New College, University of Edinburgh
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The Sin of Cunnilingus

*Warning: This is an academic piece of research which aims to unpack St. Paul’s concerns in Romans 1.26-27. The explicit language used throughout is necessary to better reflect the coarse intentions of the ancient authors called upon to shed light on the biblical passage.*

Romans 1:26-27

26 Διὰ τοῦτο παρέδωκεν αὐτοὺς ὁ θεὸς εἰς πάθη ἀτιμίας, αἵ τε γὰρ θήλειαι αὐτῶν μετήλλαξαν τὴν φυσικὴν χρῆσιν εἰς τὴν παρὰ φύσιν, 27 ὁμοίως τε καὶ οἱ ἄρσενες ἀφέντες τὴν φυσικὴν χρῆσιν τῆς θηλείας ἐξεκαύθησαν ἐν τῇ ὀρέξει αὐτῶν εἰς ἀλλήλους, ἄρσενες ἐν ἄρσεσιν τὴν ἀσχημοσύνην κατεργαζόμενοι καὶ τὴν ἀντιμισθίαν ἣν ἔδει τῆς πλάνης αὐτῶν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς ἀπολαμβάνοντες

26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” (NRSV)

The Problem in Romans

In Romans 1:18-32, Paul’s repetition of humanity “exchanging” ([μετ]ἤλλαξαν) and God subsequently “handing over” (παρέδωκεν) is thematic for the section and reveals the vicious cycle of a sinful[1] humanity devoid of the gospel. Paul’s aim seems to focus on the inexcusability of humanity in light of their ultimate degeneration from God. In the movement of his argument, Paul targeted what he believed to be perverse forms of human sexuality (1:24-27). In 1:26, Paul explained that “God handed them (humanity) over to passions of dishonor.” He then provided the first example of “degrading passions” (πάθη ἀτιμίας) in the form of female χρῆσις, i.e. non-descriptive sexual activity.[2] However, unlike v. 27, where Paul names the actors in the sexual encounters, i.e. males were “consumed with passion for one another” (my emphasis); v. 26 does not explicitly reveal the females’ sexual partner(s?). Interestingly, few commentators note this problem assuming female to female sexual activity, and project same-sex intercourse discussed in verse 27 back onto verse 26. This is done because Paul’s movement from female (v. 26) to male (v. 27) sexual activity is divided by the adverb ὁμοίως (“likewise”). However, ὁμοίως can just as easily have the semantic range of general “similarity,” and not one-to-one equality.[3] Therefore, the precise understanding of how women acted “contrary to nature” remains ambiguous.

James Miller has cleverly argued that Paul was referencing male to female non-procreative sexual acts, such as oral and anal sex, and that, “there is no particular reason to read verse 26 as referring to homosexual activity.”[4] Miller’s point is taken. If Paul’s purpose in Romans 1:24-27 was to reveal humanity’s (specifically, Gentiles’) ultimate degeneration from God then passive sexual acts like male to female cunnilingus and anal sex, which are inherently unmanly, would have been considered among the most perverse acts per Roman standards.  Importantly, this is not to say that (1) Paul is not discussing female to female sexual activity in v. 26 as Miller argues (perhaps Paul is…), or that (2) female to female sexual activity would not have been an object of ridicule similar to passive oral and anal sex (for surely it was), rather I want to briefly show how using passive male to female sexual acts in Romans 1:26 could have served Paul’s argument well and why it should be considered more widely among scholars. More specifically, I want to examine Roman attitudes towards male to female cunnilingus, perhaps the most volatile and perverse sexual act in the ancient Roman world.

