Sunday, 25 January 2015

Is the Church of England Rich?

Is the Church of England Rich? Maybe not as “rich in faith” (Jam. 2:5), as she might be, certainly not as rich in grace and mercy as God is (Eph. 1:7; 2:4, 7; 3:16; cf. Rom. 2:4; 9:23; 12:10) who “richly” provides us with all things for our enjoyment” (1 Tim. 6:17) and “richly provides” entrance into Christ’s kingdom (2 Pet. 1:11;  cf. Tit. 3:6).

The church seeks to let the word of Christ dwell “richly” among us (Col. 3:16), to be “rich towards God” (Lk. 12:21), having become “rich” herself because her Lord who “though he was rich” became poor for her sake (2 Cor. 8:9) and now has “unfathomable” wealth (Eph. 3:8; cf. Phil. 4:19), preparing a truly rich inheritance for us (Eph. 1:18). This is possible because God has such a wealth of wisdom (Rom. 11:33; cf. Col. 1:27) that he can bring riches out of losses (cf. Rom. 11:12).

The Church of England is arguably “rich in good works” (1 Tim. 6:18), to have the wealth that comes with an assured understanding (Col. 2:2). She sometimes displays a “wealth of generosity” (2 Cor. 8:2), at her best considering abuse suffered for Christ greater wealth and “the treasures of Egypt” (Heb. 11:26). All in all she is maybe not as rich as the church in Smyrna (Rev. 2:5).

There are a fair number of positive uses of the word group “rich/wealth” in the New Testament. But it is hard to find a single one among them which refers to material wealth. The wealth received by the Lamb in Rev. 5:12 may be the only one.[1]

Yet sadly many people are only interested in the question whether the CofE has material riches. When reference is made in the NT to material wealth, passages like the following are more typical:
"But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.” (Lk. 6:24) 
“Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you.” (Jam. 5:1)
So when we ask whether the CofE is materially rich, the answer better be "No." 

The question whether the Church of England has material wealth is actually more difficult to answer than many realise, especially many of those who have little first-hand experience of the church and a good amount of bad feeling towards her.

In my opening paragraphs “Church of England” refers to the people that make up the CofE. If we ask whether the CofE in this sense is “rich,” the answer is surely “yes”. As the old saying goes, said to the congregation just before the collection plates are sent around, “the church has lots of money – it’s in your pockets!” England is a rich country. There are many poor people in England, but there are also lots of people who are “rich” compared with most other people in the world.

Things get more complicated when we ask the question about “the Church of England” as an organisation. Most of the investments that are thought to belong to “the Church of England” actually belong to an organisation called the Church Commissioners. A lot of their “wealth” is in fact the pension fund of thousands of people who work for the church.

Then there are the 42 Church of England dioceses; they are all independent charities in law. Some have historical income (e.g., from properties), others have virtually none. Then there are over 10,000 independent Parochial Church Councils who have freedom (under the supervision of the Charity Commissioners) to manage their funds quite independently.  A good number of them own land – much of which is called “graveyard” in case you’re wondering about the value of that land plus the land on which the church building is standing, often a historic church which is expensive to maintain and rarely brings in any money.

It probably does not make much sense to ask whether “the Church of England” is materially rich. We need to ask the question about the Church Commissioners, the Dioceses, and individual parishes. Very few of them, if any at all, could be called rich in terms of easily accessible money. If you were to close down these charities and sell their holdings, you could of course release a huge number of assets but some of the land holdings would not bring in muich money at all (think churchyards again) and the remaining liabilities, especially for pensions, would likely take care of much of the income that would be generated by selling off the family silver.

PS: A friend pointed out that there area number of other assets that need to be considered here such as voluntary aided church schools. Again these are assest that do not create financial wealth. In fact, as far as finances are concerned they are on the "expenses" rather than "income" side of the ledger for the church, I should think. Money could be released by selling these off, especially if sold to property developers that are not interested in schools.But the cost to society would be immense and I suspect that only the most ardent anti-church campaigners would advocate that the CofE withdraws from the education sector.


[1] The references mentioned in the opening paragraphs relate to words from related roots beginning “πλου-“ and are probably comprehensive as far as truly positive references in the NT are concerned. Other references, namely those to material wealth, are either neutral, e.g. referring to “both rich and poor,” or, more often, negative. 

