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

In a recent post, Remnant of Giants interpreted the David and Goliath story as a displaced tryst between two homosexual men. The post was commented on by classicist Jean-Fabrice Nardelli. As Jean-Fabrice’s very interesting comment was buried among the other comments, I have elevated it to this post for more people to see and read:

Once and for all, let it be said that Gagnon is an inaccurate and poor student of Biblical homosexuality : he is far too opinionated and self-indulging for someone who would have us believe in his impeccable judgement (whence my jibe at his status as an ayatollah), has no grasp whasoever of the major ancient Near Eastern languages apart from Masoretic Hebrew, never consults scholarly literature in other tongues (German and French Bible studies simply do not exist for him), and he is ridiculously parochial in his selection of primary and secondary sources (they are principally American, and wherever possible come from the Evangelical right). Just consult any piece of his which appears on his website ; you will discover that he is all rhetoric and blistering, with virtually nothing in guise of scientific apparatus. I would have been loathe to expose him for what he is (see S. Ackerman, When Heroes Love. The Ambiguity of Eros in the Stories of Gilgamesh and David [2005], 16-17 ; J. E. Miller, ‘A Response to Robert Gagnon on “The Old Testament and Homosexuality”’, Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 119, 2007, 86-89) had he been decent enough not to charge his opponents with gross dishonesty. So let us not mince words any longer.

Jean-Fabrice Nardelli

As a bit of background, the queer interpretation of David and Goliath was earlier this month suggested by Dan Wells, in the comments section to Ben Witherington’s The Third’s reproduction of Robert Gagnon’s reply to Jennifer Knust. It was taken up with some spirit by BW16 in the same comments section. The debate prompted BW16 to start his own blog, in which he opens up these and related issues. Jean-Fabrice Nardelli is a classicist at the Université de Provence, and the author, inter alia, of Homosexuality and liminality in the Gilgames and Samuel (Adolf M. Hakkert, 2007).



Filed under 1 Samuel 17, Biblical Exegesis, Goliath

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

  1. Gillian

    I bet now you also become someone who gets emails from Gagnon … Join Dale Martin and I and celebrate!!! ;)


  2. Pingback: David and Jonathan between Athens and Jerusalem | BW16

  3. Pingback: September 2011 Biblical Studies Carnival Episode III: The Final Frontier as the Carnival Strikes Back | Exploring Our Matrix

  4. Good post, but the I absolutely love the t-shirt!!! That one’s a conversation starter of sorts… :-)


  5. Jean-Fabrice Nardelli

    [[Perhaps you can elevate this text to the honour of a full-blown entry (with a little bit of copy-editing, such as italicizing the titles of books and academic journal ) ? Thanks for considering it.]]

    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”. 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. While 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. 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, 153-154, 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 für 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).


  6. Pingback: Jean-Fabrice Nardelli corrects Robert Gagnon’s simplistic Answers to Emails on the Bible and Homosexuality | Remnant of Giants

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