“Evil Desires” and the Kingdom of God

Ancient Jewish Perceptions and Legislations concerning Illicit Sexual Relationships

Master's Thesis, 2009

194 Pages, Grade: 1,0






II.4.1 Hecataeus of Abdera
II.4.2 Cornelius Tacitus
II.4.3 Strabo
II.4.4 Pliny the Elder


IV.4.1 Basic Implications of Jewish Holy Scripture
IV.4.2 Purity and Loyalty
IV.4.3 Permanence and Exclusivity
IV.4.4 Sexual Apostasy and the Church’s Intervention

V.3.1 Bestiality
V.3.2 Homosexuality
V.3.3 Adultery
V.3.4 Incest
V.3.5 Prostitution
V.3.6 Rape
V.3.7 Marriages with Gentiles
V.3.8 Premarital Intercourse
V.3.9 Illegitimate Children


VII.1.1 Biblical Text Versions
VII.1.2 Books of the Bible (OT and NT)
VII.1.3 Apocrypha
VII.1.4 Mishnah
VII.1.5 Flavius Josephus
VII.1.6 Philo of Alexandria
VII.1.7 Other
VII.2.1 Old Testament
VII.2.2 New Testament
VII.2.3 Mishnah
VII.2.4 Flavius Josephus
VII.2.5 Philo of Alexandria



As the title indicates, this treatise explores the field of Jewish sexual ethics. It is not intended to research all the areas associated with this topic, but to select those realms which best explain the concrete negative attitudes of Jewish society, particularly in the first century CE, towards sexuality. While a very brief introduction provides an interesting background about the pagan (i.e. Greek/Roman) views on Jews, Judaism and Jewish sexuality – as far as the few sources allow – the main chapters are dealing with the following different perspectives:

(1) Jewish profane literature
(2) Different Jewish sects (schools), including the early Christian “sect”
(3) Jewish Holy Scripture, including the later rabbinic (Mishnaic) legislations

These differing views on that important topic allow to differentiate between some Jewish “mainstream” practice or understanding and the various facets in different groups or authors. The early Christian “sect” as given in the NT scriptures is included as well as the Mishnaic legislation in order to demonstrate the two most lasting and durable streams of perception. Both survived until nowadays in the Jewish and Christian communities, which differ quite a lot in legal regulations but still have the same basis as given in the Hebrew Scriptures.

By researching, combining, and commenting the numerous Jewish Scriptures, this thesis finally explains what is to be understood by the term “sexual sin” supported by some basic principles, although it has not been possible to investigate every aspect of that huge field. Thus, the goal of providing a well based reasonable argumentation as a foundation of understanding Jewish thinking and practice, especially in the most interesting and “restless” first century CE, is reached quite comprehensively.


For my wife – who supported me in so many ways
and always accepted the huge time and money spent
for the many fields of my different studies.
Apologies for investing almost every minute of my time.
But, at least, it has been fruitful.



I guess there is nothing else in our modern world, or even in any time before, to which so much attention has been payed as to sexuality. If we take a look into the ancient history, or if we approach prehistoric cultures through archaeology, it is outstanding that sexuality always played an important role in every culture and every “nation.” I think it is not presumptuous to say that there is no other subject that attracted so much attention and which has been reflected so strongly not even in arts and cult, but in the whole life of ancient communities with their different values and beliefs.

Sex has often been regarded as something divine, at least because it creates children or because it affects the emotions of the whole person that intensely. On the other side, it has been regarded as something dangerous, for one could temporarily “lose control,” being infatuated by another person. So it is not surprising that it often has been strictly regulated and clearly taught in which way it is “lawful” or “illegitimate.” Even today, in a so called “post modern world,” there is much discussion upon values concerning that topic, for it is most prominent in all media and advertisement. Although apparently no strict rules are given for non-believers, beside those of the government, values are still a very sensible point in life and nearly everyone struggles to settle the matter for him- or herself. Too much freedom seems to be difficult to handle; sometimes it seems like if a decisive “good” or “bad” would be much easier and very helpful. But which values would best fit not only to our culture, but even more our mental, spiritual and (since I am about to examine sexuality) even supposed bodily needs? As one can imagine, it is not an easy task to answer this question. So it is one of the aims this treatise pursues, to point out how the ancient Jewish believers and schools struggled with this matter. I want to sharpen the view on this far-back culture and its diversities, whose different streams were always trying to get clear answers for difficult questions. Just like it is today, we will witness that some positions are hard to understand while others seem to be quite clear. And right in the middle of these struggles and different perceptions, the early Christian church came into being and had to settle this matter, too.

Religion has always been an important instance to decide about “right” and “wrong.” Since it has divine authority, or at least claims it, it seems to be able to give directions in almost every matter of life – even if it is hard to understand which practice has why to be shunned

or why other exercises have to be strictly observed.[1] At last, everyone has to decide which values he or she does accept. Even if he claims to be nihilist, there will be some traditions and beliefs he shares, although he may not be aware of it. So it is the more important to retrace common values and convictions in order to check their authentic origins and worth. This will be especially valuable regarding our topic, since it so controversially spoken about and dealt with. Unfortunately, oftentimes there is no well founded historical background given, even when scrutinizing that issue within Jewish or Christian contexts. While it is worthwhile to discuss just some special aspects of Jewish and early Christian sexuality (and therefore to examine only some major passages of ancient texts), it seems to be urgent to provide a broader view for a more extensive and deeper understanding. Therefore it is an important aim of this thesis, to give a well founded insight into the various ancient Jewish perceptions about that important theme of sexual ethics.

Thus, one of the main challenges while approaching my topic is to distinguish the various streams within the greater Jewish community. Jewish religion is often looked upon as mainly one historical incident, to be examined by searching primarily the Jewish Holy Scriptures. But oftentimes, when examining Jewish (profane) literature and some pagan views on it, it has to be recognized that ancient Judaism has not been some kind of “monolithic block.” That does especially apply to the first century CE, when not only the established “sects” of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes had to meet new challenges when facing the Jewish War (66-70 CE) and with it the strengthening of extremist parties like the Zealots and Sicarii; even more did the emerging of early Christianity in that time contribute to the already existing diversity in Judaism.

Therefore, when thinking about retracing the roots of our contemporary Christian culture and theology, we have to find a good period most valuable to be investigated. Obviously that applies especially to the period between the appearance of Jesus (ca. 30 CE) and the destruction of Jerusalem's temple (70 CE). Just in that time, the various Jewish schools struggled to survive not only the Roman dominion in Palestine, but even more the rivalry between themselves. It became more and more evident that this time has been crucial for the further continuation of the Jewish and Christian communities, for they were decisively defining their own philosophy and politics to gain more influence over people and government. While all of these schools claimed to build their convictions on the foundation of the Old Testament[2], a distinctive disassociation between the different groups can be observed. Right here are sexual ethics almost some kind of “indicator” for strict religious morals and thus may even serve as a hint for the earnestness, the asceticism and proclaimed “holiness” of a group; for to allow pleasures, especially of a sexual kind, have mostly been regarded as laxity in religious matters. Obviously, that philosophical variety and competition between these different Jewish “sects” has to be thoroughly investigated in order to lay a firm foundation on what has been regarded as “lawful” and “illegitimate” in Jewish sexuality and the early Christian church.

But beside these inner Jewish struggles and difficulties which had to be settled, there also have been distinct attacks on Jewish belief from pagan authors, some of which we can recognize even today. Thus, in order to get a firm foundation for a really thorough examination of my topic, I will have to start my investigation at just that point. The “pagan” view on Jews and Judaism that I am going to provide at the beginning, shall make us aware of the special “pressure” regarding their reputation, under which the Jews and early Christians of the pre Jewish War-times had to shape their convictions. Besides, it is also my aim to examine another perspective by especially regarding the early Christian view on Judaism and its sexual ethics. The New Testament incidents shall be compared to those of the other Jewish sects and may finally allow a special characterization of the early Christian “sect” within the great Jewish community.

Generally, this treatise not only wants to give a broad survey of the different Jewish perceptions and their convictions of sexual ethics, but furthermore intends to scrutinize their special qualities and peculiarities in comparison to the heathen alternatives. Thus, origins of beliefs and values we still share today, as well as special aspects of disassociation and underlying, common mainstreams shall be discovered. Consequently, this study will primarily be retracing the ancient sources of the Holy Scriptures as well as the profane literature of Judaism and some Romans. So I will emphasize these sources also by giving them space to be cited and thus easily accessed by the reader. While mainly investigating these texts to get an authentic and extensive view on this topic within Jewish thinking, recent approaches to ancient Judaism and early Christianity will, of course, be taken into consideration. These modern views will be provided where appropriate to explain, discuss and illuminate the sources or some hypothesises. In order to provide a complete overview on the investigated passages concerning sexuality in the various texts, I will attach some tables of references in the appendix. Most of these references will be discussed within the different parts of this study, but some minor have to be omitted if not containing new information or further insight.[3] Since the ancient sources and their overall picture is meant to be the centre, the various contributions of modern authors on single aspects will be provided mainly in the footnotes, thus supplementing and challenging the presented results.


The foundation for drawing conclusions on sexual behaviour is found, at first, in the Torah as the basis of the Jewish constitution, belief and worship. The second prominent part of ancient Jewish knowledge and tradition, as some kind of interpretation of these scriptures, is the Mishnah. This commentary is understood by the (pharisaic) Jews as the oral revelation, corresponding to the written expression of God’s will in the Pentateuch. Since it is the time of the Roman Empire, that we are going to examine, we will have to take this peculiar interpretation of the Mosaic Laws into consideration. This orally transmitted tradition contains some special paragraphs about marriage, adultery and divorce that will have to be investigated in order to gain a more extensive understanding of Jewish thinking and practice, at least since the Jewish exile in the sixth century BC. Those statements will be cited in the corresponding chapters below, while going through the injunctions of the Torah. But it has to be stated clearly that the laws given in the Mishnah do not only add to those in the Torah by giving practical instructions on how to carry out the mosaic ordinances. Furthermore they exceed these instructions by far and go to some extremes not corresponding to the Mosaic Laws anymore. Therefore we will enter an investigation of two parts of Jewish tradition. The first (the Torah) has been the basis of the second (the Mishnah), while the last one has not been regarded worthy of heeding by the other Jewish schools. These ordinances have primarily been those of the Pharisaic sect; the other Jewish parties did generally not correspond to their traditions and teachings.[4] So the Sadducees, the Essenes and even more the early Christian church of the times before the Jewish War (66-70/73 CE) rejected these instructions mostly. Regarding the Essenes, they had many ordinances of their own, while the Sadducees denied nearly everything not being written in the Pentateuch.[5] But since the Pharisees preserved and transmitted their traditions after the destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple (70 CE) and established them in the newly founded Torah-schools, they became the dominating party inside the Jewish community and thus influenced the entire Jewish thinking afterwards.[6] And even before the establishment of these schools, they must have been the most important of the Jewish sects.[7] Therefore they influenced the Jewish society more than any other party and even the prominent early Christian apostle Paul has been very experienced in the studies of their laws.[8] Thus, even the perceptions of the early Christian church, as well as those of the other sects, are affected by investigating these scriptures.

