Sexuality and the Jesus tradition.
Enoch, Levi, and Jubilees on Sexuality, Attitudes Towards Sexuality in the Early Enoch Literature, The Aramaic Levi Document, and the Book of Jubilees
William Loader, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007, pp. 350 + viii, pb, $30.00.
The Pseudepigrapha on Sexuality, Attitudes toward Sexuality in Apocalyptic Testaments, Legends, Wisdom, and Related Literature
William Loader, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011, pp. 571 + xii, pb, $65.00.
William Loader is an Australian scholar and he likes sex. That is, he likes to write about it. He is prolific regarding the topic, having written three important volumes and some interesting articles on the subject. Moreover, he was gracious enough to review my book, Sex in the Bible, A New Consideration (Praeger, 2006) in the Review of Biblical literature, for which I thank him and herewith return the favor. Loader is professor emeritus of NT at Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia. He is busy with a five-volume series exploring attitudes toward sexuality in Judaism and Christianity during the Greco-Roman era. Eerdmans began to publish this series in 2005, and this review considers the three volumes that have already arrived.
Whereas my books on sex (CF also The Spirituality of Sex, Praeger 2009) are written in a pastoral and psychotherapeutic vein for popular consumption. Loader's volumes are works of consummate scholarship oriented toward the academic community. They are careful exegetical textual studies and designed to present the worldview and value system evidenced in those texts. Together they constitute a watershed mass of data and interpretation that will surely prevail as the standard works in this field of ancient cultures for the twenty-first century at least.
The first volume concerns sex in the Jesus tradition and has three parts: Sex and Danger: Passion and Responsibility, Order and Chaos: Marriage and Divorce, and Celibacy and Hope: Interim Choices. Each of these is a basket into which Loader has placed a series of chapters. The first section addresses small textual selections from Mt five, fifteen, and eighteen, and Mk seven and nine. After treating these key texts exegetically and hermeneutically, he develops his conclusions about sexual immorality manifested by the attitudes, actions, and assumptions present in those texts.
Section two carefully interprets Mt 5:31-2, and 19:9, Mk 10:11-12, Lu 16:18 and I Cor. 7:10-22 as the Sayings Texts and also treats the controversies in Mk 10:2-12 and Mt 19:3-12, finishing the section with an essay on John the Baptist and Herod Antipas. The final section is the largest and includes the Synoptic Gospels' Resurrection ideology related to sexuality, and various practical aspects of life under God's reign, such as the sexual issues of Eunuchs, celibacy, family, discipleship, virgins, widows, sacred people and things, and the like. He completes the book with an essay on the source of the notion of celibacy.
Loader's motivation to write these books on the perspectives on sexuality in Second Temple Judaism lies in the controversies about sexuality that arose within the Church during the last two decades, particularly about homosexual orientation and behavior. Loader notes that the history of the values concerning sexuality "is extraordinarily complex." He notes that "Approaching the issue of sexuality in the Jesus tradition is like looking out of the window of an aircraft and noting points on a landscape which emerge above the mist and fog that holds all else from view. There is so much we do not know ..." (231). Nonetheless, it is a gratifying surprise to have the large panoply of concise insights that the author is able to derive from his careful exegesis of the few brief texts that the NT offers about the view of sexuality held by Jesus and the early church.
Loader's second sexuality volume addresses the Aramaic Levi Document, Early Enoch Literature, and the Book of Jubilees, all Jewish Second Temple literature. This volume is structured very similarly to the first one. There are three parts, each treating one of the documents listed in the title. Within each part the chapters critically analyze short selections of text from the document under consideration. In part one Loader analyzes material from the Book of the Watchers and The Book of Dream Visions from I Enoch, and such related material from that large document as the story of the birth of Noah. Part two contains a number of essays on special sexually oriented passages, such as the story of Levi and the She-chem Incident, women who desecrate the community, The Prayer of Levi, Isaac's instruction to Levi about marriage and sexual misbehavior, family life, and predictions of the future. Part three is the largest part of this volume. It analyzes The Book of Jubilees, which scholars often consider a second writing of the Pentateuch without primary focus on the Torah or the revelation from Sinai. There are four chapters in this section of the book, which runs from page 113 to 285. It offers us (1) chapters on warnings about sexual misbehavior, a list of wrongdoing by the Watchers, Ham and Noah, Abraham, Sarai and Pharaoh, Circumcision, and the sin of Lot/destruction of Sodom; (2) chapters on the problems of Intermarriage and Rape: Dinah, Reuben and Bilhah, Joseph and Potiphar's wife, Noah and his progeny, Abraham and his progeny, Isaac and Jacob and their progeny, and an essay on the language of sexual misbehavior; and (3) chapters on such questions as creation and marriage, Abraham and Sarah, Rebecca and Isaac, and Jacob, Leah, and Rachel.
