Here are some of the discoveries I cover in my book, The Galilee Episode: Two Men in One Bed, Two Women Grinding. I started my research over a decade ago, wondering if the couples in Luke 17:34-35 might be gay and lesbian. The project expanded from Luke to include the Q Source, the Talmud, and Josephus. Little did I know that what I used to think were just a couple of irrelevant rapture verses were actually straight up, and realistic, social justice. Luke 17:34-35 is the historical core of a story of ethnic conflict, orderly legal maneuvering and institutional cover-up.
This post is divided into two sections. The first section is a bullet point summary of some of the book’s central observations and conclusions. In the second section I tell the story of the book’s beginnings, its research, composition and content. Being a bullet-point outline, the first section is a bit dryer than the second.
- The two couples in Luke 17:34-35 are gays and lesbians.
- Rabbi Yohanan b. Zakkai was a Pharisee whose goal was to enforce Torah in traditionally Jewish territory.
- In 30 C.E. Philip the Tetrarch achieved recognition for Bethsaida’s status as an official city of the Roman Empire–an imperial polis.
- In a test case, R. Yohanan attempted to establish a precedent of Jewish jurisdiction over gentile sexual transgressors in Bethsaida.
- The historical Jesus referred to a legal ruling of Philip the Tetrarch, which is this book’s central thesis. Philip’s domain included very few Jews but many Bedouin Arabs. Philip was the son of Herod the Great and is mentioned in Luke 3:1.
- Philip’s territory included Bethsaida (Luke 10:13; Matt. 11:12), an imperial polis at the north end of the Sea of Galilee.
- Bethsaida and Jesus’ early followers are mentioned together twice in a much later gospel (John 1:44; 12:21). Curiously, one of Jesus’ followers is also named Philip. This is not discussed in the book. True, “Philip” is not a rare name, but the verbal association of Bethsaida, Philip, and Jesus’ early followers occurring twice is of more than passing interest.
- Philip’s ruling, a summary of which is recorded in Luke 17:34-35, recognized R. Yohanan b. Zakkai’s authority over Jews but denied him authority to prosecute gentiles using Torah. Hence, “one shall be seized, the other left.” The person officially seized was the Jewish gay or lesbian, the one left was the gentile.
- A record of Philip’s “one shall be seized, the other left” legal ruling, which insulated gentile gays and lesbians against Torah jurisdiction, was preserved in the Q Source, and eventually became what we know as Luke 17:34-35.
- Why a record of this legal ruling was preserved in the Q Source is an open question. Nevertheless, the fact remains that a legal ruling protecting gentile sexual transgressors (gays and lesbians) was preserved by Matthew and Luke. What we know is that the ruling was of interest, either to the scribes who recorded it, the people who subsequently used the document, or both.
Background and Genesis
I discovered my son was gay in the early 2000’s when he was in high school, but it was several years before I decided to investigate the Clobber Passages for myself. My background (B.A. in Biblical Literature from Simpson College (C&MA), plus ample coursework at both Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (SBC) and Bethel Seminary (BGC) in San Diego) prepared me for bona fide Bible exegesis. I was equipped to analyze the various passages used to condemn gays and lesbians. I discovered that the Clobber Passages weren’t as slam-dunk as homophobic crusaders made them out to be. I eventually debunked the passages on this blog.
One night, on a discussion thread, I read a comment that commanded my attention. “I wonder why the homos haven’t picked up on Luke 17:34 in the King James Version.” I was immediately curious. What did that verse say? It had never come up in any discussion of gays and lesbians. I turned to my Scofield Reference Bible and was quite surprised.
“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.”
Shocking. It had never occurred to me that the two men could be gay. In junior high and high school I had heard the rapture preached on frequently. I attended Castlemont Baptist Church (GARB), and when Pastor Conrad came to this passage, said, “Now just because two men were in one bed doesn’t mean anything bad was going on.” I subsequently heard many pastors describe how as kids they shared a bed with their brothers or their cousins, and that nothing sexual happened. Eventually I realized that these inevitable disclaimers were always made before proceeding to the rapture. Often some casual comment followed. “Our sex-saturated society makes everything dirty,” or “Get your mind out of the gutter.” But why were such disclaimers necessary? What provoked this consistent denial that anything “bad” was going on?
