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People with a History: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans* History Sourcebook

John Boswell Page

Editor: Paul Halsall



John Boswell (d. 1994) has been probably the best known historians of homosexuality in recent decades. His work is extremely controversial, and has been from the start.

This page collects information about Boswell's works, reviews, and discussions of particular points of his scholarship.

John Boswell: Writings on History of Sexuality
  • Boswell, John, The Church and the Homosexual: An Historical Perspective, (Keynote address at Dignity's 4th Biennial Convention, Sept. 1979), repr. in Kathleen Leopold and Thomas Orians, eds., Theological Pastoral Resources: A Collection of Articles on Homosexuality from a Pastoral Perspective, 6th ed., (Washington DC : Dignity. 1981, repr. 1985), 16-20
  • Boswell, John, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay people in Western Europe from the beginning of the Christian era to the fourteenth century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980) [At Internet Archive borrow facility]
  • Boswell, John (interviewed by Richard Hall), "Historian John Boswell on Gay Tolerance and the Christian Tradition", The Advocate (28 May 1981), 20-23, 26-27
  • Boswell, John, Rediscovering Gay History : Archetypes of Gay Love in Christian History, (London : Gay Christian Movement, 1982)
    Early presentation of the themes later developed in Same Sex Unions.
  • Boswell, John, "Revolutions, Universals, Categories", Salmagundi 58-59 (Fall 1982-Winter 1983), 89-113
    reprinted, and more easily accessible in, Martin Bauml Duberman, Martha Vincus and Ceorge Chauncey, eds., Hidden From History, New York: NAL, 1989, 17-36)
    Boswell's extended discussion of the method and theory behind his researches and interpretations.
  • Boswell, John, in The Journal of Religion 67:3 (July 1987), 365, review of Robin Scroggs, The New Testament and Homosexuality: Contextual Background for Contemporary Debate, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press: 1983)
  • Boswell, John, "Old Habits, New Habits", The New Republic Jan 6, 1986; 194:1 p. 36-39, review of Judith C. Brown, Immodest Acts - The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy, (New York: Oxford UP, 1986)
  • Boswell, John, "The Origins of Christian Intolerance of Homosexuality", (in Spanish), Cuadernos del Norte 8:44 (1987), pp. 18-23
  • Boswell, John, "Books: Gay History", The Atlantic Feb 1989; 263:2 p. 74-78
    review of David F. Greenberg, The Construction of Homosexuality, (Chicago: Chicago UP, 1988)
  • Boswell, John, "Concepts, Experience, and Sexuality", Differences 2.1 (1990) 67-87
  • Boswell, John, interview by Lawrence Mass, "Sexual Categories, Sexual Universals: An Interview with John Boswell", Christopher Street 151 (1990), 23-40
    Boswell discusses with Mass the implications and controversies over his work.
  • Boswell, John., "Battle-worn.", The New Republic v. 208 (May 10 '93) p. 15+
    ABSTRACT: In ancient times, homosexuality had a hallowed relationship to democracy and military valor, even though modern military officials tend to find this improbable or even unbelievable. Many persons who might now be considered "gay" played prominent roles in the military, and some observers of the times argued that gay men would make ideal soldiers because they would wish to behave admirably while those they loved were present. In 378 B. C., the Theban leader Gorgidas created a company of 300 men, known as the "sacred band" of Thebes, composed of pairs of lovers; according to Plutarch. The troop played a crucial role in many military engagements and was never beaten until the battle of Chaeronea in 338
  • Boswell, John, "Dante and the Sodomites." Dante Studies 112 (1994?), 33-51
  • Boswell, John, Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe, (New York: Villard, 1994) [At Internet Archive borrow facility]
  • YouTube: John Boswell: Jews, Gay People, and Bicycle Riders [Note links to YouTube often go bad]
    Aa lecture on April 25, 1986, in Birge Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Reviews of Boswell's Books

John Boswell was often criticized as an "advocacy scholar". Some gay scholars, adhering to the secularist norm, dismissed him as a "Catholic apologist". Much more common has been the attack on him as a "pro-homosexual" writer, who distorted and misread texts. Other reviewers were impressed by his work.

What has been striking about the attacks on Boswell because of his religious beliefs, or because of his sexuality (both openly announced), is that the critics often adopt an Olympian position that they are not subject to such subjectivity. In fact many of the critics have perhaps stronger and stricter ideological commitments that Boswell. Here then, I have tried to indicate [in brackets], the religious/political/scholarly positions, where known, of both his critics and supporters.

Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980)

Perhaps still the single most important work by a serious scholar. Proposes that homosexuals were accepted before the 13th century, and then intolerance sets in. Criticized by gay radicals for letting the Church off the hook. Boswell rejects idea that homosexual subcultures are a recent development. Nevertheless, at this stage virtually all of Boswell's specific conclusions have been called into question. Students of the period must look at later scholarly publications.

