and “two women grinding together” immediately follow a detailed account of Lot and the destruction of Sodom with fire and brimstone, an episode which some contemporaries would have (incorrectly) associated with man-on-man sex (e.g. Jude 7), which puts the activities of two same-sex couples at night immediately after one of the most lurid stories of the Hebrew Bible; and finally 4) the ultimate and well-known Roman cultural symbols of same-sex relationships (lightning and eagles), Zeus and Ganymede. The significance of the lightning and the eagle is one of several, much-debated puzzles upon which Q scholars have not reached consensus.

Everything in Luke 17 that pertains to the same-sex theme derives from Q.

The Q Apocalypse (Q 17:23-35)

The gay and lesbian couples in verses 34 and 35 are part of a larger unit sometimes called the Q Apocalypse. 

[And if they] say.. to you, Look, [he is in the wilderness], do not go out; Look, [he is in the inner rooms], do not follow them. For as the lightning comes [from the east] and [shines as far as the west], thus will be the [day] of the Son of man. Where the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together. [For as were] the days of Lot, so will it also be [in the days] of the Son of man. [They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold; they planted, they built], but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed all. So will it also be [on the day the] Son of man [is revealed]. [I tell you, on that night] there will be two [men] on one bed; one is taken and one is left. Two women will be grinding; one is taken and one is left. (Q 17:23-35)

This is the main point at which I have departed from the text of Q from which I have been working. There has been considerable discussion about the virtually identical accounts of the days of Noah and the days of Lot. A number of theories to account for this doubling in Luke 17 have been put forward. There is such a lack of consensus that I feel comfortable putting my preference on the table. It is very possible that Q’s original version contained the Lot material, which specifies the destruction of Sodom with fire and brimstone from heaven. It could have been a stand-alone narrative in Q 17, or it could have been side-by-side with the Noah account as we find in modern Bibles.

And why is the account of Sodom’s destruction not in Matthew? If the two accounts were originally side-by-side in Q, Matthew could have decided to eliminate what seemed to him to be unnecessary repetition. I am not the first to suggest this possibility. Because we have no physical copy of the Q source at present, how Matthew and Luke differed in their use of Q is unknowable right now. Q scholars acknowledge that Matthew and Luke probably did differ in their usage of Q. We know that someone borrowed a verse (Matthew 24:40) and put it in Luke 17, for example: “Two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left.” This verse, Luke 17:36, now only appears in the KJV. Luke himself did not do the borrowing. I use this merely to illustrate that borrowing did occur at various stages of composition, and such borrowing affected the text we now have.

Note that my argument for the gay theme in Luke 17 is not totally dependent on the presence of specifically Lot-and-Sodom material. The two gay and lesbian couples stand together, along with the Roman cultural indicators of Zeus and Ganymede, quite apart from Lot and Sodom. Nevertheless, if the Lot-and-Sodom material is original to Q, it lends contextual evidence for identifying the sexual orientation of the two couples.

The Elements of the Same-Sex Theme in the Q Apocalypse

Q 17:22-37 contains four pieces of easily demonstrable same-sex thematic evidence:

1)   The “Two men in one bed” of verse 34, whose only O.T. antecedents were the Levitical prohibitions against a man laying with a man as with a woman. The “two men in one bed” reminded me immediately of the two Levitical prohibitions against men having sex: “Thou shalt not lie with a man as with a woman, it is an abomination,” and “If a man lie with a man 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 18:22; 20:13)

2)  The “Two women grinding together in the same place” of verse 35, whose double-Pull Quote 6entendre “grinding” is confirmed from both the O.T. and the Greek actually in use in the time of Jesus. The word “mill,” which is present in Matthew’s version, is absent from Luke’s, which absence leaves the ”grinding” ambiguous.  I disagree with Q scholars who would add the word “mill” to Q 17:35.  It is an acknowledged rule that redactors and copyists were far more likely to add words to a text for “clarification” than they were to eliminate them. Luke did not eliminate the word “mill” from the text–Matthew probably added it. Nevertheless, even if Q originally included the word “mill,” the discussion of Horace below demonstrates that this did not preclude a sexual grinding.

3)  The story of the destruction of Sodom, a major element of which, on the popular level, is about man-on-man sex. This is true, despite the core Biblical issue of hospitality, and its opposite, the brutal humiliation of visitors, travelers, and outsiders.

