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The Making of Fornication

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

Kathy L. Gaca
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 376
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    The Making of Fornication
    Book Description:

    This provocative work provides a radical reassessment of the emergence and nature of Christian sexual morality, the dominant moral paradigm in Western society since late antiquity. While many scholars, including Michel Foucault, have found the basis of early Christian sexual restrictions in Greek ethics and political philosophy, Kathy L. Gaca demonstrates on compelling new grounds that it is misguided to regard Greek ethics and political theory—with their proposed reforms of eroticism, the family, and civic order—as the foundation of Christian sexual austerity. Rather, in this thoroughly informed and wide-ranging study, Gaca shows that early Christian goals to eradicate fornication were derived from the sexual rules and poetic norms of the Septuagint, or Greek Bible, and that early Christian writers adapted these rules and norms in ways that reveal fascinating insights into the distinctive and largely non-philosophical character of Christian sexual morality. Writing with an authoritative command of both Greek philosophy and early Christian writings, Gaca investigates Plato, the Stoics, the Pythagoreans, Philo of Alexandria, the apostle Paul, and the patristic Christians Clement of Alexandria, Tatian, and Epiphanes, freshly elucidating their ideas on sexual reform with precision, depth, and originality. Early Christian writers, she demonstrates, transformed all that they borrowed from Greek ethics and political philosophy to launch innovative programs against fornication that were inimical to Greek cultural mores, popular and philosophical alike. The Septuagint's mandate to worship the Lord alone among all gods led to a Christian program to revolutionize Gentile sexual practices, only for early Christians to find this virtually impossible to carry out without going to extremes of sexual renunciation. Knowledgeable and wide-ranging, this work of intellectual history and ethics cogently demonstrates why early Christian sexual restrictions took such repressive ascetic forms, and casts sobering light on what Christian sexual morality has meant for religious pluralism in Western culture, especially among women as its bearers.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92946-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  5. Chapter 1 Introduction: Ancient Greek Sexual Blueprints for Social Order
    (pp. 1-20)

    In this study I aim to resolve an important philosophical and historical problem about the making of sexual morality in Western culture: Do the patristic sexual rules of second-century Christianity differ notably from the Greek philosophical sexual principles that the patristic writers used to help formulate their own? Alternatively, are these Christian rules in unison with the Greek philosophical basis that they claim to have? These questions are of great significance for understanding the didactic motives of those patristic writers who later came to be known as church fathers,¹ because their sexual teachings have set an enduring and far-reaching standard...


    • Chapter 2 Desire’s Hunger and Plato the Regulator
      (pp. 23-58)

      Plato’s ideas about human sexual desire (έπιθυμίαand sexual activity (άϕροδίσια) are a critical part of his social reforms in theRepublicandLaws. Why is Plato (ca. 429–347 b.c.e.) interested in curbing what we loosely—and he not at all loosely—call our sex drive? Why does sexual desire seem far more problematic to him than do desires for less intense pleasures, such as the longing for a cool drink under a shady tree? What does he think unrestrained sexual activity puts at risk? Plato finds something significant at stake, for he maintains that individual sexual conduct and...

    • Chapter 3 Crafting Eros through the Stoic Logos of Nature
      (pp. 59-93)

      Like Plato, the early Stoics Zeno (335–263 b.c.e.) and Chrysippus (280–207 b.c.e.) sought to improve moral life in ancient Greek society. They too stressed the need for communal sexual and reproductive reforms, though for reasons that go beyond Plato’s aim to rein in acquisitive desires and that reveal much about the early Stoic conception of sexual eros as a method of training in reason and ethics. The early Stoic city of eros is evocative of, yet in substantive counterpoint to, Kallipolis in Plato’sRepublic.¹ The early Stoic principles of sexual and procreative conduct are thus of interest historically...

    • Chapter 4 The Reproductive Technology of the Pythagoreans
      (pp. 94-116)

      Little is known about early Pythagorean sexual ethics, but several lineaments become clear from Plato and antedate him. These include determining, through geometry, the right time to reproduce, and advocating an appropriate method of copulation to ensure that the souls of offspring remain free of needless discordance. The overall purpose of these prescriptions is similar to Plato’s in theLaws:to improve the human condition by developing a moderate breed of persons dedicated to practicing sexual and dietary austerity, with the dietary regimen serving to facilitate the spare use of sexual activity. To understand the Pythagorean sexual program, it is...