  • Adams, Jeremy, Speculum 56 (April 1981), 350-55 - high commendation.
  • Arrowsmith, Keith (pseud. Walter Kendrick), "Toujours gai? Pas du tout!", Village Voice (11 Mar 1981), 44-45 - very positive. [Non-medievalist English Lit scholar.]
  • Atkinson, W., in The Review of Books and Religion 10:1 (September 1981), 1-3
  • Bonds, William N., Journal of Homosexuality 7:1 (Fall 1981), 94-102
  • Bond, Gerald, "`locus Amoris': The Poetry of Baudri of Bougueil and the Formation of the Ovidian Subculture", Traditio 42 (1986), 143-93
    Sees the subculture as not-homosexual and criticizes Boswell
  • Bonds, William N., Journal of Homosexuality 7:1 (Fall 1981), 94-102
  • Bronski, Michael, "Gay History; Setting the Record Straight", Gay Community News 8:17 (Nov 1980), p 1 - attacks Boswell for being pro-Church. [Gay Scholar. Not a medieval specialist.]
  • Bruland, E. B. in TSF Bulletin 7:1 (September-October 1983), 33-34
  • Brundage, James, Catholic Historical Review 68 (Jan 1982), 62-64 - sees it as an important book with some citation and "special pleading" flaws. [Top-notch scholar of medieval sexuality.]
  • Bullough, Vern, "Gods, Gays and Scholars" Inquiry 3:18 (27 October 1980), 28-29 - disagrees with Boswell and sees a basic hostility to homosexuality in Christianity. [Not a medievalist, but an important scholar of history of sexuality.]
  • Stephen Carlson: Boswell's Analysis of ARSENOKOITHS in 1Co6:19 and 1Tm1:10, Source unknown
  • Christensen, E., English Historical Review 96 (October 1981), 852-54 - skeptical about Aelred and Anselm as gay men.
  • Crompton, Louis, "The Roots of Condemnation", Commonweal (5 June 1981), 338-40 - mixed review. [Non-medievalist English-Lit scholar. Advocate of theory of "gay genocide by church" theories]
  • Cunningham, Lawrence S., New Catholic World 225 (Jan 1982), 44-45 - some qualms - but predicted, accurately, that the book would revolutionize the study of homosexuality.
  • Dinshaw, Carolyn. "Touching the Past", paper delivered at the Queer Middle Ages Conference, New York, November 7, 1998
        On the final night of the QMA conference Prof. Dinshaw was awarded the final plenary session, and had given a  title "Touching on the Past" which revealed precisely nothing about her subject. How would a  leading literary scholar address the issues the conference had
        What she did was to present a paper which was elegant in manifold ways. As a literary scholar she asked the question posed once to Marc Bloch by his son ' "Tell me, daddy, what is the use of history?"  A question she insisted which was both moving, and problematic for those whose life is not oriented towards the reproduction of children.  What past, she asked, might a sexual community claim?
        To explore this question she undertook literary and historical exploration of the work John Boswell, specifically the reception of  Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, [CSTH] an exploration based on her use of the archive of Boswell's papers maintained by his literary executor Ralph Hexter. For some of us in the audience, Prof. Dinshaw's subject was a profoundly satisfying salute to the effective founder of the area of research to which the conference was dedicated.
        Dinshaw explained the immense popular success of CSTH in 1980. Its review in Newsweek, along with the picture of Boswell with *three* undone buttons caused a sensation, a sensation Dinshaw found manifest in the letters between Boswell and his editors. For many gay people who did not read the book, the book's existence became immensely important - here was an important historian, one who taught at Yale, who had put forth a book *with footnotes*, a book which made it clear that *we* have a past.  I think this was the most forthright discussion I have ever heard by a literary scholar of the important role "lesbian and gay history" has played in the creation of the modern Lesbian and Gay community in the modern west.  Despite the immediate *gay academic * resistance to Boswell's book, and its claim that the Christian Church had not always been homophobic but had become so in the later 13th century, Boswell's letter archive showed the tremendous impact of the book. There was even a proposal to make it into a mini-series, and a PBS documentary. Dinshaw documents how Boswell saw the book, and his project - his point was that "if we had a place in the past, then we should have a place in the present"- indeed in his 1982 article [in Salmagundi?] Boswell had argued that to have a place in the present then we must have a place in the past. There is no getting around Boswell's essentialism here - for him, if modern gay/straight is an invention of culture then it is not real, and there is no gay history. Boswell was explicitly insistent that the word "gay" must be used - in a letter to his French publisher Gallimard, he argued that no other word in any other language would do. Gay people were indeed for Boswell "people with a history" [and here, Prof Dinshaw specifically referred to the "polemical title" of this web site People with a History]
        Dinshaw made clear here her discomfort with this approach: she argued that she was committed to a "constructionist view of history"; that Boswell's gay essence looked very like the "gay identity" of the post Stonewall period; and that Boswell overlooked difference between that identity and, for instance institutionalized pederasty. [Here, I think she made one factual error: one of her example of a Boswell distortion was his portrayal of adelphopoiesis rituals as between coevals rather than as between age-dissonant couples. In fact, the problem with adelphopoiesis is whether it was about sex or affectivity at all - but it was, as far as we can see, a ritual of equals.] She also made clear that Boswell's historical approach might tie into a more reformist, as opposed to radical, political agenda in the modern lesbian and gay communities, although she noted that Boswell himself objected to this characterization of his work.  In this light, she examined what, to many anti-Boswell social constructionists, might seem a very odd turn of events. One of Boswell's major fans, one who was instrumental in  the CSTH's French publication, was Michel Foucault, who in 1979, after the publication of The History of Sexuality Volume 1 wrote a fan letter to Boswell (in English) in which he averred that the book open up new avenues of approach. Foucault especially liked, it seems, Boswell's distinction between homoeroticism and homosexuals as a "self-conscious group" [although later in 1988, Boswell made it clear that the "essence" he saw through history was related to homoeroticism rather than group consciousness.] Foucault was especially  interested, it seems, in the notion of self-consciousness, and the ways in  which self-fashioning of the US LGBT community which, to him,  could take place outside identity but in collectivity. [I must say, I am not quite clear what this means!]