Besides these writings and the NT, seen as “holy” writ, there is another kind of Jewish literature in the “profane” field. At first there is PHILO OF ALEXANDRIA (ca. 15/10 BCE – 45/50 CE) whose ambition was to win the Hellenists in the Diaspora by interpreting the Jewish (holy) scriptures in a rather philosophical way. Secondly we will have to look on the writings of FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS (37/38 – ca. 100 CE), a Jewish historian who is closely associated with and adopted by the Roman Emperor Vespasianus. As already stated, I will start this examination by giving a view from the outside. The Roman opinions about the Jews will be serving as a basis to understand the “pressure” which the Jews had to endure regarding their reputation, while struggling with their internal affairs and settling religious matters within the different schools.


As a first part of “profane” literature about Jewish sexuality, I have to provide some kind of overview about the (rather short) statements from Greek and Roman authors about their understanding of the Jewish theology and sexuality. Since there are only very few instances of this group of writers concerning the special area of Jewish sexuality, we will have to be careful not to draw too much conclusions on some kind of general Roman (or even general “pagan”) perception. We have also to remember that it will be hard to find any reference concerning the different sects and their sexual ethics, since the Jews have mostly been regarded as one ethnic group. Even the young Christian church with members of mostly Jewish origin, has been recognized as a part of the bigger system of Judaism in the first century CE.

Generally, there are not very many testimonies on the Jews, written by Greeks or Romans, at all. The main sources evolve from military considerations and are thus often already thematically determined. Besides those merely political aspects, there are some authors describing the Palestinian countryside and its inhabitants, i.e. the Jews.[9] While stating many geographical and political reports on this people, they are sometimes perhaps incidentally giving remarks on Jewish private life. Within such accounts it will be possible to discern some reports on how the Romans may have seen the Jewish religion, family life and especially the field of sexuality. But it has to be kept in mind that the Jews have been rebellions inside the Roman Empire for a long time. Together with their very exclusive, but not secret, Jewish religion and cult, they were often mocked at. Therefore the sources we are going to examine will be liable to take the same line. We will have to criticize that where appropriate. Therefore the first step will be to get some kind of a “general Roman perspective” concerning the Jews by examining a few major passages about Judaism.[10]


At first we have to listen to the Roman historian Tacitus (ca. 55 – 116 CE). He reports as a main witness about the origins of Judaism within his account on the destruction of the city Jerusalem and its temple.

Some say that the Jews were fugitives from the island of Crete, who settled on the nearest coast of Africa about the time when Saturn was driven from his throne by the power of Jupiter. Evidence of this is sought in the name. There is a famous mountain in Crete called Ida; the neighbouring tribe, the Idaei, came to be called Judaei by a barbarous lengthening of the national name. Others assert that in the reign of Isis the overflowing population of Egypt, led by Hierosolymus and Judas, discharged itself into the neighbouring countries. Many, again, say that they were a race of Ethiopian origin, who in the time of king Cepheus were driven by fear and hatred of their neighbours to seek a new dwelling-place. Others describe them as an Assyrian horde who, not having sufficient territory, took possession of part of Egypt, and founded cities of their own in what is called the Hebrew country, lying on the borders of Syria. Others, again, assign a very distinguished origin to the Jews, alleging that they were the Solymi, a nation celebrated in the poems of Homer, who called the city which they founded Hierosolyma after their own name.

Most writers, however, agree in stating that once a disease, which horribly disfigured the body, broke out over Egypt; that king Bocchoris, seeking a remedy, consulted the oracle of Hammon, and was bidden to cleanse his realm, and to convey into some foreign land this race detested by the gods. [...] [11]

As we will witness in other statements of the same historian, he constantly endeavors to discredit the Jewish people. Even though he is mentioning a lot of different opinions about their origin and the derivation of their name, he marks them in general as an unworthy, disgraceful ethnic group of fugitives who had to leave their homeland. But it is interesting that even the “Exodus” from Egypt is known by hearsay. Although, according to his story, they had to escape persecution because even the Egyptians were cursed by the Gods corresponding to their disgust towards the Jews. There is (of course) no brilliant narrative maintained telling the mighty, wondrous deliverance of Yahweh in favor of the Israelites. It seems like even the former name of the nation (Israel) is not really known any more.

The account on Moses in the view of ancient reporters is very significant, too:

The people, who had been collected after diligent search, finding themselves left in a desert, sat for the most part in a stupor of grief, till one of the exiles, Moyses by name, warned them not to look for any relief from God or man, forsaken as they were of both, but to trust to themselves, taking for their heaven-sent leader that man who should first help them to be quit of their present misery. They agreed, and in utter ignorance began to advance at random. Nothing, however, distressed them so much as the scarcity of water, and they had sunk ready to perish in all directions over the plain, when a herd of wild asses was seen to retire from their pasture to a rock shaded by trees. Moyses followed them, and, guided by the appearance of a grassy spot, discovered an abundant spring of water. This furnished relief. After a continuous journey for six days, on the seventh they possessed themselves of a country, from which they expelled the inhabitants, and in which they founded a city and a temple.[12]

Obviously the Jewish Exodus-story is now totally corrupted. Moses (Moyses) warns them not to wait for any divine help in their “misery,” instead of pointing them to Yahweh who freed them from their former bondage of slavery in Egypt. On the other hand he is made a “heaven-sent leader” by finding water, although he only leads them at random without any idea of how to get the right track. Yet, surprisingly, they found their new country after a wandering of only six days. So it is to be expected that the seventh day, the Sabbath, is a kind of remembrance not on the creation[13], but on the successful conquest of Canaan. Besides, the city of Jerusalem (Hierosolyma) is founded right at the beginning of the new nation, not conquered after some hundreds of years of their second king David.[14] And the temple is also built up immediately and not by David’s son Solomon.[15]


One of the most crucial aspects of Jewish life and culture is, of course, their idea of the divine. Since they were “born” as a nation just by this peculiar God (Yahweh), it is to be expected that they are clinging all the more on him and his ordinances. Especially when considering the Babylonian Exile in the 6th century BC, it is comprehensible that they will try to observe their own holy laws better than ever before in order to avoid the repetition of any mistake like that catastrophe.[16] Remembering also the deep impact of religious matters on any ancient society, we have to be aware that the Roman perception of the Jewish deity is the more important for drawing any conclusion on their general thinking about the Jewish nation as a whole, and, of course, their private life as a kind of divulgence of their piety in particular. So it will be valuable to hear the accounts of some Roman writers especially on that point.

[...] Quite different is their faith about things divine [compared to the Egyptians]. The Egyptians worship many animals and images of monstrous form; the Jews have purely mental conceptions of Deity, as one in essence. They call those profane who make representations of God in human shape out of perishable materials. They believe that Being to be supreme and eternal, neither capable of representation, nor of decay. They therefore do not allow any images to stand in their cities, much less in their temples. This flattery is not paid to their kings, nor this honour to our Emperors. From the fact, however, that their priests used to chant to the music of flutes and cymbals, and to wear garlands of ivy, and that a golden vine was found in the temple, some have thought that they worshipped father Liber, the conqueror of the East, though their institutions do not by any means harmonize with the theory; for Liber established a festive and cheerful worship, while the Jewish religion is tasteless and mean.[17]

Tacitus here tells repeatedly how awful the Jewish institutions are. He actually seems to be insulted by the Jewish conception of a “mental” deity and that the representation thereof by images would only be pagan idolatry and in no way matching the true character of the one (monotheistic) and most holy God. Even the kings and Emperors are not honored by any image or adoration, and by no means would that kind of worship be possible to be held in the only, most holy temple of Jerusalem. The apparel of the priests, their musical instruments and especially a golden vine, apparently found in the temple, led some people to think they would worship (a provincial type of) the Roman god Liber.[18] But, regarding their “tasteless and mean” kind of worship, at least Tacitus is convinced that it could not be any such deity whose veneration would of course entail better and greater ceremonies. Tacitus also declares that it was Moses himself who wanted to “secure his authority” by giving these strange ordinances:

Moyses, wishing to secure for the future his authority over the nation, gave them a novel form of worship, opposed to all that is practiced by other men. Things sacred with us, with them have no sanctity, while they allow what with us is forbidden. In their holy place they have consecrated an image of the animal by whose guidance they found deliverance from their long and thirsty wanderings. They slay the ram, seemingly in derision of Hammon, and they sacrifice the ox, because the Egyptians worship it as Apis. They abstain from swine's flesh, in consideration of what they suffered when they were infected by the leprosy to which this animal is liable. By their frequent fasts they still bear witness to the long hunger of former days, and the Jewish bread, made without leaven, is retained as a memorial of their hurried seizure of corn. We are told that the rest of the seventh day was adopted, because this day brought with it a termination of their toils; after a while the charm of indolence beguiled them into giving up the seventh year also to inaction. But others say that it is an observance in honour of Saturn, either from the primitive elements of their faith having been transmitted from the Idaei, who are said to have shared the flight of that God, and to have founded the race, or from the circumstance that of the seven stars which rule the destinies of men Saturn moves in the highest orbit and with the mightiest power, and that many of the heavenly bodies complete their revolutions and courses in multiples of seven.[19]

The most prominent elements of Jewish religion are thereby introduced; we will witness the reiteration of those characteristics in the accounts of some more authors. It might become more and more evident that just the peculiar instructions of the Mosaic Laws were object of controversy and conflict.[20]

The Roman poet Juvenal (ca. 60 – after 127 CE) takes the same line by describing the Jewish cult in the following way:

Some who have had a father who reveres the Sabbath, worship nothing but the clouds, and the divinity of the heavens, and see no difference between eating swine’s flesh, from which their father abstained, and that of man; and in time they take to circumcision. Having been wont to flout the laws of Rome, they learn and practice and revere the Jewish law, and all that Moses handed down in his secret tome, forbidding to point out the way to any not worshipping the same rites, and conducting none but the circumcised to the desired fountain. For all which the father was to blame, who gave up every seventh day to idleness, keeping it apart from all the concerns of life.[21]

Here, again, the strange practice of worshipping an imageless God is pronounced and linked to the adoration of the clouds, probably as his symbolical habitation. Some more Jewish characteristics are mentioned, like the circumcision of boys and the avoidance of pork. But then a quite polemical statement is made, namely that Jews do not regard Roman laws, but their own (Jewish) ordinances are learned and obeyed very thoroughly. The accusation against their laws goes on by telling that Moses gave them those commandments to keep them secret and to show only the members of their own people the right ways. But finally the father is to blame, who held every seventh day holy by resting without any kind of work. So the typical elements of Judaism from the “gentile’s” point of view are listed – and very likely they are some kind of common knowledge in the ancient world.