I felt it was necessary to be as thorough as possible in my research. From the beginning of my investigation I knew that if these actually were gays and lesbians that my “case” would have to be more than a comment you might hear in Bible study, “Hmm. I wonder if they’re homosexuals.” If his this understanding was accurate, it would require all the relevant tools available.
I soon realized that verse 35 also had potential sexual content. “Two women shall be grinding together”. I began with what are called “Old Testament antecedents,” places where words used in the New Testament are found in the Old. The most important result of this initial phase of research was finding that grind is an idiom for sexual intercourse in at least three places: Job 31:10, Judges 16:21 and Lamentations 5:13. Job uses grind idiomatically for sexual intercourse when he defends himself against his pious accuser-friends. In prison, Samson is put out to stud for the wives of his Philistine captors. And in Lamentations, the mourner describes the sexual degradation of women of all ages, children and young boys.
For a long time I was puzzled by what label was appropriate for the word grind. I used to say that grind was “used sexually.” Specifically, I called it a euphemism. I also called it a metaphor. But calling the grind usage a metaphor or euphemism was not precisely correct. Grind can be used be sexually, but I finally decided on idiom, an idiomatic word. It is not poetic, it is not slang. It is ordinary, everyday, common language.
But the fact that grind was a sexual idiom in the Old Testament didn’t prove that Jesus was using it that way. I could imagine the objection ringing in my ears: “You don’t even know if grind was used sexually in Jesus’ day!” After a lot of searching, I found that Horace, a Roman writer, had used grind idiomatically in his pragmatic endorsement of brothels. That was in Latin.
I continued searching for an idiomatic usage in Greek. After a long search I almost despaired of finding that example in Greek. Then I remembered Sappho, the Greek lesbian poet. That didn’t work. So I added to my search terms the word Lesbos, the island in the Mediterranean where she lived. Bingo. I was led to a text, not by Sappho, but by Plutarch: The Banquet of the Seven Wise Men, where he used grind as a sexual idiom in a lesbian joke. I had uncovered the idiomatic use of grind in the three languages that Luke 23:28 tells us were nailed above Jesus’ head: Greek, Latin and Hebrew.
When I had finished exploring Luke 17:34-35 in isolation, I looked at the immediate context. Verses 28 and 29 reference Sodom and Lot. If ever there was an Old Testament story interpreted to be about homosexuality, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah was it. There it was in the immediate context. The Baptist preacher’s audience didn’t have dirty minds. They went from Lot and Sodom, to the night, to two men in one bed, to two women grinding together. Taking a verse in context is generally lauded. The order on the page: 1) Lot and Sodom, 2) in that night, 3) two men in one bed, 4) two women grinding together. It’s called context. Just one of those sexual markers by itself would be inconclusive, “subject to interpretation” as they say. But four in a row nailed it.
I had demonstrated that the word grind was used sexually in the Old Testament in several places. I had demonstrated that the word grind was used in non-Biblical sources in the time of Luke’s composition, in both Greek and Latin. But that didn’t prove that Luke 17:34-35 referred to same-sex couples. It was still possible that the passage referred to two poor farm hands and two women grinding flour in the middle of the night. However, I realized that not only could both verses, 34 and 35, be understood sexually, that in context they were preceded by a carefully crafted archetypal story commonly understood to be about homosexual sin, Lot and the disaster at Sodom. This contextual element convinced me that the gay theme was deliberate.
I had been very skeptical of the idea that Luke 17 referred to gay and lesbian couples. “Certainly I can’t be the first person to see this”, I repeated. You would think I would have been delighted to have proven it, at least to myself. But I wasn’t delighted. I was appalled.
