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.
72 Thomas Hobson
In this sense pudicitia represents no vague notion of chastity or
purity but rather the specific ideal of masculine bodily integrity
understood as impenetrability. In other words, a claim that a man
was impudicus usually functioned as a coded way of signifying that
his masculine inviolability had been compromised, and ancient
discussions of a manâ€™s pudicitia can almost always be reduced to
this question: Has he been penetrated or not?â€17.
Seneca (Ep. 99.13) condemns â€œmen who cater to the passions of them-
selves and others in mutual lust (mutuo inpudici)â€. Suetonius, writing
about Julius Caesar (Jul. 52.3), says, â€œLest there be any doubt in anyoneâ€™s
mind that he was notorious indeed both for his impudicitia and his adul-
teries, the elder Curio called him in one of his speeches â€˜every womanâ€™s
man and every manâ€™s womanâ€™â€. It is this sense of impudicitia that is
arguably the meaning behind Markâ€™s use of á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± in transmitting the
words of Jesus in Mark 7,22.
In its other six NT occurrences, á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± is translated as luxuria.
OLDâ€™s second meaning of luxuria seems to fit here: â€œUnruly or willful
behavior (of persons or animals). b. disregard for moral restraints, licen-
tiousnessâ€. The Roman comic poet Martial uses it this way: â€œ(N)othing
is more chaste than you of all men; but no page of mine is without wan-
tonness (luxuria)â€ (Ep. 3.69.4). Luxuria is used similarly by Tertullian in
connection with adulteria, stupra, and incestum (Ad Nat. 1.16.7-12).
What could Jesus have meant by the use of this root? The Syriac
translation confirms that there was a Semitic equivalent to the translated
term Mark uses. The Syriac term narrows the options on the meaning
of á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î±, and confirms that some form of sexual immorality was on
Jesusâ€™ mind. The Aramaic cognate of the Syriac term (if Jesus employed
a word from this root) suggests that the sin in question was a sin that
was a particular stench or source of revulsion. The Old Latin translation
strengthens the sense that á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± is used here to refer to homosexual
and/or other shocking behavior of a sexual nature. Perhaps further re-
search may connect the original term used by Jesus with specific sins in
the intertestamental rabbinic writings.
Exactly what did Jesus consider to be â€œutter shamelessnessâ€? What
did he consider too far â€œover the lineâ€? The danger is to impose twenty-
first century AD politically correct ideas on Jesus. It is unlikely that
Jesus used the word to describe the scandals of poverty and injustice. It
is unlikely that he was speaking of mere affronts to â€œcommon decencyâ€
(whatever that means). In context, it is far more likely that Jesus had in
mind what his fellow Jews (like the author of 2 Peter) meant when they
Williams, Roman Homosexuality 173.