4)  The presence of the two major cultural symbols of Zeus and Ganymede, the lightning and the eagles. The story of the abduction of Ganymede involved the self-transformation of Zeus into an eagle to kidnap Ganymede and  carry him away. This was a religious myth well-known, not only to Romans, but to gays throughout the empire.

“Two Men in One Bed”: O.T. Antecedents in Bible Interpretation

There are many things New Testament interpreters do in order to understand the verses and passages better. One of them is looking at what are called Old Testament antecedents—verses, passages, or words that are in the background of something in the New Testament. There are many such OT antecedents. For example, every NT reference to priesthood, to sacrifice, and to covenants has OT antecedents. There are hundreds more. Many Bible scholars make an exhaustive examination of the OT antecedents of NT passages to understand those passages better.

Luke’s reference to “two men in one bed” has only two antecedents in the Old Testament. The only O.T. “cross references” are the prohibitions in Leviticus 18 and 20 against a man lying with a man as he would with a woman.

The “Rapture”

If you hold to the popular eschatological concept of the Rapture (which I do not), there is an obvious tension between Leviticus 20:13 and Luke 17:34. Whereas Leviticus 20 says “they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them,” Luke 17 says, “the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.” In the traditional end times interpretation, Jesus is given to say that one practicing gay male is acceptable to God, and one is not.

Anti-Gay Persecution “in that Night”

I believe Q 17:34-35 actually illustrates episodes that were inflicted on members of the Q community during a period of persecution, when, in order to catch gay and couples in the middle of love making, their homes were raided “in that night”, with the guilty Jews being “taken” into custody and their gentile partners being “left” since they were not generally subject to Torah.

Thus, if we understand the two couples to be gays and lesbians, there are at least two possible applications. The first application is that Jesus approved of sexually active gay and lesbian followers, but does not specify the grounds for some being “left.” A second possible application is that official representatives of the Jerusalem authorities were enforcing the Levitical prohibitions against gay sex, but not enforcing, or unable to enforce, it on gentile partners. Both applications assume Jesus’ acceptance of sexually active gay and lesbian followers.

Two “Men” in One Bed, or Just “Two”?

There is a recurring question regarding “two men in one bed” which continues to be raised as an objection, but which I have settled to my own satisfaction.  In the Greek, the word “men” does not appear. The Greek, εσονται δυο επι κλινης, can be legitimately rendered in two possible ways, either “there shall be two in one bed” or “there shall be two men in one bed.” This is possible because of what we would call in English the “generic he.”  If not specified, the word δυο can refer to two men, or to a man and a woman. (The word klinas means both couch and bed–the piece of furniture was both a couch and a bed. People who insist on “couch” are attempting to skirt the issue.)

In language, there is more than one way to indicate gender. In English, gender is indicated by personal pronouns and nouns. In other languages, like Greek for instance, gender is also communicated through participles, which can be feminine or masculine. As it happens, the word women does not appear in Q 17:35, but the word grinding is a feminine participle, so we know that the verse refers to two women. The principle of poetic parallelism suggests that the two women of 17:35 are complemented by two men in 17:34.

If this single verse was the only bit of evidence in this passage for Jesus’ acceptance of practicing gays and lesbians, there would be no case whatever. It would be a 50/50 proposition. There are, however, three additional elements in the larger passage, Luke 17:22-37, which strongly indicate it is two men in one bed, not “two people” or a vague “two”. Those three elements are 1) the two women grinding together (vs 35), 2) the Genesis story of Sodom’s destruction (vv 28-31), and 3) the central Roman symbols of the gay relationship between Ganymede and Zeus (vv 24, 37).

The next verse I initially explored was Q 17:35: “Two women shall be grinding together, the one shall be taken, and the other left.”  Luke’s reference to two women “grinding together” has sexual content in English slang, and there would be absolutely no justification for importing meanings from American slang into a first century Greek text. This would be totally absurd.

Sexual Grinding in Ancient Languages

But that’s not what happened, and that’s not what I’ve done. The word grind is used sexually in the three most pertinent ancient languages: Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. 

“Two Women Grinding Together”

Q 17:35 says there will be two women grinding together, that one shall be taken and the other left.

I was amazed to discover that “grind” with a sexual application was incredibly prevalent in both ancient and modern languages.  After doing quite a bit of digging, I found that “grind” has a sexual application in modern German, Swahili, Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic, as well as English. Far from being an ephemeral wisp of American slang, the word grind was used sexually by Chaucer (1343-1400) in The Reeve’s Tale, and Shakespeare (1564-1616) in The History of Troilus and Cressida, and no less than ten notable writers in the Stuart era (1603 to 1714).

