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Same-Sex Unions In Premodern Europe

Same-Sex Unions In Premodern Europe

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by John Boswell

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Both highly praised and intensely controversial, this brilliant book produces dramatic evidence that at one time the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches not only sanctioned unions between partners of the same sex, but sanctified them--in ceremonies strikingly similar to heterosexual marriage ceremonies.


Both highly praised and intensely controversial, this brilliant book produces dramatic evidence that at one time the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches not only sanctioned unions between partners of the same sex, but sanctified them--in ceremonies strikingly similar to heterosexual marriage ceremonies.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Boswell's book provides us with a whole new [historical] model for adult gay relationships."--Natalie Zemon Davis, Princeton University

"I have the greatest respect for John Boswell as an historian and as a person of integrity, and I feel his work will be of great help to the church in dealing with gay marriages."--Episcopal Bishop Paul Moore of New York

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The acceptance and sanctification of homosexual relations in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches during Medieval Europe are examined in this scholarly work. (June)
Library Journal
Not since Boswell's Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Univ. of Chicago Pr., 1981) have Christians of all creeds confronted a work that makes them look so closely at their notions of the relationship between the church and its gay and lesbian believers. Diligently researched and documented, this immensely scholarly work covers everything from the "paired" saints of Perpetua and Felicitas and Serge and Bacchus to lesbian transvestites in Albania. Examining evidence that the early church celebrated a same-sex nuptial liturgy, Boswell compares both Christian same-sex unions to Christian heterosexual unions and non-Christian same-sex unions to non-Christian heterosexual unions. Appendixes contain, among other things, translations and transcriptions of cited documents. Whether or not minds are changed on the matter will probably fall along sectarian lines, according to current attitudes on homosexuality. However, the work will provoke dialog. A groundbreaking book for academic, public, and theological libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/94.]-Lee Arnold, Historical Society of Pennsylvania., Philadelphia

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Vintage Books Edition
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Product dimensions:
5.21(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.95(d)