The Jewish historian F. Josephus mentions some other persons who defame the Jewish cult. Against one of them he wrote his book Contra Apionem in order to defend not only the Jewish religion but himself and his conduct in the Jewish War (66-70/30 CE). He accuses them as liars:

[...] Posidonius and Apollonius [the son of] Molo, [...] while they accuse us for not worshipping the same gods whom others worship, they think themselves not guilty of impiety when they tell lies of us, and frame absurd and reproachful stories about our temple; whereas it is a most shameful thing for freemen to forge lies on any occasion, and much more so to forge them about our temple, which was so famous over all the world, and was preserved so sacred by us; for Apion has the impudence to pretend, that “the Jews placed an ass's head in their holy place;” and he affirms that this was discovered when Antiochus Epiphanes spoiled our temple, and found that ass's head there made of gold, and worth a great deal of money.[22]

Josephus calls the current rumors and stories about the Jewish cult “absurd and reproachful.” It is a most disgraceful act to disparage the holy temple of Jerusalem by telling lies about it and the people who worship there. Again it is clearly pointed out that the Jewish God has no resemblance in other Gods and that he is simply matchless. So it is not surprising that the temple is “famous over all the world” and the accusers mentioned by the historian just seem to be jealous. But Apion is going too far by stating that Jews would adore a golden ass’s head and Josephus makes clear that there has never been such a head and nothing that would be against the strictest piety. He even calls a list of witnesses who advocate the Jews.[23]

So there is a (Jewish) hint that there are also people praising some Jews or elements of Judaism. Therefore I now want to give another example as a positive reference; but it contains both, criticism and (indirect) some kind of high regards:

Seneca, among the other superstitions of civil theology, also found fault with the sacred things of the Jews, and especially the sabbaths, affirming that they act uselessly in keeping those seventh days, whereby they lose through idleness about the seventh part of their life, and also many things which demand immediate attention are damaged. The Christians, however, who were already most hostile to the Jews, he did not dare to mention, either for praise or blame, lest, if he praised them, he should do so against the ancient custom of his country, or, perhaps, if he should blame them, he should do so against his own will.

When he was speaking concerning those Jews, he said, When, meanwhile, the customs of that most accursed nation have gained such strength that they have been now received in all lands, the conquered have given laws to the conquerors. By these words he expresses his astonishment; and, not knowing what the providence of God was leading him to say, subjoins in plain words an opinion by which he showed what he thought about the meaning of those sacred institutions: For, he says, those, however, know the cause of their rites, while the greater part of the people know not why they perform theirs.[24]

In this reference the prominent early Christian writer Augustine (354 – 430 CE) quotes Seneca (ca. 1 – 65 CE), a popular Roman philosopher and politician. Seneca obviously doesn’t like the idea of an “idle” day like the Jewish Sabbath. On the other hand he claims that the customs of this “most accursed nation” are so strong that they have already been received “in all lands” at the time of the first century. He tells us that “the conquered have given laws to the conquerors” and expresses his astonishment about the fact that this could successfully happen by the remark that they “know the cause of their rites, while the greater part of the [Roman] people know not why they perform theirs.” That seems to be some kind of unwilling, positive confession regarding the great Jewish institutions, which could not be eradicated although the people have been oppressed for a long time.[25]


Concerning Jewish culture and religion, there are some more remarks on the individual person’s life. So there is also another positive statement about a Jew as individual:

He's just desperate clever; he's cobbler, cook, confectioner, a compendium of all the talents. Still he has two faults, but for which he would be a perfect paragon: he is circumcised and he snores.[26]

Again, mingled with the praise of his “desperate cleverness” and other excellent abilities that make the man call him “a compendium of all the talents,” one typical “fault” has to be mentioned: circumcision. Previous references already told us about that “defect,” therefore we have to observe that the Romans obviously despised that cultic rite. Another popular issue is to call the Jewish cult a type of superstition[27], as expressed in the following passage:

No sooner has that fellow departed than a palsied Jewess, leaving her basket and her truss of hay, comes begging to her secret ear; she is an interpreter of the laws of Jerusalem, a high priestess of the tree, a trusty go-between of highest heaven. She, too, fills her palm, but more sparingly, for a Jew will tell you dreams of any kind you please for the minutest of coins.[28]

Obviously this Jewess is no official representative of the Jewish priest-community and therefore this is no “legal” kind of religious practice. But nonetheless it is interesting to notice that some poor people tried to make some money by using their special religious standpoint. Again God is compared to a plant; as before by the golden vine, now he is represented by a tree.

A further story shows us clearly some more common prejudices against Jews:

[...] We were made to pay dear for the repose of this delightful halting-place by a lessee who was harsher than Antiphates as host! For a crabbed Jew was in charge of the spot – a creature that quarrels with sound human food. He charges in our bill for damaging his bushes and hitting the seaweed, and bawls about his enormous loss in water we had sipped. We pay the abuse due to the filthy race that infamously practices circumcision: a root of silliness they are: chill Sabbaths are after their own heart, yet their heart is chillier than their creed. Each seventh day is condemned to ignoble sloth, as if it were an effeminate picture of a god fatigued. The other wild ravings from their lying bazaar methinks not even a child in his sleep could believe. And would that Judaea had never been subdued by Pompey's wars and Titus' military power. The infection of this plague, though excised, still creeps abroad the more: and 'tis their own conquerors that a conquered race keeps down.[29]

Repeatedly the most popular topics are listed. Beside the insulting expression “filthy race” their prominent characteristics are again defamed: Avoiding pork, circumcision and idle Sabbaths, a strange (tired) God, liars in regard to their peculiar narratives (the Old Testament?). And finally, after wishing the Emperors would never have stepped into conquered Judaea, he confesses that this Jewish “plague, though excised, still creeps abroad the more.” Thus he verifies the statements of Seneca and Josephus given above, and completes the story by telling that it is “their own conquerors that a conquered race keeps down.”[30]

After laying a proper foundation by giving these insights into the Roman perception of Jews and Judaism in general, we will proceed to take a closer look on the few passages concerning Jewish sexual ethics.


Unfortunately there is not much evidence on Jewish sexuality from a Roman point of view. So we have to look on the few sources and finally to draw some general conclusion concerning their opinion about Jews and Judaism as well as about their perception of Jewish families and sexuality.[31]


Hecataeus of Abdera was a Greek ethnographer in the times of Alexander the Great.[32] He also mentioned the Jews and wrote about their marriage and burial institutions:

As to the marriage and the burial of the dead, [Moses] saw to it that their customs should differ widely from those of other men. But later, when they became subject to foreign rule, as a result of their mingling with men of other nations [...] many of their traditional practices were disturbed.[33]

These changes in customs by mingling with “the nations” are well known to the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, but there it doesn’t stop at the marriage and burial customs. It affected everyday life and especially the divine worship. While he does not explain in detail what has been changed in marital practices, we can reasonably assume that “already, 400 years prior to the rabbinic period, Jewish communities had apparently lost the remains of their distinctive marital practices”[34] – and certainly their unique perceptions of God’s blessing on that divine bond, too. So we will have to keep in mind that the period we are going to investigate more deeply, the first century CE, will in some ways be molded after different patterns, deviating from the divine ideal as given in the Holy Scriptures. SATLOW even states that “it is anachronistic to term the marriages or, to a lesser degree, sexual ethics of Jews during the rabbinic period as ‘Jewish’. Jews more or less shared their understanding and practices of marriage and sex with their non-Jewish neighbors. Even when the Rabbis polemicized against the sexual practices of non-Jews, they nevertheless shared with these non-Jews a fundamental understanding of sexuality.”[35] These remarks will have to be examined, but by now we can expect a diverse range of attitudes in first century Judaism.


The Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus (ca. 55/56 – 116/117 CE) gives a brief report on what he thinks essential and authentic about the faith and cult of the Jews. Within his descriptions of that peculiar people, he gives some statements on their sexual life and attitudes towards their families:

Moyses [i.e. Moses], wishing to secure for the future his authority over the nation, gave them a novel form of worship, opposed to all that is practiced by other men. Things sacred with us, with them have no sanctity, while they allow what with us is forbidden. [...]

This worship, however introduced, is upheld by its antiquity; all their other customs, which are at once perverse and disgusting, owe their strength to their very badness. The most degraded out of other races, scorning their national beliefs, brought to them their contributions and presents. This augmented the wealth of the Jews, as also did the fact, that among themselves they are inflexibly honest and ever ready to shew compassion, though they regard the rest of mankind with all the hatred of enemies. They sit apart at meals, they sleep apart, and though, as a nation, they are singularly prone to lust, they abstain from intercourse with foreign women; among themselves nothing is unlawful. Circumcision was adopted by them as a mark of difference from other men. Those who come over to their religion adopt the practice, and have this lesson first instilled into them, to despise all gods, to disown their country, and set at nought parents, children, and brethren. Still they provide for the increase of their numbers. It is a crime among them to kill any newly-born infant. They hold that the souls of all who perish in battle or by the hands of the executioner are immortal. Hence a passion for propagating their race and a contempt for death. [...][36]

Tacitus’ account on the Jewish nation is obviously exaggerated.[37] Nevertheless it enriches our investigation by providing a special Roman viewpoint on the Jewish traditions. It seems as an inevitable aspect of the Jewish reputation that other peoples recognized them as being strange and odd.