More important, however, is its widespread use in ancient languages: Sumerian, Hittite, Tocharian B, and Hebrew, and first-century Latin (Horace), and Greek (Plutarch).

  • Sexual Grinding in Ancient Languages: Latin

In Latin, the word “grind” (molomolere, etc.) in its various forms is used sexually. The Roman poet Horace (65 to 8 BCE) used grind in his endorsement of brothels. Horace wrote in Latin a few decades before the birth of Christ, and he uses the word permolere (grind away at) sexually. [7] This fact demonstrates that the Q community would be aware of the multiple possible meaning in Q 17:35.

Once, when a noble left a brothel, ‘Blessed be thou for virtue!” quoth the wisdom of Cato: for when their veins are swelling with gross lust, young men should drop in there, rather than grind some husband’s private mill.” (i.e., some husband’s wife) [8]

Note that Horace uses both grind and mill sexually, as they are elsewhere. His use of both words shows that even the presence of the word mill does not eliminate the possibility of sexual usage of the word grind. This is important because some Q scholars believe that the word mill was originally in Q, and that for some reason Luke deleted it. Horace’s usage of mill is significant because it is proof of the sexual use of grind among Latin speaking Romans only a few decades before the birth of Christ.

  • Sexual Grinding in Ancient Languages: Greek

While the evidence in Latin is significant because of Luke’s Latin speaking gentile audience, there is an example in classical Greek where grinding the mill refers to sex. This example is more to the point since the New Testament comes to us in Greek, not in Hebrew or Latin. This example from secular Greek is also significant because it was written at the same time Luke was probably composed. This example demonstrates that the words grind and mill [9] were used as sexual euphemisms in Greek during the time of Jesus and Luke.

Plutarch (ca 45 to 120 CE) was born in Greece near Delphi, and was a contemporary of Luke. One of Plutarch’s essays, “The Banquet of Seven Wise Men,” is a fictional conversation among some famous men who lived around 650 BCE.  In the story, Thales of Miletus speaks:

This remark arrested the attention of the whole company, and Thales said jestingly…. “when I was at Lesbos, I heard my landlady, as she was very busy at her handmill, singing as she used to go at her work:

Grind, mill, grind;
For even Pittacus grinds,
King of great Mytilene.

In rhythm with grinding her handmill, the “landlady” sings a bawdy work song: “Grind, mill, grind.” Whether the song dates back to 650 BCE is not the point. What matters is that Plutarch uses grind sexually in the last quarter of the first century CE. This would overlap the time some assign to the final redaction of Q, although we have already seen the nearly universal sexual use of grind.  Note that I have not said that grind was used exclusively to refer to sex, only that its sexual usage seems almost universal.

Plutarch’s story confirms that he considered the work song to be a lesbian joke, since he says that Thales of Miletus told the story, set on the Isle of Lesbos, “jestingly.” The historicity of the story itself is not the issue here. What the Plutarchian evidence does is to testify to the sexual use of the Greek word grind during the period of Plutarch, Q, and Jesus.

In Plutarch’s story, the sexual use of grind is of a very specific kind: both the primary meaning (mill grinding) and a secondary meaning (sexual grinding) are intended simultaneously. Without these multiple meanings present at the same time, the intended impact of the passage would be lost.

  • Sexual Grinding in Ancient Languages: Hebrew

Just as we looked at Old Testament antecedents to understand Luke 17:34’s “two men in one bed,” we look again to the Old Testament for the textual background of “two women grinding together” in verse 35. In the Hebrew Bible, grind is used as an acceptable verb for copulation in at least places: Job 31:10, Judges 16:21, and Lamentations 5:13.

Job 31:9-10

The first instance of the grind’s sexual use is in Job. Grind (תִּטְחַ֣ן, tiṭ·ḥan) is used sexually when he defends himself against his pious accuser-friends.

If mine heart have been deceived by a woman,
or I have laid wait at my neighbor’s door,
then let my wife grind unto another,
and let others bow down upon her. (Job 31:9-10, KJV)

Judges 16:21

Another sexual use of grind (טוֹחֵ֖ן, ṭō·w·ḥên) occurs in the story of Samson, a powerful warrior and notorious womanizer. After Delilah’s betrayal and his resulting capture, Samson was made a slave by the Philistines. Describing the end of  his life, the Book of Judges reads, “the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house” (Judges 16:21, KJV). The Jewish Talmud understood grind sexually, here as well as in Job.

