Did Same-Sex Marriage Exist in the Biblical World?
A response to N.T. Wright and Preston Sprinkle
As we’ve seen, the patriarchal structure of the ancient world put strict boundaries around what types of sexual behavior were seen as acceptable even in societies that, from our vantage point, were outrageously permissive. Consequently, in order to be accepted, same-sex behavior had to conform to the broader hierarchies of society, with one partner clearly being perceived as dominant and the other as subordinate. That’s why pederasty, prostitution, and sex with people who were enslaved were all common and widely accepted forms of same-sex behavior, but there was no room for the possibility of two men or two women of the same social status entering into a lifelong, equal partnership like we see so frequently today.
That said, some in the church have argued otherwise, saying that although most forms of same-sex behavior in the ancient world were hierarchical in nature, there were at least some examples of same-sex unions in ancient times that fit the category of what we’re talking about today: lifelong, monogamous, equal-status partnerships and even marriages. Consequently, those who make this claim argue, there is no meaningful difference between the types of same-sex behaviors the biblical writers would have had in mind and same-sex marriages today.
So before we go further, I want to look in some detail at two different writers’ arguments on this topic: first, N.T. Wright and then Preston Sprinkle.
N.T. Wright’s arguments about same-sex relationships
N.T. Wright has cited three ancient texts that he argues describe same-sex relationships that are substantially similar to our modern conversation. Here is what he said in a 2009 panel discussion:
“There is nothing in contemporary understanding and experience of homosexual condition and behavior that was unknown in the first century. The idea that in the first century, it was all about masters having odd relationships with slaves, or older men with younger men—yeah, sure, that happened, but read Plato’s Symposium. They have permanent, faithful, stable male-male partnerships—lifelong stuff—Achilles and Patroclus in Homer, all sorts of things.”1
Wright also wrote in his 2005 book Paul for Everyone: Romans, Part One that “homosexual ‘marriages’ were not unknown, as is shown by the example of Nero himself.”2
So let’s look at these examples more closely.
Pausanias and Agathon
First, in Plato’s Symposium, as we discussed in the last module, it’s true that there is an example of a long-term same-sex partnership between Pausanias and Agathon. But there’s a crucial difference between this relationship and same-sex marriages today, and that is that it started as a pederastic relationship. Pausanias was the older “lover,” and Agathon the younger “beloved.”
In the Protagoras, one of Plato’s earlier dialogues, he described a teenaged Agathon as a “youth quite young” when he was already in a relationship with Pausanias.3 It certainly was unusual that they stayed together after Agathon became an adult, but that did not transform their relationship into an equal-status partnership. Agathon continued to be viewed as the subordinate partner and was roundly ridiculed for it.4
As Marilyn Skinner has written in her book Sexuality in Greek and Roman Culture, in the rare instances when pederastic relationships continued after a boy became a man, the younger partner was “understood to remain passive, compliant, and inferior,” and as a result, “such relationships were discouraged, met either by disapproving silence or by overt hostility directed against the perceived subordinate member.”5
It’s also worth noting that Pausanias and Agathon’s relationship didn’t seem to be exclusive, as Agathon was mocked by Aristophanes for having been penetrated by many men.6 But regardless, a relationship that begins as pederasty is fundamentally different from what we are talking about today.
Achilles and Patroclus
N.T. Wright’s second example is the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus in Homer’s Iliad. But although Homer portrays a deep love bond between Achilles and Patroclus, their relationship is actually never described in sexual terms in the Iliad. It is, as David Halperin has argued in his essay “Heroes and their Pals,” much more comparable to the relationship between David and Jonathan in the Bible—a relationship of deep love, but not a sexual one.7 And in fact, not only are Achilles and Patroclus not portrayed as being in a sexual relationship with each other, the Iliad describes them both as sleeping with female concubines. So this isn’t even a same-sex relationship at all, and it certainly wouldn’t have been a monogamous one.
