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.
á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± in Mark 7:22
Demosthenes accuses a man of treating his slave-girl á¼€ÏƒÎµÎ»Î³á¿¶Ï‚ by
having sex with her openly at parties (Neaer. 59.33.1). Philostratus (Vit.
Apoll. 4.42.18) speaks of a character who dresses naked except for a gir-
dle around the waist, â€œlike the most licentious (á¼€ÏƒÎµÎ»Î³ÎÏƒÏ„Î±Ï„Î¿Î¹) of tavern
customersâ€; he also speaks disparagingly of a gang of men who violated
all standards of wantonness (á¼€ÏƒÎµÎ»Î³ÎµÏƒÏ„Î¬Ï„Î±) with the wife of a certain
man (Vit. Apoll. 3.20.40). Finally, a Cynic writer (Heraclitus, Epistle 7.5)
complains of â€œa single young man who through licentiousness (á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î±Î½)
is the lover of an entire cityâ€.
á¼ˆÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± appears twice in the OT Apocrypha and once in the Greek
OT proper. In Hos 7,14, Aquila and Symmachus retranslate the LXXâ€™s
â€œthey wail on their bedsâ€ (ÎºÎ¿Î¯Ï„Î¹Î±Ï‚) as â€œthey have spoken lasciviouslyâ€
(á¼€ÏƒÎµÎ»Î³á¿¶Ï‚ á¼Î»Î¬Î»Î·ÏƒÎ±Î½), evidently employing á¼€ÏƒÎµÎ»Î³á¿¶Ï‚ in a sexual sense9.
In the LXX, 3 Macc 2,26 refers to the unspecified â€œcountless á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î±Ï‚â€
of Antiochus IV. And Wis 14,26 juxtaposes á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± with Î¼Î¿Î¹Ï‡ÎµÎ¯Î±,
along with Î³Î±Î¼á¿¶Î½ á¼€Ï„Î±Ï‡Î¯Î± (â€œdisorder/confusion of marriagesâ€), Î³ÎµÎ½ÎÏƒÎµÏ‰Ï‚
á¼Î½Î±Î»Î»Î±Î³Î® (NRSV: â€œsexual perversionâ€), and ÏˆÏ…Ï‡á¿¶Î½ Î¼Î¹Î±ÏƒÎ¼ÏŒÏ‚ (â€œdefilement
Jewish writers almost always use this word in its sexual sense. It
appears that what Î²Î´ÎÎ»Ï…Î³Î¼Î± was to idolatry, á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± was to Ï€Î¿ÏÎ½ÎµÎ¯Î±:
sin taken to its most disgusting degree. In his comments on Gal 5,20,
J. B. Lightfoot writes, â€œA man may be á¼€ÎºÎ¬Î¸Î±ÏÏ„Î¿Ï‚ and hide his sin; he
does not become á¼€ÏƒÎµÎ»Î³Î®Ï‚, until he shocks public decencyâ€10. The term
may have been used to refer to what were regarded as the most shameless
violations of the sexuality taught in the Torah. For instance, in T. Levi
17,11, the Jewish writer lumps â€œlicentious personsâ€ directly together with
â€œthe lawless, pederasts, those who practice bestiality.â€ Philo (Spec. 3:23)
uses the word to describe the â€œlewdnessâ€ of marriage to oneâ€™s own sister.
Josephus (B. J. 4.9.10 Â§562) speaks of a Zealot named Simon and
his comrades who invade the Temple during the insanity of 68 AD and
proceed to imitate the dress and passions of women, devising in their
â€œextreme lasciviousnessâ€ (á½‘Ï€ÎµÏÎ²Î¿Î»á½²Î½ á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î±Î½) unlawful pleasures
and wallowing as in a brothel. Josephus also tells (A. J. 20.5.3 Â§112) of
a Roman soldier on guard in the Temple portico during Passover who
uncovers and exposes his genitals to the multitude; he laments the fact
that 20,000 stampede and die that day because of the â€œindecent behavior
(á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î±) of one soldierâ€.
Josephus tells (B. J. 1.22.3 Â§439) of the Jewish princess Mariamne
â€œcarrying wantonness (á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î±) so farâ€¦as to exhibit herself to a manâ€.
It would appear that Aquila and Symmachus misunderstood - to mean â€œabout
their promiscuitiesâ€ rather than â€œupon their bedsâ€.
Lightfoot, Galatians 210.