He tells us here that the Jews “as a nation, [...] are singularly prone to lust, they abstain from intercourse with foreign women; among themselves nothing is unlawful.” This view on the Jews reveals a principle already known to us by the laws of Moses. The Torah really instructs the Jews not to take pagan women for their wives, lest they should begin to worship their Gods.[38] But the fact that among themselves “nothing is unlawful” cannot be maintained. As seen by the examination of the mosaic instructions, there are a lot of regulations regarding the inner-Jewish relationships.[39] The main aspect, put into the words “prone to lust,” is impossible to be judged from the present viewpoint – irrespective the fact that it is not clear what Tacitus meant exactly by the expression “prone to lust.”

Regarding their appreciation of family members, they apparently “set at nought parents, children, and brethren,” while “they provide for the increase of their numbers” and “it is a crime among them to kill any newly-born infant.” Comparing this account with the mention that “among themselves they are inflexibly honest and ever ready to show compassion” raises questions. If he does not clearly contradict himself, he might have had some special aspects of Jewish family life in mind, when referring to their unkind behavior towards family members. On the other hand, it is very likely that he only wanted to emphasize the distinct break between the old nation and the Jewish people, when the proselyte became a Jew. That person would have had to give up his family in order to abstain from non-Jewish cult practices and his former way of thinking and acting. But we do not definitely know what he meant.


Strabo (27 BC – 14 CE) was a Greek geographer and historian “whose Geography is the only extant work covering the whole range of peoples and countries known to both Greeks and Romans during the reign of Augustus”.[40] He also deals with the Roman province of

Judea and describes the Jewish people and religion as one whose “beginning was good, but they degenerated.”[41] His reports about the Jewish origin and its institutions are very friendly and it seems almost admiring. But after some time peculiarities are increasing and finally there is one point mentioned, which would be cruel indeed:

Moses thus obtained their good opinion, and established no ordinary kind of government. All the nations around willingly united themselves to him, allured by his discourses and promises.

His successors continued for some time to observe the same conduct, doing justly, and worshipping God with sincerity. Afterwards superstitious persons were appointed to the priesthood, and then tyrants. From superstition arose abstinence from flesh, from the eating of which it is now the custom to refrain, circumcision, cliterodectomy, and other practices which the people observe.[42]

He declares that the Jews commenced to circumcise even their women, because of wicked tyrants emerging some time after Moses reign. This female circumcision is, of course, a cruel practice related to cult and the resulting attitude towards sexuality. However, neither biblical nor other historical evidence is given for the trustworthiness of this statement. Since this is no usual practice today and not known through Jewish history or at least in the Mishna, it is to be doubted.


In his extensive work Naturalis Historia, the Roman geographer Pliny the Elder (23 – 79 CE) mentions very briefly one prominent sect of the Jews. He speaks about the Essenes (Esseni), which are also known to us by evidences of Josephus and Philo:[43]

Lying on the west of Asphaltites, and sufficiently distant to escape its noxious exhalations, are the Esseni, a people that live apart from the world, and marvelous beyond all others throughout the whole earth, for they have no women among them; to sexual desire they are strangers; money they have none; the palm-trees are their only companions. Day after day, however, their numbers are fully recruited by multitudes of strangers that resort to them, driven thither to adopt their usages by the tempests of fortune, and wearied with the miseries of life. Thus it is, that through thousands of ages, incredible to relate, this people eternally prolongs its existence, without a single birth taking place there; so fruitful a source of population to it is that weariness of life which is felt by others.

[...] Next to it we come to Masada, a fortress on a rock, not far from Lake Asphaltites.[44]

Corresponding to Pliny´s account, the Essenes are matchless. There is no other sect in the whole world so strange as to have no women. They even seem to have no sexual desires and “palm-trees are their only companions.” Apparently he only knows one part of this sect, for another group of men within it has wives for the purpose of procreation.[45] But he is astonished that even though they seemingly do not procreate, their numbers do not decrease and for him it is “incredible” that they “eternally” prolong their existence, “without a single birth taking place.” As he describes it, their ranks are refilled by those who are desperate and wearied, thus fleeing from the normal life and seeking shelter as refugees. The geography he refers to indicates that this group of people was living at the Dead Sea, near the Masada fortress. There is no hint given that there may be some others living elsewhere in Judaea or the rest of Palestine. For Pliny apparently they are a comparable small group, very old and living forever by the principle of adoption.


As a conclusion we can say that the general perception within the Roman Empire has not been a very positive one, but there are some exceptions. While, regarding sexuality, Tacitus and Strabo tend to discredit the Jews, Pliny (at least concerning the Essenes) is giving a rather positive account. The polemical speeches remind even more on general propagandas than on reliable reports. However, as seen before, Judaism has in general not been regarded as a sound way of living or a preferable ethnic group. It rather seems to be a great sacrifice to deal with them. Their culture has been described as inferior and disgusting, their sexuality as single-sided and at the same time very sensual and indecent. Even their entire history and culture shall be basing on some big lies and no one knows for sure who actually “founded” this people, or if they are not just some immigrants from Crete or fugitives, persecuted and driven out of Egypt for their disgusting manners. Or if just some person called Moses “allured” them and gave them his own laws. Considering these various reproaches, it is all the more conceivable how earnest the attempt to defend their reputation against these rumors must have been. Therefore, as we are about to examine, are the writings of Josephus and Philo, who had a general Greek speaking audience in mind, especially intending to improve the pagan view on the Jewish nation.

Especially Josephus who had to witness the rebellion endeavored to correct some contemporary pagan writers and their depictions.

The following table shall serve as a final overview and summary of the pagan authors who wrote about aspects of Jewish sexuality.[46]

illustration not visible in this excerpt


This chapter of the study intends to examine the two prominent Jewish authors of the 1st century CE, closely related to the Jewish community with its culture and values. These writers are Flavius Josephus, a Jewish-Roman historian, and Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish “philosopher” living within the great Jewish community of that Egyptian city.[47] They might be able to provide a deeper insight into the authentic Jewish attitudes towards sexuality and marriage inside the societies of Jewish Palestine and the Diaspora, for “we must go to Josephus and especially Philo to gain a fuller picture of how Jews in the Hellenistic world expressed opposition to same-sex eros [as well as other sexual relations] and how they used such opposition to mark themselves off from the nations of the earth.”[48] This will be quite valuable when trying to draw conclusions on how the subject of sexual ethics has been treated within Judaism of the 1st century CE from a more “worldly” point of view – if it is possible to say that.[49]


FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS (36/37 – ca. 100 CE) was a historian of the 1st century CE, who is not easily assigned either to the group of Roman or Jewish writers. Rather he is a Jewish born upper-class man, who is well educated and very interested in the welfare of his own people, but smart enough to see the dangerous disposition in commencing a rebellion against the empire. Furthermore he knows the advantages deriving from cooperating with the Romans. Finally he is in the favored position of being adopted by Cesar Vespasianus, who enables him to take his time for writing two books about the Jewish history and war.[50]

For further information on life and works of F. Josephus cf.: LAQUEUR, Der jüdische Historiker Flavius Josephus; BETZ (u.a.), Josephus-Studien – Untersuchungen zu Josephus, dem antiken Judentum und dem Neuen Testament; BRÜNE, Flavius Josephus; FELDMAN/HATA, Josephus, Judaism and Christianity; Josephus, the bible, and history; RAJAK, Josephus.

Sometimes he mentions incidentally some perceptions concerning sexuality in the Jewish culture. He does not specifically deal with that subject in general, but within some passages there are hints given that are quite valuable.[51] The most important point when quoting his remarks is the fact that he never intended to harm the Jews. On the contrary, he always tries to make the best of any story for the well-being of his native country and its people. Therefore it may happen that he exaggerates the good attributes. But we will take a closer look upon his accounts to discern his intentions as far as possible.

Indeed, what can it be that has stirred up an army of the Romans against our nation? Is it not the impiety of the inhabitants? Where did our servitude commence? [...] As for you, what have you done of those things that are recommended by our legislator! And what have you not done of those things that he has condemned! How much more impious are you than those who were so quickly taken! You have not avoided so much as those sins that are usually done in secret; I mean thefts, and treacherous plots against men, and adulteries. You are quarrelling about rapines and murders, and invent strange ways of wickedness. Nay, the temple itself is become the receptacle of all, and this divine place is polluted by the hands of those of our own country; which place has yet been reverenced by the Romans when it was at a distance from them, when they have set aside many of their own customs to give place to our law.[52]

Here again, like in the biblical references mentioned in the chapters before, one prominent “impiety” (cvsE,3ELc) of Jerusalem’s inhabitants, which is evoking the divine wrath, is adultery (moLXEL,c). The accumulation of sins like that result in the Roman siege and finally the destruction of the “wicked” city and even the temple towards the end of the Jewish War.

In another, very detailed reference about the odd manners of the pagan (Greco-Roman) Gods, Josephus mentions their strange practices in sexual behavior:

But what is the grossest of all in point of lasciviousness, are those unbounded lusts ascribed to almost all of them, and their lovers, which how can it be other than a most absurd supposition, especially when it reaches to the male gods, and to the female goddesses also? Moreover, the chief of all their gods, and their first father himself, overlooks those goddesses whom he has deluded and begotten with child, and suffers them to be kept in prison, or drowned in the sea. He is also so bound up by fate, that he cannot save his own offspring, nor can he bear their deaths without shedding of tears. These are fine things indeed! as are the rest that follow. Adulteries, truly, are so impudently looked on in heaven by the gods, that some of them have confessed they envied those who were found in the very act. And why should they not do so, when the oldest of them, who is their king also, has not been able to restrain himself in the violence of his lust from lying with his wife, so long as they might get into their bedchamber?[53]

This account does not directly refer to Jewish laws and doctrines on sexuality. But it illuminates many aspects of Jewish thinking about various sexual practices. In this way we can note that Jews (or at least Josephus as representative of the Jews) do not see themselves as exposed to their own lusts (ta.j mi,xeij avkrasi,an), like the Gods of the Greco-Roman cults.[54] F. Josephus even more characterizes his nation as virtuous and intelligent, by not believing these ridiculous (fairy) tales. He implies that as the Gods are, so will the man be. After all, the deities are the patterns which men will strive for. “And why should they not do so, when the oldest of them, who is their king also, has not been able to restrain himself in the violence of his lust ...”

