[B-Greek] ARSENOKOITHS: Did I get this right?
Stephen C. Carlson
scarlson at mindspring.com
Tue Mar 15 00:31:48 EST 2005
At 04:19 PM 3/14/2005 -0500, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>I composed the following as a response to someone on another list who
>claimed that ARSENOKOITHS is an obscure word, whose meaning is not certain,
>but probably refers to some kind of male prostitute. I would like to make
>sure that what I wrote is accurate before sending it - does this really
>represent current thinking on the topic, or is the word more difficult to
>understand than I think?
By way of background, I would recommend something like David M.
Halperin, ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF HOMOSEXUALITY AND OTHER ESSAYS ON
GREEK LOVE (New York: Routledge, 1990), for a discussion of the
issues involved. Modern notions of sexuality in general and
homosexuality in specific do not easily map to ancient conceptions
and vice versa, so one has to be very careful in understanding
what is meant. Petersen's article, specific to ARSENOKOITHS,
gets these critical distinctions largely right.
Too oversimplify what is going on, modern discourse about homosexuality
is primarily organized around the orientation, especially and almost
exclusion, in the gender of the one being desired. My understanding of
the Greek evidence, however, indicates that sexual orientation is largely
irrelevant, which the crucial distinction is whether a person's sexual
behavior is normative for the social roles expected for the person's
gender and position in society. Translating between these two systems
requires a lot of finesse.
>BDAG: "A Greek-Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian
>Literature", by Baur, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich, which gives the
>A male who engages in sexual activity w. a person of his own sex,
Although I wrote and posted an essay to B-Greek criticizing
Boswell's proposal about ten years ago assuming that the first
definition is correct, I would say that both these definitions
are not quite right -- unless you also include the portion of
BDAG's definition that is somewhat hard to find since it
located after a long parenthetical comment: "of one who assumes
the dominant role in same-sex activity, opp. MALAKOS."
Otherwise, the first definition would have been too broad in
that it does not take into account the social role of the male
engaging in the homoerotic activity. This problem is present
in your paraphrase of it as "male homosexual sex." To use
one of Halperin's examples, it would be like if someone tried
to define the English word "burglar" as either the robber or
the robbed in a burglary.
As best as I can tell, there was no generic term in Greek for a
male homosexual that ignored the male's social role just as
English has no general term covering both parties in a burglary
that ignored who was the burglar and who was the victim in a burglary.
It was important to specify whether the male is the dominant partner
(e.g. ERASTHS, PAIDERASTHS, etc.) or the submissive partner (e.g.
EROMENOS, PAIS, FILERASTHS, etc.). The same system is evident in
1 Cor 6:9 where ARSENOKOITHS corresponds to the dominant partner
and MALAKOS to the submissive one.
In English "pederast" is too narrow in that it requires the activity
to involve a person under the age of majority. Though certainly a
lot of homoerotic activity among ancient Greeks was organized along
those lines, the submissive member was conventionally termed the
PAIS even when the junior member was older than the idealized age
range of youth for that activity (see esp. Halpernin, p. 160, n.26
and cited references in Dover, Buffiere, and Kay).
Stephen C. Carlson mailto:scarlson at mindspring.com
"Poetry speaks of aspirations, and songs chant the words." Shujing 2.35
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