Now, it’s true that several centuries after the Iliad was written, some ancient Greek writers interpreted Achilles and Patroclus’s relationship as sexual—and specifically, as pederastic—but ironically, they couldn’t decide which partner was the dominant lover and which was the subordinate beloved. In order to even conceive of the relationship as sexual, though, they had to try to force it into the framework of a hierarchical, pederastic relationship.8 But again, as written by Homer, Achilles and Patroclus are no more the equivalent of a modern-day same-sex couple than are David and Jonathan.
Nero and Sporus
Wright’s final claim is that the Roman emperor Nero provides an example of same-sex marriage in the ancient world. But the details of this example are, to put it lightly, disturbing. This is how the Roman historian Suetonius described what Nero did:
“Along with corrupting freeborn boys and sleeping with married women, he raped the Vestal Virgin Rubria…. He had a boy named Sporus castrated and tried to transform him into an actual woman; he married him in a regular wedding ceremony, with a dowry and a bridal veil, took him home in front of a great crowd, and treated him as his wife.”9
He had a boy castrated, put a bridal veil on him, and called it a marriage. That’s simply horrifying. This was almost certainly not consensual, much less monogamous, lifelong, or equal-status. Indeed, Suetonius goes on to describe how Nero was reputed to be sleeping with his mother, and the historian Dio Cassius wrote that Nero chose and castrated Sporus because of the boy’s resemblance to Nero’s wife, whom Nero had just killed.10
This could not be further removed from the types of relationships we are talking about today. None of the three relationships Wright cites—that of Pausanias and Agathon, Achilles and Patroclus, or Nero and Sporus—are meaningfully similar to modern-day same-sex marriages.
Preston Sprinkle’s arguments about same-sex relationships
The second author whose arguments I want to consider is Preston Sprinkle. In his book People to Be Loved, Sprinkle argues that loving, committed same-sex relationships and even marriages existed in the biblical world, and that these relationships are similar to what “affirming Christians are arguing for today.”11
Parmenides and Zeno
Sprinkle begins by citing, along with N.T. Wright, Agathon and Pausanias and Achilles and Patroclus, both of which we’ve discussed. He then refers to Plato’s dialogue Parmenides and says this: “A Greek philosopher named Parmenides (age sixty-five) was in a same-sex relationship with Zenon. Although Parmenides was much older the relationship wasn’t mere pederasty. Zenon, his lover, was forty years old.”
But that isn’t actually what Plato’s text says. What it says is that Parmenides was “about 65 years old, very white with age, but well favoured. Zeno [an alternative translation to Zenon] was nearly 40 years of age, tall and fair to look upon; in the days of his youth he was reported to have been beloved by Parmenides” (emphasis added).12 Plato does not say that they were still in a relationship, just that they once were when Zeno was a youth.
This is simply a misreading of the text.
Hippothous and Hyperanthes
Next, Sprinkle cites Xenophon’s 2nd-century AD novel An Ephesian Tale, saying that it “depicts a young man named Hippothous who falls in love with another man of the same age named Hyperanthes.” This is true, but the young men were teenagers, and the details of this story are critical. The relevant passage of the novel quotes Hippothous describing his relationship like this: “Our first steps in lovemaking were kisses and caresses, while I shed floods of tears. And at last we were able to take our opportunity to be alone with each other; we were both the same age, and no one was suspicious. For a long time we were together, passionately in love, until some evil spirit envied us.”13
“We were both the same age, and no one was suspicious.” That is, no one suspected that they were in a relationship specifically because they were the same age. They had to keep their relationship a secret because their ages meant that it wouldn’t have been accepted. Classics scholar Alan Cameron has written that this line is “a clear allusion to the familiar pattern of older erastes and younger eromenos;” “since he and his lover had been much the same age,” he wrote, “no one suspected the nature of their relationship.”14
Indeed, that interpretation is confirmed by what happens next in the story. A wealthy businessman from another town arrives, is captivated by Hyperanthes’ beauty, and persuades the boy’s father to let him take Hyperanthes back to his city with him as his beloved. Hippothous is extremely jealous, so he follows them, kills the older businessman while he is in bed with Hyperanthes, and he then flees with Hyperanthes back to their hometown. But on their way, their ship capsizes and Hyperanthes drowns. By the time Hippothous is recounting this story, several years have passed and he is in his early twenties. The message is clear: while a pederastic relationship is possible and accepted, an equal-status same-sex relationship isn’t. Even someone who wants and seeks one will ultimately be thwarted, if not by society then by nature itself.
