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.

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the ancient Mediterranean world, they promoted Greek as the dominant language of literature and education. In these social conditions, where Greek meant high culture, the Hebrew Pentateuch, Prophets, Psalms, and other books gradually made their international debut through a Greek translation, the historical details of which remain obscure.46 Rules against sexual fornication (porne¤a) were introduced through translation as well. The debut went largely unnoticed in mainstream Greek education, but

appetite and Platonic eros. Their position that he not only allows but “refuses to separate” the two kinds of eroticism is an exaggeration that has likely been facilitated by Vlastos’s erroneous position (see above, n. 49) that Platonic love in the “original and primary sense” is mixed (viz., both sexual appetite and Platonic eros straining in opposite directions), which Plato in the Laws expressly denies is his original and primary sense of eros. 54. Phdr 248a1–5 indicates that the sexual

(Paul on Marriage and Celibacy: The Hellenistic Background of 1 Corinthians 7 [1995], 69 – 89) discusses how the later Stoic arguments concerning marriage fit more broadly into the Cynic and Stoic marriage debate. See further O. Yarbrough (Not Like the Gentiles: Marriage Rules in the Letters of Paul [1985], 31– 63), as well as the studies by Nussbaum, Brown, Biale, and Brundage cited at the outset of this chapter (see n. 5). crafting eros 83 advocates, though Epictetus and Seneca support it as

well as the sexual behavior that they designate as safe and permissible. Unlike preachers of old and today, though, my interests are at a remove from the pulpit. I explore why Paul and his supporters have for centuries been urging Christians to run from the Thing like deer from all-consuming flames. What motivates and sustains this imperative? To answer this and related questions, I examine the Septuagint in order to understand what Paul, Philo, Tatian, and Clement adopt and modify from it.6 The

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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