Orderly Roman Sexuality

Roman sexuality was neatly constructed under the schema of “active” and “passive.” The active role concentrated around phallic acts, inherently rendering males “active” and females “passive.” In other words, to be “active” is to penetrate with a penis and to be “passive” is to be penetrated by a penis, i.e. penetrated vaginally, anally, or orally. Both men and women were “naturally” assigned “active” and “passive” roles, and so male and female sexual members were to be used appropriately (Mart. 11.22.9-10; Sen. Ep. 95.21). Both Seneca and Martial discussed transgressions of this natural arrangement by exploiting a common stereotype of their day, the tribas. A tribas was a female—believed to be endowed with a clitoris large enough to penetrate male or female orifices (Mart. 1.90.8; 7.67; Sen. Ep. 95.20-21)—who played the role of a male. This stereotype likely arose from the Roman’s insistence upon the “active” role being phallic centred. For a woman to transgress her natural role, then, she must penetrate like a man. However, for a man to transgress his role, he must become like a woman, i.e. become an object penetrated by a penis. These arrangements were neatly structured except when it came to male on female oral sex. In the case of a cunninlinctor, the seemingly active male performer was rendered passive and unmanly.

Image of female to female cunnilingus on a Roman terracotta lamp (Museum # 2005,0921.1 © British Museum).

 

Martial on Cunnilingus

Our main sources for the practice of cunnilingus in Roman society is the Pompeian graffiti record and the literature of Martial, Catullus, and Carmina Priapea;[5] of the latter sources, Martial will be our key interlocutor. Throughout his epigrams, Martial is careful to portray himself among the three acceptable hypermasculine roles (1.46, 58; 3.96; 4.17; 9.67; 11.21, 58, 104): fututor [vagina fucker][6], pedico [ass fucker], and irrumator [mouth fucker], while saving his usage of passive roles for moments of insult. Martial regularly presents a sexual hierarchy of demeaning and more demeaning sexual roles, among which cunnilingus ranks the worst. In Epigram 2.28, Martial portrays cunnilingus (and/or fellatio) as a worse insult than being called a cinaedus (see fn. 7).

“Laugh greatly, Sextillus, if someone calls you a cinaedus, and give him the middle finger. However, you are not one to fuck either asses (pedico) or vaginas (fututor), Sextillus, nor is Vetustina’s hot mouth your pleasure. I’ll admit, you are none of these, Sextillus. So, what are you then? I don’t know, but you know that two possibilities are left.” (Mart. 2.28)

Martial shows us the neat categories, which a Roman person’s sexuality might be classified. Martial first defends Sextillus, claiming that he is not a cinaedus (anally fucked by a penis),[7] a negative claim that some might charge against him. Sextillus, however, is not manly (i.e. active) either since he is neither one who fucks asses (pedico) nor vaginas (fututor). Lastly, he does not find pleasure in Vetustina’s “hot mouth” (caldabucca), i.e. a roundabout way of saying Sextullius is not a mouth fucker (irrumator). Of the four roles which Sextillus does not align, “two [passive] possibilities” remain…the implication provides that he is either a fellator (fucked in the mouth by a penis) or cunnilinctor (performs cunnilingus on women), or both. The movement of the epigram reveals that passive oral transgressions are more humiliating than passive anal ones, a case Martial makes frequently (cf. 2.84; 4.43; 6.56; 11.45; 12.35). Martial’s insult only makes sense in this light. The emasculating insult from “someone” (i.e. someone calling Sextullius a cinaedus) is met with a deeper insult from Martial. In the end, Martial’s defense of Sextullius is short-lived and only used as a literary ploy to more fully exploit Sextullius’ sexual deviancy as fellator and/or cunnilinctor. Another example is found in Martial’s epigram of the tribas Philaenis (7.67). Here he compares two oral acts (fellatio and cunnilingus) and presents cunnilingus as the worst of the two. Martial’s Philaenis was presented as a stock seductress with excessive libido (7.70, 9.29, 9.40, 9.62, 10.22) and male traits (2.33; 7.67). When it came to sex, Philaenis was portrayed in the manly role, penetrating both boys and girls, and believed fellatio not a virile enough act.  However, though she refused fellatio, she conceded to “devour girls’ middles”[8] (medias vorat puellas) and “lick cunt” (cunnum lingere). For Martial, Philaenis represents the twisted female character, i.e. she sexually penetrates when she ought to be penetrated and believed cunnilingus a virile act while deeming fellatio unmanly. The progression of the epigram reveals that while both fellatio and cunnilingus are unmanly acts, Philaenis is delusional to think fellatio more unmanly than cunnilingus. Martial, in fact, encourages the reverse order in the sexual hierarchy.

