The Making of Fornication: Eros, Ethics, and Political Reform in Greek Philosophy and Early Christianity

By Kathy L. Gaca | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Rival Plans
for God's Sexual Program
in the Pentateuch and Paul

The Septuagint Pentateuch and Paul1 define forbidden sexual conduct by measures designed to orient the society of God's people strictly toward his devotion and honor.2 Impermissible sexual activity deviates from the First Commandment that one must worship God alone and permissible sexual conduct shows strict devotion to him.3 Forbidden sexual activity includes

____________________
1
The Septuagint Pentateuch or a precursor to it was available by the early third century b.c.e., and the Greek Prophets and historical books were in circulation by 116 b.c.e., E. Schürer et al., History of the Jewish People 3.1, 476–7, and G. Caird, “Ben Sira and the Dating of the Septuagint” (1982), 95–100. Though chronologies of Paul's life have speculative features, his conversion dates to ca. 32–35 c.e. and he died ca. 60 by H. Koester's scheme, Introduction to the New Testament2, vol. 2: History and Literature of Early Christianity (2000), 105–13.
2
Except where greater specificity is warranted, I refer to the peoples claimed for God in the Septuagint more generically as “God's people” or “the Lord's people. ” This generic designation is helpful for several reasons. First, the Septuagint sexual principles apply to all peoples who take the Greek version of Israel's scriptural heritage as their guide for how to live, whereas more historically specific names (such as Israelites, Jews, Samaritans, or God-fearers) do not have this inclusive reach. Second, the more generic name serves as a useful reminder that the Septuagint is at a Hellenized remove from its ancient cultural origins. Third, the general designation allows my study to avoid using terms entangled in the religious identity polemics of early Christianity, such as Paul's conception of Israel. In relation to the New Testament, I refer to the people who believe in Jesus Christ as “Christians, ” which is a shorthand way to say “the Christian branch of God's people. ”
3
There has been much valuable scholarly discussion in recent years about precisely what constitutes the religious ideal of biblical monotheism in various periods in antiquity and the limited extent to which the ideal applies to the diverse religious practices of pre-exilic Israel and Judah. A few preliminary points of clarification are thus in order. In my study I assume the minimal notion of monotheism implied by the First Commandment, which is that the people claimed for God or Yahweh must not worship gods other than or in addition to him. Further, in the scriptural texts I study it is also more frequently the case that alien gods are considered to be real enough to be pose a demonic threat to worshipping God alone, not to be nonexistent fictions of a harmless sort. Hence the gist of the First Commandment as interpreted in Hellenistic times is that God's people must worship God alone and not any of the other baleful gods in the regions claimed for God alone. I do not address other interesting questions that are ancillary to my study, such as when the biblical God takes on the ontological status of being the One, when he loses the human-like extremes of emotion that he bears in the Prophets, what the relationship is between biblical monotheism and the lampooning of the material icons used in polytheistic worship (insofar as one can lampoon icon worship without necessarily being committed to biblical monotheism), when and where the idea finally becomes socially prevalent that there is no god but the biblical God, and the process by which Christianity works its three gods (the father, son, and holy spirit) into a trinitarian kind of one. R. Gnuse (No Other Gods: Emergent Monotheism in Israel [1997], 62–297) provides a valuable entry into this broader discussion with a copious bibliography, to which should be added the brief but valuable monograph by J. Levenson, The Universal Horizon of Biblical Particularism (1985). See also C. Newman, J. Davila, and G. Lewis, eds., The Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism: Papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus, (1999), which explores “how Christian devotion in the first two centuries of the common era represents a manifestation of Jewish monotheism, ” x.

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