Category Archives: Europe


Black Athena and Diamond’s Farmers

In his analysis of a 'black Athena,' Bernal touted its interdisciplinary approach.
In his analysis of a ‘black Athena,’ Bernal touted his interdisciplinary approach.

In attempting to connect two scholarly articles with two seemingly different topics—in this case the foundations of Greek culture in Levine’s The Use and Abuse of ‘Black Athena’ and the link between cultural expansion and agricultural dispersion in Bellwood and Diamond’s Farmers and Their Languages: The First Expansions—one must think outside the box.

Diamond and Bellwood contend that the study of agricultural expansion is inherently interdisciplinary (Bellwood 1). Thus using techniques from archeology, anthropology, crop and livestock studies, genetics and—imperatively—linguistics, the two arrive at their thesis: Language diffusion follows/accompanies the spread of farming (Bellwood 3). The authors subsequently outline six objections to their thesis (on the grounds that the proto-language does not match the origin of its supposed dispersal, for instance) along with 11 specific examples, including the Bantu Migration and Japan’s early infusion (c. 400 BCE) of Korean rice farmers (Bellwood 7).

And it is precisely this interdisciplinary approach that pops up in Levine’s review of Martin Bernal’s Black Athena. So what is Bernal’s hypothesis: Greek culture is not simply Indo-European “classical;” it contains elements from Egypt and the Levant as well (Levine 441). Levine’s response exposes the difficulty of pinpointing the inciting factors of a particular civilization while taking factors like race and politics into consideration. Note: Levine is not critiquing Bernal’s hypothesis; she critiques his political motives behind Black Athena. Just as Bernal levies heavy accusations at “subjective” 19th century classicists, he uses a 19th century paradigm to do his own bidding (i.e. righting the perceived historical record of racist misjudgments) (Levine 446).

But the “interdisciplinary” notion originates from Bernal himself. “Volume 1 of the Black Athena series is dedicated to Bernal’s father, John Desmond Bernal, a historian of science, ‘who taught [Bernal] that things fit together interestingly,’ and it is in fitting things together, interestingly, that Bernal’s book represents a tour de force,” Levine writes (Levine 444). I’d argue that Bellwood and Diamond’s hypothesis also fits evidence together…interestingly. And despite Levine’s verbose, animated analysis and B&D’s lengthy list of criticisms, we inevitable end up in the same place—wondering if current events influence every historical analysis and if objectivity exists at all (Levine 447-9).

Catherine engineered a Russian 'confessional state' in which Islam and other religions were "tolerated."

Islam and the Russian “Confessional” State

In terms of the 18th century Russian tsarist empire, “confessionalization” referred to a rather fluctuating toleration of non-Orthodox (Christian) religions. Specifically, in For Prophet and Tsar, Crews identifies how this form of “tolerance” by tsarist officials engineered a conduit for imperial reach into the furthest extent of its empire and actually shaped Islam within its bounds (Crews 2). To the tsars of the Russian Empire, “confessionalization,” was an Enlightened, temporary means of instituting autocratic rule—grounded in religious affiliations as opposed to ethnic ties (8).

But, regarding Islam, tsars like Catherine the Great faced major obstacles from the very beginning. As historian Richard Bulliet found, Islam was “without the benefit, or burden, of an ecclesiastical structure or a centralized source of doctrinal authority” (11). How, then, could the empress integrate a non-hierarchical religious entity into an imperial system?

The tsarist officials reasoned that Christianity and Islam had enough components in common: Each was monotheistic, and Christian religious authorities loosely resembled various Muslim leaders (17). The subordination of Muslims to Orthodox Christians was not ambiguous (38); however, this technique prompted less violence than outright religious suppression. Additionally, the imperial state began to rule laypeople indirectly through the Muslim elite (and an engineered Islamic structure, i.e. the Orenburg Muftiate), yet every stratum of the Muslim population also used the imperial bureaucracy to suit their needs, as evidenced by numerous court documents (21).

