Jean-Fabrice Nardelli corrects Robert Gagnon’s simplistic Answers to Emails on the Bible and Homosexuality

A guest post from Jean-Fabrice Nardelli, on Robert Gagnon, “academic turned Ayatollah”:

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Gagnon: The Bible is clear. Therefore, those who disagree with my interpretation must unreasonably twist the clear meaning of the Bible

Gagnon: The Bible is clear. Therefore, those who disagree with my interpretation must unreasonably twist the clear meaning of the Bible

In the latest snippet of his correspondance showcased on his website, Gagnon once more claims that

the scriptural case against homosexual practice is so overwhelming that it takes a concerted effort to ignore the mountain of evidence and/or to twist it into unreasonable meanings. There are ambiguous issues in Scripture. This doesn’t happen to be one of them.

- Robert Gagnon, “8/31/11: Are homosexualist [sic] advocates in the church as committed to Scripture’?”, Robert Gagnon’s Answers to Emails on the Bible and Homosexuality, RobertGagnon.net

Many things strain credibility here, none more that the fact that, actually, there is no mountain of proof supporting an absolute condemnation of same-gender affect in the Hebrew Bible. What evidence there is is marshalled by the betters of Gagnon in such a way that it fails to buttress the lofty claims usually proffered, for instance by R. Alter, in R. M. Schwartz (ed.), The Book and the Text: The Bible and Literary Theory (Oxford, 1990), 151 :

in the larger story of progeny for Adam, it is surely important that homosexuality is a necessarily sterile form of sexual intercourse, as though the proclivities of the Sodomites answered biologically to their utter indifference to the moral prerequisite for survival.

To put it bluntly, conservative scholars are affected by heteronormativity — few of them, thankfully, dare vent their homophobia in their academic work in the same way as Gagnon — and by and large behave in a wholly ad hoc manner when faced with homoeroticism in the Bible. They are fond of expanding the modicum of texts unambiguously concerned with same-sex matters (Lev 18: 22, 20: 13) so that these include much more elusive, if not frankly speculative, passages such as

    • the ones concerned with the stance taken by Ham towards Noah (see R. M. Davidson, Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament [Peabody, Mass, 2007], 142-145 : no evidence for a same-sex, incestuous rape there, but intertextual echoes with Leviticus 20 suggesting that even “the harboring of lustful thoughts and imagination” is sinful [145]);
    • the attitude of the Levite at Gibeah (which, if not moot, hopelessly blurs the line between homosexual forced coupling and homophile / homosocial disagreements : K. Stone, Sex, Honor and Power in the Deuteronomistic History [Sheffield, 1996], 69-85); and
    • the destruction of Sodom (the sin of which has never been taken to be the preference for homosexual coupling before Late Antiquity and the Latin Church Fathers: D. S. Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition [London, 1955], 25-28 ; M. Carden, Sodomy: The History of a Christian Myth [London, 2004], 116-128 ; M. D. Jordan, Blessing Same-Sex Unions: The Perils of Queer Romance and the Confusions of Christian Marriage [Chicago & London, 2005], 32-40 ; D. Clark, Between Medieval Men: Male Friendship and Desire in Early Medieval English Literature [Oxford & New York, 2009], 71-73).
"While they broaden in such a way their (otherwise sketchy) body of evidence, right-wing exegetes refuse to admit that the dealings of David and Jonathan can be pressed into a same-sex apology without too much special pleading."

“While they broaden in such a way their (otherwise sketchy) body of evidence, right-wing exegetes refuse to admit that the dealings of David and Jonathan can be pressed into a same-sex apology without too much special pleading.”

While they broaden in such a way their (otherwise sketchy) body of evidence, right-wing exegetes refuse to admit that the dealings of David and Jonathan can be pressed into a same-sex apology without too much special pleading. And what reasons do these conservatives offer in support of their adamant skepticism? That we do lack unambiguous textual pointers that Jonathan is depicted as David’s bedmate (so Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 53-154, or M. Zehnder, ‘Observations on the Relationship Between David and Jonathan and the Debate on Homosexuality’, Westminster Theological Journal  69 [2007], 173).

