Sex And Christian Origins

Placing their rivals, real or imaginary, within diverse "schools" with multiple founders and one inspiration (Satan), Justin and Irenaeus developed a classificatory scheme that produced Christianity as a distinct, legitimate, and restricted genos. These legitimate Christians were not Jews; therefore Israel's misdeeds did not apply (Justin) and heretics could be condemned for behaving "like Jews" (Irenaeus). Biblical language regarding "seed," discussed in chapter 2, had been transformed; whereas previously this language was designed to protect and enforce a certain Judean identity, now it was employed to remove Israel from the genos of God altogether. Israel was now described as the unproductive "seed of Abraham"; the Christians had become the spiritually productive "seed," "race," and "household."59 Having been expelled from the family tree, Jews were condemned en masse for idolatry, polygamy, porneia, and uncontrolled lust. Even so, Justin and Irenaeus presupposed and preserved their own versions of a rhetoric they shared with "the Jews," including Paul: they lumped gentiles into one indistinguishable group of impious sexual sinners. They also repeated and revised the earlier, biblical strategy of describing target insiders as fornica-tors, apostates, and idolaters; that is, as gentiles. Their principal charge against the heretics—they were inspired and fathered by demons—identified them as unrepentant gentiles, all the more reprehensible because they called themselves Christian.

By labeling heresies, presenting them for examination, and describing their attributes, Justin and Irenaeus constitute the Christians as not-heretics, not-Jews, and not-gentiles, policing insiders even as they work to eliminate specific rivals.60 To achieve the status of Christian, as Justin and Irenaeus describe it, one had to accept the authority of certain male leaders, including themselves,61 recognize the legitimacy of certain books and certain interpretations,62 adopt particular ideas about god, humanity and the world,63 and display "good morals," especially sophrosyne (self-control) and eusebeia (piety). Otherwise, one failed at "being Christian" and remained a "gentile" or a "Jew." By classifying the beliefs and practices of outsiders as illegitimate, Justin and Irenaeus delimited the legitimate beliefs and practices of insiders, drawing boundaries with a customary "language of disqualification" involving charges of impiety, illegitimacy, and sexual misbehavior.64 Yet in this case "Jews" were disqualified as well, a departure from earlier forms of Christian argumentation.

In chapter 2, I noted that gentiles were regularly accused of sexual perversion by biblical authors; in-group targets were said to be "like the gentiles," that is, idolatrous and sexually wicked. "Bad" Israelites were the exception that proved the rule: good Israelites simply did not engage in such behavior. By and large, Paul and the authors of Jude and 2 Peter adopted this assumption as their own, presumably because they viewed themselves as within the category "Judean." For example, Paul warned his gentile-in-Christ audience to refrain from porneia, thereby avoiding the lust that regularly and characteristically troubled gentiles (1 Thess 4:3-7). By contrast, he never accused Judeans of porneia, even when he lamented the failure of some the members of his genos to conclude that Jesus was the Christ.65 Like biblical authors before him, the author of Jude also described the behavior of Israel in the wilderness as an exception, warning his audience not to become like them or face similar punishment (Jude 5, 17-19); the author of 2 Peter adopted a similar perspective, exhorting his readers to be wary of the false prophets of their own time just as the righteous in Israel had refused to listen to the unrighteous during their time, implicitly comparing the righteous followers of Christ to righteous Israel (2 Pet 2:1, 3, 7-10). Among these writers, Israel was presumed to be a holy people with a few bad apples rather than rotten to the core. Justin adopted a different perspective: the "bad" Israelites were not the exception, they were the rule. Indeed, God had given Israel the law to control their innately wicked disposition, yet even then they committed idolatry, fell prey to their lusts, and practiced child sacrifice (Justin Dial. 16.2-22.11, 92.1-93.4, 131.2-134.1). Justin identifies the Jews as an "other" that can be summarily—and stereotypically—attacked. Irenaeus then built on this argument, likening the heretics to pseudo-Jews and warning that the Jews will be punished (Iren. Adv. Haer. 5.33.1). To these authors, Christians were no longer "Jews"; they were a new, privileged genos of God.66

Of course, Justin and Irenaeus were not alone in their effort to assert purity, status, or privilege by enumerating the elite lineage of their group. As observed in the first chapter, status was often defended and justified by referencing virtue; free men were said to be more reasonable, more self-disciplined, and more courageous than their enslaved counterparts. Status distinctions were further validated in terms of kinship and patrimony.67 The emperors advertised their descent from the gods and other famous ancestors, including the illustrious, deified emperors.68 Ancient genealogies linked fathers to sons and families to peoplehood by means of tropes about "seed," adoption, shared customs, beliefs, or geographic origin.69 As observed in the second chapter, Judean authors also validated their community by references to God's "holy seed," a strategy that sought to establish Israel's (genetic) sexual and religious superiority.70 Thus, when Justin and Irenaeus claimed to be representatives of the "true genos of Israel," descended from the apostles, recipients of the implanted Logos, keepers of the ancient traditions, members of one harmonious household, and heirs to God's eternal kingdom, they were constructing a system of noble descent that competed for privilege in recognizable ways. They mapped Christian unity onto a dynastic scheme whereby truth was guarded by a chain of legitimate male heirs from God to Logos to prophet to apostle to Christian.

In this way, the effort to police insiders remained an outsider-focused strategy as well. According to Justin and Irenaeus, the Christians were a righteous genos and an honorable family, the sons and heirs of God.71 Their righteousness could be, and was, compared with the depravity of their rulers. In the third chapter I considered Justin's repeated insistence that the emperor and his heirs were ruled by demons and lust. Likewise, Irenaeus warned that rulers "will perish for everything they do to harm the just, iniquitously and illegally and in tyrannical fashion" (Av. Haer. 5.24.2). Irenaeus leaves open the possibility that they could turn to his God, control their lust, and properly discipline unruly humanity with their law and their sword (Adv. Haer. 5.24.2), yet he is equally confident that the Christians would rule in the end, a theory he supported by citing Daniel and Revelation in particular (Adv. Haer. 5.26.1-36.3). Justin's and Irenaeus' Christians, then, were not simply one genos among many; they were the best genos of all. They were not simply one school of thought among many possible options; they were the only "heresy" that taught the truth. Sexualized invective served as a resistance strategy as well as a policing tactic.

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