Friday, 23 January 2015

Closure in Mark’s Gospel


Enjoying Max McLean's stage production of Mark's Gospel recently I was struck by how ill-fitting "the longer ending of Mark" really is. Having listening to Mark's breath-taking account for a good 90 mins, the abrupt ending feels "right".

Joel Barker's review of Jack R Lundbom's.Biblical Rhetoric and Rhetorical Criticism (Hebrew Bible Monographs, 45; Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2013) reports that in his essay “Closure in Mark’s Gospel”
Lundbom finds an inclusio in the shorter ending with the story of a healed leper in Mark 1:44–45. He suggests that both highlight disobedience of a heavenly command, since Jesus commanded the leper to be silent, while the angel commanded the women to tell of Jesus’s resurrection. The focus is on the call to proclamation in all circumstances, since even one commanded to be silent could not keep quiet.

Why Male-Male Sexual Intercourse is Prohibited in Leviticus

In the previous post I looked at the philological argument in Saul M. Olyan’s essay “’And with a Male You Shall Not Lie the Lying down of a Woman’: On the Meaning and Significance of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13,” in the Journal of the History of Sexuality 5 (1994): 179-206. There I suggested that Olyan’s conclusion regarding what is prohibited in Leviticus (not homoerotic acts generally but specifically anal intercourse; not only intercourse that would shame a free citizen by his taking the ‘feminine’ role but all intercourse between males regardless of status or role) is correct but based on two questionable assumptions.

In his essay  “Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13: Who is Doing What To Whom?,” JBL 120 (2001): 201-209,  Jerome T. Walsh rightly alerted us to one of these assumptions, namely that “knowing” and “lying down (with)” (“performing”) משכבי אשה are the same thing. But Walsh overlooked the other assumption, namely that אשה signals the one who “performs” the acts implied in the משכבים. It seems more likely that אשה complements the verbal notion so that the construct chain does not refer to “a woman lying down” but to “lying down with a woman.” The one who lies down with a male in the manner of lying down with a woman is therefore the one who makes the other experience משכב זכר.[1]

If the conventional rendering of Lev. 18:22 (and 20:13) is correct, e.g., “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination” (KJV) or “You must not have sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman; it is a detestable act” (NET Bible), the prohibition addresses the one who penetrates another man rather than the receptive partner.[2]
Olyan argues that within Israel receptivity was “constructed as appropriate exclusively to females; it is gendered as feminine” (p. 188). By contrast laws in Athens, Rome and Assyria restrict behaviour in relation to status rather than biological sex. In other words, within Israel the one who penetrates had to be male, the one who receives had to be female. But elsewhere the critical thing was not biological sex but that the one who penetrates had a higher status than the one penetrated. Free male citizens penetrated legal inferiors, namely women but also slaves, foreigners or young men. “The receptive and insertive roles were primarily status-bound in both the Athenian and Roman contexts, though the language of gender played an important role in the manner in which these roles were discussed…to be penetrated was to be feminized, to surrender male status and authority” (p. 191).[3]

Olyan stresses that the Levitical laws themselves offer no reason as to why biological sex is seen as determinative. There is no explicit allusion to the “structure of creation” although he admits that the legislators “might well have had access to the creation story of the Priestly source with its command to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ …or to something similar” (pp. 188-89) and that later rabbinic commentators made the link between biology and “creation’s scheme” (p. 189).

Did the issue of shaming a male by relating to him as a female play no role at all in Israel? Not necessarily. As Olyan points out, a sense of the equality of all male residents may explain that Israelite men are prohibited not only from penetrating another male citizen (“your neighbour”) but any “male” (young or old, free or slave, Israelite or foreigner). But, as Olyan admits, this remains speculative. “In the final form of Lev. 18 and 20, issues of defilement are clearly paramount” (pp. 196-97, cf. p. 205).

This brings us to the question how the prohibitions in Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 relate to the other laws in these chapters. What if anything unites them?

