"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, April 8, 2011

Paul and Sex

The questions of homosexuality, and especially of same-sex "marriage," are, of course, among the more heated and difficult of our time. Eastern Christian contributions to this discussion have been very limited. Apart from Thomas Hopko's Christian Faith And Same Sex Attraction: Eastern Orthodox Reflections we do not have a lot of current theologizing on these issues.  As I have argued before and elsewhere, what we need is not merely a ham-fisted reassertion of "what Tradition says" or a catena of supposed proof-texts from Scripture. What is needed more than anything is a thorough-going reflection on what God's purpose was in creating the human person in a sexually differentiated manner and why we must be obedient to that order and its telos. A new book comes out to raise the question of sexual differentiation in the Apostle: 

Benjamin H. Dunning, Specters of Paul: Sexual Difference in Early Christian Thought (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), 272pp.  

About this book the publisher tells us:
The first Christians operated with a hierarchical model of sexual difference common to the ancient Mediterranean, with women considered to be lesser versions of men. Yet sexual difference was not completely stable as a conceptual category across the spectrum of formative Christian thinking. Rather, early Christians found ways to exercise theological creativity and to think differently from one another as they probed the enigma of sexually differentiated bodies.
In Specters of Paul, Benjamin H. Dunning explores this variety in second- and third-century Christian thought with particular attention to the ways the legacy of the apostle Paul fueled, shaped, and also constrained approaches to the issue. Paul articulates his vision of what it means to be human primarily by situating human beings between two poles: creation (Adam) and resurrection (Christ). But within this framework, where does one place the figure of Eve—and the difference that her female body represents?

Dunning demonstrates that this dilemma impacted a range of Christian thinkers in the centuries immediately following the apostle, including Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus of Lyons, Tertullian of Carthage, and authors from the Nag Hammadi corpus. While each of these thinkers attempts to give the difference of the feminine a coherent place within a Pauline typological framework, Dunning shows that they all fail to deliver fully on the coherence that they promise. Instead, sexual difference haunts the Pauline discourse of identity and sameness as the difference that can be neither fully assimilated nor fully ejected—a conclusion with important implications not only for early Christian history but also for feminist and queer philosophy and theology.
 I look forward to seeing this discussed on here and reviewed for Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies. 

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