The Walls Speak of Cunnilingus

In the graffiti record, I have gathered 39 examples of cunnum + lingere (in one form or another) on Latin graffiti from the first century B.C.E. to the second century C.E., of which 31 were recorded at Pompeii. For sheer volume, I’ll only examine the evidence from Pompeii. Thirteen of the 31 graffiti at Pompeii are ambiguous, merely mentioning that “X licks cunt” or “X (is a) cuntlicker”;[9] their brevity leaves little room for interpretation especially in attempting to judge whether the writer’s intentions are positive or negative towards cunnilingus. However, many could be read insultingly. Additionally, the locale of each 31-graffito range from brothels and stores to homes and benches, further complicating the interpretative task. However, a few notable examples confirm the insulting nature of cunnilingus while others are more difficult to determine.

CIL IV 1383 was found at a brothel in Regio VI and takes a poke at Isidorus using electoral-like parody to exploit cunnilingus as the butt of the joke: “Please elect Isidorus as aedile. / He’s the best cuntlicker!”[10] In CIL IV 5095, the pairing of cinaedus (see n.7 above) and “cunt sucking” likely affirms the graffito’s slanderous nature: “Sophe loves Asus, has a cunt, / sucks it; some have seen it; / if she would see his (…), she would do / a better job; a faggot (cinaedus) would do it well.” Furthermore, Theophilus (CIL IV 8898) receives a harsh rebuke for his oral activity: “Theophilus, you dog! / Do not lick cunts / of the girls along the wall!” Saturninus is similarly warned in CIL IV 3925: “Saturninus, / don’t lick / cunt!”. Near the rear exit of the Praedia of Julia Felix (CIL IV 10150), the intended name of the insulted party has been erased, and the sting of the joke develops by taking a jab at the “work” of a “cunt licker”: “(…) Now that you have gone bankrupt eight times, it remains for you to do so sixteen times. You worked as a cook, a clay man, a pickler and a baker, you were a farmer and you worked as a maker of small bronzes, you were a retailer and now you work as a jug man. (But) if you have licked cunt, you have had it all.” Additionally, among 100+ graffiti relating to gladiatorial content—in the peristyle of the House of the Gladiators—the author of CIL IV 4304 appears to slight Servilius by utilising cunnilingus negatively: “Servilius is in love, but / he should not get the chance. Servilius, / go lick cunt.” Athletes—it was believed—who engaged in penile activity with ejaculation were especially susceptible to loss of strength, so they might resort to cunnilingus (Mart. 11.47). CIL IV 2081 may support Martial’s negative comments about elder men who could not get erections, and so performed cunnilingus (Mart. 6.26; 11.25; cf. 12.86): “Colepius senior licks cunt”. However, one graffito from Pompeii may also show a positive interest in cunnilingus—CIL IV 8698 reads: “Vetius licks cunt. That is desired!”[11] In this graffito, Vetius or another admirer, seems to value the practice by using the Latin optatus (“that one desires”).[12] In other instances, cunnilingus is on offer through prostitution and services are publicly broadcasted. CIL IV 2257—found in the famous Lupanare (brothel)—reads, “Fronto openly / licks cunt.” At a shop in Regio III, CIL IV 8939-8940 records Maritimus’ prices for cunnilingus: “Maritimus licks cunt for 4 asses; receives virgins”. The prostitute Glyco (likely female) has lower prices: “Glyco licks / cunt for 2 asses”. These latter examples add to the difficultly of understanding the ancient perception of cunnilingus. The evidence seems to suggest that men and women provided these services in the Pomepeian brothels, and as such the advertisements point to an interested customer base. However, the graffiti, much like Martial, overwhelmingly supports a negative perception of cunnilingus as unmanly and something joke-worthy.

