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Was Jesus Raped?: David Tombs on Sexual Violence and the Crucifixion

April 2, 2010

Although the passion narratives of our Gospels are well known to us and bring all sorts of images to mind, they are in fact quite sketchy overall. We fill in each of the four narratives in various ways: with one another, with images from art and film, and even with insights from the contemporary world. Or better, what often takes place is a process of “mutual illumination” through the interaction of the Gospel texts and our contemporary world. That is, while the Gospels certainly illuminate the contemporary world, the contemporary world can also illuminate the Gospels, helping us to understand them better.

This process of “mutual illumination” is quite common in theological reflection, whether it is of the formal academic type or the reflection all Christians do, but it is especially present in most expressions of liberation theology. In light of recent discussions about sexual abuse in the church, I revisited an essay I read a few years ago in which British liberation theologian David Tombs explores the interconnections between torture, execution, state terror, and sexual abuse in Latin America during the 1970s and 80s and brings this analysis to his reading of the passion of Jesus (“Crucifixion, State Terror, and Sexual Abuse,” Union Seminary Quarterly Review 53, Nos. 1-2 [1999]: 89-109).

Like William Cavanaugh in his book Torture and Eucharist, Tombs describes how torture is a technology of state terror and dehumanization meant not only to punish an individual or to acquire information but as a means of terrorizing a whole population into submission. But Tombs examines more strongly the role of sexual humiliation (such as forced nudity and mocking) and sexual abuse (physical sexual violation) in the process of torture and state terror. He shows how sexual violence was a central aspect of torture as practiced in countries such as Argentina, Guatemala, and El Salvador. To anyone who has followed the exposure of the details of torture practices used by the united states military, the connection between torture and sexual abuse should not be surprising.

Tombs brings these analyses to the Gospels, bringing with them questions and insights that usually escape our view. Crucifixion, like contemporary torture, was an imperial practice of torture and execution designed not only to punish but to terrorize entire groups of occupied peoples. Using contemporary torture practices to illuminate the Gospel accounts of the passion, Tombs asks the disturbing question of whether it is possible that Jesus himself was a victim of sexual abuse during his torture and execution.

Read with the insights from contemporary torture in mind, Tombs sees in the Gospels clear evidence of at least sexual humiliation. In all accounts, Jesus is stripped of his clothes, sometimes multiple times, and mocked. In the Gospel accounts in which Jesus is flogged, it is entirely possible that Jesus was naked while he has beaten. And of course most assume that Jesus was naked as he hung on the cross. It is difficult to argue against the idea that there was an element of sexual humiliation in the torture Jesus went through.

Althouh it seems clear the Jesus underwent sexual humilation, there is no evidence in the Gospels one way or another about whether Jesus was the victim of sexual violence, but Tombs argues that there is a strong possibility. He cites ample extra-biblical evidence from Josephus and others of the kinds of sexual violence used in the ancient world both by the Romans and by other ancient cultures. In particular, he cites texts which show how sexual violence was often used in the context of crucifixion, the practice of which varied widely. Sexual domination of both men and women were common as a political tactic of terror, especially the practice of anal rape. Even castration was sometimes known to occur before crucifixion.

Again, Tombs is engaging is speculative historical inquiry and theology as there is no evidence in favor or against the suggestion that Jesus was sexually abused. He points out, however, that because of the scandalous nature of such actions, it is entirely possible that the evangelists downplayed any sexual abuse that may have taken place.

Such theological speculation is disturbing to our sensibilities. And it is important to ask why this is the case. We know Jesus underwent unbearably painful torture and death. We have no problem saying this year after year on Good Friday and Sunday after Sunday at Eucharist. Our knowledge of the depths of Jesus’ suffering moves us both emotionally and spiritually. But at the same time, we probably recoil from the suggestion that Jesus may have been raped. I think we are uncomfortable with this suggestion because ultimately we cannot stand a crucifixion that is too realistic. For all the ways that it reveals the “human” Jesus, one with us in suffering and death, the cross remains in many ways “otherworldly.” Crucifixion is hardly common in today’s world. We can safely imagine Jesus’ flogging, his crowning with thorns, and his death on the cross from a temporal and cultural distance. Even the crucifixion as portrayed in Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ, praised each and every year for its supposed “realism,” is ultimately more cartoonish than it is realistic. We simply do not want a cross that is too realistic, perhaps because we wish to preserve the uniqueness of Christ’ passion. We need to preserve that boundary because without it we would learn far too much about the “crucifixions” in today’s world and their “family resemblance” to the passion of Jesus.