Most importantly, tsarist officials used shari’a to their advantage by interweaving Islamic and imperial law. According to Crews, “[ruler and ruled] shared the conviction, emerging out of the 18th century, that the imperial order rested on religious authority, and that the tsar’s agents, along with every subject, had a stake in establishing a world pleasing to God” (21). Hence, if you failed to abide by imperial authority, you also failed to abide by God’s rules.

It must also be noted that tsarist officials viewed their conquests of predominantly Muslim areas through a lens of European Enlightenment that constituted a profound inferiority complex (40). And in a similar vein, tsarist officials predicated their understanding of Islam on their experiences with the Ottoman Empire (and thus did not understand the inherent heterogeneity of Islam from region to region) (12-33).

handless pic

a quick note on The Handless Maiden

In The Handless Maiden, by Mary Elizabeth Perry, the author seeks to give a voice to the Moriscas of 16th century Spain by filling the historical silence that left many “voiceless and in the shadows” (6) by using a wide range of sources. They ranged from documentary evidence (such as the Almonacid writings (20)) to archival documents to co-religious legends, as well as an interesting utilization of anthropological frameworks. The lengthy introduction of Perry’s book expounded upon many topics including historical context (4), her issues with using traditional sources from the “victors who had the power to write and preserve the reports of the past” (5), and the need to read Inquisition records “against the grain” in order to attain an indirect notion of what Moriscos, and Moriscas in particular, where experiencing during this time period (6).

When Perry delves into the more psychological, and frankly suppositional, aspects of her argument in the first half of the book, they begin with the introduction itself. For example, Perry discusses the significance of the veil Muslim women wore as part of their faith. Perry maintains that Moriscas created a paradox by wearing of this piece of fabric. Hence she contends the veil was more of a symbol, and more accurately categorizes it as, “a veil of phallocentric assumptions [that] has covered most women of the past with unquestioned assertions that they have been more pawns or passive victims…in the background far behind the ‘real’ actors in history—men with military might and political power” (9). However, throughout her book, women often transgressed gender boundaries. Though Perry’s introduction is complex and comprehensive, her thesis seems straightforward: past historians have overlooked not only the minority, but especially women (10). And in the context of the medieval, pre-modern unification of Spain, Perry’s passion to give recognition to these women is palpable. Furthermore, the author contemplates whether Moriscas were active rebels with agency or passive victims simply trying to hang-on to their cultural identity (10).

Though every chapter of The Handless Maiden contains reoccurring and repetitive elements, each offers a distinct message. Chapter One focuses on the impact of traditional Muslim architecture on Moriscos (25) and introduces the book’s namesake with the legend of Carcayona. To Perry, this legend “can be read as a metaphor for a people who suffered a major reversal in fortune and cruel punishment imposed by an unjust ruler” (21). However, the author concedes that, though this legend is pertinent to her argument, there is no way to prove that 16th century Moriscas even identified with Carayona or had access to the myth (27). Chapter Two touches on the issue of the female body as a site of defiance (probably because it was often hyper-sexualized (54)), as ritual bathing became an act of heresy (38). In Chapter Three, rising societal tensions began to politicize Moriscas’ homes as a potential sites of defiance, as women continued to speak in Arabic, teach their children about Islam, and observe holidays and domestic (food-related) rituals (69).

Chapter Four was the most powerful chapter as Perry began to use more primary sources to illustrate the desperation Moriscas must have felt to necessitate their waging war alongside the Morisco men during the rebellion of 1568-1570. Her source use from Christian soldiers who witnessed the bravery of a particular Morisca named Zarcamodinia (88-89) gave this historical work a personal touch because this woman was real and died fighting with honor. Perry underscores Zarcamodina’s gender transgression when she calls upon the 7th century legend of Yurmuk (89-91), but later admits that many of the 16th century Morisca women would have been illiterate and may not have had access to this legend either (90). Chapter Five emphasizes the loss of humanity the Moriscos experienced after they lost the rebellion. In what Perry describes as a “Journey of Tears,” the converted Muslims were dispersed by the thousands and spread across Castile (111). In official documents, they were described as “heads of,” alluding to the fact that the relocation of “people in such large numbers…must have seemed similar to sheep and cattle—less than human, but live creatures that had to be herded” (114).