Terme Suburbane – Apodyterium, Scene IIII upclose. (Credit WikiCommons)

 

Cunnilingus, the Punchline

On a wall painting in the apodyterium (dressing room) of the Terme Suburbane (bath house) in Pompeii, a relatively small man performs cunnilingus on a considerably larger woman (see image above), who seems to be the key actor in the artwork. The woman is naked, adorned with fine jewellery, and disinterested in the man’s advances. The man is fully clothed with tunic and shoes visible, eyes zeroed-in on the woman, and happily ready to provide cunnilingus without the prospect of fellatio in return (an oddity in the ancient world![13]). The paintings served as a visual mnemonic—in tandem with assigned numbers—for bathers who left their clothing in containers on the shelves below (similar to parking in 2b of the Goofy section at Disneyland). The painting is one of eight (sixteen in all, but eight are persevered), which exploits the sexual taboos of ancient Pompeii. The eight paintings progress from more acceptable sexual encounters (I-III) to more outrageous ones (see the image below). The aim is to elicit laughter from both male and female customers who might find the role reversals amusing (or in the case of women, empowering?).[14] In any case, cunnilingus is used once again insultingly and negatively.

Terme Suburbane – Apodyterium, Scenes I-III. (Credit: WikiCommons)

 

Terme Suburbane – Apodyterium, Scenes II-IIII upclose. (Credit: WikiCommons)

 

Concluding Remarks

If Paul’s aims in Romans 1:26-27 were to show the utter shamelessness and depravity manifested in human sexuality, then what better point of deprivation to make than to show the shame of a cunnilinctor in a world that found it worse than being a cinadeus (or fellator/fellatrix)? For in male on male anal sex, at least one partner is using his member appropriately. In this way, male on female cunnilingus is the failure of natural order since it renders a male in the role of a women, i.e. the equivalent of being “fucked by a woman”.[15] Moreover, what this information might also help answer is the problem of order in Romans 1:26-27. Why does Paul address women first? If Paul is adapting his message to a crowd who had previously (or presently) held to Roman sexual categories, might he also be phallic-centric in his approach? What if by calling out women, he is actually condemning men for their baseless acts of cunnilingus?

 

Written by Mark Lamas Jr.

 

Notes:

[1] Words like “sinful”, “unnatural”, “perverse”, “degrading”, “degeneration”, “transgression”, etc. reflect the points of view of the various ancient authors, and not my own.

[2] See BDAG, 1089 for sexual references of the term.

[3] BDAG, 707-708.

[4] James E. Miller, “The Practices of Romans 1:26: Homosexual or Heterosexual?”, NovT 37 (1995), 1.

[5] In high Roman genre, (explicit) mentions of cunnilingus are rare, though not absent (c.f. Tac. Ann. 14.60.10). Cicero, for example, applied veiled vernacular (at 6 different points) to attack Sextus Cloelius as a cunnilinctor (see Javier Uría, “The Semantics and Pragmatics of Ciceronian Invective,” in Cicero on the Attack: Invective and Subversion in the Orations and Beyond (Swansea: The Classical Press of Wales, 2007).

[6] The harsh translations throughout this blog intend to reflect the original crudeness of the authors who wrote them.

[7] This word is notoriously difficult to translate, but likely refers to the receptive (passive) male partner during anal sex.

[8] See J.N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary (London: Duckworth, 1982) for expressions of vorare (“to devour”) as pertaining to oral sex, especially 138-141.

[9] C.f. CIL IV 0763, 1255, 1331, 1578, 2081, 4995, 5178, 5263, 5267, 5365, 8069, 8419b, 8877.

