Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Deut 23:18, Rentboy or Dog?, Abuse of Nature or Insult to God?

[Warning: what follows is a little esoteric, but maybe useful as NT background?]

I know many of you have been staying up at night reading Deut 23:18 (v.19 LXX) and the footnote in your NRSV, NIV, or NLT, and wondering whether it is the wages of a dog or a male prostitute which you are disallowed from bringing into the house of God.  Well while I cannot answer for Moses, a slightly less ancient Jew gives an unequivocal interpretation:

Josephus, Antiquities, 4.8.9/§206: 
You are not to offer sacrifices out of the hire of a woman who is a harlot, 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. In like manner no one may take the price of the covering of a bitch, either of one that is used in hunting, or in keeping of sheep, and thence sacrifice to God. (Trans. Whiston)
Ἐκ μισθοῦ γυναικὸς ἡταιρημένης θυσίας μὴ τελεῖν• ἥδεσθαι γὰρ μηδενὶ τῶν ἀφ’ ὕβρεως τὸ θεῖον, χείρων δ’ οὐκ ἂν εἴη τῆς ἐπὶ τοῖς σώμασιν αἰσχύνης• ὁμοίως μηδ’ ἂν ἐπ’ ὀχεύσει κυνὸς ἤτοι θηρευτικοῦ ἢ ποιμνίων φύλακος λάβῃ τις μισθόν, ἐκ τούτου θύειν τῷ θεῷ.

Pic of Canaan Dog from here

The wages of a prostitute are compared to the price given for the servicing of a bitch, and both are deemed unsuitable for offering sacrifices to God.  The profits from selling sexual intercourse, whether human or canine, are tainted with the shame of that intercourse.

Whiston’s translation does, however, mislead a little.  His translation, “abuses of nature,” suggests that Josephus is referring here to the idea of things being according to or against nature (φύσις), a common enough way of arguing (cf. Rom 1:26; 1 Cor 11:14; Atemidorus, Oneirocritica, 1.78, 60; etc).  The text, ἥδεσθαι γὰρ μηδενὶ τῶν ἀφ’ ὕβρεως τὸ θεῖον, might be bettered rendered “for the Deity is not pleased with anything that arises from such an insult [to the Deity].”  The idea is not that nature (φύσις) is being contravened but that God is insulted by anything bought with income from such a source.  This insult stems from the fact that prostitution involves the shaming of the body (τοῖς σώμασιν αἰσχύνης).  Apart from the significant (to my study) use of σῶμα in this context, it is interesting that Josephus does not condemn the owning or use of prostitutes or dogs, only the use of profits from their sexual activities for sacrifices.  The uncleanness of the sex act somehow attaches itself to the money made through it.  In the case of the dogs, the shame does not spread to the sheep they keep or the game they catch.  In the same way, Josephus gives no indication that the shame of prostitution affects those who own or use prostitutes.

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