Chapter Six outlines the various debates between clerical members and the Crown concerning the ultimate expulsion of Moriscos in 1609 (135-138). Additionally, Perry again mentions the context of the unification of Spain through Ferdinand and Isabella (135), and the Church’s Protestant motives for creating a religious “other” (137). In this Chapter, Perry continuously stresses the economic implications for Morisco expulsion with documentation from Spanish nobility (134). In Chapter Seven, Perry examines the ultimate treatment of the Moriscos after they Crown demanded their expulsion and their “legacy of pain” (157).

Although Perry at times makes grandiose statements (mostly in the introduction and often geared toward other historians (88)) and offers extensive supposition, her constant transparency when it comes to the limitations of her sources was exceptional and not in the least condescending. In fact, I enjoyed the mixture of archival evidence, timely myths, and anthropological analysis. Perry created a story, and though at times she may have gone overboard with contemporary feminist interpretations, she was aware of it. Because of her combination of sources and absolute honesty, I gleaned a better idea of the voice of the Morisca, even if—at times—it was a bit influenced by Perry herself.



a quick note on In the Shadow of the Virgin

Gretchen D. Starr-LeBeau begins In the Shadow of the Virgin: Inquisitors, Friars, and Conversos in Guadalupe Spain with an anecdote concerning the execution of Alonso de Paredes. By commencing with a powerful narrative that illustrates her central argument: that economics, politics, and (more tangentially) religious identity played the lead role in the Inquisition triggered by societal tensions cast upon “Old Christians” and conversos, or “New Christians,” Starr-LeBeau entices her audience to read further. Her thesis is complex and twofold. First she asserts that the Inquisition itself reshaped the identities of Christians and conversos. Finally, the modification of these subsequent identities altered “the exercise of local and royal authority” (1). Essentially, Starr-LeBeau demonstrates how these groups were exploited by a religious and authoritative power struggle created by a definitional dichotomy, and aligns her argument somewhere between Baer’s crypto-Jewish conversos and Netanyahu’s theory of complete assimilation into Christian society.

In Chapter One Starr-LeBeau delves into the history of Guadeloupe itself, its geography and socio-political location, since even before Juan I’s official establishment of the town’s Jeronymite order in 1398, (due to the spiritual resonance of the Virgin of Guadeloupe) the town “enjoyed an international clientele and was securely under the aegis of the Castilian monarchy” (17). It is no surprise then, that despite the Order’s reputation for humility and economic self-sufficiency, the Crown established the Jeronymite Order to govern the essentially tourist revenue-driven town due its aristocratic origins (some of its founders were members of the Castilian Court) (21).

As the town grew, so too did the powers of the friars themselves (especially the distinction between the Order and Guadeloupe’s citizens (28)). Connections to the king and “special indulgences” from the papacy reinforced the friars’ authority (31), and the town’s people pushed back against their increasing lack of autonomy (34). It is with this tension, that Starr-LeBeau introduces the broad issues of civil unrest involving New Christians in post 1391 of Iberia (38). Throughout, Starr-LeBeau frequently attributes civil unrest to periods of economic instability (40)—especially in Chapter Four, as the friars turned to conversos as an economic necessity in the 1460s and 1470s (111-121). Additionally, the contentious priory election of 1483, offered the mounting (constructed) tensions between the two religious groups an outlet: the Holy Office of the Inquisition (112).

Chapters Two and Three focus on the construction of religious identities and the forced negotiations/interactions of said identities, while Chapter Five examines how the Inquisition trials themselves impacted and formed religious, and thus, societal identities of New Christians (145). In Chapter Two, Starr-LeBeau uses a “thick description” of religious activities in order to denote the polarized identities of Old Christians and New Christians; however, it is often difficult to distinguish between lazy Christians and disloyal conversos (53). Further complications arise as “religious action or inaction could send multiple and sometimes conflicting messages about religious belief” (53).