Some, like Davidson (Flame of Yahweh, 165-167), are so sure that both heroes were only buddies and covenant partners that they dog the issue, viz. the very thing heteronormative conservatives cannot exhibit in favor of their reading of the Ham incident, even though here they can appeal to the authority of the rabbinic traditions. Now this homoerotic exegesis is probably the least motivated (so I. N. Rashkow, in J. F. A. Sawyer (ed.), The Blackwell Companion to the Bible and Culture [Malden, MA, 2006], 454-460, and D. M. Goldenberg, ‘What Did Ham do to Noah ?’, in M. Perani (ed.), ‘The Words of a Wise Man’s Mouth are Gracious’ (Qoh 10, 12): Festschrift for Günter Stemberger on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday [Berlin & New York, 2005], 257-265); if taboo there is in Genesis 9 :20-25, this is either the (parental) incest — something frowned upon in the ancient Near East (Y. Cohen, Taboos and Prohibitions in Hittite Society: A Study of the Hittite Expression natta âra (‘Not permitted’) [Heidelberg, 2002], 93-96) — or the breach of boundaries, not homosexuality per se!

Why explain away as homosocial or covenant-based the peculiarities of the bond between David and Jonathan which suspiciously look like the edited manifestations of an affective bond, despite their reluctance to admit of easy justification along the lines of a deep but sexless friendship, and, at the same time, take as homoerotic clues pointers in other passages that smell rather less of same-sex dealings or affect? This double standard is enough to cast doubt on the impartiality of those who belong to the conservative, evangelical trend; under the gloating pen of Gagnon, this bias becomes deeply offensive, not to say: insulting.

In a nutshell, “the scriptural case against homosexual practice”, far from being overwhelming and all-pervasive, rests primarily on the Leviticus condemnation and warrants caution, not unqualified pride. Thus D. Launderville, Celibacy in the Ancient World: Its Ideal and Practice in Pre-Hellenistic Israel, Mesopotamia, and Greece (Collegeville, Mn, 2010), 174, writes that “homosexual activity was either prohibited or severely curtailed in ancient Israel”, which is truer, but still eschews the key qualification that “it cannot be shown that any community in Israel ever opposed all homoerotic sexual acts, nor is it evident that consensual anal intercourse between males was proscribed by any circle before the Holiness School interdicted it (…)” (S. M. Olyan, ”Surpassing the Love of Women”: Another Look at 2 Samuel 1 :26 and the Relationship of David and Jonathan”, in Jordan (ed.), Authorizing Marriage ? Canon, Tradition, and Critique in the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions [Princeton & Oxford, 2006], 15).

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See previously:

Jean-Fabrice Nardelli’s reply to Gagnon / Witherington: No more mincing! Gagnon is an inaccurate and poor student of Biblical homosexuality

Could the story of David and Goliath be a romance tale of two homosexual men disagreeing with each other?

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10 Comments

Filed under Ancient Jewish texts, Biblical Exegesis

10 responses to “Jean-Fabrice Nardelli corrects Robert Gagnon’s simplistic Answers to Emails on the Bible and Homosexuality

  1. I think there is very little in the biblical corpus to make a case against ‘homosexual practice’ (got to love those circumlocutions). I think the only clear references are Leviticus and Romans and both are also quite limited in their referent, the former probably only anal sex and the latter explicitly only male male eroticism. There are parallels between Leviticus and passages in the Zend Avesta so likely Leviticus is incorporating some kind of Persian norms; I’m also inclined think that in a cultural context that saw anal sex as some kind of power over or even assault transaction that the Leviticus passage might also have an aim of promoting some sense of solidarity amongst its male audience. But that’s merely speculation on my part. It’s clear that by the turn of the era there is a prejudice against male homoeroticism in the Jewish religious world(s) which would also account for Paul in Romans. But at the same time the greater number of these explicit Jewish textual references to male homoeroticism condemn men having sex with boys, at least in my reading anyway. I suspect a chafing under Hellenic hegemony might also have played a part in shaping such Jewish rejection of male homoeroticism