After this, Preston Sprinkle says that “another novel by Achilles Tatius written around the same time depicts male lovers who are roughly the same age.” But Sprinkle himself acknowledges in an endnote that this relationship is “still pederastic.”15 The age differences in pederastic relationships could sometimes be fairly small—in this case, in Achilles Tatius’ novel Leucippe and Clitophon, the lover and beloved were 20 and 16, respectively.16 But this was still a hierarchical relationship, as Sprinkle himself acknowledges, and the younger partner was about to be married off to a woman, so it wasn’t going to last long.
Encolpius and Ascyltos
In his final reference to male same-sex relationships in ancient literature, Sprinkle cites Petronius’s first-century novel the Satyricon. He says: “In it, the author portrays two male lovers, Encolpius and Ascyltos, who are equal in age and status. Strikingly, the author doesn’t make a big stink about their relationship—as if it’s some weird, crazy, abnormal thing. It appears that their consensual, nonexploitative, mutual love-relationship may have been more common than some scholars think.”
This description bears very little resemblance to the actual text of the Satyricon.17 In the novel, Encolpius and Ascyltos are not depicted as being in a “love relationship.” Instead, they are friends turned enemies competing aggressively for the affections of a 16-year-old boy who is Encolpius’s slave. They both walk in on each other in bed with this boy at different points in the story. When Ascyltos finds Encolpius in bed with the boy, he angrily asks why he wasn’t included, saying, “Aren’t friends supposed to hold all things in common?” Later, when Encolpius discovers that Ascyltos has slept with the boy himself, he is enraged, saying, “Since you’ve broken faith and raped our friendship, get your things now, and find someplace else to pollute!”18
In his anger, Encolpius accuses Ascyltos of being a “whore” who had played “the woman’s role” in sex, and Ascyltos turns the tables by claiming that he himself had once penetrated Encolpius.19 As Marilyn Skinner has written of these characters, “their sexual dealings with each other are in fact cold-blooded and unsentimental.”20 A mutual love relationship this is not, much less lifelong or monogamous.
Female Same-Sex Relationships
Preston Sprinkle closes this section of his book by citing six different texts or artifacts to claim that female same-sex marriages existed around the time of Paul. Admittedly, we are getting a bit into the weeds here, but this is important, so I want to round out this discussion by unpacking each of his claims and assessing their validity.
This is the relevant paragraph from his book People to Be Loved:
Consensual, same-sex love—even marriages—can be found among women around the time of Paul. A second-century writer named Iamblichos talks about the marriage between two women named Berenike and Mesopotamia. Lucian of Samosata also mentions the marriage of two wealthy women named Megilla and Demonassa. The early Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria refers to women-women marriage. And Ptolemy of Alexandria, a famous second-century scholar of many trades, refers to women taking other women as “lawful wives.” Two Jewish documents that were written shortly after the New Testament refer to (and forbid) female marriages that were happening in their day. Several archaeological discoveries depict mutual love between women, including a funeral relief that dates back to the time of Caesar Augustus, where two women are holding hands in a way that resembles “the classic gesture of ancient Roman married couples.”21
Just as with Sprinkle’s earlier claims, if you just read that paragraph and didn’t investigate any further, you would assume that female same-sex marriages were common and even legally recognized in the time of the Bible. But also as with his earlier claims, when we look into these, the description and the reality are not the same.
Bernadette Brooten’s Work
Sprinkle’s primary source for all of these claims is a 1996 book by Bernadette Brooten called Love Between Women.22 In that book, Brooten did argue based on these texts that same-sex marriages between women existed in the ancient world. Now, to be clear, Brooten is a serious scholar who I respect and her book made a significant contribution to the literature on this topic. But her book also received criticism from other scholars specifically for her interpretations of these texts, and Brooten herself has responded to those critiques by significantly qualifying her claims about them.