However, Apollonius has imitated all the Persian institutions, and that by his offering violence to other men's wives, and castrating his own sons. Now, with us, it is a capital crime, if anyone does thus abuse even a brute beast; and as for us, neither has the fear of our governors, nor a desire of following what other nations have in so great esteem, been able to draw us from our own laws; [...] and, indeed, what reason can there be why we should desire to imitate the laws of other nations, while we see they are not observed by their own legislators? [...] And why do not the Eleans and Thebans abolish that unnatural and impudent lust, which makes them lie with males? For they will not show a sufficient sign of their repentance of what they of old thought to be very excellent, and very advantageous in their practices, unless they entirely avoid all such actions for the time to come: nay, such things are inserted into the body of their laws, and had once such a power among the Greeks, that they ascribed these sodomitical practices to the gods themselves, as a part of their good character; and, indeed, it was according to the same manner that the gods married their own sisters. This the Greeks contrived as an apology for their own absurd and unnatural pleasures.

I omit to speak concerning punishments, and how many ways of escaping them, the greatest part of the legislators have afforded malefactors, by ordaining that, for adulteries, fines in money should be allowed, and for corrupting [virgins] they need only marry them; as also what excuses they may have in denying the facts, if anyone attempts to inquire into them; for among most other nations it is a studied art how men may transgress their laws; but no such thing is permitted among us; for though we be deprived of our wealth, of our cities, or of the other advantages we have, our law continues immortal; nor can any Jew go so far from his own country, nor be so frightened at the severest lord, as not to be more frightened at the law than at him.[55]

In this statement Josephus reveals quite a lot of information about the Jewish perception of sexuality. Again he is attacking the pagan nations and their laws, which evolve from their immoral, wicked cults. He definitely mentions that rape, including “corrupting” (fqora,) virgins and then marrying them, is a great sin. Just the same immorality is committed by adulterers – who are, unfortunately, favored by national law in being slightly punished by only fining them. To the contrary, the Jews will always heed the Mosaic Laws, which prohibit such things, even under persecution. “Lying with males” [illustration not visible in this excerpt] is a disgrace, too. He refers to it as “unnatural and impudent” [illustration not visible in this excerpt]. Likewise the “sodomitical practices” of men and Gods [illustration not visible in this excerpt], are called “absurd and unnatural pleasures” [illustration not visible in this excerpt] by Josephus. The basic problem of the gentiles is again the example of their Gods who are no better in any way. That motivates men to behave in the same manner.

The one and only God of Israel, Yahweh, using Moses as instrument, declares that the Israelites have to be different from these nations. Therefore he gave them laws and threatened with severe punishment, as we observed already. Josephus now gives some interesting explanations regarding these Mosaic Laws. For example he teaches that it simply is “profitable both for cities and families that children should be known to be genuine,” and for that reason Moses forbade adultery.[56] But lying with blood relatives is just “abhorring” [illustration not visible in this excerpt] and God “hates such unrighteousness” [illustration not visible in this excerpt].[57] There is no special (natural) reason given. Its indecency seems to be undoubted. He retraces the purpose of marriage back to the initial blessing in paradise, where the first relation was thought to “fill the earth.”[58] Therefore the “law owns no other mixture of sexes but that which nature has appointed, of a man with his wife, and that this be used only for the procreation of children.”[59]

The law, moreover, enjoins us to bring up all our offspring, and forbids women to cause abortion of what is begotten, or to kill it afterward; and if any woman appears to have so done, she will be a murderer of her child, by killing a living creature, and diminishing human kind; if anyone, therefore, proceeds to such fornication or murder, he cannot be clean.[60]

Apparently, according to Josephus´ perception, the first marriage in paradise has been introduced just to fulfill the divine command of procreation. Therefore any infanticide, whatever the way of accomplishing it, would be against the will of Yahweh, for it “diminishes human kind.” He even calls it “fornication” to have sexual intercourse without the purpose of begetting children.[61] So he continues to tell that “it is decent, and for the dignity of the persons themselves, to govern their affections” and marry only free virgins, “for by these means the dispositions of the children will be liberal and virtuous; I mean, when they are not born of base parents, and of the lustful conjunction of such as marry women that are not free.”[62] Again, the pleasure of sexuality is not per se something good, even when practiced only within the “legal” bonds of the wedlock. Real lawfulness seems to derive from the purpose to procreate, and the marriage relation is just the basis of sexuality at all. So it is not surprising that he even contrasts one “that sheds his seed in his sleep” with men “who have lawfully accompanied with their wives.”[63] So he interprets again the “lawfulness” (toi/j kata. no,mon gunaiki. plhsia,zousin) of the marital intercourse in an only very strict and narrow way.

Nonetheless, he emphasizes the importance of an affectionate conduct of men toward their wives:

[...] for it is good for him that takes a woman, in order to have children by her, to be complaisant to her inclinations, and not merely to pursue his own pleasure, while he has no regard to what is agreeable to her.[64]

For, says the Scripture, ‘A woman is inferior to her husband in all things.’ Let her, therefore, be obedient to him; not so, that he should abuse her, but that she may acknowledge her duty to her husband; for God has given the authority to the husband.[65]

Obviously he endeavors to protect the wives and to urge the husbands to treat their spouses with respect and loving care. So he also tries to point out the way of legal divorce, incidentally showing his position in the debate about possible reasons. He gives the advice that “he that desires to be divorced from his wife for any cause whatever, (and many such causes happen among men,) let him in writing give assurance that he will never use her as his wife anymore; for by this means she may be at liberty to marry another husband.”[66] Finally, Josephus even talks in a more philosophical way about the general defilement that is given even by “legal” intercourse between the spouses:

Moreover, the law enjoins, that after the man and wife have lain together in a regular way, they shall bathe themselves; for there is a defilement contracted thereby, both in soul and body, as if they had gone into another country; for indeed the soul, by being united to the body, is subject to miseries, and is not freed therefrom again but by death; on which account the law requires this purification to be entirely performed.[67]

While uniting with the body during sexual intercourse, the soul is apparently “suffering miseries” (kakopaqe,w) and can only by death be freed from it (tou,twn au= qana,tw| diakriqei/sa).

Altogether it is not a very happy picture that Josephus is drawing from sexuality in general. On the one hand he knows some sort of “legal” relationship that is founded by God even in Eden. But on the other hand he points out clearly that conjugal intercourse is only to be practiced to father children, never just for its pleasure. And even though the purpose may be “good” by wishing to get children and by behaving decent in every way, yet it defiles the soul, which consequently has to be cleansed in order to extinguish the “miseries.”


Another prominent Jewish author, the philosopher PHILO OF ALEXANDRIA (ca. 15/10 BCE – 45/50 CE), was a leading member of the great Jewish community of Alexandria in Egypt.[68] So he is a Jew of the Diaspora, in close contact to the Hellenists in Egypt and

constantly trying to justify the Jewish belief as a worthy alternative, a “Mosaic philosophy.”[69] While he is called “the apex of Jewish allegorical interpretation in Greek,” he also “is an early example of a Platonic way of thinking, usually called Middle Platonism.”[70] He often talks about the relation between spirit and body, always trying to show the hazards of letting carnal passions reign.[71] Since he is talking about that dualism over and over again, we will have to avoid these general discussions and must focus on explicit references to sexuality.[72]

Philo has a lot to say about prostitution and harlotry. Besides his mentioning of the Mosaic Laws and the death-penalty as proper punishment for harlots,[73] he, just like the Old Testament, often uses these terms symbolically and compares the worshipping of more than one god to polygamy[74] and he even speaks of “sons of harlots,” not knowing their true father:

[...] There are others who are lovers of a system of polytheism, and who honor the company which is devoted to the service of many gods, being the sons of a harlot, having no knowledge of the one husband and father of the virtueloving soul, namely, God; and are not all these men very properly driven away and banished from the assembly of God?[75]

Because they do not know their true “father” (Yahweh God), they know nothing of virtue and therefore it is right to banish them from the assembly of God. He obviously implies that meaning to the text in Deu 23:2 and interprets it as referring to the nations who are living without God, having instead multitudes of Gods. Apparently he does not think it possible that those men (including those who are trusting only their senses and their own mind to explain the world, these are referred to before) may be virtuous without the God of Israel. That is very similar to the statement of Josephus, who held the polytheistic “gods” responsible for the immorality that prevails.[76] Philo is very clear in his declaration to expel those who “sunk in vice,” especially harlots, and let them not be covered by the great, holy assembly.[77] While he thus abhors harlotry and uses it symbolically to condemn polytheism, he also draws an extensive picture about his understanding of two natures living in everyone of us:

For two women live with each individual among us, both unfriendly and hostile to one another, filling the whole abode of the soul with envy, and jealousy, and contention; of these we love the one looking upon her as being mild and tractable, and very dear to and very closely connected with ourselves, and she is called pleasure; but the other we detest, deeming her unmanageable, savage, fierce, and most completely hostile, and her name is virtue. Accordingly, the one comes to us luxuriously dressed in the guise of a harlot and prostitute, with mincing steps, rolling her eyes about with excessive licentiousness and desire, by which baits she entraps the souls of the young [...][78]

Since both women are unfriendly and hostile to one another, there is obviously a fight going on in our souls. But Philo tells us very gloomy that we love the one called “pleasure,” dressing like a harlot and seducing our souls, while the other woman, “virtue,” is neglected and despised.[79] By that metaphor he clearly introduces his dualism of “good” and “bad,” “divine/virtuous” and “ungodly/indecent.” Interestingly, he does not exempt any kind of “sound” pleasure, but calls it generally bad or at least inferior to virtue and therefore in some kind depraved. He seems to support thinking in distinctive black-and-white categories, promoting a strictly ascetic lifestyle. But on the other side, he knows a blessed marriage:

