Sunday, November 19, 2006

Greek and Roman thought

I’ve been reading a book by J. N. Adams called The Latin Sexual Vocabulary recently. It reminds me of how we bring our own preconceptions to reading scripture. The culture in which I live is very different from that of ancient Greece and Rome where the writers of scripture live. If I read with my own assumptions, then I can miss some important things.

It is clear that roman culture is not really interested in the gender of the people in the sexual activity so much as the status and who is in control. The problem with an emperor marrying a slave wasn’t that they were both men but, as the famous satire makes clear, that the emperor put on the clothes of a woman. The status of the people dictated whether they were expected to be the active or inactive participant (at least whether they should be perceived as such) rather than the sexual activity involved.

This becomes important as we read the prescriptions and proscriptions for marriage and sexual activity in the greek testament. It becomes even more important as we read the call for equality and leveling through the whole of the greek testament. It is that the whole culture was being changed from one of status importance to one where status is irrelevant. As Christians we are equal to each other. That one is an arm is true, that another is an eye is also true. But the different parts can’t do without each other. That message, that sounds old and tired after 2,000 years or so, is a radical message at the time of the writing.

We have become so familiar with scripture that we forget what a radical notion the greek testament brought. The letters we have were written for particular problems and situations of which we have little knowledge. There are four gospels in the document we have, yet those were chosen from a number of writings that the early church had available. The question, for me, today is ‘how do I find that radical nature so as to become the Christian that I am called to be?’

No comments: