Homosexuality, Intolerance, and Christianity

A Critical Examination of John Boswell’s Work

Preface (1985)

The appearance of John Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (University of Chicago Press, 1980; $27.50; 424 pages) had been eagerly awaited for several years. Almost immediately on its publication in July 1980, the book was greeted with a chorus of praise from mass-circulation weeklies, intellectual reviews and the serious homophile press. Such attentive and seemingly unanimous approbation is rare for an academic monograph. In the opinion of the three writers of this brochure, the celebrations were premature. Boswell’s work, substantial as it is, constitutes not so much a finished masterwork as a starting point for further scholarly investigation. Only when this process of discussion is complete will it be possible to determine the truth of the various arguments the book presents.

The following are the main topics treated by Boswell:

  1. the original meaning of the salient Biblical texts that traditionally have been regarded as antihomosexual;
  2. same-sex customs and attitudes in the Imperial Roman setting of early Christianity;
  3. the curious sexual folklore of the hare, the hyena and the weasel;
  4. the persistence of themes of passionate friendship and boy love in the published and private writings of the clergy;
  5. the concept of Nature as moral norm;
  6. the social determinants of the toleration and repression of homosexuality.

These topics are too complex to permit discussion in full in the papers that follow. As has been indicated, it will take many scholars working over a period of years to resolve the issues involved. This publication, which arose from a forum “Sex and the Medieval Church” sponsored by the New York Chapter of the Gay Academic Union on September 14, 1980, has served to initiate further discussion. Needless to say, the contributors are not always in agreement, and the views of each are his own, not official positions of any organizations to which he may happen to belong.

Although never advertised and seldom reviewed, this publication has enjoyed an underground celebrity. The first and second printings sold out quickly, and it has now been out of print for some time. In our opinion, the essays contained herein have been vindicated by subsequent scholarly dialogue, and we are therefore reprinting them, with the addition of a new, twelve-page Bibliography of Reviews.

URI of this page : http://www.pinktriangle.org.uk/lib/hic/preface_1985.html
Created : Sunday, 2003-09-21 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
Brett Humphreys : webster@pinktriangle.org.uk