  2. You’ve made me incredibly moist.
    Thanks
    BW16

  3. Jean-Fabrice Nardelli

    Thanks, Michael, for your most excellent comment ! I can only agree with you. I would simply add that the Jewish, viz. rabbinic, condemnation of homoeroticism (see L. M. Epsein, Sex Laws and Customs in Judaism [New York, 1948], 134-138 ; M. L. Satlow ”They Abused Him like a Woman’ : Homoeroticism, Gender Blurring, and the Rabbis in Late Antiquity’, Journal of the History of Sexuality 5 [1994], 1-25 at 8-23 ; idem, Tasting the Dish. Rabbinic Rhetorics of Sexuality [Atlanta, 1995], 186-222, especially 198 sqq.) must at all costs be divorced from the teachings of the Hebrew Bible, lest we confuse a theological exegesis which we know to be both clever and obtuse out of conservatism, with the primary texts.

  4. I will make sure to publicize this fascinating dialogue once my battle with Larry Hurtado has settled down.

  5. Jean-Fabrice Nardelli

    Alas, with the likes of Gagnon, no constructive dialogue is possible ; they simply hate it when they feel threatened in their certainties. All the more so when they face someone who has little patience for their exegetical sleights of hand and their disregard for that standard convention of scholarship – the compilation of footnotes, bibliographical and explanatory, backing up those steps of the argument that stand in need of justification. Gagnon rants, parades at enormous length his circular logic, and twists the few recoverable facts around his agenda theological, political and societal in such a way that bare data, ascertainable deductions and rash special pleading are no longer separate in his cesspool and cannot be seen for what they are. In all fairness, Gagnon faces rather more impressive opposition than he deigns to recognize : his exegesis of Lev 18 :22 and 20 :13 runs counter to Jacob Milgrom’s elaborate comments ad locum, S M. Olyan’s seminal paper (http://www.jstor.org/pss/3704197) and J. T. Walsh’s important rejoinder (http://www.jstor.org/pss/3268292) ; his all-inclusive criteria for homoeroticism in the Hebrew Bible ignores the whole opus of Satlow, the greastest authority on Rabbinic sexuality (whose 1994 paper [http://www.jstor.org/pss/3704078] does not mince words, cf. p. 5 : “despite some claims to the contrary, the Hebrew Bible has only two explicit references to homoeroticism. Both are dicta contained within legal codes that discuss sexual conduct”) ; and he has no idea whatsoever about the way genders are constructed, both in the ANE and absolutely, because he declined to learn from Milgrom, A. Brenner, B. Musche or D. F. Greenberg (his main interlocutors being the excellent but somewhat overcautious M. Nissinen, and, very selectively, B. Brooten). As a parting shot, I shall like to adduce a point which speaks volumes about his academic credentials : in more than a decade, Gagnon only produced one large book (under, one might add, the covers of a religious publisher, not an academic press) and a handful of papers in peer-reviewed journals ; such an output for a senior scholar, coupled with the fact that at well over fifty he is still an Assistant Professor in a second-rate theological seminary, comes on a long way, I think, towards explaining his tooth-and-nail stance as an ideologue and his preference for online preaching over academic work.

  6. Colin Bellend

    Sir,

    what are those two fellows up to in that photograph? In their culture is such close proximity to one another a sign of friendship and general male bonding?

    In bondage with, under and through Him,

    Colin

    • Tyrone Slothrop

      Hermeneutically speaking, if the text can be interpreted in a non-sexual way, it should be. That goes for photographs as well, of course.

  7. Colin Bellend

    Sir,

    In that case, how does one interpret the photograph of that distinctive pose struck by the biblical homosexualistism expert, Robert Gagnon?

    Desiring your clarity,

    Colin

  8. Chris

    Jean-Fabrice Nardelli is a Clown! Have you idiots really taken the time to study both sides of this debate, with open minds, or has the circus really come to town? Intolerance in this world thrives because of uneducated bias propagated by the likes of “Jean” and the “pony show” comments I’ve just suffered through. You sound like (somewhat) educated persons, clearly, CLEARLY….were doomed!

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