[...] a number of children both existing and hoped for, and wishing at the same time that their marriages should be not only free from all blame, but even very deserving of praise, the first fruit arising from which is consecrated to God; and keeping this in their minds, both husbands and wives ought to cling to modesty, and to attend to their household concerns, and to cherish unanimity, agreeing with one another, so that what is called a communion and partnership may be so in solid truth, not only in word, but likewise in deed.[80]

Apparently he knows something about even “praiseworthy” marriages, even though there will be, of course, the “pleasure” of sexuality. But since he is talking of a blameless relationship, “very deserving of praise” and clinging to modesty while hoping for children, he might by that possibly refer to a decent way of living with one another, without too much sexual pleasure.[81] His almost omnipresent admonitions in favor of a chaste way of

This marital “self-control” fits very good in his general concept of “marriage,” respectively the first partnership constituted by God himself in paradise; so Philo reports of the creation of man and woman: “[...] And love being engendered, and, as it were, uniting two separate portions of one animal into one body, adapted them to each other, implanting in each of them a desire of connection with the other with a view to the generation of a being similar to themselves. And this desire caused likewise pleasure to their bodies, which is the beginning of iniquities and transgressions, and it is owing to this that men have exchanged their previously immortal and happy existence for one which is mortal and full of misfortune.” (Opi 1:152) So even in this heavenly state of paradise there was the basis of evil and misfortune, which finally caused the immortality to flee. Hence, “love is the origin of his [the man’s] ill-fortune: Love brings together the divided halves of the original androgynous man, created “after the image,“ and sets up a desire for fellowship. This aspect of love is a valuable one, but the desire for fellowship also sets up a desire for bodily pleasure, which is the root of wrong and or mortality.” (BENJAMINS, Keeping marriage out of Paradise, 95.) Philo takes a symbol over, which derives from one of Plato’s works; his “notion of the union of the halves is clearly taken living, consequently, do not stop at the beginning of the wedlock. While he tells that the best age to marry is in the fifth “period of seven years,” and therefore between 28 and 35 years[82], he does not avoid speaking about exuberant wedding feasts, which are to be shunned:

For come, if you please, and contemplate with me the much celebrated festive assemblies of men. As for those which among the barbarian and Grecian nations have been established in compliance with fabulous fictions, all tending to no other object than to excite vain pride in various nations, they may be all passed over, for the entire life of a man would not be long enough to make an accurate and thorough investigation of all the absurdities which existed in each of those festivals. But with a due regard to our time, we will mention a few points in the most important of them, as a specimen of the whole. In every festival then and assembly among men, the following are the most remarkable and celebrated points, security, relaxation, truce, drunkenness, deep drinking, revelling, luxury, amusement, music at the doors, banquets lasting through the night, unseemly pleasures, wedding feasts during the day, violent acts of insolence, practices of intemperance, indulgence of folly, pursuits of shameful things, an utter destruction and renunciation of what is good, wakefulness during the night for the indulgence of immoderate appetites, sleep by day when it is the proper time to be awake, a turning upside down of the laws of nature. At such a time virtue is ridiculed as a mischievous thing, and vice is caught at as something advantageous. Then actions that ought to be done are held in no honor, and such as ought not be done are esteemed. Then music and philosophy and all education, the really divine images of the divine soul, are reduced to silence, and such practices as are panders and pimps of pleasure to the belly, and the parts adjacent to the belly, are alone allowed to raise their voice.[83]

These testimonies are very clear. Again Philo has to lament “all the absurdities” that obviously are contrary to sound reason and simple intellect. Special issues of complaint are the drunkenness and the luxury expenditure, while banqueting not only through the entire night, but even more by day. It seems to be a celebration of any practice of intemperance and folly, “an utter destruction and renunciation of what is good.” He even refers to the laws of nature and sees them turned upside down.[84] While we are reviewing these important remarks, we have to consider that he is not talking about contemporary Jewish feasts, but about the apparently indecent festivities of heathens.


[1] That refers not only to cults with sexual practices, but to almost every aspect of life that was regulated by divine authority. While many of the various cults had some myths to give reason for present practice, large areas of cultural and religious matters seem to be not well justified. Or at least the different myths seem so unbelievable that further explanation would be necessary if men should have acted from well founded principle and reasonable conviction. (For an ancient Greek (Hellenistic) example in that direction, see the “incredible stories” from PALAIPHATOS, in: BRODERSEN (Ed.), Die Wahrheit über die griechischen Mythen, Stuttgart 2002.

[2] Or at least the Torah/Pentateuch, as far as the Sadducees are concerned.

[3] As I mentioned, the ancient sources are so important for this treatise that I will be quoting many of them to provide an easy access and to guarantee a safe, common basis for extracting conclusions. Furthermore, I will have to regard the original languages of the texts and therefore will be giving indications of main phrases or words to emphasize some special aspects of the authentic text.

[4] Cf. GEHRING, Flavius Josephus und die philosophischen Schulen der Juden, 74-160 (esp. 154). FRIEDLÄNDER, M., Die religiösen Bewegungen innerhalb des Judentums im Zeitalter Jesu. DEINES, R., Die Pharisäer: ihr Verständnis im Spiegel der christlichen und jüdischen Forschung seit Wellhausen und Graetz.

[5] Cf. GEHRING, Flavius Josephus und die philosophischen Schulen der Juden, 149-155.

[6] Cf. KRUPP, Der Talmud, 11-16.

[7] Cf. on that topic the Jewish writer Flavius Josephus: “The Pharisees are those who are esteemed most skilful in the exact explanation of their laws, and introduce the first sect.” (Ios. Bell 2,162.) “What I would now explain is this, that the Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many observances by succession from their fathers, which are not written in the laws of Moses; and for that reason it is that the Sadducees reject them, and say that we are to esteem those observances to be obligatory which are in the written word, but are not to observe what are derived from the tradition of our forefathers. And concerning these things it is that great disputes and differences have arisen among them, while the Sadducees are able to persuade none but the rich, and have not the populace favourable to them, but the Pharisees have the multitude on their side.” (Ios. Ant 13, 297f.) “They [the Sadducees] are able to do almost nothing by themselves; for when they become magistrates, as they are unwillingly and by force sometimes obliged to be, they addict themselves to the notions of the Pharisees, because the multitude would not otherwise bear them.” (Ios. Ant 18,17.)

[8] Cf. Acts 22:3; there Paul declares: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, just as you all are today.”

[9] To get a brief introduction on the general situation of the literary sources which came down to our times, see NOETHLICHS, Das Judentum und der römische Staat, 5-8.

[10] Of course I had to select some main passages which would be adequate for my topic. So I had to omit many others in order to keep this chapter short. But for a wide range of material, including thorough explanations and criticisms, see the great work of STERN, M. (Ed.), Greek and Latin authors on Jews and Judaism, Jerusalem 1998. He collected all sources concerning the Jews and Judaism inside ancient literature.

[11] Tac. hist. 5,2-3.

[12] Tac. hist. 5,3.

[13] Cf. Exo 20:11.

[14] Cf. 2Sa 5.

[15] Cf. 1Ki 6-8.

[16] As has already been mentioned in the introduction of this study, the Mishnah is an expression of that (kind of fearful) effort.

[17] Tac. hist. 5,5. He adds concerning the burial customs and the lower world: “They are wont to bury rather than to burn their dead, following in this the Egyptian custom; they bestow the same care on the dead, and they hold the same belief about the lower world.” (Ibid.)

[18] Florus (he wrote his historical books around the year 120 CE) states the same fact and calls the Jews also a kind of wicked people (cf. Flor. Epit. 1,40,30).

[19] Tac. hist. 5,4. It is interesting that Josephus obviously knew these wide spread opinions, since he refers to some aspects. So he tells us e.g. that at least Moses has not been infected by leprosy, contrary to the common (pagan) thinking (cf. Ios. Ant 3:265-268). “Accordingly, it is a plain case, that it is out of violent prejudice only that they report these things about us” (v.268).

[20] So that will be a valuable allusion to the huge difference between Jewish, respectively early Christian, and Roman perceptions of morals and in the end sexual ethics, too.

[21] Iuv. 14,96-106; trans. G.G. RAMSAY, in: STERN, Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism, Vol. II, 102f.

[22] Ios. cAp 2,79f.

[23] Cf. Ios. cAp 2,82-85: “[...] And last of all Titus Caesar, have conquered us in war, and gotten possession of our temple, yet have they none of them found any such thing there, nor indeed anything but what was agreeable to the strictest piety; although what they found we are not at liberty to reveal to other nations. But for Antiochus [Epiphanes], he had no just cause for that ravage in our temple that he made; he only came to it when he wanted money, [...] nor did he find anything there that was ridiculous. This is attested by many worthy writers – Polybius of Megalopolis, Strabo of Cappadocia, Nicolaus of Damascus, Timagenes, Castor the chronologer, and Apollodorus, who all say that it was out of Antiochus' want of money that he broke his league with the Jews, and despoiled their temple when it was full of gold and silver. Apion ought to have had a regard to these facts, unless he had himself had either an ass's heart, or a dog's impudence; [...].” (Cf. also Ios. cAp 2,145f.)

[24] Aug. civ. 6,11.

[25] Josephus confirms that and he even claims that the Jewish laws, given by Moses, are the basis of every valuable constitution and thus have been a pattern also for Greek philosophers and the multitude of mankind: “We have already demonstrated that our laws have been such as have always inspired admiration and imitation into all other men; nay, the earliest Greek philosophers, though in appearance they observed the laws of their own countries, yet did they, in their actions and their philosophic doctrines, follow our legislator, and instructed men to live sparingly, and to have friendly communication one with another. Nay, further, the multitude of mankind itself have had a great inclination of a long time to follow our religious observances; for there is not any city of the Greeks, nor any of the barbarians, nor any nation whatever, where our custom of resting on the seventh day has not come, and by which our fasts and lighting lamps, and many of our prohibitions as to our food, are not observed; they also endeavour to imitate our mutual concord with one another, and the charitable distribution of our goods, and our diligence in our trades, and our fortitude in undergoing the distresses we are in, on account of our laws; and, what is here matter of the greatest admiration, our law has no bait of pleasure to allure men to it, but it prevails by its own force; and, as God himself pervades all the world, so has our law passed through all the world also. So that, if anyone will but reflect on his own country, and his own family, he will have reason to give credit to what I say.” (Ios. cAp 2,280-284.)