[10] Unless noted, most graffiti translations here are from Vincent Hunink, Oh Happy Place! Pompeii in 1000 Graffiti, (Roma: Apeiron, 2014).

[11] My translation.

[12] OLD2, 1385.

[13] See, for example, the Roman terracotta lamp (Cyprus Museum, Inv. D2759) where a couple performs “69” on each other.

[14] For a full study, see Luciana Jacobelli, Le Pitture Erotiche Delle Terme Suburbane Di Pompei (Roma: L’Erma di Bretschneider, 1995).

[15] Holt N. Park, “The Teratogenic Grid,” in Roman Sexualities, ed. Judith Hallett and Marilyn Skinner (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 51.

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  • CSCO Team,
  • 25th October 2017

Comments

  • Dr Trevor R Alln, 26th October 2017 at 6:28 am | Reply

    Mr Lamas’s article seems to be an example of eisegesis at its worst, where a writer starts with an idea that is not based on any clear biblical statement and then tries to find a Bible passage into which he can read his idea. His article relies on his interpretation of one Greek word and is not supported by the most obvious reading of the surrounding phrases — nor, indeed, by any other Bible passage.
    Publication of this example of poor exegesis allied with multiple (and generally unnecessary) use of language that most potential readers are likely to find offensive reflects badly on the CSCO. Time for me to unsubscribe.

    • Mark Lamas Jr., 26th October 2017 at 11:25 pm | Reply

      Dr. Alln, thanks for your comments even though I kindly disagree. My main goal was to argue that scholars (i.e. commentators mostly) have too narrowly thought female to female sexual activity the topic at Rom. 1:26 when we ought to allow for a “heterosexual” interpretation as an equally viable way forward. However, I really don’t know if Paul had one act (cunnilingus or otherwise) or several in mind. I think the ambiguity is too thick to come to those sorts of conclusions, but I wanted to show another interpretation was possible for good reason. Moreover, you note that my article relies on an “interpretation of one Greek word.” Sure, but this is precisely the key word where other interpreters rest their case for female to female sexual activity. I wanted to bring to light the failure by scholars to acknowledge the difficulty and ambiguity. In that, I posited another possible solution…not THE solution. And as to the language, I understand your concern, which is why I decided to put a large disclaimer at the beginning of the blog as well as a note in my footnotes. It was a difficult call, and one I wrestled with for over a week, seeking advice from numerous peers and supervisors. The Latin in Martial and on the graffiti are purposely vulgar. I didn’t want to take away from the vulgarity that the original authors intended (Cicero even notes the “obscenity” of the word cunnus in Orator 154.7…so, even Cicero knew it was a vulgar word, i.e. more so than simply saying, “vagina”). In the end, I decided that not being true to the language would be a detriment to the study. If you notice, I never use the vulgar language in my own words, but only when quoting ancient or modern authors. This is common practice among Classicists who study the topic. Also, as I noted, the translations for nearly all of the graffiti come from Classicist Vincent Hunink and are not my own. So, if the graffiti and epigrams appear vulgar and shocking that is precisely the aim of the ancient authors who wrote them.

  • GJW, 26th October 2017 at 2:44 pm | Reply

    Paul was a Jew first and a Roman next. In this article it’s mainly roman standards and influences that are discussed. I’d be interested to hear how Pauls jewish identity might have played a role in his thinking about this matter.

    • Mark Lamas Jr., 27th October 2017 at 12:51 am | Reply

      GJW, many thanks for your thoughts here! You are certainly correct to note that the blog gives attention solely to Roman sexuality. I focus here, in part, because of Paul’s audience, but also because adequate attention has been given to the topic concerning Jewish sexuality (e.g. Loader, Brooten, Gagnon, et al). You’re also right to note that Paul’s Jewish background would have certainly influenced his interpretation, but such a short blog didn’t afford me the space to contribute beyond the one-side of this coin. I would refer you to those authors noted above. Many thanks, again.