Hence it was the inquisitors who needed to define the Judiazing conversos in relation to the “Old Christians” when, in actuality, each group’s religious observances varied (89). In fact, Chapter Three highlights the nonreligious aspects of interactions between Old and New Christians, which further underscore the arbitrary (though “spiritual”) nature of the Inquisition’s objective, “as most trades demanded working relationships with Old Christians” (95). In some cases the two groups even intermarried (98), though usually for status or money. Of course, Starr-LeBeau never maintains that the boundary between Old Christians and New Christians was indistinguishable. Many conversos participated in Judaizing activities, particularly women (100). Essentially, in Chapter Three, Starr-LeBeau stresses the perception of a New Christian’s belief system which depends upon “the opinions of family, friends, and friars, as well as the changing attitudes of the individuals themselves” (110).

Chapters Seven and Eight establish turning points within the town of Guadeloupe, like the internal reorganization of the friary, and emphasize the long-lasting effects of the Inquisition upon the town’s society; that seems like a logical conclusion, considering the fusion of religion and political authority, and the author’s assertion that “the friary serves as a microcosm of divisions within Guadalupe itself” (10). Starr-LeBeau further argues:

The political dimension involved in the establishment of new inquisitorial courts was not surprising, given the Inquisition’s status as an arm of the royal government, but the influence of political concerns also reflected the religious ambiguity at the heart of the inquisitors’ mandate. (149)

Thus fray Luis’ delirious diatribe was used to “cast suspicion on the converso community as a whole,” because even though he was likely mentally ill, he was considered a devout Christian (200-201). But it was all politics warped by suspicion. For example, consider everyone who testified against fray Diego de Marchena as opposed to fray Diego de Burgos (215). In the end—as a result of the Inquisition—the “Crown took advantage of the sacred approval of the friars and, by extension, the Virgin de Guadelupe, to emphasize a spiritual underpinning for their regime” (11).

Starr-LeBeau utilized documentary sources, inquisitorial testimony, civil records, local ordinances, archeological research and royal legal documents to articulate her arguments. She was careful to elaborate upon source limitations. For example, when discussing the population explosion in Guadalupe, she blatantly states that “specific numbers are lacking” (37). Additionally, she cautions that an “uncritical reading of inquisitorial documentation would be a grave mistake” (51), and often uses those sources as comparisons to paint a less biased frame of reference (10). Due to Starr-LeBeau’s unparalleled writing skills and ability to bring anecdotes to life, I found her argument to be easily digestible and informative. She painted a picture of Guadalupe that capitalized on human nature: the necessity of religious identities (which are so important in a medieval context), political authority, and the human nature that uses both to achieve one’s own ends.


communities of violence pic

A quick note on “Communities of Violence”

In Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages, David Nirenberg uses compelling literary devices and an expansive—and varied—array of primary sources to illustrate both psychological and historical narratives for the Crown of Aragon. His underlying thesis was twofold, presented in two parts. The first component of Nirenberg’s central argument criticized the teleological portrayal of violence that encompasses medieval historiography pertaining to minorities (11) and focuses on “cataclysmic” instances of violence (7). From Nirenberg’s perspective, this extremely broad approach excluded viable historical information from a local context (12), and instead—as Mark D. Meyerson noted “tended to string together acts of violence, like so many beads in a gruesome necklace, in order to fashion a teleological narrative of persecution leading to the events of 1492…” (Medieval Academy of America 464). Nirenberg found a more complicated relationship between violence and the minority/majority that involved the politics surrounding medieval religious identity and the intentions behind those political endeavors (12).

Initially, after reading Chapter One, I wished Nirenberg had included some of his source limitations in the actual body of the text instead of the footnotes. For example, when discussing population ratios between Muslims and Christians in various kingdoms, he never mentions the issues with the population figures themselves. His footnotes are extremely comprehensive, however, and there, most of his source-related problems are meticulously examined (25). As the book progressed, I understood the detail with which Nirenberg actually investigated his sources (including Christian royal correspondence, Jewish chronicles, and numerous municipal archival documents). His research was so extensive, as he tracked the crusader shepherds through Aragon, he could discern gaps in documentation down to the week (72).