In a 2020 lecture on this topic (“Did Women Marry Other Women in the Roman World? Jewish and Christian Sources”), Brooten considered the critiques she had received and outlined what she now regards as four plausible interpretive options for these texts, none of which are as bold as Preston Sprinkle’s characterizations of them. Here are the four possible options she presented:
- The texts provide evidence of informal, long-term relationships that were called “marriages” by the partners, but were not legally recognized. Brooten explains that “in this first interpretive option, adult women found a way to live together in a long-term relationship that they privately call a marriage and a few people around them accepted the arrangement—maybe just three. I’m not arguing for widespread toleration.” But even that is just one of Brooten’s four possible interpretations.
- Her second interpretive option is that these texts describe marriages in which one partner has ambiguous genitalia.
- Third, Brooten says that these texts could be an early precedent for the economic-social institution of woman-woman marriage in several African countries, which doesn’t even imply a sexual relationship.
- And finally, Brooten argues that these texts could simply present a dystopian vision or be purely polemical rather than descriptive of reality.
In weighing these options, Brooten concluded that “I have to live with the uncertainty of my hypotheses, for I can hardly prove anything.”23 So that’s the big picture for all of the texts that Sprinkle cites. But now, let’s look at each of them in turn.
Berenike and Mesopotamia in Iamblichos
First, Sprinkle says that, “A second-century writer named Iamblichos talks about the marriage between two women named Berenike and Mesopotamia.” But even in her book, Brooten was more equivocal than this sentence suggests, writing that this “may have been” a marriage but noting that “scholars differ on whether to read [the key phrases] as referring to sexual love between women.”24 The Greek phrase in this text could either mean “to marry” or “to celebrate someone else’s marriage,” and Brooten herself said in her lecture that “the phrase for the marriage of Mesopotamia is ambiguous” and “could either mean Berenike married Mesopotamia or Berenike held the wedding feast for Mesopotamia.” Brooten concluded, “We don’t know.”
Megilla and Demonassa in Lucian of Samosata’s Dialogues of the Courtesans
Next, Sprinkle says that “Lucian of Samosata also mentions the marriage of two wealthy women named Megilla and Demonassa.” He concedes in an endnote that “this lesbian couple, however, ends up seducing a woman named Leaena into a sexual relationship,” so this is clearly not a monogamous relationship.25 But is it even a marriage?
In this text, called the Dialogues of the Courtesans, two women are trying to persuade a flute girl named Leaena to have sex with them. But Leaena is confused and can’t even wrap her mind around what it is they’re trying to get her to do, so one of the women, Megilla, tries to explain it by telling Leaena to think of her as a man instead of a woman. She says, “Don’t treat me like a woman; my name is Megillos.” To further illustrate what it is that Megilla wants Leaena to do, she then says, “I have been married to Demonassa here for ever so long, and she is my wife.”26
But as classicist Alan Cameron has argued, this statement—in a satirical work, no less—was not meant literally. Instead, it was simply intended to communicate that Megilla “has been playing the male role in bed with Demonassa.” She has been taking the active, dominant role in sex, just as husbands were seen as doing with their wives. As Cameron explains, “Megilla does not love Leaena, who is no more than a prostitute hired for the evening. She just wants to get her in bed. She has failed so far because Leaena is unworldly enough not to understand what is being asked of her. There would be no point in introducing the idea of marriage at this stage of the negotiations. If Leaena cannot grasp the idea of sex between women, she is only going to be further confused by talk of marriage between women. But if Megilla is to stand any chance of getting through to Leaena, it is not the permanence of her relationship with Demonassa that needs to be spelled out, but its sexual nature.”
