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Mt 19.12: absolutely most marked category of human mentioned and promoted by Jesus himself


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#1 jkgayle

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Posted 22 February 2018 - 07:21 AM

In all of the gospels, in all of the Greek New Testament, in all of the Septuagint, of all the categories of human beings employed -- especially in the context of Matthew 19 where men are asking men about what's legal in holy texts written by men for men about men's women and wives and children -- there is one stand out phrase. It stands out because no other gospel writer uses it. It stands out because it is only used elsewhere in the New Testament, in the book of Acts, when Philip has a conversation with someone struggling to understand the text he is reading. It is not so commonly used in the Septuagint.

 

When it appears in the book of Esther translated into Greek and when that Greek is translated into English it is "chamberlains."

 

When we read it elsewhere in the Septuagint and in varied works of the Greek classics (both fiction of the funny crude plays of, say, Aristophanes, and "fact" of the sex-obsessed science of say, Aristotle) then we often have English translators, who don't want to commit to its specific meaning in the specific context, merely transliterate the Greek sounds and letters into English sounds and letters as "eunuchs." 

 

The  phrase that Jesus utters here with significant variation in a short contentious context and packed into a single but diverse verse is εὐνοῦχοι.

 

What must we make of that?

 

 



#2 Abram K-J

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Posted 22 February 2018 - 10:40 AM

And he mentions eunuchs in three categories, the first of which is those who don't choose to be eunuchs (the most fascinating and unexpected part of this passage for me): εὐνοῦχοι οἵτινες ἐκ κοιλίας μητρὸς ἐγεννήθησαν οὕτως = "eunuchs who have been so from birth (lit., from their mother’s womb)." This first mention makes me think he must be referring to those born with different chromosomal arrangements than just XX or XY, the "male and female" he had already alluded to. In other words, he acknowledges this category (already known to the ancient world) of a human that is neither (fully) male nor (fully) female. He certainly can't be referring to the role/job of a eunuch (your "chamberlain") if he is saying from birth, right? At least in his first of three categories of eunuch. Fascinating.

 

I wondered for the first time today whether he might be using "eunuch" as a stand in for "celibate one," although that doesn't fit the category of those who don't choose to be eunuchs, as celibacy is something we think of as chosen. Still, his response using "eunuchs" is an answer to the disciples' question regarding the difficulty of remaining faithfully married... and the alternative they ask about is not getting married at all, which is where Jesus brings in eunuchs. 

 

Definitely worthy of further reflection and research! 


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#3 jkgayle

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Posted 22 February 2018 - 02:59 PM

He certainly can't be referring to the role/job of a eunuch (your "chamberlain") if he is saying from birth, right?

 

Right. Nonetheless, both εὐνοῦχοι and chamberlains seem to have similar etymologies. εὐνῆς + ἔχειν, or something like bed + keeper. (At any rate, the English rendering I like of Greek Esther isn't one that Dr. Karen Jobes has for her NET Septuagint version. Rather, chamberlains is the translation of Sir Lancelot Brenton, starting in the first chapter - after he's used the transliteration "eunuch" earlier in the preliminary stuff.)

Unless. Matthew's Jesus were letting the Greek words play; let me play with the ESV:

10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”
11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 
12 For there are 'marriage-bed security guards,' chamberlains if you will, who have been so from birth;
and there are 'bed keepers' who have been made 'keepers of the bed' by men,
and there are 'security guards of the bed' who have made themselves '
bed security guards' for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

 

It is sort of funny to be that literal, that extremely etymological, that very functional here for Jesus and his disciples, as one would be in contexts such as is in Greek Esther where castrated men guard the harem of virgins and concubines and wives, for the male King. And yet the Rabbi and his opponents and the Rabbi and his learners are all talking about marriage of a woman to a man. How would Greek readers of Matthew read it much differently? If they'd read the Septuagint also, or had heard it, it wouldn't be only Esther. It would also be Ecclesiasticus (aka Sirach), whose Greek warns again lust of the virgin maids by the chamberlains, by those who were guarding them for the bed of the uncastrated male taking the virgin. Matthew has Jesus quoting from Sirach in Chapter 11 already, doesn't he?

Thanks for saying, "Definitely worthy of further reflection and research!" We're reading at such a rapid pace every day, it's hard to notice everything, much more difficult to take time to form a comment. But this one really does seem to beg for us to pause. To reflect. To investigate.

Sorry to go on so long.

What about the translation sexless? Or what about "without sexual capacity"?

That's how classics scholar Richmond Lattimore translates what Jesus says. And it's how Greek New Testament scholar Clarence Jordan translates what Jesus says here. The emphasis gets put on the gender and the sex of the body of the once-male individual. I'm using once-male in the sense that Aristotle uses it when he explicates about those who become εὐνοῦχοι.

https://bltnotjustas...transgendering/


Edited by jkgayle, 22 February 2018 - 03:37 PM.


#4 Abram K-J

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Posted 22 February 2018 - 03:42 PM

What about the translation sexless? Or what about "without sexual capacity"?

 

This makes some sense to me given the larger context of the passage... although such a translation here might suggest that Jesus is conflating marriage with one of its (potential) purposes of procreation, which I'm not sure this passage speaks to per se. Isn't the larger context still divorce and two becoming one, for all time?

 

One line of further inquiry I want to pursue is the Greek coordinating conjunctions Jesus uses at the beginning of v. 11 (δὲ=but) and v. 12 (γὰρ=for). That could be a clue to following his flow, i.e., how he goes from disciples saying singleness is better (v. 10) to acknowledging the difficulty of "this teaching" (v. 11) to eunuchs (v. 12). There seems to be an inclusio around the eunuchs to the effect of "let anyone who can accept (χωρέω) this teaching do so, but you might only be able to accept it if it has been given to you."

 

This is the kind of thing Jesus could say (and has said) in relation to other teachings of his, and it seems to be important to understanding this passage, but I'll confess I'm not clear how it sheds light on verse 12 itself.

 

Maybe we mull it over some more and take it to the biblioblogosphere! :)


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#5 jkgayle

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Posted 23 February 2018 - 06:38 AM

Whether we mull it over in the biblioblogosphere or not, please say more about "the Greek coordinating conjunctions" and this possible "inclusio around the eunuchs"! I think you may be on to something.

I also suspect that Matthew is developing themes over the long arc of his gospel and that things may get clearer, a little, when we come to Jesus talking in chapter 22.


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#6 Abram K-J

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Posted 23 February 2018 - 08:50 AM

I’m afraid I don’t have much more than that at the moment, but I am going to look into those little conjunctions!
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#7 Daniel Francis

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Posted 23 February 2018 - 12:14 PM

eunuchs from birth could be a few different things including undecended testes. Now typically by 3 months they have dropped but there are occasions where they never do without surgical intervention. There is of course the common gender ambiguity that happens far more often than people think. Tragically even when XY they have almost always been ‘corrected’ into girls with the phrase easier to make a hole than a pole being prevailing wisdom. Then there is the idea Christ is mentioning what modernity is revered to as homosexuals. A man not capable of being with a woman. We well may never know for certain this side of paradise the exact thing Jesus meant but we of course get a broad drift of what is being said and implied for sure.

-Dan

Edited by Daniel Francis, 23 February 2018 - 12:15 PM.

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