I appreciated the juxtaposition of both the cataclysmic events of the “Shepherd’s Crusade” and the more systemic violence found in Chapters Five and Six. Nirenberg’s comparative approach makes more sense then the paranoid-driven prophecy of Baer (90). In fact, Nirenberg mocks the author of History of the Jews in Christian Spain as he quips, “history, including that of the massacre at Montclus, was prophecy” (91). As evidenced in archival documents, the Montclus event occurred because the “pastorellos” believed they were crusading against Granada (an endeavor contemplated by the Crown for political reasons) (75).

Nirenberg’s fantastic literary techniques made the complex vocabulary and theoretical concepts of Communities of Violence more digestible. For example, the author uses metaphors to paint a relatable picture for the audience. When transitioning from part one of his book he employs this technique, “we must lower our gaze from thunderbolts of mass violence to the sparks generated by friction between groups…” (127). In another instance he compared medieval cohabitation between the three religious groups as “walking a knife-edge” (18). I found Nirenberg’s evocative images extremely helpful, and a welcome respite from his complicated verbiage.

cordoba mosque

The Martyrs of Cordoba

In 9th century Al-Andalus, a Muslim-ruled area in the modern day south of Spain, Christian worshipers, or Mozarabs, were second class compared to their Arab counterparts. Many Christians underwent Islamisation, and as a result, more devout members of the Catholic church experienced an identity crisis. Forty-eight people, mostly clergy members and laymen (and women) with links to the monastery, martyred themselves by publicly denouncing Islam. A lecherous priest named Eulogius incited and chronicled the martyrs. Eventually the Muslim authorities put him to death.

In Martyrs of Cordoba, Jessica A. Coope presents a realistic thesis concerning the Cordoban martyr debacle using evidence primarily from two sources, the works of Eulogius and Paul Albar. Her theory underscores the Christian fanatic response to the increasing vibrancy of the Umayyad court (14). According to Coope, due to their marginalized position in society, Christians during the 850s, and the period leading up to it, found both social and economical reasons to adopt Islamic cultural components (3.) As a result of this one-sided assimilation, proponents of monasticism, particularly Christian clerics and laymen, found “the new dominance of a foreign cultural tradition devastating” (9). Hence the paranoid reaction of Christians to encroaching Islamic cultural ideologies was relegated to a specific subset of Cordoba’s Christian population.

Though Coope goes to great lengths to illustrate the Muslim-Christian tensions that consumed every level of Cordoban society (23), I wish she had spent more time analyzing the implications of religious power struggles within the confines of Cordoban families. For example, Nunilo and Alodia’s religious beliefs differed from their Muslim father, and later stepfather, so they were sent away, eventually exposed, and executed (23). Eulogius’ favorite, Flora, could not practice her faith because her brother was a Muslim. She fled, but he found her and brought her before the qadi. First she was beaten until the flesh on her neck was exposed. Six years later she was executed (24-25). Additionally, Rudericus, after trying to mediate between his Christian and Muslim brothers, was sold out by the latter brother. He was later executed for not renouncing Christianity (29). Coope concedes, “hatred between relatives in mixed families was one of the engines that powered the martyr’s movement” (29), but I kept wondering why. Perhaps the larger societal tensions that could not be expressed publicly manifested in private life. As the laws of physics demand, at some point that tension must release. Eulogius forcefully broke the ice and seemed to create an even more hostile environment where smaller, family ties buckled under amassing pressure.