Indeed, even after Megilla refers to Demonassa as her wife, Leaena still doesn’t understand what she means. Instead, she just laughs in response, showing that the very idea of sex between women—much less marriage between women—wasn’t even conceivable to her. As Cameron concludes, “From start to finish Megilla has been trying to persuade Leaena to go to bed with her and Leaena has been trying to understand why…. Leaena simply cannot grasp either the point or the mechanics of sex between women. Mention of marriage would have hindered rather than helped in the laborious story of her enlightenment.”27
Clement of Alexandria and Ptolemy of Alexandria
After this example, Sprinkle cites two more. He says, “The early Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria refers to women-women marriage. And Ptolemy of Alexandria, a famous second-century scholar of many trades, refers to women taking other women as ‘lawful wives.’” But as Alan Cameron has argued and as Bernadette Brooten has acknowledged, the word Clement of Alexandria used in this line of his book Paidagogos can either mean “to marry” or simply “to have sex with.”28 And either way, Brooten has argued that Clement’s comment may simply be “part of a broader dystopian view of the debauched other,” not a description of his actual social context.29
And while Sprinkle says that Ptolemy refers to women taking other women as “lawful wives,” he leaves out a crucial word. To quote Cameron, “What Ptolemy actually said is ‘sometimes they refer to the women with whom they are on such terms as though they were actually their legal wives.’ That hosper [the Greek word translated as “as though”] makes all the difference. If these relationships could be compared to marriages, they were obviously not marriages.”30 Moreover, Brooten has argued based on the broader context of this passage that even these relationships themselves may not have been between two women but rather unions in which one partner has ambiguous genitalia.31
The Sifra on Leviticus 18:3
Next, Sprinkle writes that “two Jewish documents that were written shortly after the New Testament refer to (and forbid) female marriages that were happening in their day,” and he argues in his endnote that this “would be superfluous if such marriages were unknown.” But the two documents that he cites—Sifra 9:8 and the Sifra on Leviticus 18:3—are actually just two different names for the same text, and they don’t refer to marriages that were happening in the writers’ own day.32
The text is the Sifra, a commentary on the Book of Leviticus, and the specific passage comes from the commentary on Leviticus 18:3, which says, “You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt… or the land of Canaan.” Among the practices that the writers of the Sifra attribute to Egypt and Canaan in the time of the ancient Israelites—more than a thousand years before their own day—were marriages between women, a man marrying both a woman and her daughter, and a woman marrying two men.33
But this text is highly questionable as a source of historical fact, not only because it was written more than a millennium after the time it purportedly describes, but also because, in Brooten’s words, “like other highly developed legal systems, rabbinic law utilizes hypotheticals, and the forms of marriage mentioned here may be purely hypothetical.” Indeed, Brooten commends rabbinic scholar Laliv Clenman, who she says “persuasively reads” this text, not as a description of reality, but as a dystopian alternative universe “in which women are legal agents and able to marry in a way that renders men subservient or irrelevant.”34
Clenman concludes that this text “should not be viewed as an historical source for the existence of lesbian marriages in antiquity.”35 Classicist T. Corey Brennan agrees, writing that this text and the others we’ve discussed “seem simply to caricature egregiously ‘shameless’ behavior, and as such are no doubt quite exaggerated.”36
Funeral relief from the time of Caesar Augustus
Finally—and we’re almost done—Sprinkle cites a funeral relief from the time of Caesar Augustus in which he says “two women are holding hands in a way that resembles ‘the classic gesture of ancient Roman married couples.’” This funerary relief can be found today at the British Museum in London, but while the British Museum’s own catalogue notes that some interpreters have seen the two women as lovers, it gives greater weight to other interpretations.37 In particular, Susan Walker, an archaeologist who specializes in the study of Roman art, has argued that the women were more likely to have been mother and daughter than to have been lovers. Walker wrote that the woman on the left “appear[s] to be about a generation older than the woman on the right,” and she further observed that “…the deceased woman [is looking] vacantly into space,” in contrast to most married couples, who are shown looking at each other.38 We can’t know for sure what the nature of these women’s relationship was; we can only make educated guesses.
