When modern writers suggest that the traditionally hostile interpretations of the Bible and homosexuality may be a misinterpretation or distortion of the real biblical message, defenders of the traditional view regularly allege that we are attempting to twist the supposedly clear of scripture to fit in with modern secular mores. The truth of course, is that it’s the other way around: the hostile interpretation is not inherent in the text itself, and was not a feature of the earliest Christian commentaries. Instead, the hostile interpretations were gradually imported from a range of non-Christian sources, to fit in with the increasingly hostile secular views of the late Hellenistic and later periods.
A fascinating account of reputable scholar making much the same points as modern gay – friendly interpretations over two hundred years ago, “Homosexuality of Jesus explored by 18th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham” has just been posted by Kittredge Cherry at Jesus in Love blog.
I will not comment on this myself without first reading carefully her material and sources – so here’s the opening of her post. Read it in full at Jesus in Love – and as a bonus, she has links to Bentham’s original text, which is freely available on-line.
Biblical arguments for LGBT rights and a queer Jesus may seem like new ideas, but they were pioneered about 200 years ago by an influential British philosopher — in writings that were never published until recently.
Philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832) presented Biblical evidence for Jesus’ homosexuality as part of his theological defense for same-sex love in “Not Paul, but Jesus Vol. III.” (available online here) It was published for the first time in 2013 and is freely available to download or view online.
Bentham didn’t dare publish it during his lifetime because he feared being labeled a “sodomite” himself. At the time “buggery” was punished with death by hanging in England.
This champion of sexual freedom was far, far ahead of his time. “Not Paul, but Jesus” lays out many of the same arguments that are still used today by LGBT Christians and our allies: debunking the scriptures typically used to condemn LGBT people and pointing out that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. Bentham goes on to present an idea that many still consider blasphemous. He suggests that Jesus had male-male sexual relationships.
Bentham wrote the book so long ago that the word “homosexuality” had not been invented yet. Instead he has a chapter titled “The eccentric pleasures of the bed, whether partaken of by Jesus?” His language may sound quaint, but his ideas are right on target for today. Bentham himself struggled with words for what we call homosexuality, deliberately creating new vocabulary so he could avoid the negative connotations associated with the terminology of his day (sodomy, buggery, perversion, etc.).
Related, Recommended Books:
- Boswell, John: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Chapter 4)
- Jennings, Theodore W: Plato or Paul?: The Origins of Western Homophobia
- Jordan, Mark D: The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology
- Lings, K Renato: Love Lost in Translation: Homosexuality and the Bible
- Martin, Dale B: Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation
- Catholic Magisterium and Scripture
- “Blessed Are the Queer in Faith”: 60 Years Reassessing Scripture
- The “Distorted Christian Tradition” of the Sodomy Myth (1)
- The Distorted Christian Tradition of the Sodomy Myth (2)
- Heterosexist Textual Abuse: I Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:10
- A Key to Romans 1 – Hiding in Plain Sight
- Romans 1:24-27 (1) Just WHO Is Being Condemned?
- An Early Defense Of Sexual Liberty (dish.andrewsullivan.com)
- Jeremy Bentham’s *Not Paul, but Jesus, vol. III* (marginalrevolution.com)