        In her peroration, Dinshaw expressed her own interest in the Boswell archive and her distance from it: she was interested in its documentation of the foundational period of LGBT studies, but distant from Boswell's work, both as a Lesbian and as one committed to constructionist non-foundational history. Nevertheless, she seemed to make it clear that she found the project of imagining a community across time, though partial connection, with bodies and lives in the past, a project of real interest.
  • Duberman, Martin Bauml, The New Republic 918 (October 1980), 32-35 - favorable, with some doubts, because he thinks Boswell is "conservative". [Modern American specialist. Important scholar in gay historiography.]
  • Dynes, Wayne, "Christianity and the Politics of Sex", in Warren Johansson et al., Homosexuality, Intolerance and Christianity, A Critical Examination, (New York: Scholarship Committee, Gay Academic Union, 1981)
    Less obsessively anti-Christian than his colleagues in this collection of attacks on Boswell.. Clearly defines, apparently for all gay people, Christianity as "our enemy".
  • Dynes, Wayne, Gay Books Bulletin 4 (Fall 1980), 2-4 - sees some merit. Calls Boswell's scriptural exegesis "amateurish and tendentious".
  • Goodrich, Philip, in Epiphany: A Journal of Faith and Insight 8 (Winter 1988), 80-83
  • Grant, Robert, The Christian Century 98 (21 Jan 1981), 60 - generally favorable.
  • Greenberg, David E. & M.H. Bystrin, "Christian Intolerance of Homosexuality", American Journal of Sociology 88 (1982), pp. 515-548
  • Guindon, A. in Eglise et Theologie (Ottawa) 15 (May 1984), 241-243
  • Haeberle, Erwin J., Journal of Sex Research 17 (1981), 184-87
  • Hamilton, Wallace, "A Different Mirror", Christopher Street (September 1980), 50-55 - positive review.
  • Harvey, John, Linacre Quarterly (August 1981), 265-75 - critical [Harvey is a priest-psychologist in New York, and founder of a group - Courage - for Catholic gays unhappy with their sexuality.]
  • Hauerwas, Stanley, in Saint Luke's Journal of Theology 28 (June 1985), 228-232
  • Hays, R.B., "Relations Natural and Unnatural: A Response to John Boswell's Exegesis of Romans I", Journal of Religious Ethics 14 (1986), pp. 184-215
    A attempt to defend natural law condemnation of homosexuality.
  • Henry, Patrick, Church History 51 (Dec 1982), 448-49 - very favorable.
  • Hill, Bennet D. Library Journal 105 ((1 June 1980), p. 1304 - very favorable.
  • Hoffman, Richard J, "Vices, Gods and Virtues: Cosmology as a Mediating Factor in Attitudes toward Male Homosexuality", Journal of Homosexuality 9:2/3 (Winter 1983/Spring 1984), 27-44 - sees Boswell as a Church apologist.
  • Jewett, P. K. in The Reformed Journal 33:1 (January 1983), 14-17
  • Johansson, Warren, "Ex parte Themis: The Historic Guilt of the Christian Church", in Homosexuality, Intolerance and Christianity, A Critical Examination, (New York: Scholarship Committee, Gay Academic Union, 1981)
  • Kennedy, Hubert, The Advocate (20 Dec 1980) - very favorable. [Gay history scholar - specializes in modern Germany.]
  • Lauritsen, John, "Culpa Ecclesiae: Boswell's Dilemma", in Homosexuality, Intolerance and Christianity: A Critical Examination, (New York: Scholarship Committe, Gay Academic Union, 1981)
    Attack on Boswell's theory that the Church did not create hatred of gays, by a leading proponent of the theory that the Church was responsible for homophobia.
  • Lemay, Helen R., "Homosexuality in the Middle Ages", Cross Currents 30 (Fall 1980), 352-60 - has some problems with Boswell's translations. Seems surprised that Boswell is "attempt(ing) to justify homosexual behavior."
  • Leroi, Alan, "Le chambre des hommes: le second ages d'or de l'homosexualite au moyen-age", Gai Pied Hebdo 166 (26 April 1985), 22-24, 66 - summary of French translation by Alain Tachet (Christianisme, tolerance sociale et homosexualite, Paris: Gallimard, 1985)
  • Lineham, Peter, Times Literary Supplement (London), (23 Jan 1981), p. 73 - critical of Boswell's views of St. Anselm.
  • MacMullen, Ramsay. "Roman Attitudes to Greek Love"; Historia 31: (1982) 484-502. Negative on Boswell's views of Roman homosexuality in CSTH.
  • Martinelli, Elio, "Cristanismo e Omosessualita", Paideia 37 (1982), 31-40 - - finds some errors and accuses Boswell of being an apologist for Roman Catholicism.
  • Matter, E. Ann. Review of Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, Church History 51 (December 1982): 448-49.
  • McCollum, A. B. in Journal of Ecumenical Studies 20 (Fall 1983), 665
  • Mendham, P. M. in Saint Mark's Review 106 (June 1981), 57-58
  • Mills, J. (reply to Jewett) in The Reformed Journal 33:5 (May 1983), 9-10
  • Mills, Jonathan, "John Boswell's corruption of the Greeks", Crux: a Quarterly Journal of Christian Thought and Opinion 18:4 December 1982, 21-27: ABSTRACT: John Boswell's Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality seems to offer an extensively documented impartial study establishing an objective historical perspective for the contemporary discussion of homosexuality. However, this investigation of Boswell's sources for his presentation of iews on homosexuality in ancient Greece shows that he treats his sources in a most arbitrary manner and should not be received as a reliable guide to their meaning.
  • Modras, R., in Currents in Theology and Mission 10 (February 1983), 50
  • Monteagudo, Jesse, "new Book Clarifies Homosexuality in the Bible", The Weekly News (Miami) (1 Oct 1980), p. 3 - accepts Boswell's arguments.
  • Moore, John C. American Historical Review 86 (April 1981), 381-82 - recommends the book but has some reservations.
  • Moore, R.I. History (London). 66: no.217 (June 1981), p. 281
  • Neuhaus, Richard John, "In The Case of John Boswell", First Things (1994) - recent attack on Boswell. Uses secondary materiels to attack Boswell - mainly Hays article in the Journal of Religous Ethics and David Wright's article in the Encyclopeadia of Early Christianity. [Neuhaus is a neo-conservative former Lutheran-turned-super-Roman priest. As editor of First Things he publishes constant attacks on homosexuals.]
  • Olsen, Glenn, W., "The Gay Middle Ages: a response to Professor Boswell", Communio: International Catholic Review (summer 1981), pp. 119-138 - Highly critical discussion of Boswell's discussion of natural law. He calls Boswell's arguments "weird" and "foolish". [Olsen is a professional scholar. Communio is an explicitly conservative Catholic publication.]
    ABSTRACT: This review gives special attention to Boswell's treatment of Aristotle, the biblical texts on homosexuality, and the natural law tradition. Boswell's methodology and definitions are also examined.
