Jul. 7th, 2008 at 11:23 PM
Louis Crompton is a pioneer of gay studies. He helped organise perhaps the first such course in 1970, which prompted a state legislator to propose a bill that would ban such courses except at the state medical school (the bill failed). But, as Crompton says, it was a reminder of sodomy as peccatum mutum, the silent sin (p.xi). (The persistence of this view can be seen here.)His Homosexuality and Civilization cannot, of course, cover its declared subject matter. The author restricts himself to classical Antiquity, Christendom, medieval Islam, Imperial China and pre-Meiji Japan. But that is still an enormous range, which he covers magnificently, clearly the results of decades of research.A fundamental problem in covering homosexuality across such a cultural and historical range is the problem of definition—is homosexuality just a social construction or is there a continuing human type? Crompton focuses on the enduring. In his words whatever the vocabulary, two elements are present—the sexual fact and the possibility of human love and devotion (p.xiv). Which is enough to be getting on with. Greeks and JewsCrompton starts with Early Greece 776—480 BCE, taking us through literature and biography.
Two same-sex lovers, Harmodius and Aristogeiton, the original tyrannicides, were the enduring icons of Athenian democracy. Associating love between men with free politics was a rhetorical commonplace in classical Greece: including a popular drinking song sung for at least seven centuries after the original act (Pp25ff).Then to Judea 900 BCE—600 BCE: Leviticus, Sodom and all that. Crompton points out that the Levitical prohibition extended to any stranger that sojourneth among you, so is one of the Noachid precepts, binding on all humanity. Crompton notes that the shifting characterization of the sin of Sodom: What we may call the “Sodom of selfish wealth” considerably predates the later Philonic-Patristic conception of the “homosexual Sodom (p.39).Dismissing as dubious the “keep population up” explanation for the Levitical prohibition, and the Sodom story as scarcely relevant, (p.39) Crompton considers the kedeshim or “holy ones”, temple prostitutes, arguing that the Levitical prohibition makes sense as reflecting concern for religious and tribal solidarity (p.43) given the use of “third sex” priests in various of the surrounding polytheisms. Crompton properly gives considerable attention to Philo of Alexander, a Jewish philosopher at the time of Christ and St Paul who sought to reconcile Mosaic law with Platonic philosophy (particularly Platonic natural law philosophy), the only Jewish writer from antiquity (that has come down to us) who dealt with homosexuality in any detail. Though a faithful Jew all his life, Philo was so widely read by Church fathers as to be regarded as almost a Father of the Church himself (Pp 43-4).Philo’s intellectual importance is that he brought together Jewish and Greek thinking. Indeed, it is very likely that St Paul’s use of the term unnatural (para physin)—which occurs nowhere else in Scripture other than Paul’s Epistles—was due to Philo’s influence.