Ultimately, there is no solid evidence that relationships equivalent to modern-day same-sex marriages existed in the ancient world.
And there’s a simple reason for that. As Craig Williams writes in his book Roman Homosexuality, marriage in the Roman world was fundamentally “a hierarchical institution that was aimed at creating legitimate offspring as well as a route for the transmission of property and that required the participation of a woman as subordinate partner.”39 Indeed, that hierarchical nature, not just of Rome, but of all ancient societies, is why same-sex relationships could only be accepted when they were hierarchical as well.
Even non-affirming theologian Stephen Holmes in the book Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church concluded after reviewing the literature that “lifelong, exclusive, equal same-sex partnerships are virtually unknown to human history and anthropology outside the contemporary West. Same-sex sexual activity is common,” he wrote, “but it almost never takes this cultural form.”40
So when we are talking today about lifelong, monogamous, equal-status same-sex relationships, we are talking about something categorically different than anything that we find in the biblical world. That’s critical to understand when it comes to interpreting the six biblical passages that refer to forms of same-sex behavior.
- Wright, N.T., live event at Serra Retreat Center in Malibu, California, February 2009. “N.T. Wright on Debate about Homosexuality 4.”
- Wright, N. T. Paul for Everyone: Romans, Part One. Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, p. 22.
- Plato, translated by Jowett, Benjamin. “Protagoras by Plato.” The Internet Classics Archive: 441 Searchable Works of Classical Literature.
- Skinner, Marilyn B. Sexuality in Greek and Roman Culture. John Wiley & Sons, 2013, pp. 158-59.
- Ormand, Kirk. Controlling Desires: Sexuality in Ancient Greece and Rome. University of Texas Press, 2018, p. 86.
- Halperin, David. “Heroes and Their Pals,” One Hundred Years of Homosexuality. Routledge, 2012, pp. 75–87.
- Plato, translated by Jowett, Benjamin. “Symposium by Plato.” The Internet Classics Archive: 441 Searchable Works of Classical Literature. See also the discussion in Halperin, One Hundred Years of Homosexuality, pp. 86-87.
- Hubbard, Thomas K. Homosexuality in Greece and Rome. University of California Press, 2003, p. 391.
- Ormand, Kirk. Controlling Desires: Sexuality in Ancient Greece and Rome. University of Texas Press, 2018, p. 340.
- Sprinkle, Preston. People to Be Loved. Zondervan, 2015, pp. 61-64, 203-05.
- Plato, translated by Jowett, Benjamin. “Parmenides by Plato.” The Internet Classics Archive: 441 Searchable Works of Classical Literature.
- Hubbard, Thomas K. Homosexuality in Greece and Rome. University of California Press, 2003, p. 479; Richardson, T. Wade, “Paths of Love: Age and Gender Dynamics in the Erotic Novel.” A Companion to Greek and Roman Sexualities. Edited by Hubbard, Thomas K., John Wiley & Sons, 2013, pp. 485-86.
- Cameron, Alan. “Love (and Marriage) Between Women.” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 39 (1998), p. 154.
- Sprinkle, Preston. People to Be Loved. Zondervan, 2015, p. 204, n. 29.
- Richardson, T. Wade, “Paths of Love: Age and Gender Dynamics in the Erotic Novel.” A Companion to Greek and Roman Sexualities. Edited by Hubbard, Thomas K., John Wiley & Sons, 2013, pp. 483-88.
- Petronius, translated by J.P. Sullivan and Helen Morales. The Satyricon. Penguin, 2011.
- Hubbard, Thomas K. Homosexuality in Greece and Rome. University of California Press, 2003, pp. 398, 411.
- Williams, Craig A. Reading Roman Friendship. Cambridge University Press, 2012, p. 216.
- Skinner, Marilyn B. Sexuality in Greek and Roman Culture. John Wiley & Sons, 2013, p. 339.
- Sprinkle, Preston. People to Be Loved. Zondervan, 2015, pp. 63-64.
- Brooten, Bernadette J. Love Between Women. University of Chicago Press, 1996.