  • Pagdug, Robert, Body Politic (Toronto) 70 (Feb 1981), 29 - sees book as important, but criticizes Boswell's use of the word "gay" for the past.
  • Patricca, Nicholas, American Journal of Sociology 88 (1983), 1333-6, favorable review. Criticizes urban/rural distinction.
  • Petersen, William L."Can arsenokoitai be translated by "homosexuals" (1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10)", Vigilae Christianae: A Review of Early Christian Life and Language 40:2 June 1986, 187-191
  • Petersen, William L., "On the Study of "Homosexuality" in Patristic Sources", Studia Patristica 20 (1989), 283-88
    Criticises both Boswell and David Wright [misnamed as "John Wright"] on the issue of "arsenokoitai", especially Wright's defense of the RSV translation as "homosexuals". Argues that the word does not mean "all male-male sexual acts", although he does a general Christian aversion to all sex.
  • Richlin, Amy, "Not Before Homosexuality: The Materiality of the Cinaedus and the Roman Law against Love Between Men", Journal of History of Sexuality 3:4 (1993), 523-573
    A significant attack on the Foucault/Halperin/Winkler thesis that "homosexuality" is an irrelevant category for the Roman past. Good up to date bibliography on the issues.
  • Robinson, Paul, The New York Times Book Review (10 August 1980), p 12 - very favorable review.
  • Savor, Steven W., "What Boswell Uncovered - Digging for Roots in Frozen Ground", Alternate (Nov. 1980), p 61 - favorable review.
  • Sheehan, M, M., "Christianity and Homosexuality", Journal of Ecclesiastical History 33 (1982), pp. 438-446
    Reviews Boswell, Social Tolerance, Goodich, Unmentionable Vice, and Coleman, Christian Attitudes. Critical of Boswell.
  • Shelp, Earl E. Theology Today 38 (1981), 256-58 - favorable.
  • Silvestre, H., "Rupert de Deutz et John Boswell desarmes devant le meme devinette", Revue d'Histoire Ecclesiastique 80 No 3-4, July-December 1985, 771-775
  • Smith, Tom L. "Medieval Limits to Social Tolerance", Bloomsbury Review (Jan-Feb 1981), pp5ff - favorable to Boswell, but very critical of Goodich's The Unmentionable Vice.
  • Stone, Charles (letter), The Advocate (9 July 1981) p.7 - criticizes Boswell and claims that Gay liberation took place during decline of Christianity.
  • Stone, Lawrence, "Sex in the West", The New Republic (8 July 1985), 25-37 - looks a over 20 recent books. Respectful of Boswell.
  • Strouse, Jean, "Homosexuality Since Rome", Newsweek (29 September 1980), 79-82 - favorable, plus profile of Boswell.
  • Thomas, Keith, "Rescuing Homosexual History", New York Review of Books Vol 27 (4 Dec 1980), 26-29 - accuses Boswell of neglecting the penitentials and of "special pleading".
  • Touchet, F. H. in The Journal of Pastoral Counseling 17 (Spring-Summer 1982), 84-85
  • Towler, Robert, Sociological Analysis 42 (1981), 187-88 - favorable
  • Vanderbosch, Jane, 'Comment on John Boswell's CSTH", Signs 7 (Spring 1982), 722-24 - criticizes Boswell for his brevity on women.
  • Weeks, Jeffery, "In Days of Yore When Knights were Gay", History Today 9 July 1980), pp 41ff - finds Boswell's work "far from definitive' (a claim Boswell does not make). Criticizes Boswell's use of the word "gay". [Weeks is a leading member of the "social constructionist school of gay history. He has not published on the middle ages.]
  • Wilamowitz-Steindorff, Karl von, (letter) "Only on American Soil", Village Voice (25-31 Mar 1981), p.3 - says attitude to Boswell's book depends on whether you see history of Christianity as one of genocide to gay people.
  • Williams, Bruce A. in The Thomist, 46 (1982). - critical
  • Wright, David F., "Early Christian Attitudes to Homosexuality", Studia Patristica 18:3 (1989) 329-33
    Critic of Boswell, again. Calls Ausonius a "half-baked Christian. quite.
    [David Wright, a former professor of mine at the University of Edinburgh, with real scholarly skills. But he is also conservative evangelical, and an elder in one of the most theologically conservative congregations in Edinburgh. Moreover, he has been attacking Boswell for decades now, beginning with an oral presentation, at which I was present. to the Graduate Seminar of the Edinburgh History department (in 1981 or 82). He began by making overtly homophobic jokes about Boswell's use of the word "gay". This may have represented Edinburgh provincialism (homosexuality only having become legal there in 1979) , but it was excruciating to sit through.]
  • Wright, David F., "Homosexuals or Prostitutes? The Meaning of Arsenokoitai (1 Cor 6:9, 1 Tim 1:10", Vigiliae Christianae 38 (1984) 125-53
    Serious attack on Boswell's argument that this word does not mean "homosexual". He notes he origin of the word in the Greek of the Septuagint of Leviticus 18:22. Boswell responds in Same-Sex Unions.
    ABSTRACT: This article [attempts to] shows that John Boswell's claim (Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, 1980) that arsenokoitai means male prostitutes, not male homosexuals, is groundless. The word probably originated in Hellenistic Judaism, based on the very close parallel in Lev 18:22, 20:13 LXX. Levitical influence apparently underlies its use in Or.Sib. 2:73. Evidence is adduced from the early NT versions, occurrences in early Christian literature, where it often parallels paidophthoria, and the linguistic structure of this and similar compounds.
  • Wright, David F., "Translating arsenokoitai (1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10)", Vigilae Christianae 41:4 (1987), 396-398
  • Wright, David, "Homosexuality" in Encyclopedia of Early Christianity. ed. Everett Ferguson et al., (New York: Garland Pub., 1990)
    Contains this gem "The conclusion must be that for all the interest and stimulus Boswell's book provides in the end of the day NOT ONE PIECE OF EVIDENCE that the teaching mind of the early Church countenanced homosexual activity." See entry under Biblical studies on an earlier Wright article.
  • Wright, J. Robert, "Boswell on Homosexuality: A Case Undemonstrated", Anglican Theological Review 66 (1984), 79-94 - concentrates mainly on Boswell's views on scripture.
    ABSTRACT: The central contention of the book reviewed, that the biblical or patristic or historical tradition of the church was not seriously opposed to homosexual practice until the mid-13th century and that there is therefore no valid basis in Christian tradition for teaching that homosexual practice is wrong, is not demonstrated by the evidence presented. The article does not attempt to prove the contrary, or to discuss wider issues that are related, but rather only demonstrates that the book's historical argumentation and methodology, especially its use of scriptural, patristic, and medieval sources, does not establish its claims at the bar of critical scholarship.