      All the best,
      Mark

  • Kathleen Moser, 26th October 2017 at 8:11 pm | Reply

    Mark, I agree with Dr Trevor Alln. My question to you is why have you chosen to waste valuable time researching something that doesn’t enlighten us in any way pertinent but appears to be an excuse to use language that offends and descriptions of various sex acts for shock value? Why?

    • Mark Lamas Jr., 26th October 2017 at 11:34 pm | Reply

      Hi, Kathleen. Please, see my response to Dr. Alln. I hardly think my research a “waste,” though you are certainly entitled to your opinion. I do apolgise if you were offended by my work, but hopefully my response to Dr. Alln will give you some sense of clarity on my process to include the vulgarity.

      All the best,
      Mark

  • Tavis Bohlinger, 27th October 2017 at 8:47 pm | Reply

    Mark, this is an excellent piece of research, very well argued, and written with clarity. Good use of ancient Greco-Roman sources as well, including texts, graffiti et al. I do hope you are expanding this into a large work, whether a journal article or as part of your thesis.

    One question that came to mind for me, however, is at the point where you mention “an interested customer base” for cunnilingus prostitution services. Perhaps the fact of higher prices for the male services supports your argument more than you conveyed; since men (husbands, lovers, etc) were unwilling to perform cunnilingus due to social stigma, the demand by women for these services, from a man, would certainly be higher, thus driving up prices. After all, if there was no or lesser shame for woman-to-woman cunnilingus, then female prostitutes would have less reason to charge more.

    Looking forward to more on this.

    • Mark Lamas Jr., 28th October 2017 at 4:02 pm | Reply

      Thanks, Tavis! The project was actually birthed during my last visit to Pompeii when I saw the painting in the Terme Suburbane. My thesis deals with Mark’s gospel. I thought this brief project might be a fun break from my regular course. Thanks for the encouragement, and I may look at furthering it into something more.

      Your thought on cunnilingus and prostitution prices is a great suggestion. However, there is good reason to believe that Isidorus (Male prostitute), the “Cuntlicker” of CIL IV 1383, is also the “Cuntlicker” (here the author creates a new adverb, using CVNNVLIGGETER) of CIL IV 4699, and the one who charges 2 asses (ISDORVS ERIS II) in CIL IV 4441. CIL IV 1383 and 4441 are located in the same brothel, and in adjoining rooms. However, CIL IV 4441 never mentions the act, which costs 2 asses, but Isidorus seems to have a reputation for one particular practice. So, I’m not sure there is enough evidence to make a good judgment call, but I love the suggestion!

  • Raymond Morehouse, 30th October 2017 at 3:23 pm | Reply

    I’m confused as to how this research could be labeled “excellent”. It is a flagship example of “parallelmania” and completely ignores Romans itself. Paul simply does not say what he needs to: that “men committed shameless acts with women….” (That is, Rom 1.27b must be altered or omitted.) All we have is rather weak speculation: “What if by calling out women, he is actually condemning men…?” Further, it simply assumes that Paul would have shared, rather been appalled by, Roman conceptions of morality. This is so obviously false and easily disproven from the very context you are supposed to be exegeting that the assumption is jarring. I’m unfamiliar with CSCO, and this is a really unimpressive introduction.

    • Raymond Morehouse, 30th October 2017 at 4:12 pm | Reply

      Edit: To clarify, the research on Roman sexual norms is interesting and thorough, but the connection to Romans seems forced. Why should we suppose, from the textual evidence, that Paul thought this way? (And my unfamiliarity is with this CSCO blog, rather than the wider work at Edinburgh…)

      • Mark Lamas Jr., 30th October 2017 at 5:51 pm | Reply

        Hi Raymond, thanks for the comment(s). However, I think you misrepresent me on a couple of points. Here is my thesis: “Importantly, this is not to say that (1) Paul is not discussing female to female sexual activity in v. 26 as Miller argues (perhaps Paul is…), or that (2) female to female sexual activity would not have been an object of ridicule similar to passive oral and anal sex (for surely it was), rather I want to briefly show how using passive male to female sexual acts in Romans 1:26 could have served Paul’s argument well and why it should be considered more widely among scholars.” I do not claim to have THE correct interpretation (in fact, I am skeptical myself!), but rather I wanted to push against the consensus that assumes female to female sexual activity in Romans 1:26. I’m arguing that male to female passive acts (like cunnilingus or passive anal sex) should not be dismissed so easily…though neither should the other positions.