- Brooten, Bernadette J. “Did Women Marry Other Women in the Roman World? Jewish and Christian Sources.” Lecture, Brown University, February 19, 2020.
- Brooten, Bernadette J. Love Between Women. University of Chicago Press, 1996, p. 51, n. 104, and p. 332.
- Sprinkle, Preston. People to Be Loved. Zondervan, 2015, p. 204, n. 31.
- Lucian, Of Samosata, translated by A.M. Harmon, K. Kilburn, and M.D. Macleod. Lucian, Vol. 7. Harvard University Press, 1990.
- Cameron, Alan. “Love (and Marriage) Between Women.” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 39 (1998), pp. 142-44.
- Cameron, Alan. “Love (and Marriage) Between Women.” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 39 (1998), pp. 138-42.
- Brooten, Bernadette J. “Did Women Marry Other Women in the Roman World? Jewish and Christian Sources.” Lecture, Brown University, February 19, 2020.
- Cameron, Alan. “Love (and Marriage) Between Women.” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 39 (1998), p. 150.
- Brooten, Bernadette J. “Did Women Marry Other Women in the Roman World? Jewish and Christian Sources.” Lecture, Brown University, February 19, 2020. Brooten states, “Ptolemy and Lucian of Samosata lend themselves well to the ambiguous genitalia interpretation.”
- In note 34 on page 204, Sprinkle refers to “Sifra Ahare 9:8″ and “Sifra on Leviticus 18:3.” But these are not two different texts, as he claims. They are merely two different citation formats for the same text.
- Sifra on Leviticus 18:3 (Aharei Mot, Parasha 9).
- Brooten, Bernadette J. “Did Women Marry Other Women in the Roman World? Jewish and Christian Sources.” Lecture, Brown University, February 19, 2020.
- Clenman, Laliv. “A Woman Would Marry a Woman: Reading Sifra on Lesbianism.” European Judaism, no. 2, Berghahn Books, Jan. 2016, p. 80.
- Brennan, T. C. “1997.5.7, Brooten, Love Between Women.” Bryn Mawr Classical Review, BMCR 1997.05.07.
- The British Museum. “Relief | British Museum.”
- Walker, Susan, et al. Augustus: Handlist of the Exhibition and Supplementary Studies. British Museum, 1981, pp. 53–54.
- Williams, Craig A. Roman Homosexuality. Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 286. In an appendix, Williams analyzes three texts from Martial and Juvenal that mock wedding ceremonies between males in which one of the partners dresses as a woman, complete with a veil and, in the case of Juvenal, a bridal gown as well. Both in Martial’s epigrams (1.24 and 12.42) and Juvenal’s satire (2.117-140), the authors focus their invective on the “feminized” man—an especially offensive figure in Juvenal’s telling because the man who took on the woman’s role was a nobleman, “wearing the veil and being given as bride to a husband, and a man of lower status at that,” as Williams puts it (p. 283). Although satirical, these texts may indicate that some men had relationships with other men that they considered to be equivalent to marriages. But as Williams notes, such unions “could not have had the same public, and above all, legal status” as heterosexual marriages (p. 281). Preston Sprinkle addresses these texts in endnote 36 on page 204 of People to Be Loved, writing, “I think it’s a stretch to take Martial (1.24; 12.42) and Juvenal’s (Satire, 2.120, 129) statements about men being given in marriage to other men as a description of historical reality. They are probably just mocking effeminate men.” Regardless of their historicity, the manifest concern in these texts about the subversion of hierarchical gender roles further illustrates the ancient sexual norms that foreclosed the possibility of societal approval of equal-status same-sex unions. While perhaps obvious, it should also be noted that modern-day same-sex weddings between men do not involve one partner dressing up as a woman. As Williams concludes, “In traditional Roman terms, a marriage between two fully gendered ‘men’ was inconceivable; if two males were joined together, one of them had to be ‘the woman'” (p. 286).
- Holmes, Stephen. Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church. Edited by Preston Sprinkle, Zondervan, 2016, p. 179.