Later Discussions

Boswell, John, Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe, (New York: Villard, 1994) [British title: The Marriage of Likeness: Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe]

A groundbreaking study of the "Adelphopoiia" liturgy, which Boswell argues, was for centuries used as a public liturgy to celebrate erotic relationships between people of the same sex.

  • "Different strokes for medieval folks -- Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe by John Boswell", The Economist (Feb 11, 1995) 77-78, favorable review
  • "The talk of the town--Beyond Stonewall: Gay struggles, 25 years on". New Yorker Jun 20, 1994; 70:18 p. 35-37 - on Boswell's book.
  • "Modern Wise Men Encounter Jesus.", in Christianity today. DEC 12 1994 v 38 n 14 :Summary: "More about Jesus would I know." But how much do three recent studies of Jesus deliver?...Plus: Were they lovers or just friends? Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe."
  • "Same-sex Unions.", Church and society. JUL 01 1994 v 84 n 6, p. 24
  • "Yale history professor John Boswell ignites debate with claims that the Christian Church condoned gay marriages in the Middle Ages.", in People Weekly. JUN 27 1994 v 41 n 24
  • Arnold, Lee, "History -- Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe by John Boswell", Library Journal Jul 1994; p. 108-110 - Favorable review.
  • Bennison, Charles, Book reviews.., Vol. 77, Anglican Theological Review, 04-01-1995, pp 256.
  • Bray, Gerald, "Friends or lovers? -- Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe by John Boswell", Christianity Today (Dec 12, 1994), 46-47 -mixed review
    [Note from a correspondent: "Looking at the Boswell reviews, I was struck by the presence of one by Gerald Bray. When I managed to find it . . . it read rather as I might have expected. If it 's the man I think, he comes from Montreal but has a doctorate of some kind from Paris on Catullus, I think. I knew him a little in Cambridge in the late '70s . I thought he was a repressed gay at that stage. I was rather taken aback when at college communion he including among the intercessions prayers for `those who suffer from homosexuality, that they may be cured and worship Christ with their bodies'. There were remonstrations over breakfast afterwards! (By some awful mischance one of the lessons at evensong that day was the last bit of Romans 1.) He went on to a job at Oakhill College, a conservative evangelical place in London. And I suppose it must be him now in Alabama and continuing to preach against us."]
  • Brown, Elizabeth, "Introduction", pp. 261-283, and "Ritual Brotherhood in Western Medieval Europe", pp. 357-382, Traditio 52 (1997)
    Brown is the general editor of a trilogy of reponses to Boswell, for the others see entries here under Rapp, Claudia, and Shaw, Brent.
    [Brent Shaw is a classicist at Princeton. Elizabeth Brown is a western medievalist and former president of the American Historical Association. Claudia Rapp is a Byzantinist at UCLA. All, despite Shaw's snippiness in his New Republic article, are highly respected and careful scholars.]
  • Castelli, Elizabeth, in GLQ, Fall 1996
  • *Christiansen, Eric, "Let them remain together still -- The Marriage of Likeness: Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe by John Boswell", Spectator (Feb 18, 1995), 28-29
  • Doniger, Wendy, "Making brothers", Los Angeles Times 07/31/94 ; sec. BR p. 1 c. 2, - favorable review.
  • D'Emilio, John, "Passionate loyalties -- Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe by John Boswell", Lambda Book Report Sep 1994; 14-15 - favorable. [D'Emilio is a an American history specialist.]
  • Archimandrite Ephrem, review in Sourozh (Quarterly Journal of the Russian patriarchal Diocese of Sourozh) 59 (February 1995) pp 50 - 55,
    [From a correspondent] The review is mainly concerned with Boswell's alleged incompetence in using and understanding the manuscripts and placing them in the context of orthodox liturgy. The author is, I believe the brother of Nicholas Lash who was (is?) a professor of theology at Cambridge.
  • Gomes, Peter J, "John Boswell's quietly shocking look at the facts", Boston Globe 06/26/94; p. 91 c. 4 - favorable review, [Gomes is the openly gay chaplain of Harvard University/]
  • Grossman, Ron, "Historic partnerships", Chicago Tribune 07/14/94 ; sec. 5 p. 5 c. 1 - favorable review
  • Harrie, J, "Europe -- Same-sex unions in premodern Europe by John Boswell", Choice Nov 1994; p. 511 - favorable review.
  • Hewitt, Bill, "Gay rites", People Weekly (Jun 27, 1994). 57-58
  • Hexter, Ralph, `"Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe": An exchange", New Republic Oct 3, 1994; 211n14 p. 39-41 - Hexter criticizes Brent D. Shaw's review of John Boswell's book "Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe" for distorting the book's facts. Shaw replies that Boswell should have checked the sources for his assertions more meticulously. [Hexter is a classicist, and a personal friend of Boswell.]
  • Hoffman, Roger, "Same-sex Unions in Premodern Europe by John Boswell", Wilson Library Bulletin (Dec 1994), 27 - favorable review
  • Holsinger, Bruce, "Dearly beloved -- Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe by John Boswell", Nation Sep 5, 1994; pp 241-4 - favorable review.
  • Jordan, Mark, in GLQ, (Fall 1996)
    Negative review. [Jordan is a an openly gay Catholic. He is a philosopher at University of Notre Dame. See alos his 1997 book The Invention of Sodomy]
  • Kaelber, Lutz, "Life course: Stages & institutions -- Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe by John Boswell", Contemporary Sociology 24:3 (May 1995) 367-368 - favorable
  • Kennedy Robert G. & Kenneth Kemp, "History With A Bad Attitude", CRISIS, Sep. 1995.
    See, for analysis of the review, Paul Halsall: Defending Boswell, A Discussion of the Kennedy/Kemp Review in Crisis.
  • Kennedy Robert G. & Kenneth Kemp, Review in Greek Orthodox Theological Review
  • Lee, Rand, Book review.., Vol. 17, ReVision, 01-01-1995, pp 39.
  • *Linehan, Peter, "In Isherwood country -- The Marriage of Likeness: Same-sex union in pre-modern Europe by John Boswell", Times Literary Supplement Feb 24, 1995; n4795 p. 6-7, Review-Favorable
    Linehan's review is favorable, although he finds minor errors, and he accepts the general argument of SSU.
  • Mendelsohn, Daniel, review in Arion, (3rd Ser), 3:2-3 (Fall 1995/Winter 1996)
    A very hostile review.
    [Mendelsohn is an openly gay Princeton-trained classicist.]
  • McMillen, Liz, "Same-sex rituals", Chronicle of Higher Education Jun 29, 1994; 40:43 p. A6-A7+
  • Noonan, John T. Review of 2 books, one is Same Sex Unions, Catholic Historical Review 82 (January 1996): 79-81.
    Most of the article discusses The Language of Sex by John Baldwin. Noonan more or less summarily dismisses Boswell's work and cites Brent Shaw's article.
    [Noonan is a Catholic jurist. He is always willing to engage Catholic history critically, and has published acclaimed studies on the history of changing Catholic teaching on contraception, usury, and slavery.]
  • Olson, Ray, "Gay and lesbian books: They're everywhere -- Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe by John Boswell", Booklist Jun 1, 1994; 90:19-20 p. 1735
  • Paglia, Camille, "Plighting their troth", Washington Post (July 17 1994); sec. WBK p. 1 c. 2 - very critical review..[Paglia is a professional offensivist.]
  • Perper, Timothy and/Martha Cornog, review in The Journal of Sex Research 31 (1994), 315-318
  • Preston, Bill, "'Doonesbury' draws attention to new book on same-sex unions", National Catholic Reporter Jul 1, 1994; 30:33 p. 5
  • Rapp, Claudia, "Ritual Brotherhood in Byzantium", Traditio 52 (1997), 285-326 [At Internet Archive]
        Prof. Rapp's  Traditio article is perhaps, at this point, the best place to start. Almost uniquely among the people who have written after Boswell, and who disagree with him, she completely avoids personal invective. Nor does she claim Boswell was personally a "liar" or "untrustworthy", nor does she compare him to Hitler and Stalin [see a much cited review by Daniel Mendelsohn in Arion], nor invent sins of mistranslation [see the disgraceful review in GOTR].
        What she does do, uniquely, is look at the sources with, I think, some more care than Boswell (at times); she looks at other sources not considered by Boswell, and she attempts a "history of adelphopoiesis" - i.e. an examination of how the ritual changed in its use. As a result she comes up with a significantly different interpretation than Boswell about the ceremony as represented in most of the sources available. Essentially Boswell had his liturgical manuscripts and very little else. Prof. Rapp uses historiographical evidence to examine how such texts were used.
        Having said all this, and in admiration for her calm and scholarly approach, I am not sure I entirely agree with her conclusions. But at least in reading her article first, you can think about adelphopoiesis  in clear terms - without the suspicion, as with Boswell, that he is arguing for past gay marriage as a contribution to modern discussion [he denied this, but was not persuasive!]; or without the certainty, as with many (but not all) the religious commentators that one is dealing with essentially homophobic gut reactions.
        Now, briefly, as to why I am still not entirely persuaded by Prof. Rapp's article. Let me begin by summarizing the article.
