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Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century Paperback – November 1, 2005


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Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century + Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe + What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 442 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; New edition edition (November 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226067114
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226067117
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #253,963 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"What makes this work so exciting is not simply its content—fascinating though that is—but its revolutionary challenge to some of Western culture's most familiar moral assumptions."
(Jean Strouse Newsweek)

About the Author

John Boswell (1947-94) was the A. Whitney Griswold Professor of History at Yale University and the author of The Royal Treasure, The Kindness of Strangers, and Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe.

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Customer Reviews

Good resource to inform the modern discussion of gay marriage.
James Melvin
I am 17 years old and this book is one of the first non-fiction books I have ever read.
Jamison
Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality is a must read.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 68 people found the following review helpful By FrKurt Messick HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 14, 2003
Format: Paperback
I have been the teaching assistant for a course entitled 'Theology of the Welcoming Church'; we have had wonderful diverse groups of students, from traditional/conservative to liberal in background, multi-denominational in affiliation. It always promises to be a good course and provide dialogue for better understanding even if it does not resolve the issue for all in one way or the other. Just for the record -- I am trying to stay as objectively neutral as I can be; I have my biases too, but given that I don't have the answers either (how do I reconcile scripture and tradition with the experience of people I know?) I guess mostly what you'll read here are my fumblings in the dark.
Boswell's book 'Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality' is an early scholastic contribution to the history of how homosexuality has been treated by the Christian church establishment from the beginning of the Christian era to about the fourteenth century. It won the American Book Award for History in 1981. Boswell (now deceased) was a professor at Yale; I have a friend on faculty at the IU Music School who went to high school with him.
Perhaps Boswell's argument can be summed up fairly easily in that, through examples in contemporary literature and records (legal, theological, literary, etc.), homosexuality was not recognised in the same way that it is today, and therefore that it also was not condemned in the way that it is today by much of the church. Friendships and close relationships often developed into sexual ones; these were not considered unusual.
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60 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Bryan Walker on November 12, 1998
Format: Paperback
I not only had the pleasure of reading this book--surely one of the best works of historical scholarship in the twentieth century--I also had the privilege of taking courses with Professor Boswell. Prof. Boswell demonstrates with convincing scholarship that Christian attitudes toward homosexuality have _always_ been interpretive, and that the interpretations have varied greatly across time. This sharply undercuts the modern American conception, pushed by certain groups, that homophobia is an immutable constant in Christianity. For that reason alone, the book is a must-read for Americans wrestling with the issue of homosexuality. But at the same time, it is a pity that the book is often seen in those terms. The political nature of the issue today means that reactions to Prof. Boswell's work are politicized. But the book can be read by history students as a inspirational primer on method as well. Whether your field is late modern Chinese economic history or Roman military history, this book is a shining example of what historical scholarship is all about.
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103 of 134 people found the following review helpful By pnotley@hotmail.com on September 29, 2003
Format: Paperback
It's been more than twenty years since John Boswell's pioneering work on the history of homosexuality first appeared. Boswell argues that originally homosexuality was tolerated and admired in the urban world of the Roman Empire. Contrary to what one may think it was not Christianity per se that reduced this tolerance. In fact, one cannot show that the New Testament was hostile to homosexuality at all. Instead there was a certain decline of tolerance as the urban civilization of Rome collapsed. Yet for much of what we know as the Dark Ages homosexuality was viewed as at most a venial sin, and legal prohibitions against it were limited and ineffective. Indeed as urban civilization recovered by the eleventh and twelfth centuries a flourishing gay subculture arose, celebrating homosexual love. But over the next few centuries as powerful states seeking to enforce their authority arose, new anti-sodomy laws appeared, demanding death for its violators.
There is much in this book that is interesting and informative, and certainly there was no other work like it at the time. We learn about the weaknesses of much of the "natural law" case against homosexuality. Homosexuality is supposedly unnatural because animals do not do it. But anti-homosexuals also argue that homosexuality is wrong because vile animals like hyenas commit it. Of course, there is considerable evidence of homosexual behaviour among animals. And many undesirable traits, such as incest, are endemic among animals. And why should animals be the criterion of what is natural anyway? Anyway, much of the argument on what is perverted sex was based on considerable ignorance of the animal world, such as the false belief that hyenas were hermaphrodites or that oral sex is wrong because weasels conceive through their mouths.
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33 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Scott E Amundsen on January 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
I was truly astounded by this book. Having grown up in a Christian home, I had heard all the scriptures supposedly regarding gay people many times. Reading this book was a true revelation. I never realized the impact of thousands of years of rewrites and (mis)translations upon the Bible. Moreover, Boswell has researched the history and customs of the ancient world with a remarkable degree of thoroughness, especially when one considers that the available material must of necessity be somewhat fragmented and disjointed due to the passage of so much time.
Gay people who are still struggling for self-acceptance must read this book. It was one of the greatest comforts to me to discover that homophobia and Christianity are not related to each other.
Homophobic so-called Christians would also do well to read this book, although, having read some of the other reviews posted here, I suppose that people who have made up their minds to hate will continue to do so no matter what.
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