First, Olyan discusses the “idolatry” approach of N. H. Smith and John Boswell. This “is probably the least convincing of the four to be discussed. It depends on the presence of Lev. 18:21, which refers to child sacrifice to an alleged god Molek, and/or a restricted and inaccurate understanding of [תועבה], the so-called abomination, a word that occurs in Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 with reference to the male-male intercourse described and in the framing materials of 18:26-30 with reference to all the violations enumerated in the chapter.” (p. 198). Olyan considers it “very likely” that Lev. 18:21 is secondary but in any case it seems to have been attached to a series of laws prohibiting sexual acts because of “a shared idiom and key word in verse 20” (p. 198) and not in order to associate all these acts with idolatry. 

Secondly, Thomas M. Thurston argues that Lev. 18:22 is best understood as reflecting a concern with living creatures conforming to their class (cf. Mary Douglas): “boundaries are blurred when a male plays the receptive role.” Olyan finds this attractive but rejects it on the grounds that “the lack of focus on the receptive partner” in Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 makes it “unlikely that the laws were ever motivated by a concern that the anally receptive male conforms to his class” (p. 199). I am maybe a little less convinced that we should make much of who is being addressed when it is clearly the act as such which is condemned (and for which the more active partner is maybe naturally made more immediately responsible).

Thirdly, S. F. Bigger argued for a concern with maintaining the “sexual purity of the individual” and suggested that the laws concern a misuse of semen, including the mixing of different types of semen (cf. the use of תבל, confusion in 18:23 and 20:12).[4] H. Eilberg-Schwartz suggested a concern with “threat to the integrity of the Israelite lineage” and D. Biale argued along similar lines that “the laws in question all proscribe acts that threaten procreation or its results (i.e., living children) or do not lead to it” (in Olyan’s words, p. 201). In her words (cited by Olyan, ibid.):
"What unifies all these acts is that they are considered affronts to procreation, either because they are sterile (homosexuality and bestiality), produce illegitimate progeny (adultery, incest), destroy progeny (sacrifice to Molech), or represent rebellion against the source of one’s own legitimacy (insulting one’s parents).”
Olyan finds Bigger’s theory “appealing”  and well grounded in the conceptual world of the text but considers his treatment of Lev. 18:22 “wholly inadequate.” He considers Eilberg-Schwartz’s presentation “more thoroughgoing and bolder” but laments the absence of concern for “mixing” in his argument. Maybe most importantly, these conceptualisations do not take into account that Lev. 18:22 “refer specifically to intercourse” (p. 202). If the concern were for “productive sexual relations…one might expect other genital acts that result in ejaculation but do not lead to conception to be proscribed” (ibid.).

Finally, Olyan himself suggests that “the reason for the proscription of male-male intercourse in the final form [of the text might] be to prevent two otherwise defiling agents – excrement and semen – from mingling in the body of the receptive partner” (p. 203). “Perhaps menstruation, parturition, ejaculation, and other events causing defilement according to P were only mildly defiling according to H, unthreatening to the continued presence of Israel in the land as long as no mixing with other defiling emissions was involved.” Olyan finds evidence of the seriousness with which H looked at such mixing by comparing Lev. 15:24 (P) with 20:18 (H) but it seems possible that 15:24 envisages the onset of menstruation during sexual intercourse, while 20:18 concerns sexual intercourse during menstruation. In other words, there may be a difference between deliberate and accidental infringement.

Ezek. 4:9-15 does indeed provide evidence for the view that (human rather than animal?) excrement was considered defiling by some priests (at least in connection with food) and we may compare Deut. 23:14 for the requirement to relieve oneself outside the camp. But excrement does not in fact play a role in Levitical law and even if one accepts that Lev. 18:22 refers specifically to anal intercourse, the move from “lying down with a male as with a woman” to the comingling of excrement and semen is maybe not as obvious as one might expect, if Olyan were right. I note that blood is considered very differently, depending on whether it is inside the body (“the life is in the blood”) or outside (shed blood = extinguished life = death). It seems to me questionable therefore that Israelite priests had a concept of defiling excrement inside the body, and more so as the defiling aspect of excrement outside the body is not raised in priestly law.

 If this were my research project, I would now go to look at Thomas M. Thurston, “Leviticus 18:22 and the Prohibition of Homosexual Acts,” in Homophobia and the Judaeo-Christian Tradition, ed. M. L. Stemmeler and J. M. Clark (Dallas: Monument Press, 1990), pp. 7–23, as the proposal which appears to have the most merit.