The idea that Jesus used “gutter language” to refer to lesbian sex was more than I was prepared for. For several days I was stunned, shaking my head as I walked from room to room in my house. Sitting, staring, I thought to myself, “I can’t publish this.” Then I remembered Plutarch and Horace, how grind was used by Jesus’ literary contemporaries, and used in the Hebrew Bible as an idiom for sex, much as a pastor today might refer to making love. I did not talk about sex in the locker room, but even a somewhat priggish recovering fundamentalist like myself didn’t blush at the phrase “making love”. After all, mature adults have acceptable ways to talk about sex.
I continued to process this and other emotional responses to this research. While I don’t believe that everyone is like me, I know that I am not unique. My own upset that Jesus had used what seemed to me to be vulgar language in verses 34 and 35 helped me be patient when people first respond poorly to the present understanding of Luke 17:34-35.
Now I was used to studying the Bible not only word by word but also verse by verse and chapter by chapter, in sections. I had listened to my share of J. Vernon McGee’s Through the Bible broadcasts, and Chuck Smith’s The Word for Today while in my car. Expository preaching is the preferred mode of teaching among many evangelicals. I felt obliged to place verses 34 and 35 in the larger context of Luke chapter 17. I was used to the practice, but it became clear that this would be unpleasant. Most of the chapter had no gay theme. I had long ago learned to detest the practice of torturing Bible verses to say the opposite of what was intended. Such torture was necessary in debates over free-will and predestination, conditional salvation and eternal security.
When I began this project I was in many ways pretty old school. I had begun a verse-by-verse study when I thought again about the Q Source, part of what’s called the Two-Source Hypothesis. This hypothesis explores and explains the similarities and dissimilarities between Mark, Matthew and Luke. It is related to what’s called the Synoptic Problem. In assembling their gospels, the writers of Matthew and Luke had two sources in common, the gospel of Mark and the Q Source. When I was at Simpson in the 1970’s, Prof. Leonard Wallmark briefly introduced Q to the class, but I had no use for higher critical theories in those days. But decades later I knew better. I knew that in order to do a thorough exegesis of this passage I would have to take the Q Source into account. But I was apprehensive, afraid that in Q there might be some unknown that would sink my thesis. But I had to proceed. I put off torturing Luke 17 and looked carefully at Q. As it turned out, my thesis was indeed changed by what I found, generating more insight.
The Q source had an upside and a temporary downside. One of the first things I discovered was an unexpected blessing. According to Q scholars the story of the Centurion’s Servant (Luke 7) was originally in Q. The servant was the centurion’s pais, a word often used for a gay attendant or servant (see Jennings and Liew).
The second thing I discovered as I dug into Q concerned the Beelzeboul Accusation (Luke 11:15-19). Beelzeboul, the Prince of Demons, is one of the many demons mentioned in the apocryphal Testament of Solomon. In this demonology handbook, which dates to the time of the historical Jesus, Beelzeboul tells Solomon that one of the things he does is go to and fro on the earth spreading sodomy among men. (In a related note, I much later remembered the sexual minority significance of The Ethiopian Eunuch in the Luke-Acts complex.) Looking at the Q Source had uncovered a bona-fide gay and lesbian theme in that source.
There was another unexpected blessing in the Q Source although at first, this blessing looked more like a curse. Two elements that were important to my thesis so far, regarding a gay and lesbian theme in Luke 17, were not in Q. Verse 34’s bed was not in Q. Jesus had not said, “Two men will be in one bed.” According to Q scholars, the original reading was “Two men will be in a field.” For over a year I basically ignored that. I think at times I hoped it would somehow just go away. When I realized that the Lot and Sodom material was also not in Q, that those words were not spoken by the historical Jesus, I realized that this fact could not be ignored.
I puzzled over Q’s lack of these gay and lesbian signposts for some time. After all, to this point, the night and the bed in verse 34, as well as the neutral mention of Lot and Sodom in verses 28 and 29, were central pieces of evidence. If they didn’t prove that Jesus talked about “two men in one bed”, then what did they prove? The evidence had to point to something. I was not interested in twisting evidence to support a thesis. My goal: honestly examine the evidence and formulate a thesis supported by that evidence.