Because Eulogius was clearly egotistical and manipulative (and after reading his Documentum concerning Flora, absolutely narcissistic (27)), I have an issue with Coope’s sources. True, she uses “other Latin and Arabic sources” to contextualize the martyr movement, but she admits most of her evidence stems from biographical accounts of Eulogius and Albar (xi). Coope seems to justify her dominant source due to the lack of progression in modern scholarship pertaining to medieval Spain (xi). In fact, in a review of Coope’s Martyr’s of Cordoba, Kenneth Baxter Wolf notes the lack of new data present in her argument (The Catholic Historical Review 307). Though Eulogius seemed to instigate the movement at every turn, Coope hardly focuses on his huge role. With the manner in which she presented her evidence, I am not convinced the Cordoban martyrs would have occurred in the absence of the meddling Eulogius.

With source-issues taken into consideration, as another review by J.N. Hillgarth maintains, Coope displayed a “valiant attempt” despite her source limitations (The American Historical Review 1531). I agree with her over-arching theme: “the public nature of Cordoba prompted Christians to think about their own religion in similar terms” (83), but I think her use of sources demanded too much supposition on her part as to the small-scale response of Cordoba as a whole. Sure, we can read Eulogius’ fanatical reactions, reveal whom he was reacting to and why, then work backwards; but if Coope is highlighting a societal trend, there has to be more evidence.


a quick note on Angela Merkel

Angela Dorothea Kasner was born on July 17, 1954 in Hamburg, West Germany to Herlind and Horst Kasner. When Merkel was still an infant, her father moved the family to East Germany where he took a position in the Lutheran Church.

Horst Kasner’s idealistic nature propelled him into Communist East Germany where in 2005 he told New York Times journalist Judy Dempsey, “It was my mission to go there.” Ironically, East German politics marginalized Herlind and Angela because they were Christians, noted Gale Biography In Context.

Merkel’s pragmatism and work ethic blossomed under the scrutiny of her perfectionist father, and she excelled in her studies. She graduated from the University of Leipzig in 1978, and finished her doctorate in 1986. In 1990, Merkel assumed a position as a quantum chemist at the Central Institute for Physical Chemistry and the Science Academy in Berlin.

When Eastern Europe fell and Germany unified in 1990, Merkel joined the Christian Democratic Party where she served as a minister for women and young people from 1991-1994. Her male counterparts, at first, would not take her seriously; however, in time they admired her intelligence and practical work ethic, explained Biography In Context.

Her political ascension began in 1994 when former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl replaced Minister of the Environment Klaus Topfer with Merkel. In 1999, she broke away from Kohl’s scandal-ridden administration. Kohl had hidden financial regularities, a slush fund, and secret bank accounts.

In 2002, Merkel ran for the position of chancellor, but she was defeated by fellow conservative candidate Edmund Stroiber even though “Germany [was] ready for a new political style whereby democracy finally becomes politics for people by people rather than self-interest and technocracy,” Klaus-Peter Schoppner of the Emnid polling institute told the Irish Times. The German public championed Merkel as a political outsider, but current Chancellor Gerhard Schroder would lose his position to neither her Merkel nor Stroiber in the 2002 elections.

In 2005, Germany elected Angela Merkel as the first female chancellor and the first East German to hold that position. After the election Merkel underwent a personal makeover. Her popularity soared as a new haircut and more stylish clothing downplayed her lack of charisma. Her platforms included the need to strengthen relations with the United States, separation from Russian politics, and economic reforms like job creation.

The divided nature of Germany’s coalition government, stagnated by the Social Democratic Party’s unwillingness to compromise, eroded Merkel’s public approval. Social Democrats accused her of weak leadership concerning the behemoth health care system in 2006.

In 2008 Merkel hosted the G8 summit, thereby garnering a comparison to England’s “iron lady,” Margaret Thatcher. Merkel’s decision to send troops to Afghanistan in 2007 and the global economic downturn in 2008 further decreased her popularity on the domestic front, and she barely won re-election in 2009.

Merkel’s problem-solver attitude backfired in 2011, and her public standing in Germany plummeted. After witnessing Japan’s nuclear catastrophe in March 2011, Merkel reevaluated Germany’s nuclear policy and suspended the operation of seven nuclear power plants. Energy giants like RWE and E.on were considering filing lawsuits against the federal government, and members of her own party objected to her “rash decision.”