        She begins with a discussion of the terminology of adelphopoiesis, and similar fraternal terminology, in Byzantine sources. Then she outlines history of adelphopoiesis : first she notes it in hagiographical sources (the earliest texts which mention it are saint's lives: The Life of Theodore of Sykeon (online by the way); the Life of Euthymios the Younger; and the Life of Symeon the Fool); second she looks at an "imperial phase" and specifically the use of the rite by Basil I; finally she looks at the discussion of adelphopoiesis  in later legal sources.
    If I read her correctly she argues that adelphopoiesis  was a ritual which seems to have originated (as far as our sources are concerned) in ascetic and religious life, then was deployed at the highest levels of society to create relationships, a move which was later rather widely emulated. Adelphopoiesis  was a ritual which created life long bond, almost always between two people, and usually two men. This bond was considered as a kinship bond. There were other Byzantine rituals and roles which did the same thing - e.g. the co-godparenthood  role. In general, Prof. Rapp thinks that adelphopoiesis   function as a form of "fictive kinship" [other examples of this possibly loaded phrase would include, synteknia, adoption, and, although she does not say so I think, surely marriage also]. In the
    range of fictive kinships in Byzantium, she sees it as more like synteknia than marriage.
        My take:
        1. Source issues:
            Because she is so clear, the limitations of the sources are very apparent. For instance, when she discusses the use of adelphopoiesis   by Basil I, she discerns a clear political motivation for this actions with Danelis' son [see p. 312], and thus points out that the bond was unlikely to have been motivated by feelings of personal attachment. [This also applies to
    Theodore of Sykeon, but I am leaving that aside - I think the text was describing something very different than with Basil]. Later on she uses texts deriving ultimately from legal cases by members of the elite.
        The problem here is that the number of liturgical manuscripts clearly suggest a much broader user of the ceremony, at least after the 10th century. I really doubt that the motivation of royalty and aristocratic elites can be generalized to speculate on the social significance of a much more widely used ritual. If, for instance, we were to use such texts to discuss marriage, we might come up with the same conclusions! The difference is that we have many more sources on marriage. OTOH, I acknowledge to go further than Prof. Rapp would be speculation. I merely suggest that some serious caveats apply to her conclusions.
        2. An overlooked text.
            Prof. Rapp's view of adelphpoiesis  seems to see it as an essentially cold, contractual, unemotional form of social bonding. One of much less weight than marriage [although again, I wonder about the emotional weight of marriage.] I am not convinced such a conclusion holds against this text reported by Nicholas Kataskepenus about Cyril of Philea, written at what,
    by many  accounts, was the height of adelphopoiesis in Byzantium [i.e. after it became more generalized, but before the onset of legal derogation of the rite.]
        Nicholas Kataskepenos: Life of St. Cyril of Philea  [12th Cent.]
    "Cyril teaches There are seven manners and seven kinds of prayers, as says the Abbot Anastasios. Three of them exist under the rule of fear and chastisement; the four others are used by those who are assured of their salvation and have a share in the kingdom of God. When a man is plunged into voluptuousness he holds to a prayer as a man condemned and without confidence, as  man touched by the pain of death; in the second manner, a man takes himself before God and speaks to him as a debtor; the third manner differs from the two preceding, for one presents oneself to the Master as a slave, but a slave remains under the rule of fear and the fear of blows; in the fourth, the man carries himself in regard to God as a freed [?] servant, freed from servitude and waiting to receive a recompense because of the mercy of God; in the fifth manner, better than the first four, one holds oneself before God and speaks to him as a friend; in the sixth manner, superior to that, the man speaks to God in all confidence as a son "for I have said that you are of the gods, you are of the son of the Most High", you all who want it; in the seventh manner, which marks a progress and which is the best of all, one prays among those who have undergone adelphopoiia with Christ [or "among the adopted brothers of Christ"].....
        Later (and distinct from the above text), Cyril says "The Lord has need of such servants who abstain from passions and dress in the nuptial robe (?nduma toà g£mou). Believe that the nuptial robe, indicated by the divine words of Christ, is the grace of the Holy Spirit: he who is not fit to be so dresses may not be a participant in the celestial marriage (toà ?pouran?ou g£mou)and the spiritual feast."
        This text suggest to me that adelphopoiesis  - here seen as the highest form of intimate relationship - cannot be fully comprehended in the terms Prof. Rapp suggests.
        3. Fictive kinship
            The concept of "fictive kinship" plays an important role in Prof. Rapp's analysis. This is an essentially anthropological term, although useful. [However, if anyone thinks Boswell was anachronistic in using the word "gay" about the medieval past, I suggest it would be rather easier to explain what we mean by "gay" to a Byzantine than to explain what we mean by "fictive kinship".  I think that she is plum wrong (except in the most restricted sense) in claiming that "Byzantium is unique among medieval societies in having formally incorporated into its ecclesiastical ritual the ceremony by which the priest's prayers an blessings 'make' brothers of two men" [p.285]. I do not think enough work has been done in Muslim sources to justify the claim, and I am sure that such ceremonies existed in China, where the sexual aspects of such relationships were clear, but the language of brotherhood prevailed. [See Brett Hinsch: Passion of the Cut Sleeve, on this.]
        If we are going discuss this ritual in anthropological terms, then we must face the fact that *many* societies have used "fictive kinship" rituals to create familial relationships between people of the same sex. In many cases the terminology has used that of "brotherhood".  I am not convinced that such cross-cultural comparisons are necessary or valid, but if we are to
    used anthropological categories, then I think they do need to be taken into account.
        3. Pederasty
            Prof Rapp, because of her close attention to the texts, avoids almost entirely any discussion of adelphopoiesis  in terms of homosexuality. This is perhaps fair enough, as we can never know what went on under the sheets [did Byzantines used sheets, by the way?], and I think in terms of her article this was a useful strategy - a way of avoiding the hothouse discussion. But I think we must not avoid the issue entirely. In a point of here I agree with she notes that adelphopoiesis was associated with an relationship of  *equality*, or future equality, between the participants [p. 312].
    Now there is little question that "equality" was not a defining characteristic of the predominant classical discourse on same-sex sexual relationships. There the defining language was that of *pederasty*, an age differentiated relationship between a penetrator and a penetrated, sometimes valorized, other times condemned. And it was within such and understanding that condemnations of homosexual sex took place - especially with the Greek Christian notice of the "abuse of boys" [that this was a specifically Christian concept was suggested by Randy Trumbach]. But such a range of discourse clearly had no contact with what little we can grasp of the realities of  adelphopoiesis. There is little doubt, I think, that at
    some stages in its history adelphopoiesis was used by men who were sexually active with one another [whether this was ecclesiastically approved, or communally approved is another issue.]  I do not know how to resolve this as an issue, but it seems to me it cannot be forever side-stepped.
        In short, I think Prof. Rapp's article is the best thing available on adelphopoiesis, but it has not ended the discussions.
  • Reynolds, Philip Lyndon, "Same-sex unions: What Boswell didn't find -- Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe by John Boswell", Christian Century ; 112:2 (Jan 18, 1995) 49-54
    Reynolds is the director of the Aquinas Center at Emory University and the author of a book Marriage in the Western Church: The Christianization of Marriage During the Patristic and Early Medieval Periods, (Leiden: Brill. 1994). In other words his opinions must be taken seriously. The electronic index I first found this review on listed it as "unfavorable", but that is not really the case. Reynolds is very careful to point out what Boswell claims and what he doesn't - Boswell does not in fact make the strong claim that the rites he discusses were understood as "marriages", although he does verge on this at times. Reynolds challenges, in some cases very justifiably some of Boswell's arguments, and at other times makes somewhat odd arguments: for instance he insists that marriage had to involve sex and procreation - and so could not subsume "romantic friendship" - and then invokes the "quasi-nuptial" rite by which nuns become "brides of Christ". Rather odd thoughts suggest themselves at this point in his argument! [He also makes an apparent mistake in attributing the Roman Law definition of marriage as "the union of a man and a woman" to Ulpian: I think it was a definition by Herennius Modestinus.] Reynolds ends with this passage
