Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Response to Radner (2)

In his review of Reasonable and Holy, Ephraim Radner, apparently less than willing to engage with my conclusions, instead spends much of his energy on dismissing my scholarship. He notes the book is physically thin but finds it logically thin as well. As to the former, the book is only 192 pages, but the print is rather small, and it amounts to just under 82,000 words. In any case, arguments should not be weighed in pounds. Content is more important than form, after all.
As to the logic and the scholarship, I think a problem for Radner is that the book is not what he was expecting, and he appears not to have been able to free himself from those expectations. He appears to have wanted the book to be a consideration of what various scholars have said on the subject, carefully annotated with all of their opinions. In short, the kind of argument Hooker found pointless and tedious.
In fact, this book is a return to primary sources, and the logic is based on addressing the premises and conclusions of the “reasserters” — which in their case is often the same thing. While I make passing reference to a number of contemporary authors, my main interest is in Scripture itself, the writings of the early church and the reflections of the rabbis, and a look at the literature contemporary with them — including the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Pseudepigrapha — and all of this is properly cited. As to modern thinkers — few of their assertions on either side bear much mark of originality, and I do not think it my task to present the full arguments of those with whom I disagree, but rather to test their conclusions — I am aiming to provide answers to assertions, as Radner appears to recognize, even as he regards this approach as “lacking any scholarly context.”
Unfortunately, this assertion itself is short on detail — would that Radner had devoted more space to examples than to mere repetition of his theme. He gives only two explicit examples of my failings, in relation to my treatment of an assertion by Rob Gagnon, and my failure to cite Bruce Malina on the same subject. I want to address both of these specifics, as I think they provide a very good example both of the danger of citing contemporary authors, and the uneven quality of Radner’s own scholarship — which gives the impression of refutation when the texts cited do not support his assertion quite so forcibly as he suggests. I will take up the statement about Malina in this post, and address the matter concerning Gagnon at a later time.
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Radner says, “Haller references no other detailed discussions of the meaning of porneia, like Bruce Malina’s 1972 article, that would actually provide significant counter-evidence to Haller’s thesis.” Lest Radner accuse me of not providing the citation, I take him to be referring to Bruce Malina’s, “Does Porneia Mean Fornication?” in Novum Testamentum 1972, 10-17.
So, does this article actually “provide significant counter-evidence to Haller’s thesis.” Radner fails to state what my thesis is, so for the benefit of discussion, let me state it: That porneia (and zenut in Hebrew) and their related words do not, in the contemporary literature under examination, refer to same-sex relationships (apart from male prostitutes). So does Malina provide significant counter-evidence to my thesis?
First of all, it has to be noted that Malina’s own thesis, argument, and conclusion are not concerned with same-sexuality at all. His goal is to show that porneia in its biblical use is not intended to proscribe fornication in its modern sense as sex before marriage. As he poses the question, “Does the N.T. usage of the porneia word group in fact cover all the meanings generally given the word group by the lexica and commentaries, or do the meanings ascribed to the word group rather derive from later usage and later moral judgment deriving from a historically and culturally conditioned version of N.T. morality?”
Does this sound familiar? If you’ve read my book it should, as Malina’s goal is actually similar to mine: to limit the range of application of the porneia/zenut word group in its original frame, rather than the expanded reading of “just about anything one regards as sexual immorality.” (I wonder if Radner actually agrees with Malina, that sex before marriage is not forbidden by Scripture?)
In addition to the similarity in our aims, Malina investigates virtually the same ancient materials as I, by much the same means, and with much the same conclusions, with two exceptions. He does, it is true, as a matter of style offer a significant array of references to modern sources — but largely to reject their findings! When it comes to rabbinic texts (which Radner says I treat so poorly) Malina treats the passages citing R. Eliezer (15-17) exactly as I do, but (in my opinion) subverts his own argument. How?
Eliezer, as I point out (128) held that if a man had intercourse with a woman without the intent of marrying her he rendered her a harlot. But by failing to note the stress on lack of intentionality to marry her, Malina weakens his own argument: this is not about pre-marital sex, but what we would call “casual sex” or perhaps sexual exploitation. Malina’s aim is only to exclude “pre-betrothal, pre-marital, heterosexual intercourse of a non-cultic or non-commercial nature, i.e., what we call ‘fornication’ today” from the range of the word group. (17) With its focus on the intent not to marry, Eliezer’s ruling is actually consonant with Malina’s conclusion: that pre-marital sex is not porneia. (If the couple don't marry, the sex wasn't pre-marital, was it?)
Malina also cites Rashi’s reading of Eliezer to refer to sex between persons where legal marriage was forbidden. (16) This opens the question of the “forbidden relations” and Leviticus 18. In this context, Malina makes passing reference to male same-sexuality as included among forbidden relations, and then suggests that porneia — in addition to the figurative application to idolatry which I also elucidate — applies to any sexual immorality condemned in Torah, with specific reference to Leviticus 18. (13)
In this Malina and I actually are at odds. But does he “provide counter-evidence” to my argument? Although he makes this assertion about Leviticus two or three times in this short essay, he provides no reference from the primary sources to support it, and the secondary citations are of a very general nature. To the contrary, I have assembled primary citations against this conclusion. (126-132).
Most importantly the “forbidden relations” (arayot) include categories not found in Leviticus, as Malina notes(13). But not all of the arayot, in Leviticus or not, are referred to as porneia/zenut in the contemporary or later Jewish literature. (Leviticus 18 itself does not use the term at all.) As a matter of fact, as I note, porneia appears only to be applied on a very occasional basis in Jewish literature (e.g., Sirach 23:16-17) to the incest prohibitions of Leviticus 18, a section of Leviticus with its own internal unity based on the category of “likeness of flesh.” (see R&H 129) Moreover, two of the arayot appearing in Leviticus 18 (sex with a menstruant or a beast) are explicitly excluded from porneia/zenut in the Rabbinic tradition (bTerumah 29b, 30b). (ibid. 131)
So, on this point, far from providing counter-evidence to my thesis, Malina shows the same sort of over-broadening of the range of meaning of which he accuses the traditional lexica in regard to pre-marital sex.
I will also note that Malina is careful to point out that the Pseudepigrapha, such as Jubilees, only “perhaps” refer to homosexuality. (14) This is one of those “maybes” that Radner finds so troublesome, but which real scholars live by. In this case, my findings show that the Pseudepigrapha (Jubilees, Enoch, the Testaments), like our canonical Jude, link the story of Sodom with that of the Watchers (or Nephilim) from Genesis 6, and that the concern, as Jude 7 shows, is not homosexuality, but explicitly heterocarnality — “going after different (heteras) flesh. (167-168)
So, does this amount to refutation? Or even persuasive “counter-evidence?” And is this the best that Radner could find? You be the judge; or rather, the jury. I have no need to convince the prosecutor.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
The response continues here.

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