Christopher Columbus reached a mistaken conclusion. He thought he’d reached China. He had, in fact, arrived at a different destination.
To solve the absence of several gay and lesbian signposts in Q, I focused on the proximity of verses 28, 29 and 34. It was a virtual unit. I concluded that they were probably written at the same time, probably by one Lukan scribe. Second, I realized that the edits and additions had not introduced any new elements to the Q source. Two same gender couples were already present in Q, as was their puzzling separation (one shall be taken, the other left), and an Old Testament story (as it was in the days of Noah). The four gay and lesbian signposts, not present in Q, were added by one Lukan scribe.
I hadn’t arrived in China. I was somewhere else. I thought I was exploring the words of the historical Jesus. What I had found was one step in the composition of canonical Luke.
In this discussion, these are the four notable differences between the Q Source and the final canonical version of Luke. First, there’s a new story, changing a world-wide disaster to a disaster limited to Sodom. Second, the new story does not include the activities of being married and given in marriage. Third, in the new version the time of day has been added to the Couples Material: in that night. Fourth, there’s the incendiary change of the word field to bed. The final result? Luke 17 mentions Sodom, without mentioning marriage, and the one bed at night.
Each of these four changes brought the relatively subtle same-gender couple separation into a crisper focus on the division of two same-sex couples, emphasizing the sex. But why? Why were the members of the gay couple and the lesbian couple divided from one another and treated differently? That question has puzzled Bible readers and scholars for centuries.
In years past people were used to conflating Luke and Matthew into a single narrative. Such conflation resulted in “gospel harmonies,” as well as systematic theologies, which attempted to systematize a group’s beliefs, mainly Protestants, by glossing over tensions and discrepancies in a Bible they needed to be inerrant. When we realize, however, that we hear many voices the Bible, that many different hands edited and revised each book, such harmonizing and systematizing become unnecessary, and for many people hinders increased wisdom, understanding and utility.
The answer to the question “Why the difference in how the individuals are treated?” slowly became clearer once I ran across the name of a famous rabbi, Yohanan b. Zakkai. R. Yohanan was active in Galilee during the years traditionally ascribed to the historical Jesus. I was amazed that I had never heard of him before. That was so odd. Much legendary material had accreted to his stories over the years, and I was helped considerably by the work of rabbi, professor, and Talmudist Jacob Neusner. Recently deceased, he was a thorough scholar who carefully and logically cut through the legendary material regarding Rabbi Yohanan. Just prior to 70 C.E., R. Yohanan founded what evolved into Rabbinic Judaism. But the record of his work in Galilee is curiously truncated, apparently expunged and sanitized.
The division described in Luke 17:34-35 is based on the legal decision of Philip the Tetrarch. Philip’s ruling allowed R. Yohanan continued legal authority to arrest and execute Jewish sexual transgressors, but restricted him from executing gentile gays and lesbians, over whom the rabbi had no legal jurisdiction.
Today many Christians think of the Pharisees in the gospel stories as ministers or pastors. But before the destruction of the Temple-state in 70 C.E. Israel was still a nation, with a government, and legitimately maintain law and order. Pharisees were generally neither priestly nor royalty, but laymen who wanted to administer their country’s government and law enforcement. The law is the law, whether it’s called a Constitution or Torah.
I was aware of the fuzzy, gospel-based notions many Christians had of Pharisees. While I knew there was more to Pharisees than was in the gospels, I wasn’t entirely free of them myself. I turned to Josephus to find a picture of Pharisees that was less tinged with religious bias. I included several episodes from Josephus that featured Pharisees. I had already researched Luke 17, and ventured beyond my comfort zone into the Q Source and the Talmud’s Yohanan b. Zakkai. I also described a possible scenario of the formation of the Pericope Eiusdem Sexus (Luke 17:28-29, 34). Because of the fuzzy picture of Pharisees among Christians, I turned to Josephus for accounts of the Pharisees without the excessive religious, rhetorical coloring. Three episodes from Josephus illustrated the spectrum of Pharisaic political activity, from “working within the system” to suicidal defiance of Roman control to outright revolutionary messianism.