    "Buried in this very muddled book is an interesting and plausible thesis which goes like this: On the one hand premodern Christian culture knew nothing of gay marriage, had no concept of the homosexual person and condemned homosexual acts. On the other, institutionalized or otherwise socially recognized same sex relationships, such as the brotherhoods [sic] studied here, provided scope for what we would now regard as homosexual inclinations - much more scope than was possible, for example, in the cultures of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance and the Reformation. They may even have occasionally provided cover for homosexual acts."
    Reynolds is probably accurate here as to the history. The implications for modern politics depend on ahistorical attitudes, such as the nature of the Church [for instance, is it essentially a legal corporation of a special kind - an ecclesiastical hierarchy - or a eucharistic local community, or both?]. The review is then critical in the best way.
  • Shaw, Brent, "A Groom of One's Own?", The New Republic (July 18 1994), 33-41 - sharply critical review. [Shaw is a scholar in classics.]. See also the response by Ralph Hexter with Shaw's response.
  • Shaw, Brent, "Ritual Brotherhood in Roman and Post Roman Societies", Traditio 52 (1997), 327-355
  • Stanford, Peter, " The Truth about Troths -- The Marriage of Likeness: Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe by John Boswell", New Statesman & Society Feb 24, 1995; v8n341 p. 53 - mixed review
  • Stammer, Larry, in Los Angeles Times, Jun 11, 1994
  • Steinfels, Peter, "Chronicling Medieval Rituals in Same Sex Unions: What were They Solomenizing". New York Times (Jun 11 1994) - summary, and some questions.
  • Stumpf, Doug, "You may now kiss the groom -- Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe by John Boswell", New York Jun 20, 1994; 27:25 p. 59
  • Stuttaford, Genevieve, "Nonfiction -- Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe by John Boswell", Publishers Weekly Jun 6, 1994; 241:23 p. 52
  • Synan, E.A. (Msgr), "Doomed Effort to Reconcile The Irreconcilable", Catholic Register (Toronto?) July 16, 1994, p. 12: - negative review by scholarly Catholic. This was a very early review, and Msgr. Synan's comments on the careful editing of Same Sex Unions would not be widely accepted.
  • Taft, Robert, Remarks to the Catholic Press, 1994
    [Fr. Taft. SJ, is perhaps the preeminent Western expert on the Byzantine liturgy.]
  • Trumbach, Randolph, Review, Journal of Homosexuality 30:2 (1995) 111-117.
    Trumbach, who teaches at Baruch College in NYC, is a well-known scholar of early-modern sexuality but with a considerable background in classical history. Trumbach is not personally fond of Boswell [who could be very aggressive to people he disagreed with], but is also neither covertly homophobic [the subtext of a number of reviews], nor anti-Christian. He makes a number of interesting points not so far made by other critics. Here are Trumbach's points:
    1: First he notes the similarity of Boswell's project to John Noonan's1965 book on Contraception - that is Boswell was attempting to challenge modern Catholic teaching by showing more variability in history than the monolithic Church of the 19th and 20th century would admit. This is useful as it provides a a measure by which to assess Boswell's critics.
    2: SSU is not "carefully argued", but it presents a body of evidence so important that it requires moral theologians and bishops to listen carefully.
    3: Trumbach notes that Boswell "must have known" that a book on Orthodoxy would be taken less seriously than his first book on Latin Christianity. The many reviews which seek to attack Boswell on this point validate Trumbach here.
    4: Trumbach makes a number of fair criticisms of Boswell's somewhat confusing tables of documents.
    5: Trumbach's main original argument is that the Greek world had a tradition of age-dissonant marriages, and that this was the basis of the ceremony used in the Greek Church. Boswell does not discuss this properly, Trumbach argues as to do so would raise the issue of pederasty [although, of course, age dissonance does not necessarily imply adult-child sex.]
    6: The reason Boswell finds so little evidence in the west, Trumbach argues, is because while the wasa tradition of respectable homosexual unions in the Greek world, the Roman experience associated male sexual relations with slavery and prostitution. I think he is going to far here, but the point is worth discussion: there is, however, more Western evidence than Boswell found [Pierre Chaplais' book, Piers Gaveston, which overall attempts to deny any sexual relationship between Edward II and Gaveston, does, however, show that the two were united in some brother-making ceremony. In the Linehan review cited here, Linehan points to a discussion of such unions by Matthew Paris in 13th century England.]
    7: Trumbach thus concludes that the Greek unions were not like modern "equal" homosexual relationships. Nonetheless "this second book...demonstrates, as the first could not, that the Christian tradition has in some times and places blessed sexual relations between males," and that Boswell has shown "as decisively as Noonan did on contraception that the Christian tradition on homosexual behavior has not been the same in all times and places," and "This is, in short, a chaoic and unsatisfactory book, but a revolutionary one."
    In private conversation, Trumbach has also pointed out that some investigation into whether the Greek ceremonies and the Slavic ones took place in the same context needs to be done: this is an original point as Western reviewers and Orthodox reviewers, as did Boswell, have conflated the two cultural areas.
  • Viscuso, Patrick, "Failed Attempt to Rewrite History", New Oxford Review Dec 1994, 29-31
    - A largely negative review by an Orthodox canonical scholar. In personal conversation, however, Fr. Viscuso is clearly not homophobic and in fact rather liberal and relativist for an Orthodox scholar [see his articles on the nature of marriage in general for instance, where he insists on the variability and changeable nature of canon law, and the importance of historical context for understanding it] . Although he thinks Boswell got it wrong, he is equally aware that Boswell has uncovered something of real interest which has not yet been fully elucidated.
  • Warner, Marina, "More than friendship", New York Times Book Review Aug 28, 1994; p. 7, 7:1, Reviews "Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe" - generally favorable. [Warner is a non-academy based historian]
  • Wilken, Robert L, "Procrustean marriage beds -- Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe by John Boswell", Commonweal Sep 9, 1994; p. 24-26 - unfavorable review.
  • Constance Woods, "Same-Sex Unions or Semantic Illusions?" Communio, vol. 22 (Summer, 1995), pp. 316-342. - review by a Slavacist.
  • Woodward, Kenneth L, "Do you, Paul, take Ralph ... -- Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe by John Boswell", Newsweek Jun 20, 1994; p. 76-77
  • Wright, David, "Do you take this man ... --- Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe by John Boswell", National Review Aug 29, 1994; 59-60
    Wright, a former professor of mine at the University of Edinburgh has long been one of Boswell's sharpest critics, and one most willing to tackle Boswell on Boswell's lexicographical arguments. Here for instance he disputes Boswell's translation of "homologia" in his appended translation of Passion of Sergius and Bacchus as "love, unity, union, living together, togetherness", pointing out that in martyrdom accounts it almost invariable means "confession" of faith.. Wright also engages in the topos of Boswellian critics - the accusation of dishonesty - and laments Boswell's "fallacious sophistry". Wright also takes issue with Boswell's claim in SSU that the general argument of CSTH "has met with little opposition over the intervening decade". But Boswell may well have been quite justified in this claim: the many attacks on CSTH tended to focus on specific issues, not on the general program of recovering a "gay" history, not Boswell's essentially uncontested argument that virulent and widespread ecclesiastical attacks on homosexual activity really only unroll in the later middle ages. With SSU, Wright cannot bring himself to deny that Boswell has found something of interest - he gives the Scottish judicial verdict of "not proven" on the book, and notes that it displays "flashing insight" and "extraordinary skills and industry".
    [See above for comments on Wright.]
  • Young, Michael B. Review, The Historian 58:1 (1995), 165-66.
    Young, of Illinois Weslyan University, is impressed by the scholarship, and frustrated by what he sees as unuseful organization and tedious writing style. His criticisms are - 1: Boswell does not prove the relationships were about sex, 2: Boswell has little information on how often such ceremonies were performed, 3: these were ceremonies restricted to Byzantium and the Balkans, and 4: the ceremonies are less "nuptial" than Boswell readDes them. It is not clear to me why No. 3 is a criticism [although many reviewers make it] - perhaps the implication is that the West is not "responsible" for what the Greeks did? Young also notes that the book "deserves a more sympathetic reception than it has so far received" and that the work displays "enormous scholarship" which will cause scholars to question their assumptions.
  • Young, Robin Darling, Gay Marriage: Reimagining Church History, First Things, 47 ( Nov 1 1994), 43- [At Leader U] [Internet Archive version here]