[1] Later, however, the idiom is used differently. In 1QSa 1.10 (The Rule of the Congregation, also referred to as The Messianic Rule) משכבי זכר is parallel to “approaching a woman to know her.” So here משכבי זכר refers to what a man experiences with a woman. But the context is unambiguous allowing for greater flexibility. משכבי זכר may have been preferred because the focus is on the coming-of-age of the young man, the point (at twenty years of age) at which he is allowed to act the זכר.
[2] He speculates that “receptivity, if viewed as passivity, would perhaps have rendered them guiltless at a stage before the work of the final H tradents. In the final form of the laws of Lev. 18 and 20, purity concerns are paradigmatic: all the violations enumerated cause defilement and threaten the Israelite presence in the land” (p. 189).
[3] It is more difficult to establish the reasoning behind the Middle Assyrian Laws (see pp. 192-95) but status and coercion as well as repeated acts play a role and so they certainly differ from Leviticus in qualifying the prohibition of male-male couplings.
[4] I do not think that the rendering of תבל as “confusion” or “mixing” is sufficiently certain to offer a good foundation for this argument but a concern with intermingling of what does not belong together is evident throughout biblical law. 

Man, Bed, Woman - Analysing a Hebrew Idiom

With neither the book of Leviticus nor homosexuality being one of my specific research interests, I had not read Jerome T. Walsh’s “Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13: Who is Doing What To Whom?,” JBL 120 (2001): 201-209,  when it first came out. But I did some work on Leviticus recently and a blog post comment by Jerome T. Walsh whetted my appetite for his contribution.  In it he draws attention to Saul M. Olyan’s essay “’And with a Male You Shall Not Lie the Lying down of a Woman’: On the Meaning and Significance of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13,” in the Journal of the History of Sexuality 5 (1994): 179-206.

The two verses in question are widely understood to condemn gay sex but there remains disagreement as to whether the law specifically refers to anal intercourse or to homoerotic acts generally, and if the former whether only the penetrative role is prohibited or both the penetrative and receptive roles.

Comparing the idiom משכבי אשה with משכב זכר in Num. 31:17-18, 35 and Judg. 21:11-12, Olyan argues that Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 specifically refer to intercourse. Observing that in biblical law the verb “to lie down with” always has the penetrative partner as its subject, he concludes that Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 address the one who penetrates. He argues further that the emphasis on the guilt of both parties in Lev. 20:13 is the result of later editorial activity of the sort also evident in Lev. 20:10.

Olyan then notes
“The general proscription of male-male intercourse in Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 is striking in light of the evidence from Athens, Rome, and the Middle Assyrian Laws. In the classical cultural contexts, status plays a significant part in determining licit and illicit couplings between males and in the bounding of the receptive and insertive roles: a nonfreeborn male could be legitimately penetrated by any man; in contrast, a freeborn male could not be penetrated by another of equal status, nor by a male of lower status. In the Middle Assyrian Laws, , status, coercion, and repeated acts of receptivity appear to play a part in constructing the boundaries between sanctioned and prohibited behaviors among men. In contrast, Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 ban all male couplings involving anal penetration, seemingly those coerced and those voluntary; those with men of higher status, equal status, or lower status; those with men of one’s own community or another community. The comprehensive character of the prohibitions appears to antedate the activity of the final H redactors; there is no evidence that the two formulations were anything but general in scope” (pp. 194-95).
Olyan observes that “a rhetoric of inclusivity permeates much of H’s material” (p. 195) and suggests that this emphasis on equal status before the law “may be one reason why the prohibition of male-male intercourse…[is] apparently unrelated to the status of the insertive and receptive partner” (p. 196). He notes the use of the general designation “male” rather than the more specific “your neighbour” (which would point to equal status).
Walsh appreciates and accepts Olyan’s argument for reading these two verses as specifically prohibiting anal intercourse but takes issue with the claim that Leviticus is distinctive within the ancient world for its general disapproval of male-male intercourse without regard to status or role.

