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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

4.1 out of 5 stars 53 customer reviews

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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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 442 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; New edition edition (January 1, 1981)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226067114
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226067117
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #328,955 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By FrKurt Messick HALL OF FAMEVINE 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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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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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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I've never read a book like this, but when you finish you have a different perpesctive on homosexuality. Well written and sometimes hard to digest due to the subject-matter, but documented to the nines. Some of the footnotes are more interesting than the book itself except for the latin phrases. Highly recommend everyone to read this fine book.
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Format: Paperback
In 1980, the AIDS virus was being diagnosed and a holocaust in small was getting under way; gay visibility was increasing and with it homophobia was getting a fresh lease on life. Into the left field of this situation John Boswell, a little-known Yale scholar of European history, dropped, if not a bomb, than certainly something of a hand grenade: his study CHRISTIANITY, SOCIAL TOLERANCE AND HOMOSEXUALITY: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century. It was a work of obvious erudition, drawing on a dozen languages and literatures; it was published with full scholarly dressing by a university press (Yale); it cited and discussed such household names as Aelred of Rievaulx, Valerius Maximus, Baudri of Bourgeuil and Abu'l-Qasim az-Zahrawi; its bibliography barely escaped being "uselessly massive"; and it announced its specific payload right in the title. In it, Boswell took the popular perceptions of Christianity's attitude towards homosexuality (in a word: BAD) and opened up long historic avenues of complexity: the inheritance of classical stances on the subject; the difficulties and ambiguities of moving from the classical languages to expressing Biblical assumptions and attitudes (an entire appendix is devoted to "Lexicography and Saint Paul"); the effects of the rise and ebb of urbanization; the handing-on and snowballing of various chance and influenced translations. The final result was the upending of a lot of the old simplicities: word-meanings shifted, pockets of acceptance surfaced, old certainties were shown to be resting on swampy ground.Read more ›
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