Additionally, I included a relatively unknown event in the rabbinic materials. The event is usually referred to as the 9th of Adar Episode, and seems to be a disguised account of the strife among Jewish groups during the Siege of Jerusalem. In the 9th of Adar accounts, a variety of Jewish political factions and militias are lumped into two group: Hillelites and Shammaites. The 9th of Adar Episode is perhaps the clearest example of the essentially political nature of “Pharisees” prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE.
Why We Missed this for So Long
I asked myself, from the very beginning of my research, how we missed this for so long. You would think that in 2,000 years, someone would have seen this. I couldn’t be the only person to conclude that the couples in Luke 17:34-35 were gay and lesbian. I realized that I wasn’t. But it was necessary, as they say, to think outside the box. In the beginning, when I searched key terms on the computer like “Luke 17:34 gay” or “Luke 17:35 lesbian” I got zero resultts. Then, like Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, I remembered Roman numerals. I searched for “Luke 17:xxxiv”, then spent days examining grainy digitized documents. Prior to America’s Revolutionary War Jeremiah Markland seems to have detected something odd in the text, and nineteenth-century divines like Henry Jones Ripley, Henry Charles Fox and John Hale Murray voiced objections (some quite vigorous) to KJV readings I discuss in the book. Unfortunately, my limited scholarly apparatus did not allow me to discover the context of their debates. I was only able to find one side of the conversation. Perhaps the other voices were speaking German, French or Latin. Suffice it to say, I was not the first person to recognize the prima facie case for the gay and lesbian presence in Luke 17. I was only able to discover voices opposed to gay and lesbian understandings of the Couples Material. Who knows what may be hidden away in the Vatican archives or the Bodleian Library, St. Catherine’s Monastery or the Oxyrhynchus Papyri.
So why did it take so long to put these clues together? Some details of the Galilee episode, especially the elevation in status of Bethsaida in CE 30, have only become widely known recently. Bethsaida’s status elevation is critical for understanding the geopolitical situation of Philip the Tetrarch, Yohanan b. Zakkai, and early Jesus followers. But most of the evidence I have used comes from publicly available, easily accessible sources: the gospel of Luke and the works of Josephus. I relied on secondary scholarship for the Talmud’s information on Yohanan b. Zakkai via Jacob Neusner. I also relied on Q scholars like Canadian John Kloppenborg for their conclusions about the Q Source. I dislike relying on secondary sources, but there are times when you must.
Returning to the question, “Why did it take so long to see this?” There are two main reasons we have missed the historical events behind Luke 17:34-35. One reason: because of misdirection, we assumed the verses were predictive and eschatological. The second reason: for theological reasons we believed that the Bible uniformly condemns homosexuality, period. These are the basic reasons we didn’t acknowledge gay men when the text says, “Two men will be in one bed.” These are the reasons we couldn’t see two lesbians when the text says, “Two women will be grinding together.”
Most Christians have only heard Luke 17:34-35 discussed in the context of eschatology, what will happen at the Second Coming of Christ. Some Christians rejected the rapture idea and never looked back. They moved on to important issues like justice, love and ministry. I know that’s what I did. I never realized that these verses documented a civil rights struggle. They showed a compromised Jewish ruler, a collaborator, a puppet, protecting gay and lesbian gentiles from legal prosecution. I didn’t realize that these “rapture” verses were in fact unvarnished social justice.
But apparently it was in no one’s interest to preserve a narrative of Philip coming to the rescue of gentile gays and lesbians on appeal. Christian scribes were exalting the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. Jewish scribes were not publicizing the defeat of a rabbi in the courtroom. And for Roman historians, imperial rulers playing referee between ethnic groups was business as usual. Fortunately, traces of legal persecution were preserved in the papers of the target group. I believe some foresighted people saw potential in Philip’s leadership style and his solution for the Jew-gentile division.