Joachim Pfeiffer, economic policy spokesman of the Christian Democratic Coalition suggested electricity prices will increase and the country “cannot afford to let the energy-intensive industries leave Germany.”

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah The Golden Haggadah, c. 1320

Homosexuality in Medieval Europe

The European aversion to “homosexuality” first appeared in literary sources of the 10th and 11th centuries, and must be contextualized with the reinvigoration of the papacy in the 11th century. At this time, the Catholic Church attempted to separate itself from the secular aspects of the Roman Empire and eradicate pagan rituals.[i] Goodich found “the 11th century witnessed a transformation in the church’s attitude toward private moral behavior and an attempt to realize the rigid sexual code implied, but not enforced, in pre-Gregorian Christian Europe.” [ii] Goodich further surmised the Church’s moral transformation signified the “stresses of urbanization” as Europe expanded in the 11th through 13th centuries.[iii]

In the 11th century, the Catholic Church recognized the need to create a uniform penitential code based on acceptable precedents that would ultimately result in Canon Law.[iv] The church began by instituting doctrines of celibacy for clerical members.[v] Subsequently, Canon law was largely derived from 4th century conceptions of morality as derived from Gratian’s Decretum (c. 1140), in which St Augustine’s Confessions laid the groundwork. In Confessions Augustine found that “crimes against nature are to be everywhere and at all times detested and punished; such as those of the men of Sodom were…”[vi] To understand Augustine’s crimes against nature, with respect to “the men of Sodom” one must first examine the Biblical representation of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.

According to Bailey, the medieval European reaction to secular pagan rituals, and the resulting view of “homosexuality” originates with Sodom and Gomorrah in the biblical book of Genesis and the “Holiness Code” prescribed by the book of Leviticus.[vii] In the Bible, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah maintains that two angels visited Abraham’s brother, Lot, and he welcomed them into his house. The sodomites (citizens of Sodom) demanded that Lot give them the visitors so that they might “know them.” Lot offers his daughters instead, but the mob does not relent. Eventually the angels smote the crowd, and the next day God burned the city to the ground.[viii]

The “homosexuality” of this story depends on the meaning of to “know” them. In 1942, Dr. Otto Piper suggested that “to know” (yadha in Hebrew) in the Old Testament refers to coitus, but does not differentiate coitus as between a man and a woman or between members of the same sex.  Conversely, Dr. G. A. Barton suggests “to know” simply means to “get acquainted with,” [ix] and Bailey seems to agree that the Biblical recounting of Sodom and Gomorrah “does not in the least demand the assumption that the sin of Sodom was sexual, let alone homosexual.”[x] In fact, Bailey maintains the story does not garner a “homosexual” context until the New Testament reassess Sodom and Gomorrah in the books of 2 Peter and Jude.[xi] However, there is a passage in the “Holiness Code” of Leviticus that discusses same-sexual relations. Leviticus 18:22 states, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination (ebhah).[xii] Regardless of the historical interpretation of the “homosexuality” of Sodom, the fact that Cathollic religious doctrine, or Canon Law, derived its notions of sins against nature from Augustine’s interpretation of the sin of Sodom is evident. Though one must be careful not to substitute sodomy with homosexuality, or vice versa.

[i] Michael Goodich, The Unmentionable Vice, 1-23

[ii] Michael Goodich, The Unmentionable Vice, 39

[iii] Michael Goodich, The Unmentionable Vice, 16

[iv] Michael Goodich, The Unmentionable Vice, 34

[v] Michael Goodich, The Unmentionable Vice, 23

[vi] Michael Goodich, The Unmentionable Vice, 32

[vii] Derrick Sherwin. Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition (London: Longmans, Green, 1955), 1.

[viii] Derrick Sherwin. Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western, 2

[ix] Derrick Sherwin. Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western, 3

[x] Derrick Sherwin. Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western, 5

[xi] Derrick Sherwin. Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western, 10

[xii] Derrick Sherwin. Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western, 27