G. Thomas Hobson, «ἀσέλγεια in Mark 7:22», Vol. 21 (2008) 65-74
The article argues that Jesus euphemistically refers to homosexual
behavior and similar sexual offenses against the Jewish law by use of the
term ἀσέλγεια on his list of sins that 'defile the human heart' in Mark
7:22-23. The article examines the use of ἀσέλγεια by Jewish, pagan, and NT
writers, and uses the Syriac translation to attempt to identify the original
Aramaic word used by Jesus in this verse and what he may have meant by it.
Jewish writers use ἀσέλγεια to refer to what they considered to be shocking
violations of the sexuality taught in the Torah.
66 Thomas Hobson
engine at Tufts University finds at least 62 uses of á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± in 29 classical
works, plus 52 uses of the adverb á¼€ÏƒÎµÎ»Î³á¿¶Ï‚ in 34 works, not counting its
appearances as a verb, an adjective, and in compound form5. Countless
additional uses of the root are found in the patristic period. Among pa-
gan authors, the root is used most frequently by Demosthenes, Polybius,
Philostratus, and Plutarch. According to W. Havers6, the basic meaning
is â€œverrÃ¼ckt, wahnsinnigâ€ (crazy, insane), from which it developed the
meanings â€œliebestoll, wohllÃ¼stigâ€ (love-crazed, lustful), and â€œunzuchtâ€
(promiscuous); it appears to come from an original á¼Î»ÎµÎ³Î±Î¯Î½Ï‰7.
á¼ˆÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± is mostly used to denote extremes of either violence (it is of-
ten paired with á½—Î²ÏÎ¹Ï‚ and/or Î²Î¯Î±), sexual licentiousness, or insolence. All
three meanings express a senseless shamelessness that knows no limits.8
Plutarch uses á¼€ÏƒÎµÎ»Î³Î±Î¯Î½ÎµÎ¹Î½ as the opposite of ÏƒÏ‰Ï†ÏÎ¿Î½Îµá¿–Î½ or â€œto practice
self-restraintâ€ (Lib. educ. 13.A.10).
Plato (Symp. 190c) speaks of the á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± of men who dare to assault
the gods themselves with the intent of taking their place. Demosthenes
(Con. 54.4.7) uses the word to describe the behavior of men who were
dumping chamberpots on the slaves of their host. Plutarch (Apoph. lac.
233.A.3) tells of men from Chios who deliberately vomited at dinner and
soiled the chairs they sat on with excrement, prompting their Spartan
hosts to say, â€œThe Spartans grant Chians permission to be utterly gross
Some specific examples from Plutarch help to narrow down what kind
of behavior is intended when á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± is used to refer to sexual misdeeds.
In Par. Min. 311.A.5, Smyrna falls in love with her father Cinyras and
tricks him into consorting with him in the dark. When Cinyras finds out
the truth, he pursues this â€œmost wanton womanâ€ (Ï„Î®Î½ á¼€ÏƒÎµÎ»Î³ÎµÏƒÏ„Î¬Ï„Î·Î½)
with the sword. In Par. min. 314.A.11, Phaedrea is described as â€œthe
wanton womanâ€ (á¼¡ á¼€ÏƒÎµÎ»Î³Î®Ï‚) for falling in love with her step-son and
pursuing him. And in Pel. 28.5.1, Plutarch speaks of a woman oppressed
by a tyrant who, â€œin addition to his other debaucheries (á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î±Ï‚), had
made her youngest brother his paramourâ€.
Havers, IF 195.
LSJ, s. v. á¼Î»ÎµÎ³Î±Î¯Î½Ï‰: â€œto be wrathful, wanton, violentâ€.
J. B. Lightfoot (Saint Paulâ€™s Epistle to the Galatians: A Revised Text With Introduc-
tion, Notes, and Dissertations [London 1890] 210-1) calls á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± â€œan open and reckless
contempt of proprietyâ€¦In classical Greek the word á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± generally signifies insolence or
violence toward another, as it is defined in Bekkerâ€™s Anecd. p. 451, á¼¡ Î¼ÎµÏ„á¾½ á¼Ï€Î·ÏÎµÎ±ÏƒÎ¼Î¿á¿¦ ÎºÎ±á½¶
Î˜ÏÎ±ÏƒÏÏ„Î·Ï„Î¿Ï‚ Î²Î¯Î±. In the later language, in the New Testament for instance, the prominent
idea is sensuality, according to the loose definition in Etym. Magn. á¼‘Ï„Î¿Î¹Î¼ÏŒÏ„Î·Ï‚ Ï€Ïá½¸Ï‚ Ï€á¾¶ÏƒÎ±Î½
á¼¡Î´Î¿Î½Î®Î½: comp. Polyb. xxxvii.2 Ï€Î¿Î»Î»á¿‚ Î´Îµ Ï„Î¹Ï‚ á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± ÎºÎ±á½¶ Ï€ÎµÏá½¶ Ï„á½°Ï‚ ÏƒÏ‰Î¼Î±Ï„Î¹Îºá¾¶Ï‚ á¼Ï€Î¹Î¸Ï…Î¼Î¯Î±Ï‚
Î±á½Ï„á¿· Ïƒá½Î½Î·ÎºÎ¿Î»Î¿ÏÎ¸ÎµÎ¹. Thus it has much the same meaning as á½—Î²ÏÎ¹Ï‚.â€