Loader makes the important point, in this second volume, that the ancient cultures and societies he addresses here would not have seen sexual behavior or misbehavior as such a major moral-ethical issue, as we do today in our rather puritanical western world. Their reason for raising the issue has mainly to do with the fact that ancient narratives regarding sexuality such as those in Genesis six and Genesis three are clues to how things unfolded in history and how the world and the human struggle is to be understood. The cautions and proscriptions regarding sexual behavior have mainly to do with keeping that unfolding history as non-turbulent as possible. One of the interesting aspects of Loader's analysis is his emphasis upon the difficulty of knowing just exactly what the sexual language means in these ancient documents, because the ethical perspective of those ancient cultures differed significantly from ours today.
Loader's third volume in this series, and the latest to appear, addresses the Pseudepigrapha, that is the attitudes on sexuality of the apocalypses, testaments, legends, wisdom literature, and related Second Temple Period documents. This volume includes a thirty-six-page contribution by Ibolya Balla on Ben Sirach. We are accustomed to Loader's structure and methodology by now, and predictably he has divided this volume into three parts: the first on the apocalypses, testaments, and related writings; the second on histories, legends, and related writings; and the final one on psalms, wisdom literature, and fragments.
Part one treats the Parables of Enoch (I Enoch 37-71), 2 Enoch, The Sibylline Oracles, and literature from Jeremiah, Baruch, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, and the testaments of Abraham, Moses, Job, and Solomon. Part two addresses the LXX and later works such as The Lives of the Prophets and Martyrdom of Isaiah, the Story of Zosimus, the Life of Adam and Eve, and the Apocalypse of Moses. Part three critiques the Psalms of Solomon, Ben Sirach, the Wisdom of Solomon, 4 Maccabees, Theodotus, Ezekiel the Tragedian, and other lesser known documents of ancient Jewish literature.
Loader's three volumes are massive studies of the literature he addresses; however, they are largely filled with the retelling of the narratives in the ancient documents as the basis for reflection and interpretation of their sexual statements or implications. He has labored hard and long to gather the material and organizing its presentation in readable and illuminating ways. It is not likely that scholars of Second Temple Judaism will find in these volumes anything that they did not already know. However, we are given two gifts from the author. First, Loader has assembled all of the material in Second Temple Literature that has any significant reference to human sexuality. Second, he has assembled the fairly wide spectrum of scholarly opinion regarding these texts. Readers who are not scholars of this ancient period or its documents will find in Loader's volumes an encyclopedic collection of illumining material, should they happen to develop the rare interest in this esoteric material in this academic form, and actually undertake the labor to read it.
Eerdmans has presented these three volumes exceedingly attractively, as usual, and the author and publisher have appropriately conspired to make these books accessible in detail. A cryptic summary for each chapter, ample indexes of modern and ancient authors, and ancient sources, plus a wonderfully rich bibliography finishes off each volume in a most professional manner. Harold Attridge of Yale observed that "Loader's ambitious project ... is timely and potentially significant for contemporary debates about sexual morality. His vigorous historical approach provides an in-depth study of the primary sources, with attention to all of the concerns that they express about human sexual behavior and identity." This view is seconded by John J. Collins, and Kelley Coblentz Bautch. George J. Brooke avers that this work is "highly stimulating ... intellectually, that is." Where will one find more graphic praise?
Ellens, J. Harold (2006), Sex in the Bible, A New Consideration, Westport, CT: Praeger.
Ellens, Jay Harold (2009), The Spirituality of Sex, Westport, CT: Praeger.
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|Author:||Ellens, Harold J.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2012|
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