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The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology (The Chicago Series on Sexuality, History, and Society) Paperback – October 15, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0226410401 ISBN-10: 0226410404

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Product Details

  • Series: The Chicago Series on Sexuality, History, and Society (Book 1997)
  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (October 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226410404
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226410401
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #306,027 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Jordan (Medieval Inst., Univ. of Notre Dame) traces the medieval invention of the concept of sodomy and its place in modern American context. He examines paradoxes in the moral teaching on sexuality, especially the theological context for same-sex genital acts, by exploring the history of Christian writings. Eleventh-century theologian Peter Damian coined the term sodomy in relation to the word blasphemy in an abstracted analogy to the sin of denying God through homoerotic desires. Jordan exposes the fallacies in this abstraction in the varied writing styles of Damian, Albert the Great, Alan of Lille, and Thomas Aquinas, tracing words taken out of context and rifts that have resulted. A scholarly but compelling study; for academic libraries.?L. Kriz, West Des Moines Lib. Ia.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Kirkus Reviews

A scholarly critique of how the term ``sodomy'' arose in the Middle Ages and came to influence Roman Catholic moral discourse. Although the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is at least as old as the book of Genesis, the view of sodomy as a form of sexual sin seems to have been invented in the 11th century by the Italian ascetic St. Peter Damian. Jordan (Medieval Institute/Notre Dame Univ.) restates the now generally accepted view that the sin leading to Sodom's destruction was transgression of the laws of hospitality rather than same-sex intercourse per se, and he gives some very relevant philosophical warnings about using centuries-old texts to find answers to modern questions. For example, there is no clear medieval equivalent for our concepts of ``homosexuality'' (a 19th-century neologism of forensic medicine) or, indeed, of ``sexuality.'' Jordan's study begins with the Canoness Hrotswitha of Saxony's account of the martyrdom of St. Pelagius, who died rather than serve a caliph's sexual desires, and Peter Damian's Book of Gomorrah. Our author guides us adeptly through the writings of Alan of Lille, St. Albert the Great, and St. Thomas Aquinas, as well as several confessors' handbooks, as he explores how the terms ``sodomite'' and ``sodomy'' were used and notes inconsistencies in emphasis and argumentation. For example, Albert the Great, contrary to his normal method, omitted medical data from his Arabic sources that would have suggested a natural (and therefore morally positive) basis for sodomy. Jordan succeeds in showing that Thomas Aquinas's analyses of luxuria and unnatural vice are inadequate for contemporary Catholicism's evaluation of gay and lesbian relationships, but the methodological problems he highlights would seem to emphasize the tradition's stance that sexual intimacy belongs to heterosexual marriage. A stimulating, if not quite convincing, contribution to Thomistic and gay studies. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Joseph W. Marohl on December 2, 1998
Format: Paperback
This book addresses some of the same terrain as John Boswell's 1980 book CHRISTIANITY, SOCIAL TOLERANCE, AND HOMOSEXUALITY, but with important points of contrast, one of which is it's half the earlier book's length in pages.
Jordan takes a Christianized, quasi-Foucauldian approach to the subject, whereas Boswell's approach was essentialist, stressing historical continuities which Jordan opposes. Boswell equated the modern concept of homosexuality with the medieval concept of sodomy, whereas Jordan does not.
Instead, Jordan argues that the term "sodomy," as used by early church fathers and pre-Renaissance theologians, was a usefully vague invective, employed not altogether differently from the ways "philistinism" was used later or, for that matter, the way "homophobia" is used in some circles today.
But parallel to what Jordan says about the term "homophobia," "sodomy," too, has been used politically not as a precise explanation for human behavior, but as "a placeholder for an explanation yet to be provided" (167-68).
[Arguably, as philosopher Judith Butler does argue elsewhere (cogently), the same could be said for the current uses of "gay," "homosexual," "queer," etc., or for that matter, "sex."]
Jordan's book is an important one for people who identify themselves as either Christian or gay (--or both) because it addresses issues underlying the clash of values and "culture wars" being played out in society now. If indeed, as Jordan suggests, "sodomy" was invented to fill a gap left by Christendom's refusal of the "erotic"--even between two sexes, perhaps progress lies in our seeking a place for the erotic INSIDE the moral, instead of persisting in (often hypocritically) dichotomizing the two--something, in response to a previous reader's comments, Plato did NOT do (though the later Platonists did).
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8 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
at the start of the second millennium of Christianity.
Looking at the preceding "review" that ignores the subject of the book (what Christian theologians of roughly a millennium ago wrote about "sodomy") and seems to have been written by someone who did not read the book but substituted his own condemnations of homosexuality, I was astounded to read that Romans 1 is clear. The "reviewer" also must not have read that, because the syntax (in the original, which the reviewer probably does not know was not English) is VERY convoluted.
There are no condemnations of "sodomy" (by any name) in the Gospels that allegedly report the words of the Christ, and Mark Jordan's book does not deal with the Hebrew background or the first millennium of Christianity.
(An earlier reviewer must not have seen the blurb FROM Michel Foucault for John Boswell's book, one that is considerably less sound than Jordan's.)
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12 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Stephen O. Murray VINE VOICE on October 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The writing and reasoning in this history of the medieval formation of Christian condemnation of the "nefarious sin" of "sodomy" are very crisp. My only complaint is that the book is too short (not examining the condemnation of "sodomites" in the first Christian millennium, or in Jewish or Islamic theology).
Jordan shows how one after another Church Father produced incoherent condemnations of sodomy--monastic, clerical, and layman--in part out of concern for suggesting such a sin to those not aware of its possibility, in part not wanting to reveal the extent of its prevalence within the priesthood and monasteries. One striking feature is that this tradition/discourse only began more than a thousand years after Christ, who is not recorded as having condemned sodomy or sodomites.
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39 of 64 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 29, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Jordan does show convincingly that "sodomy," in the Bible defined as the sins of the men of Sodom, applies to a range of sinful activities rather than specifically homosexual ones. He does not, however, show that homosexual activity is excluded within that range of activities.
But even if Jordan were to show that homosexual activity is not one of the sins of Sodom, the implication for us is merely that "sodomy"--if we would like to be etymologically correct--ought not be used as a term for homosexual activity. If he were to establish that, he would not be establishing that homosexual activity is not a sin. The only implication would be that we should use a different term to describe homosexual sin (as for instance was often done by using the more inclusive term "luxuria," it appears). Since Jordan shows a hermeneutical friendliness to the Bible (which is what motivates his etymological interest in "sodomy" in the first place), he would be hard pressed to do away with passages of similar brevity in which homosexual activity is specifically labeled as a sin. (In fact he ignores these passages entirely, as the authors he reads do not, which decimates the value of his arguments around pp. 166 ff.)
Regarding the Middle Ages, even if "sodomy" had been constructed incorrectly as a term for homosexual activity and similar sexual sins, the idea of those sins was not constructed. His interest turns out to be merely etymological through page 40.
For most of the remainder of the book, Jordan moves to "invention" in the rhetorical sense, finding all the different ways that sodomy was discussed--seldom engaging the arguments, as though he is having enough fun repeating all the unsayable words.
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