    • Chapter 5 Rival Plans for God’s Sexual Program in the Pentateuch and Paul
      (pp. 119-159)

      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 certain kinds of fornication (πορνєία) as well as other kinds of sexual activity marked as rebellion against God, whereas religiously compliant sexual activity shows no such insubordination. This distinction between permissible and forbidden sexual conduct is simple in its structure, opposing as it does obedience and disobedience to...

    • Chapter 6 From the Prophets to Paul: Converting Whore Culture into the Lord’s Veiled Bride
      (pp. 160-189)

      Two didactic metaphors in the Pentateuch and Prophets exercise great emotive hold on Paul in his formulation of sexual rules for Christians to follow. The metaphors reinforce the requirement that God’s people must obey his will sexually and in other respects, and that they must organize their society toward this end. I refer to the first metaphor as “spiritual fornication” and to the second as “spiritual adultery.” Though it is common to see only one generic metaphor of fornication in the Old Testament, there are two and they have divergent implications for what it means to serve the Lord in...

    • Chapter 7 Philo’s Reproductive City of God
      (pp. 190-218)

      Middle Platonists, by the current scholarly view, favored Plato’s metaphysics but departed from his conviction that civic society as a whole—men, women, and children—needs appetitive reform in order to create better living conditions for the good of the soul, from the modest use of simple food to temperate sexual relations.¹ As Plato maintains in theRepublicandLaws, the social collective must refrain from the inherently consuming passion for sexual pleasure and from the numerous other desires that accompany it, such as the hunger for more territory and other wealth. Only in this way do human beings stand...


    • Chapter 8 Driving Aphrodite from the World: Tatian and His Encratite Argument
      (pp. 221-246)

      The motives Tatian had for advocating sexual renunciation in the early Christian encratite movement remain largely unexplored and merit better understanding.¹ Though not the first Christian encratite on record, his stature as an advocate of Christian sexual renunciation eclipsed that of his predecessors and contemporaries in Greco-Roman society.² Tatian, who converted from Greek learning to, as he phrases it, the “barbarian” learning of the Septuagint, the apostle Paul’s letters, and the Gospels, went on to become one of the more provocative, influential, and sexually alienated Christians in the second century.³ He ardently supported the encratite idea that Christians must renounce...

    • Chapter 9 Prophylactic Grace in Clement’s Emergent Church Sexual Ethic
      (pp. 247-272)

      The contribution of Clement (ca. 150–216 c.e.) to ecclesiastical plans for sexual reform has great historical value. His writings, like Philo’s, are at the confluence where the Greek philosophical and biblical principles meet and undergo major reworking into emergent church doctrine. He is not later downstream simply handing on a fixed set of received teachings about permissible and forbidden sexual conduct. Clement develops his innovative and influential piecework of Christian sexual rules from Greek philosophical and biblical sources,¹ including the Pythagoreans, Plato, several later Stoics, Philo, the Septuagint Pentateuch and Prophets,² Paul, and a few passages from Matthew and...

    • Chapter 10 The Fornicating Justice of Epiphanes
      (pp. 273-291)

      A Christian Platonist disputation from the second century memorably reflects the incompatibility between the principles of sexual order envisioned by Plato and the early Stoics and those of the Septuagint as reinterpreted by Clement of Alexandria in support of Paul and Philo. This debate concerns whether Christians should adopt the sexual mores advocated by Plato and the early Stoics or those championed by Clement. The main participants were Clement and a little-known philosopher named Epiphanes, both of whom had strong Christian Platonist leanings. Epiphanes’ sexual principles were associated with those of the Gnostic Carpocratians,¹ while Clement’s amailgam later helps define...

  9. Chapter 11 Conclusion: The Demise of Greek Eros and Reproduction
    (pp. 292-306)

    Paul’s ideas about sexual morality and social change were as revolutionary in their formulation as those of Plato, the Pythagoreans, and the early Stoics. In the first century c.e. there was no reason to think that his vision of driving fornication from Gentile lands would take hold with any greater success than Plato’s socialist ideals of civic moderation and justice, the Pythagoreans’ eugenic aims to improve moral character through procreationism, and the early Stoics’ plans to train citizens to achieve right reason and action through mutually friendly and communal sexual eros.

    Paul in his mission issues a universal and Christ-centered...

    (pp. 307-336)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 337-359)