        Why shouldn’t we think that Paul might adapt his message to fit his Roman audience (it does not mean he needs to believe it)…or, at least, be conversant enough to combat it? He seems to be at home in other Greco-Roman sexual practices (e.g. cultic prostitution in the Corinthian correspondence).

        Also, you mention my comment, “What if by calling out women, he is actually condemning men…?” Here, I’m simply suggesting a POSSIBLE solution for the problem of order…Paul’s move is unprecedented in the ancient sources. Nowhere, when discussing male to male sex acts and female to female sex acts, do you find women presented first. That’s a problem, especially if the issue in 1:26 is about female to female sexual acts.

        I agree, I could have spent more time on Paul or Jewish sexuality, but I had blog-sized space and wanted to offer a different perspective (see Loader, Gagnon, Brooten, et al who have argued extensively from a Jewish perspective).

        Glad to see you can appreciate some of the research even though you disagree with the thesis (and that’s okay). We’re all just trying to make sense of this stuff, and I offered something–whether good or bad–that will hopefully spark others to ask new questions and lead to new paths forward.

        All the best wishes,
        Mark

        • Raymond Morehouse, 30th October 2017 at 7:16 pm | Reply

          First, I need to apologize for the tone of the first comment. And second, thanks for the gracious and thoughtful reply.

          Here is the main issue: When dealing with potential parallels Sandmel’s warnings against “parallelomania” are very, very helpful. It is, of course, very interesting to delve into the world of Greco-Roman sexual norms as it is mediated by brothel art and graffiti, and at this level of abstraction (i.e. “sexual norms”) there will be obvious similarities, as there would be with any author writing about sex. This by itself does not constitute a real parallel.

          What evidence is there in Romans specifically, or the Pauline corpus more generally, that Paul would adopt the sexual norms of a Roman locker room? That is the big question. You ask, “Why shouldn’t we think that Paul might adapt his message to fit his Roman audience…?” The answer is found In the immediate context of Romans 1: a text drenched in OT allusions and quotations. Whatever adaption is taking place it is certainly not the exchange of ethics based on Israel’s scriptures for those of the wall of a brothel.

          The “problem” of women being addressed first, in this context, disappears. For example, if, as many have argued, Paul is alluding to Genesis, then addressing women first makes good sense. In the context of Jewish writing (which Romans is, regardless of audience) is the order really that significant? If that “problem” disappears do we really need to find a tenuous solution?

          As Sandmel writes, “The knowledge on our part of the parallels may assist us in understanding Paul ; but if we make him mean only what the parallels mean, we are using the parallels in a way that can lead us to misunderstand Paul.” This sums up my issues with this post. The consensus reading of 1.26 seems to make good sense of Paul, understood on his own ground and in his Jewish context.

          • Mark Lamas Jr., 31st October 2017 at 9:47 am |

            Thanks for this, Raymond.
            “This by itself does not constitute a real parallel.”
            I do not intend to posit a one-to-one correlation between my findings and the content in Paul. For me, I’m simply trying to reconstruct a possible context and belief, which (likely) Paul and (certainly) his followers in Rome would have noted as familiar.