Monographs with Significant Discussion of Boswell

John Boswell's work on the history of sexuality was ground-breaking. Even when writers disagreed with him, they had to use or confront his work.

  • Brooten, Bernadette J, Love Between Women: Early Church Responses to Female Homoereoticism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996) [At Internet Archive borrow facilty]
    The most important book on the classical and early Christian history of Lesbianism. She attacks the constructionist idea that there was no general idea of "homosexuality" in these periods. She criticizes Boswell for avoiding discussion of women, and taking classical acceptance of some forms of male homosexuality as applying to homosexual relations between women as well.
  • Brundage, James, Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987) [At Internet Archive borrow facilty]
  • Countryman, L. William,Dirt, Greed, and Sex: sexual ethics in the New Testament and their implications for today, (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983) [At Internet Archive borrow facilty]
    Countryman is professor of NT at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. He uses Boswell extensively, and attacks some of Boswell's critics - especially Richard Hays.
  • Jordan Mark, The Invention of Sodomy, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997) [At Internet Archive borrow facilty]
    A critique of John Boswell's work as "social history", Jordan traces the development of the idea of "sodomy" in theological, canonical, and philosophical texts.
  • Payer, Pierre J., Sex and the Penitentials:Formation of a Sexual Code 550-1150, (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1984)
    Much more negative than Boswell, but then part of Boswell's argument is the concentration on laws and official documents has substantially misrepresented the history of homosexuality in the middle ages.
  • Rapp, Claudia, Brother-Making in Late Antiquity and Byzantium: Monks, Laymen, and Christian Ritual, Onassis Series in Hellenic Culture.( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016) [See extensive preview at Google Books]
    This is by far the most important book on "brother making ceremonies" and Prof Rapp goes far beyond Boswell.
  • Scroggs, Robin, The New Testament and homosexuality: contextual background for contemporary debate (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983) [At Internet Archive borrow facility]
    Scroggs, a married Episcopalian, was professor of NT at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He has some quibbles with Boswell, but generally approves of his work, and uses it extensively.


Internet Discussions Topics

Boswell's books were wide ranging, but he put forward a number of ideas. Theories, which have come in for repeated discussion. This is a topical index to some of the most important issues. Discussions will be added as they become available. [Contributions welcome].

Issues common to both Boswell's books on sexuality.

  • "Advocacy scholarship"
  • The possibility of social history
  • The use of the word "gay"
  • Use and/or abuse of footnotes
  • The social construction of sexuality

Issues in Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality

  • Lexicography: The Meaning of New Testament Texts
    • Romans 1:26
    • Arsenokoites and Malakoi
  • Consistency of Christian attitudes to homosexuality
  • Homosexual identity of various figures.
    • St. Anselm
    • Richard I
  • Homosexual readings of apparently homoerotic texts
  • Reasons for Increased social hostility in Later Middle Ages

Issues in Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe

  • Homosexual marriage in Rome
  • Translation of Passion of Serge and Bacchus
  • Other translation issues
  • The nature and definition of marriage as a social institution
  • Legal texts as guides to historical actuality.
  • The history of adelphopoiia in the Greek World
  • Same-sex unions in the Slavic world
  • Same-sex unions in the West



People with a History: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans* History Sourcebook is part of the Internet History Sourcebooks Project. Date of inception was 1997. People with a History is a www site presenting history relevant to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered people, through primary sources, secondary discussions, and images. Links to files at other site are indicated by [At some indication of the site name or location]. WEB  indicates a link to one of small number of high quality web sites which provide either more texts or an especially valuable overview.

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