Walsh observes that Olyan made no distinction between the verb used in Num. 31:17-18, 35 and Judg. 21:11-12 (“to know,” i.e. “to experience”) and the one used in Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 (“to lie down,” namely with someone). Walsh argues that we must contrast “know” (experience of someone else’s action) with “lie down” (perform the action implied in משכב). In other words, to know משכב זכר (experience the penetration of a male) is the same as to perform משכבי אשה (act as the receptive partner) and to know משכבי אשה (experience a receptive partner) is the same as to perform משכב זכר (act as the male who penetrates). On this view, the prohibition in Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 could have been phrases as “You must not know משכב זכר“ (in analogy to Num. 31:18, 35; Judg. 21:11) or “You must not know a man למשכב זכר“ (in analogy to Num. 31:17; Judg. 21:12).

Walsh believes that the “male” with whom the addressee of Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 is forbidden to lie down must be the penetrator and hence “the person addressed by the laws is the receptive partner” (p. 205). In other words, what Walsh believes to be at stake in the law is not male-male sexual intercourse generally but the feminisation (surrender of male status and authority) of the free, male citizen of Israel who allows himself to be penetrated.

In fact, Olyan’s philological analysis lacked precision also in another respect which was overlooked by Walsh. Olyan observes that when a woman experiences משכב זכר, she can be said to experience “male penetration.” It is easy to conclude from this that משכב זכר means “male penetration” and therefore should be rendered along the lines of “a male having sex (with her)” but this is a fallacy because the alternative rendering “she having sex with a male” is also possible. The experience is the same but the grammatical description is different.

In terms of Num. 31:17 and Judg. 21:12 where the phrase is introduced with ל, i.e. “every woman who has known a man with regard to having sex with a male / a male having sex,” we could say that Olyan has failed to raise the question whether the construct chain משכב זכר specifies the object of the verb (knowing a man, namely knowing him as a male going to bed [with you]) or the verb itself (knowing a man, namely knowing a man in the sense of going to bed with a male). He apparently assumes the former but both ways of describing the experience would seem possible. On Olyan’s reading of the texts, it is not necessary to rule out decisively one of the options because the law condemns both the action of penetrating a male and a male being penetrated. But for Walsh’s argument it is absolutely critical that the construct chain can only be understood in one way, namely with the second noun (the postconstructus) specifying the performer of the action implied in the first noun (the constructus).

In favour of reading the construct chain משכב זכר with the male (זכר) as the agent of the verbal act implied inמשכב  is the observation that it is more commonly a man who is said to lie down with a woman rather than the other way round. But in Gen. 19:32-33 and 2 Sam. 13:11 women are said to lie down with a man, so it is clear that the idiom can work both ways. In favour of the more conventional reading “has known a man by sleeping with him” (NRSV, by way of example) is the observation that in every single occurrence in which the verb שכב refers to sexual intercourse in the Hebrew Bible the verb has an object, either in the form of a direct object (marked with את) or a complement, i.e. an oblique object introduced with a preposition (את or עם, the latter nearly always in direct speech, maybe suggesting a different register). Therefore, given that along with the act the agent is implied in the construct noun, we may expect the postconstructus to offer the complement. If so, the construct chain would work similarly to the one in 2 Sam. 4:5 which seems to be the only place other than the ones mentioned above in which משכב carries a strong verbal notion and is used in a construct chain.[1]

If משכב זכר can be read either way, as “bedding a male” or “the bedding that a male does,” it is difficult to argue that משכבי אשה cannot mean “the beddings of a woman” but must be read as “the beddings that a woman does,” as Walsh assumes.

In fact, the argument above in favour of reading משכב זכר as “the bedding that a male does,” namely the observation that it is more commonly the man who is said to bed the woman, now works against reading משכבי אשה as “the beddings of a woman” and especially so given the surrounding legal context in which the subject of the cognate verb is always a man. This leaves Walsh’s parsing of the construct chain without an argument in its favour, while the argument against, namely that in cases where משכב  refers to sexual intercourse we would expect a complement to be specified, remains.

In sum, Olyan’s philological analysis can be questioned but his conclusion that  Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 ban all male couplings involving anal penetration appears to be sound.

I have offered a similar line of reasoning, focused on Walsh’s essay, in a guest blog post on Ian Paul’s blog.




[1] Ishboshet is said to “lie down the lying-down-of-noonday.” So if משכב הצהרים is the lying down “at noonday,” it should not be difficult to read משכב זכר as the laying down “with a male.” Elsewhere משכב refers to a place rather than an action, e.g. in 2 Sam. 4:7, 11.