            “What evidence is there in Romans specifically, or the Pauline corpus more generally, that Paul would adopt the sexual norms of a Roman locker room?”
            I think this is, again, the wrong question to ask. Here you want assume that Paul must “adopt” Roman sexual norms…but, as I noted in my previous comment, can he not have familiarity enough with the ideas to combat them with his own (Jewish) views? To think that Paul wasn’t conversant and deeply familiar with the dominant culture of his day–or that Roman culture didn’t influence how he thought about his scriptural understanding–would be misguided.

            “In the context of Jewish writing (which Romans is, regardless of audience) is the order really that significant?”
            Even if the reference in 1:26-27 is to Genesis 1, how does this make the problem “disappear”? Also, order is important, especially since Paul’s use would be anomalous for all ancient texts referencing female to female sex acts. Rhetorical shock is just not a compelling case (e.g. Jewett and Dunn)!

            All the best,
            Mark

  • Isaac Soon, 10th November 2017 at 12:25 pm | Reply

    Interesting article. I wanted to raise two points. The first is the adoption of Miller’s 1995 article without modification. Miller is strangely inconsistent at points, for me most notably in his description of Ps-Phocylides’s account of an unnatural type of intercourse. For example on page 9 he says, “Likewise Ps-Phocylides (189) does not specify the unnatural intercourse which it banned, though again a non-coital intercourse seems indicated.” But, then on the next page he says “Pseudo-Phocylides stands as a lone Jewish voice against heterosexual perversion, and is not specific.” How can it be about non-coital intercourse but not specific? Also Miller cites not evidence or argument (or even text) of this matter – we simply have to assume/.

    The second issue I want to raise is Miller’s denial of “a single common category for homosexuality” in the ancient sources. Fair enough, our concept of homosexuality is more emphatic on the “homo” (male with male, female with female) than on the “sexual” (style of sexual acts). I agree with you and Miller that χρῆσις in Rom 1:26-27 should encompass sexual acts – but I’m hesitant to deny that a male to male and female to female relations are also discounted, especially since Paul is focuses on “passions.” This to me is summed up in the last clause of v.27 that Paul’s point is “Men committed shameless acts with men” – The shameless acts are evident sure and we may also read that back in our understanding of χρῆσις earlier in vv.26-27. But why must it be one or the other for the women in v.26? Why cannot it be both women participating in shameless acts (such as cunnilingus) but with both men or women? In my mind your thesis and Millers thesis rings true but the denial of same-gender sexual acts seems superfluous since Paul’s argument would encompass both unnatural “acts” and such acts in whatever form they are between people of the same gender. I don’t think one can simply discount the “homosexual’ aspect of the text in favour of only unnatural sexual practice – I think they are tied together. The acts are tied to the sex of the people that do them together and that’s what I think Paul is getting at in Rom 1:26-27.

    • Mark Lamas Jr., 10th November 2017 at 5:48 pm | Reply

      Isaac, many thanks for your response. Just to be clear, my article only finds Miller’s initial questioning of the cementedness of a traditional reading compelling. I actually find the content of Miller’s article wanting and overconfident. As I note, I think he’s right to say, “there is no particular reason to read verse 26 as referring to homosexual activity.” However, his argumentation to suggest that female to female eroticism is not a possibility is flawed (i.e. overconfident). As I explained in my article’s thesis, contra Miller: “Importantly, this is not to say that (1) Paul is not discussing female to female sexual activity in v. 26 as Miller argues (perhaps Paul is…), or that (2) female to female sexual activity would not have been an object of ridicule similar to passive oral and anal sex (for surely it was), rather I want to briefly show how using passive male to female sexual acts in Romans 1:26 could have served Paul’s argument well and why it should be considered more widely among scholars.” My intent was to call into question both Miller’s certitude as well as that of scholars on the other side of the aisle. I also wanted to give voice to the one sexual practice (i.e. cunnilingus) that has been neglected in this discussion, but could possibly offer some helpful insights to Paul’s meaning. So, as with you, I actually see all of these sexual acts (among both genders) as possibilities in Rom. 1:26…cheers!
      All the best,
      Mark

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