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
deletes á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± from his material, or why Mark adds it. Assuming that
Matthew deletes it, does he do so because it was superfluous, or because
it had shock value which was unnecessary in his context? Neither does
this theory require a belief in the authenticity of 2 Peter, although it
would enhance the theory even more if Peter, the suggested voice behind
Mark, were also the voice behind this letter that uses á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± more than
any other NT text.
What Aramaic word could Jesus have used, that Mark would have
translated into Greek as á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î±? Our best guess could be made by con-
sulting the Syriac version. The Syriac version of Mark 7,22 uses the noun
tzachnutah, meaning â€œharlotry, licentiousness, immodesty, or lewdnessâ€
(also translated by the Latin impudicitia, a word with strong homosexual
overtones)14. Tzachnutah is used in the Syriac NT only here, and in Gal
5,19 and 1 Pet 4,3 (in all three cases, it translates á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î±). Aramaic has
, meaning â€œstinking fluidâ€ (used in the Tar-
a rare cognate noun
even occurs as a hapax legomenon in
gum to Ezek 23,20). The root
the Hebrew Bible in Joel 2,20, where the noun form refers to the â€œstenchâ€
of rotting locusts. It is possible that the precise word Jesus used is no
longer extant or was never used in print, and that the Syriac term (which
closely resembles the meaning of á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î±), if it is not the precise term
that Jesus used, comes the closest to capturing what he said.
Both the Old Latin (a aur b c d f ff2 i n q r) and the Vulgate translate
á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± in Mark 7,22 with the term impudicitia, which they also use
for á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± in 2 Cor 12,21, Gal 5,19, and Eph 4,19. The Oxford Latin
Dictionary says that impudicitia is â€œoften used of homosexual viceâ€, and
that the related adjective impudicus also refers to â€œflouting the accepted
social codeâ€¦of men, often as sub., w. spec. ref. to homosexualityâ€15.
Williams claims that, unless one wished to bluntly call a man a cinae-
dus, the best way to euphemistically indicate that a man had been pene-
trated, or desired to be, was by the term impudicus16. Williams writes that
â€œâ€¦can insinuate a general lewdness or indecency with no spe-
cific reference to the receptive roleâ€¦most often an accusation of
impudicitia leveled against a man has an even nastier thrust and a
more precise effect, namely to signify that he has been penetrated.
R. Smith, A Compendious Syriac-English Dictionary (Oxford 1910) 477. In C.
Brockelmannâ€™s Lexicon Syriacum (Halle 1928) 626, tzachnutah is translated by the Latin
word impudicitia. The writer of this article would like to thank Dr. Timothy Saleska of
Concordia Seminary, St. Louis for his help on the Syriac term used here.
P. G. W. Glare, ed., The Oxford Latin Dictionary (Oxford 1968-82) 853.
C. A. Williams, Roman Homosexuality: Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiq-
uity (New York - Oxford 1999) 172-3.