“Grind” means nothing else than [sexual] transgression, and thus it is stated: Then let my wife grind unto another. It teaches that everyone brought his wife to him in the prison that she might bear a child by him [who would be as strong as he was]. [10]

Lamentations 5:13

A third example of grind used sexually appears in the appalling account in Lamentations of the siege and fall of Jerusalem in the sixth century BCE. The book describes mothers boiling and eating their own children (Lamentations 4:10). In 5:11-13 we read

They ravished [raped] the women in Zion, and the maids in the cities of Judah.
Princes are hanged up by their hand: the faces of elders were not honored.
They took the young men to grind, and the children fell under the wood.

Instead of “They took the young men to grind,” the Douay-Rheims version reads, “They abused the young men indecently.”  The Catholic translation is more of a paraphrase, that is, it is less literal, but it is also less opaque.  Douay is much clearer. It also gives us a rendering that is polite enough to preserve a PG rating, preserving its suitability for younger readers as well as for use in the pulpit.

“Get Your Mind out of the Gutter”

I have been accused of having my mind in the gutter, of seeing sex in every verse in the Bible. I have responded to the roots of such criticisms in a post titled, “Biblical Language: Vulgar, Ordinary, and Sublime.” The Bible contains materials that are not only inappropriate for Sunday school, they are seldom mentioned in sermons, either. Christians tend to be far too genteel and polite. They guard their tongues more than the Bible itself guards its words. Contemporary Christian culture is disconnected from Biblical culture. You will understand if I do not allow other people’s sense of propriety to interfere with understanding some neglected teachings of Jesus.

“Grind” was a Polite Phrase for “Making Love”

When you realize that the sexual usage of grind has been almost universal, and that its usage is easily documented in the Bible itself, it ceases to be inappropriate or vulgar gutter language, but was simply a more or less polite way of referring to sex. Among Christians, referring to sex has always been a little skittish. There have always been circumlocutions to help genteel society avoid references to sex, pregnancy, almost anything to do with the human body or bodily functions.

This issue of language is a matter of culture and taste. We are continually scolded for allowing our culture to influence us too much, for allowing culture to eclipse the Bible in its influence on our lives. Some people have an emotional reaction to the idea that Jesus accepted gays and lesbians, or that he would refer to lesbian “grinding”.


The gay thematic elements in Q reflects at least four or five different aspects of life in the Q community.  The story of the centurion and his pais touches on two related experiences, the first being the ubiquitous presence of the Roman army of occupation and the resulting bitter loss of national autonomy, the second being what conservative Jews felt was the corrosive influence of gentiles. The passages that refer to Sodom and Beelzebub indicate the actual rhetoric employed against the Q community in their conflict with the religious representatives of the Jerusalem Temple state, that their sexual practices were “after the manner of Sodom,” and that Jesus their teacher was under the authority of a demon whose repertoire of activity included spreading sodomy on the earth. Finally, the personal experience of gay and lesbian couples is evident during a period of active persecution. I believe that in Q 17:34-35 we have a picture of mixed Jewish-gentile couples, with the “one taken” into custody being the Jewish partner, and the “one left” being the gentile, who would not necessarily be subject to Torah.

William Arnal says in a related context that the details preserved in Q “are a product of this group’s interests, not merely a reflection of . . . some of the traditions incorporated into Q.” [11] I believe the thematic elements I have presented reflect concrete experiences of the Q community, of some of Jesus’ earliest Galilean followers. I believe they constitute the “coherent perspective” that Arland Jacobson says is lacking in Q studies, a perspective that would help assemble the bewildering puzzle that is the Gospel of Q.

[1]  Jacobson, Arland D. The First Gospel: An Introduction to Q, pp 99-100. Sonoma, CA: Polebridge Press, 1992. (Foundations and Facets. Reference Series)

[2]  Walters, Jonathan. “One: Invading the Roman Body,” p. 39. Roman Sexualities, edited by Judith P. Hallett, Marilyn B. Skinner. Princeton University Press, 1997

[3]  Neill, James. The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations In Human Societies, p 42-43. McFarland Publishers, 2009.

[4] Estep, James R. “Homosexuality in the Past.” Gay Rights or Wrongs: A Christian’s Guide to Homosexual Issues and Ministry, p 20. Edited by Michael Mazzalongo. College Press Publishing Co., 1995.