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Same-Sex Unions In Premodern Europe 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Potential Reader: If you are interested in historical realities, fact and not bias, truth, and same-sex studies then you want to read everything that John Boswell has written in this regard. Here, Boswell peels layer after layer of obscuring biases, prejudices, and untoward mis-apprehension from this long buried subject matter, thereby allowing us to view it clearly without the purposefully applied and clouding gloss of centuries of overt, outright lies about the character, naturalness, myths and legends, and the true history and actions of an entire group of always existing human beings, who differ from their fellows only in terms of affective interest. Suffice to say that whomever the just prior 'Reviewer Pete' actually is within the realm, as it were, of honest and intellectual discourse and review, he must be addressing instead some work other than that of Boswell since what he asserts has nothing whatever to do with either the extraordinary breadth and depth of this present work nor with its several and brilliantly interwoven theses. That supposed reviewer's reiteration of a Greek term is beyond being witlessly minatory, being compounded by the completely ridiculous attempt to use a preposterous and nonexistent conflict in terms to deconstruct Boswell's entire work on the simpleminded basis of that reviewer's peculiar use and his uniquely perceived meaning of one word in Greek. The Greek word as suggested does not, obviously was not intended to, and simply could not conceivably bear the entire weight, thematically or otherwise, of Boswell's much broader conception for his quite extensive work, which is the subject of my review. Boswell was wholly conversant, as this work more than clearly demonstrates, in several ancient and modern languages and was also a much respected and recognized scholar of renown (a full professor at Yale University) in his own right. And what then are Pete's credentials? A mail-order degree from some evangelical bible college, I would conjecture. I myself am a Near and Middle Eastern History scholar, and I can attest to Professor Boswell's professional accuracy and correctness with regard to his translations, as well as to his use of the sources and materials he had to hand, and also to the substantiveness of the undoubted in-depth peer reviews that substantiated each and every part of this book. Boswell's scholarly appreciation for and his very selection and use of the many resources and source materials cited and compiled here, some quite arcane and largely unknown or even those illicitly altered and redacted centuries ago, are a virtual treasure trove of hidden, ignored and bypassed knowledge, even if some of it is general, that we are at long last made aware, having been brought from forgotten depths in to the light to inform. All is presented and conveyed in a style that is as interesting and informative to read as a good novel, or perhaps, for example, the excellent social histories by Barbara Tuchman. Yet 'Same-Sex Union...' is both a serious book for the historian (and even more so for the public at large, if they only will take the opportunity to learn) and an exceedingly necessary work that I, for one, am very pleased was written, especially so by a person with the outstanding credentials Boswell possessed, and to have this book resident in my bookshelf, it having been read and referenced many times since being acquired. The information concerning Nero and Hadrian and their respective lovers and husbands (Sporus and Antinous), as well as the many so-called paired saints (Serge and Bacchus, etc.), together with the internal mini-histories and fascinating cultural aspects of abduction, adoption and marriage (greatly differing from the practices and rationales employed in our presumably modern society) in the ancient and premodern worlds was, for me, the most intriguing, informative and fascinating. His many extra-textual cites, endnotes, definitions, explications, notes, and a
Aspblom More than 1 year ago
Great scholarship
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
The whole argument of this book revolves around the interpretation (or misinterpretation) of the words 'adelphopoesis' and 'adelphopoeia'. The obvious translation of these words is 'brother-making' but Boswell wants us to have none of that. In fact, he often goes to great lengths to bury these words in footnotes and presents them in Greek characters rather than transliterating them for vulgar eyes. The reason for this is that he wishes us to be kindly disposed to his translation of 'adelphopoesis' as 'same-sex union' (the English phrase that forms the center of his argument). The obvious translation ('brother-making') would clearly tell against Boswell's tendentious claims. Thus, he does his best to keep the obvious translation out of the reader's mind. But he can't do this forever. Thus he is pressed to do the following: 1) Argue that 'brother-making', the obvious translation, is misleading. He then provides us with page upon page of contorted (but ultimately unconvincing) exegesis to show why this is apparently so. 2) Argue that 'homosexual marriage' is an unwarranted and 'tendentious interpretation' (his words, not mine) of 'adelphopoesis'. 3) Contend that 'same-sex union' is the best translation of 'adelphopoesis'. Of course, anyone can see that 'same-sex union' is a tendentious generalization as well. 'Same-sex' is more abstract than the figure 'brother' and 'union' is more abstract than the relationship of spiritual brotherhood that is specified by 'adelphopoesis'. Also, Boswell (as far as I can recall) fails to note one of the main reasons such 'brother-making' presents parallels to a marriage ceremony: namely, the transmission of ecclesiastical property to one of the parties. Just as a marriage would stipulate the conditions under which property would be transferred from a husband to a wife upon his death, so too would 'brother-making' stipulate to whom and under what conditions ecclesiastical property would be transferred upon the death of one of the 'brothers'. Perhaps the most distressing thing about this book is that, rather than using the canons of academic reason to support his contentions, Boswell instead resorts mostly to a rhetoric of scholarly authority. The tricky parts of his interpretation are couched in an academic style that substitutes pedantic framing for honest argument. Rather than using reason to establish his thesis, he assumes the truth of his thesis and constructs various tendentious standpoints from which one can better view his preordained 'truth'. This is not only distressing but insulting. It's as if he thinks the reader can't see what he's really doing and will simply be swayed by the stylistic posturings he uses to advance his academic authority. This book is a disgrace. I would have given it zero stars if it weren't for the interesting bibliographical information it contains. I did find some gold in this dross -- but it had, alas, nothing to do with Boswell's thesis. Finally, as I noted above, this book does not provide support for the claim that the Orthodox Church contained rites for 'gay marriage'. Boswell explicitly states that translating 'adelphopoesis' as 'gay marriage' is a 'tendentious interpretation'. A lot of readers seem to have missed this point.