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Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe Hardcover – June 21, 1994
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From Publishers Weekly
Boswell ( Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality ) has written a stunning, complex book that is demanding in the brilliance of its scholarship but written with sterling clarity. He offers a sophisticated interpretation of the concepts of love and friendship and the institution of heterosexual marriage, from the ancient Greeks and Romans through the Middle Ages, demonstrating that in the distant past there was not the link of love and marriage expected today. Relationships between men were as likely to be sanctified and consummated as heterosexual ones, and the documentary evidence presented shows that men set up households together in significant numbers. Material on women is sparse, Boswell notes, because most premodern historical sources were written by men, for men, about men; women figure in them either as property or as objects of sexual desire. The academic title is deceptive--the book offers vividly romantic depictions of love and friendship, and there isn't a dull page. Illustrations not seen by PW.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Not since Boswell's Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Univ. of Chicago Pr., 1981) have Christians of all creeds confronted a work that makes them look so closely at their notions of the relationship between the church and its gay and lesbian believers. Diligently researched and documented, this immensely scholarly work covers everything from the "paired" saints of Perpetua and Felicitas and Serge and Bacchus to lesbian transvestites in Albania. Examining evidence that the early church celebrated a same-sex nuptial liturgy, Boswell compares both Christian same-sex unions to Christian heterosexual unions and non-Christian same-sex unions to non-Christian heterosexual unions. Appendixes contain, among other things, translations and transcriptions of cited documents. Whether or not minds are changed on the matter will probably fall along sectarian lines, according to current attitudes on homosexuality. However, the work will provoke dialog. A groundbreaking book for academic, public, and theological libraries.
--Lee Arnold, Historical Society of Pennsylvania., Philadelphia
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
Very well documentated, well, it's great, I learnt a lot about our previous relationships
Since I had already read, but not previously reviewed, this book, I decided to glance through some of the comments of other reviewers. I was delighted to discover that of the sixteen "5-star reviews" currently posted on Amazon, four date from this year, no doubt in part because of the re-issue in e-book format.
Like all of Boswell's writing, this book is incredibly meticulously researched, and exhaustively foot-noted. Boswell was, of course, a historian of impeccable credentials, his detractors (mostly the rabid anti-gay fundamentalists) to the contrary notwithstanding. One of the most obvious points made in this treatise is the fact that in the early days of Christianity, heterosexual marriages were almost exclusively secular and contractual, for dynastic purposes, not love matches. In addition, having just read (and reviewed) Kate Cooper's wonderfully developed treatise "Band of Angels: The Forgotten World of Early Christian Women", I have developed a much more realistic perception of the differing understanding of the "spiritual value" of marriage from ancient times to the present.
The basic premise that Boswell develops and we would do well to take into account in our present discussions on same-sex unions is the reality that more genuine peer relationships in the past - and still frequently in the present - exist between people of the same rather than opposite gender. Such relationships were, in fact, originally characterized by covenantal rather than contractual (liturgical and spiritual, rather than secular) ceremonies. The concept of heterosexual marriage as a "sacrament" was a latecomer on the scene; far more of interest in ancient times was the sacred dedication of individuals to God, either by ordination or commitment to a community of monks or virgins (nuns).
Some of those who challenge Boswell's thesis insist that the "adelphopoiesis" or "making of brothers" ceremony he cites does not necessarily include a component of physical intimacy. This attitude, of course, overlays more recent sexual norms on a completely different culture. Furthermore, it is essentially irrelevant. It is true that a peculiar anti-eroticism has indeed developed in Christianity; this is manifest especially in the glorification of virginity and celibacy as higher and more spiritual states, as well as the insistence that contraception is unequivocally sinful. These attitudes have absolutely no basis in the teachings of Jesus. However, the degree to which any particular relationship, heterosexual or otherwise, involves coital intercourse essentially has no direct correlation with the level of commitment, mutuality and love.
Boswell did not argue, nor do I, that the blessing of male-male commitments in early times corresponded with "marriage" as it was then interpreted. Rather, it represented a significantly more "spiritual" and "mutual" relationship; neither partner was considered either inferior to, or the property of, the other - a situation which regretfully is all too typical even today in male-female pairings. Sadly, even into modern times, heterosexual marriage actually DEMANDS procreativity, which apparently (according to Cooper) was one of the major dynamics contributing to the elevation of virginity in the early church. Childbearing could be both distasteful and dangerous, given the mores of the era.
In any event, Boswell's book is invaluable, despite its length and intricacy, in developing a perspective on the reality that present attitudes, which some believers have come to perceive as "set in stone", have no basis in the traditions of the early Christianity. We already can evaluate for ourselves that the anti-homosexual perspective is in no way scriptural, especially in the teachings of Jesus, so this added information is of extreme historical relevance.