[5]  Loader, William R.G. The Pseudepigrapha on Sexuality: Attitudes Towards Sexuality in Apocalypses, Testaments, Legends, Wisdom, and Related Literature, p 507.  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2011.

[6]  Charlesworth, James H. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, p. 793. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 2010.

[7]  Johnson, Marguerite and Terry Ryan. Sexuality in Greek and Roman Literature and Society: A Sourcebook, pg. 95.

[8]  “The verb permolere (to grind grain) is an agricultural term transferred to a sexual context.”  Adams, James Noel. The Latin Sexual Vocabulary, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1982, pp 152-3).

[9]   Kiefer, Otto. Sexual Life in Ancient Rome, London:  Taylor and Francis, 1956.

[10]  Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sotah, Folio 10a

[11] Arnal, William E.  Jesus and the Village Scribes: Galilean Conflicts and the Setting of Q. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001, p. 162.


To read more in the series on Ten Years in Galilee, go to the index here.

About Ron Goetz

My first wife used to say, "There's nothing so sacred that Ron won't pick it apart." My desire to be a pastor -- that was a temperamental mismatch. She was so patient. If my birth mother had lived somewhere else, maybe I would've become a cold case detective. But I would have had to be J instead of a P, I think. And that mid-life reevaluation, starting adolescence as a GARB fundamentalist and transitioning to a non-theist, that gave me an unusual skill set.
This entry was posted in Centurion and Pais, Galilee, Homosexuality, Jesus and Homosexuality, Leviticus, Luke 17, Luke 17:34-35, Q Source, Ten Years in Galilee and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Gay Theme of the Q Source

  1. Ron,

    I am following your study with fascination. Today I read your post about the rabbi’s campaign to wipe out the Q community, but I wanted to come back to this post to comment. Again, I am fascinated by these scriptural renderings. I grew up hearing the KJV read aloud in church, and the passage in Luke 17 is familiar, but the “two men in one bed” had never registered. I went back to read that passage and noticed that the RSV changed the wording to “two in one bed.”

    The troubling part for me is the examination of the centurion and his pais. Your case makes a lot of sense, and I have no reason to doubt your explanation of the cultural context. My problem is in reading that passage with modern sensibilities. You make reference to the Greek and Roman custom of pederasty, and mention that slaves were subject to the sexual desires of their masters. Again, I do not question your research, but my problem is that we have been shaken in recent years with problems of priests molesting boys. Red flags just go up when one says that Jesus was okay with the sexual practices of his day if pederasty was involved.

    I am an advocate for allowing same sex unions. I have friends who have been in loving same sex relationships for years, some of whom have recently taken advantage of laws in certain states that allow for marriage. They are showing our community the value of those loving, committed relationships. I also know of too many gays who grew up evangelical and prayed earnestly for years to be delivered from their homosexual urges, of course to no avail. I know the harm that is done to those sincere people of faith who try so hard to be someone they are not for fear of condemnation from the community. My concern is that one of the objections to accepting the gay lifestyle is that they are often (mistakenly) characterized by many as child molesters. I must also add my own objection to those who advocate for man/boy relationships. Consenting adults is one thing, but involving minors is another.

    I am not saying not to speak the truth as you have found it in your research, I am just raising a concern that any indication that Jesus was okay with pederasty will cause some to discredit everything else that has been said. Again, I realize this is reading our own times and culture into writings from another time, but there has been a lot of hurt inside as well as outside the church from child molestation. Lives have been shattered. Although I think that we must accept gays and lesbians into our circle of faith and into the community. They should be allowed the same legal benefits of marriage as given to heterosexual people. It is just disconcerting to have pederasty and slave abuse thrown into the mix. I know that you must have encountered this objection before. I’m wondering how you deal with these objections as you make your case for gays and lesbians in the Q community? I hope you don’t see this as a hostile question, because it is not. I am just raising some honest uneasiness with how to apply the lesson of the centurion and his pais to our current day.


    • Ron Goetz says:

      Charles, thanks for sharing your serious concerns. The issues of pederasty and sexual abuse of slaves should not be glossed over. I will devote at least two posts in reply. I just posted “The Social Construction of Adolescence”, and will post another very soon.

      Thanks again for your on-target comments.


  2. Siya Khumalo says:

    From as far back as I could remember, I sensed that something foridden and misunderstood about about me (my sexuality) resonated with a hidden secret at the core of the first century/New Testament experience.. I, for one, appreciate the digging around you have done.


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