[26] Petron. 68,7f.

[27] Again it is Tacitus who confirms that view on Jewish Religion. He stated: “[...] While the East was under the sway of the Assyrians, the Medes, and the Persians, Jews were the most contemptible of the subject tribes. When the Macedonians became supreme, King Antiochus strove to destroy the national superstition, and to introduce Greek civilization, but was prevented by his war with the Parthians from at all improving this vilest of nations; for at this time the revolt of Arsaces had taken place. [...]” (Tac. hist. 5,8.) Obviously

he sees the Jews as the worst and most disgusting of all nations, and he, of course, disparages their religion and thus their private life.

[28] Iuv. 6,542-547; trans. G.G. RAMSAY, in: STERN, Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism, Vol. II, 101.

[29] Rut. Nam. 1, 381-398.

[30] Cf. Aug. civ. 6,11 and Ios. cAp 2,180-184; already quoted above.

[31] Concerning the ancient “family” I have to state that it has been someway different from what we imagine today when hearing this expression. That is crucial to our perception of the ancient statements about Jewish families or the following chapters about the historical and biblical conceptions. Therefore, a short abstract of the ancient concept of “the family” is very suitable and, since BARTON gives a very good summary, I want to quote his explanations: “(i) There is no word in Hebrew, Greek or Latin for ‘the (nuclear) family’ as we understand it. This is because the social reality in antiquity was that of extended families, clans and tribes. (ii) The family or household was constituted by persons (related to one another in a wide variety of ways, such as descent, marriage, patronage, friendship, business, ownership, etc.) and property. It was not limited to the intimate (and romantic) ties between husband and wife and parents and immediate offspring characteristic of modernity in the West. (iii) As a microcosm of the patriarchal city state, the family was a patriarchal institution. Men ruled in the public domain and over their households and women’s authority was confined largely within doors. (iv) Honour and shame were pivotal social values and were related closely to gender definition. Women were a potential source of shame, and it was the role of the male household head to guard the family’s honour by protecting the women’s sexual virtue. (v) Authority in the household was hierarchical and distinctly non-egalitarian, and the institution of slavery was taken for granted.” (BARTON, Life together, 41.) So we have to keep this concept in mind when examining ancient family bonds like the marriage relation.

[32] “Über Hekataios’ Leben sind wir nur sehr schlecht informiert. Er stammte aus Abdera oder aber aus Teos. Die Datierung des Judenexkurses ist schwierig und umstritten, vieles spricht dafür, dass der Text vor 315/314 V.Chr. verfasst worden ist. Die Suda nennt Hekataios u.a. einen Philosophen, doch sind weder Titel noch sichere Zitate von philosophischen Schriften überliefert, seine philosophische Ausrichtung ist entsprechend nicht zu definieren.” (BLOCH, Antike Vorstellungen vom Judentum, 29.)

[33] Quoted in Diodorus Siculus, Bib. Hist. 40,3,8; Cf. SATLOW, Rabbinic Views on Marriage, Sexuality, and the Family, 612. For a thorough investigation of Hecataeus’ statement, its literary aspects and the meaning for Jewish ethnography cf. BLOCH, Antike Vorstellungen vom Judentum, 27-41.

[34] SATLOW, Rabbinic Views on Marriage, Sexuality, and the Family, 612.

[35] SATLOW, Rabbinic Views on Marriage, Sexuality, and the Family, 612.

[36] Tac. hist. 5, 4-5.

[37] Nonetheless, we cannot suppose that Tacitus wrote just polemically and in a stubborn way anti-Semitically (cf. BLOCH, Antike Vorstellungen vom Judentum, 221f.), we have to assume that he somehow recognizes the contents of his brief “ethnography” as being the reality of Jewish life and belief. However, he obviously worked very selectively and did not claim completeness. He chose only those aspects of Jewish culture which fit best in his imaginary picture of Judaism and left out the rest he certainly knew about this

people and their customs: “Es schimmert im Gegenteil öfter durch, dass Tacitus mehr wusste, als er tatsächlich berichtet. Er wählte aus den bereitstehenden Informationen nur diejenigen aus, die ihm für das beabsichtigte Portrait Judäas bzw. den weiteren Bericht von Nutzen sein konnten; Vollständigkeit war ihm offensichtlich kein Anliegen.” (BLOCH, Antike Vorstellungen vom Judentum, 159; for further backgrounds and investigations on Tacitus’ account see pp. 65-223.) So we have to regard this statement very critically, since it is not representing a well-balanced system of ethnographic information about a people he wanted to describe in an unbiased manner.

[38] Cf. Exo 34,15f.; Deu 7:3-4.

[39] Cf. e.g. Lev 18:6-23; 20:10-21.

[40] ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA INC., Britannica Online Encyclopedia (2007), <http://www.britannica.com/ eb/article-9069864/Strabo> [04.06.2008].

[41] Strab. XVI,2,36.

[42] Strab. XVI,2,35f.

[43] These accounts of Philo and Josephus will be discussed in the chapter about the Jewish sects. Pliny apparently spoke of the group at Qumran not far from the Dead Sea, which supposedly has been Essenean. Probably his source has been Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, describing the site under the reign of Herod the Great in ca. 15 BCE (cf. GORANSON, Rereading Pliny on the Essenes: Some Bibliographic Notes (n.d.), <http://orion.mscc.huji.ac.il/symposiums/programs/Goranson98.shtml> [10.08.2008].) But reading Pliny’s description of palm trees as “their only companion” at the Dead Sea may be surprising. GORANSON explains that by the error of a copyist: “It has long been proposed that a copyist made an error, writing Jerusalem for Jericho in N.H. 5.73. This appears plausible. Both names begin, in Latin, with HIER. And, surely, it is Jericho, not Jerusalem, which is known for palm trees. Either a copyist corrupted the description of M. Agrippa or Pliny did. Agrippa knew the area well enough not to make that mistake.” (Ibid; GORANSON here discusses very detailed the possible location of the site described by Pliny.)

[44] Plin. nat. 5,73.

[45] Cf. Ios. Bell 2:121.160f. We will examine these reports in the chapter about the Essenes.

[46] I am fully aware of the fact that these are controversial topics that I am putting in short lines. Therefore I have to disclaim that I would intend to give final answers. I am only interpreting from the material that has been examined, and the issues, of course, have to be regarded in just that light concerning the main subject of sexuality. That will be the same with the other tables in the following chapters, which just intend to give a short overview.

[47] Further comments on the authors and their intentions will be following in the corresponding passages.

[48] SCHOEDEL, Same-Sex Eros, 49.

[49] I am aware of the fact that both authors intended to contribute to the religious debates that were currently given, and especially Philo had a lot to say about religion and philosophy as I will mention below. But their literature has not been regarded as some kind of inspired spiritual leader.

[50] He commences at the end of the Jewish War (66-70 CE) to write his first volume (“The Jewish War”), which is published shortly after and right before the death of the Emperor. Later on he writes the second about the “Jewish Antiquities” and tries to defend his ancestors and his oppressed people against attacks from Greco-Roman historians or philosophers. Two other works would be his “Vita” and “Contra Apionem.”

[51] It is to be mentioned that he paraphrases the OT in his “Antiquities” (books I - XI) and therefore offers a kind of “commentary” on the biblical stories. This might be interesting to investigate in order to earn some more authentic Jewish interpretation of sexual behavior closely connected to the OT Unfortunately that would exceed the given boundaries by far. So I will not be regarding these statements of F. Josephus, but only those of the later Jewish history concerning the attitudes towards sexuality and immorality. For further references of Josephus on remarks given concerning sexual aspects, see the complete list in the appendix.

[52] Ios. Bell 5, 395-402.

[53] Ios. c.Ap 2, 244-246.

[54] As we will have to notice within this chapter, C. Tacitus states just the exact opposite by referring to the Jews as a people “singularly prone to lust,” which therefore is to be abhorred.

[55] Ios. c.Ap 2, 270-277.

[56] Cf. Ios. Ant 3:274.

[57] Ibid. Josephus goes on in listing the prohibited relations like homosexuality and sodomy, and points out that the priests had to observe even a stricter holiness by not marrying harlots, divorced, widows, slaves and captives (cf. Ant 3:275-277). Concerning harlots, he also refers to the prohibition of bringing harlot’s wages to the temple, thus defiling the sanctuary and sanctioning the way they earn money as a means to support the holy services, “for the Deity is not pleased with anything that arises from such abuses of nature; of which sort none can be worse than this prostitution of the body.” (Ant 4:206) So he even calls prostitution the worst “abuse of nature,” most likely referring to their bodily as well as their mental and spiritual constitution, which will be severely injured.

[58] Cf. Gen 1:28.

[59] Ios. cAp 2:199. WILSON reasons similarly when discussing the worth of heterosexual marriages compared to homosexual relationships. He explains that “what is distinctive about marriage is that it is an institution created to sustain child-rearing. Whatever losses it has suffered in this respect, its functions remains what it has always been.” (WILSON, Against Homosexual Marriage, 38; Italics given.) Consequently, only heterosexual marriages can really be appreciated by society. “Societies differ greater in their attitude toward the income people may have, the relations among their various races, and the distribution of political power. But they differ scarcely at all over the distinction between heterosexual and homosexual couples. The former are overwhelmingly preferred over the latter. The reason, I believe, is that these distinctions involve the nature of marriage and thus the very meaning – even more, the very possibility – of society.” (Ibid, 37.) Thus again procreativity is the appreciated element of marriage, although he does not argue solely by this rationale. (Cf. also COBB, The Christian Reason for Being Progressive, 558; he recognizes this view and argues against it.)

[60] Ios. cAp 2:202.

[61] The original Greek phrase is: “tij evpi. le,couj fqora.n pare,lqoi kaqaro.j ei=nai to,te prosh,kei.” That means even more “if someone thus corrupts the marriage bed, the cleanness [of the marital intercourse] passes away.” In other words – such a corruption of the marital intercourse, as to have intercourse without begetting children, is to defile the marriage bond and finally makes it illegal or sinful in God’s eyes.

[62] Ios. Ant 4:244f. In this paragraph he also tells that one shall not marry harlots, obviously contradicting the opinion of Philo who approves that, as long as they have changed their way of life (cf. Spe 1:102).

