Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Can a Man Commit p???e?? with His Wife?

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Can a Man Commit p???e?? with His Wife?

Article excerpt

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Recent scholars have tended to understand the term nopvsia simply as "sex outside marriage."1 This point of view, however, is mistaken, whether the subject is ancient Greece or the later writings of Jews and Christians, and misrepresents the history and range of meanings of this term and its cognates. In Classical and Hellenistic Greek, apart from use by Jewish or Christian authors, nopveia meant "prostitution." Different words from the same word group (built on nopv-) all had something to do with prostitution. ffipv^ denoted a female prostitute, while nopvoç referred to a male prostitute who might be paid for sex with a man or a woman. To rcopvstov referred to a brothel, and some form of the verb rcopvsúw referred to one prostituting oneself or someone else. nopvoTpo

Yet nopveia came to be translated into later Latin by using an older Latin word in a new way. The notion was that prostitutes would often stand under "archways" when attracting customers. The Latin for "arch" was fornix. Some form of that word began to refer to prostitutes or prostitution. Fornicatio became a term for visiting a prostitute. Among Christian writers, its meaning was further broadened to refer to all kinds of illicit sex. The King James Version of the New Testament uses "fornication" to translate rcopveia.

Somewhere along the way, a group of words that in Greek and Latin seem to have originally referred simply to prostitution became in English a word referring, in most people's usage, to any sexual intercourse outside the bonds of marriage. Most dictionaries will provide the meaning of fornication as something like "consensual sexual intercourse between two people not married to one another." Fornication may be differentiated from adultery in that fornication can take place between two people neither of whom is married to someone else, whereas adultery refers to sexual intercourse in which at least one of the persons is married to someone else. In any case, fornication is usually used to refer to extramarital sex.

But is that all that Paul and other New Testament writers mean when they condemn or warn against rcopveia? In other words, does rcopveia, when used by a New Testament writer, refer only to extramarital sex between a man and a woman, or does it include other activities also? Hence the question posed by this article: Can a man commit nopveia with his wife? The answer: It depends on whom you ask.

I.Classical Greek Usage

The obvious meaning of words of the nopv- group in Classical and Hellenistic Greek has something to do with prostitution. The term nopveia itself survives in only a handful of texts.2 The Hippocratic text Epidemics 7.122 uses it, spelled rcopvei?). Demosthenes charges an opponent with it, though it seems in this context to be not literal prostitution but an insult that the man has allowed himself to be "screwed" by many other men (Fals. leg. 200). Dionysius of Halicarnassus (Ant. rom. 4.24.4) mentions slaves selling themselves sexually to raise money with which to buy their own freedom. Here he seems to be including male slaves, who would probably be selling their sexual favors to men as well as to women.

The verb form also occurs but, again, always referring either literally or metaphorically to prostitution. Herodotus claims that the daughters of a certain region prostituted themselves to raise money for their own dowries (Hist. 1.93). Aeschines accuses his opponent Timarchus of prostituting himself to many men (Tim. 52). As in the above example from Demosthenes, this accusation is more an insult than a claim that Timarchus was literally a prostitute. Aeschines repeats the insult in De falso legatione 144, again using the verb form and accusing Timarchus. The translator of the Loeb version, Charles Darwin Adams, renders the Greek as referring to Timarchus's "lewdness," but the context clearly allows an accusation of (at least metaphorical) prostitution. …

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