[63] Ios. Ant 3:263.

[64] Ios. Ant 4:258.

[65] Ios. cAp 2:201. Some similarly sounding passages will be given when examining the NT evidence.

[66] Ios. Ant 4:253. Since he does not refer to any special cause for divorce, he may have been sympathizing with the school of Hillel or Rabbi Aqiba, rather than with the school of Shammai (cf. Git IX 10). That would be fitting his own account, given in Vita 1:415.426f. There he reports that he himself has been divorced three times and married four times. But his first wife he lost in Jerusalem during the siege (cf. Bell. 5:419), so it was no real divorce in a juridical sense. He got divorced from his second wife without mentioning any reason. The third wife he got divorced from because he was “not pleased with her behaviour” (th.n gunai/ka mh. avresko,menoj auvth/j toi/j h;qesin) – whatever that means exactly. Besides, he is very strict regarding the party that wants to divorce. He relates the story of Salome, who wanted to divorce from her husband (Costobarus) and therefore sent him a bill of divorce (cf. Ant 15:259f.). Josephus states that this is illegitimate concerning the Jewish laws, for only the husband may divorce, not the wife. (Cf. also KALLAND, Deuteronomy, 145; he has the same opinion when investigating Deu 24:1-5.)

[67] Ios. cAp 2:203.

[68] His position in this Jewish community is highlighted by the fact that “in about 40 C.E. he headed a deputation to the mad emperor Claudius in Rome to plead on behalf of Jews who refused to worship the emperor. A prolific author, Philo worked on a synthesis of Greek philosophy and Jewish Scripture.” (KUNTZ, The Ten Commandments in History, 11.) He presents especially the Decalogue as the best foundation for any nation, “the best moral guide for all mankind. His universalistic interpretation helped shape Christian theology. [...] De Decalogo was often quoted by the fathers of the Christian church – sometimes without acknowledgment, as by Clement of Alexandria.” (Ibid; italics given.)

[69] Cf. KUNTZ, The Ten Commandments in History, 12. But while he has generally been independent from Palestinian Judaism, “it needs to be clear that there are unmistakable overlaps in haggadic and halachic elements between Philo and Palestinian development. On the one hand, there is no reason to deny two-way communication between Alexandria and Palestine. Yet, on the other hand, if overlaps in haggadic and halachic elements represent independent development from the common Scripture, the quantity of communication would seem less.” (SANDMEL, Philo of Alexandria, 132.) So there certainly has been some kind of contact between Philo and Rabbis, although “overlaps, however, do not prove a dependency of Philo on the Rabbis, for often the overlap is between Philo and a Rabbi who flourished long after Philo. Independent, parallel developments seem the better explanation than that of major dependency in either direction.” (Ibid, 133f.)

[70] HOEK, Endowed With Reason or Glued to the Senses, 64. “His genus took up biblical interpretations of earlier days, of which only early fragmentary evidence has otherwise survived, created new explanations, and coated both with a heavy layer of Platonic thought.” (Ibid.) His ideas especially influenced Christian thinkers in the later times, far more than his Jewish contemporaries. Comparing Palestinian Judaism to Philo’s conceptions, SANDMEL explains: “If we ascribe Jewishness to the Rabbis alone, then Philo is essentially not Jewish. But, to repeat, no Jew in history ever surpassed Philo in loyalty to Judaism. Philo often quotes Plato and other Greeks, but he wrote no treatises on Pythagoras, or Plato, or Aristotle. The treatises he wrote were on Abraham, Joseph, and Moses. There is no persuasive evidence that he clearly knew and abundantly used Palestinian exegesis. But nevertheless the Hellenization in him is a Hellenization of Judaism, not of some other religious tradition.” (SANDMEL, Philo of Alexandria, 134.)

[71] WILLIAMSON gives a short introduction to this antagonism: “In several passages Philo describes the body as ‘earthlike’ (e.g. in Leg. All. 1.32), made of matter, disorderly and irrational, exercising power and making it difficult for the mind to subdue it. The life of the man is, therefore, an unending struggle between mind and body. In Quaest. in Gn. III.10 Philo describes the soul of the wise man, when in the body, as in ‘a land which is not his own’. The bodily passions, though they may become our helpers, are in fact our enemies, and we are constantly afflicted from within by pleasures, desires, sorrows and fears.” (WILLIAMSON, Jews in the Hellenistic World, 284.)

[72] Some further references of Philo’s attitudes and perception toward some special Jewish laws on sexuality are given in the chapter about the Jewish Holy Scriptures, for they are often directly related to these ordinances and thus will in some way interpret and illuminate them.

[73] Cf. e.g. Spe 3:51. As we will see more often, he recognizes indecent women as being “alienated from good order, and modesty, and chastity, and all other virtues.”

[74] Now the question may arise, if there has been anything negative associated with polygamy, for Philo uses it that way. As we see in the biblical accounts, polygamy is not the ideal kind of relationship, but apart from that, Philo (as well as Josephus) regards marriage merely as a means to beget children; but nonetheless one has strictly to avoid pleasures. If a man now has more than one wife, it might be very likely that some “evil desires” are the true reason for that. On the other side it would not be according to the creation account. Therefore GRELOT comments, especially regarding the time of Philo and Josephus and the report of the latter about Herod’s polygamy (cf. Ios. Ant. 17:13): “[...] the conduct of this royal family, and even that of the Hasmonean high priests, could not be taken as examples of Jewish family life at that time. Although the rabbinical legal literature provides for the possibility of polygamy, it was certainly something exceptional, even among the moneyed classes. The Tannait literature and the gospels ‘presuppose a society that was practical monogamous’, for ‘the great mass of the population were to all intents and purposes monogamous’.” (GRELOT, The Institution of Marriage, 49.)

[75] Mut 1:205. Cf. Lin 1:144; Dec 1:7f.; Spe 1:332.344; Mig 1:69: “For he who worships no God at all is barren, and he who worships a multitude is the son of a harlot, who is in a state of blindness as to his true father.” Compare also the special kind of concubine symbolism as a comparison of gentiles and bad passions (Cng 1:23-63).

[76] Cf. e.g. Ios. c.Ap 2, 244-246.

[77] Spe 1:324. But Philo also speaks about the cleansing of a defiled soul, even a harlot’s soul: “[...] And what length of time can ever transform the harlotry of the soul which from its youth has been trained in early and habitual incontinence, so as to bring it over to good order? No time could do this, but God alone, to whom all things are possible, even those which among us are impossible.” (Spe 2:1) So there is hope for those who have been, literally or symbolically, not just in contact with, but even more habitually used to commit harlotry. It is very illuminating to compare this statement to the one before, for thus he gives a way out of desperation when not allowed to gather with the holy assembly. Apparently there is a way to join the congregation of the Lord anyway.

[78] Sac 1:21. Cf. Spe 2:1. Besides, Philo describes the bonds with which intermarriages can properly unite families, which are otherwise very different (cf. Gai 1:72).

[79] It is very interesting that he describes “virtue” as a woman, for in another account he tells that all the good attributes of the soul are male, while all the evil are female (cf. Sac 1:103; will be discussed below).

[80] Spe 1:138.

[81] The Greek expression crh. logizome,nouj kai. a;ndraj kai. gunai/kaj swfrosu,nhj seems to support this opinion, for that rather means: “It is necessary for the man and the woman to consider self-control” right after talking about bringing forth “first fruits” whilst hoping for “a number of children.” from Plato’s Symposium. It is interesting to note that Christian exegesis did not take over this interpretation, but developed a different concept of union, one which was related to conjunction with Christ.” (Ibid, 95f.) Although the symbolism of the OT strongly tends to some kind of marriage relation between God and Israel, which the NT accepted and developed accordingly to Christ and the church, Philo obviously preferred to take his symbol from a prominent Greek author. Since he is thus shaping the initial introduction of the actually sinless man and woman at the creation of the world after a Greek pattern, his proceeding allegorical interpretation of OT narratives is often in just the same way adulterated and departed from the Hebrew perception. Thus Philo constitutes some kind of combination of Greek and Hebrew thinking, representing a strong Greek influence even over decidedly Jewish communities.

[82] Cf. Opi 1:103. Interestingly, he tells right afterwards that the improvement of understanding is still to come: “In the sixth period he arrives at the maturity of his understanding. The seventh period is that of the most rapid improvement and growth of both his intellectual and reasoning powers. The eighth is the sum of the perfection of both. In the ninth, his passions assume a mildness and gentleness, from being to a great degree tamed. In the tenth, the desirable end of life comes upon him.” Then he refers to the Athenian lawgiver Solon and cites his elegiac verses: “When he [the man] has passed a fourth such time, his strength and vigor's in its prime. When five times seven years o'er his head have passed, the man should think to wed.” So here the time to wed would even be later than 35 years of age – thus being in an even more advanced state of understanding.

[83] Che 1:91-93.

[84] Reviewing the meaning of these natural laws, WILSON describes them as “originally set forth by Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas and more recently restated by Hadley Arkes, John Finnis, Robert George, Harry V. Jaffa, and others. How it is phrased varies a bit, but in general it advocates support a position like the following: man cannot live without the care and support of other people; natural law is the distillation of what thoughtful people have learned about the conditions of that care.” (WILSON, Against Homosexual Marriage, 36.) One of these conditions would be “a decent family life.” (Ibid.) These “natural laws,” therefore, place great demands on all matters and a sober living of everyday life.

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“Evil Desires” and the Kingdom of God
Ancient Jewish Perceptions and Legislations concerning Illicit Sexual Relationships
University of Salzburg
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Sexualität, Antikes Judentum, Jüdische Sekten, Flavius, Josephus, Philon, Neues Testament, Altes Testament, Mischna, Sodomie, Homosexualität, Ehebruch, Inzest, Vergewaltigung, Ehen mit Ungläubigen, Voreheliche Sexualität, Uneheliche Kinder, Sexuality, Old Testament, New Testament, Mishnah, Bestiality, Homosexuality, Adultery, Incest, Prostitution, Rape, Premarital Intercourse, Curses, Jewish sects, Philo
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Mag. phil. B. phil. René Gehring (Author), 2009, “Evil Desires” and the Kingdom of God, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/126328


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