Tombs says that reflection on the possibility of Jesus’ sexual abuse yields a number of profound theolgical and pastoral implications. First, it can “deepen Christian understanding of God’s solidarity with the powerless,” revealing the depths of evil that Jesus very well could have experienced in his life. In fact, Tombs says, refusal to consider the possibility that Jesus may have been the victim of sexual violence could indicate an inadequate christology that denies the fullness of the incarnation. Pastorally, this suggestion could contribute another facet of the liberating gospel to victims of sexual abuse by showing another way that Jesus shares in their human experience. This pastoral implication, he says, is true whether Jesus was sexually abused or “only” sexually humiliated, the latter of which is clearly seen in the Gospel texts.

Although he deals with sexual abuse in the context of political torture, Tombs’ analysis is striking to me this Holy Week as we are in the midst of a new wave of reports of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests. As I previously argued, this Holy Week it is essential for us as a church to see Christ crucified in those who have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of religious officials and to bring these “crucifixions” explicitly into our Holy Week liturgies. Perhaps the connections between Christ’s crucifixion and contemporary violence are difficult for us to make. Tombs’ research can perhaps give us the nudge we need in making Christ’s passion a little more “real” and helping us to see Christ crucified in those who suffer sexual violence in today’s world and in today’s church.

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44 Comments
  1. April 2, 2010 8:27 am

    I think that there are some important theological traditions that have to respected when approaching the Passion of Our Lord, and I think that the idea of Christ being raped goes against these. After all, the Gospels also say that none of His bones were broken. That doesn’t mean that this made it an “imperfect” incarnational event.

    On the other hand, I always have found liberation theology inadequate since it really has no basis in the actual religiosity that the people have created for themselves, but are “imagined religiosities” that middle class intellectuals would like to think appeal to the popular classes. (This comes from someone who was practically born in the fields with a UFW flag in my hand, and a Biblia Latinoamericana under my arm.)

    However, popular religiosity in Latin America says more than theology could even tell. In Argentina especially, there exist cults to women who were savagely raped and killed. There is even one “popular canonization” of Pedrito Sangueso in the city of Salta, who was a seven year old boy raped and murdered by his own uncle, with the complicity of the child’s mother. I suppose the people are way ahead of you on this one. Such souls are not only seen as having been martyred, but are miraculous, and their tombs have been transformed into veritable shrines.

    That is why I have always been uncomfortable with the story of St. Maria Goretti. The implication in that story is if a woman is raped, she must have “enjoyed it” on some level. In reality, it is the poor, ignorant, “un-catechized” people who see in victims of such violent sexual crimes an image of Christ.

  2. ROB permalink
    April 2, 2010 8:35 am

    Actually there is quite a lot of evidence against this assertion. Namely the complete and utter lack of any mention of it in the history of Christianity until the publication of the fantasies of an obscure theologian in 1999. True though that there is no evidence “in favor” of it.

  3. brettsalkeld permalink*
    April 2, 2010 8:39 am

    Michael,
    This is a fascinating piece. I wonder what the response will be. Will those who are most interested in highlighting the depth of Jesus’ suffering feel the need to draw the line here? And what would their justification be?
    Given the seeming ubiquitous connection between torture and sexual violence the thesis (not simply of rape but of some sort of sexual violence) is quite plausible but, as you note, impossible to demonstrate one way or the other. The key issue to me seems to be that, no matter what extent the sexual violations of Jesus went to, he has also suffered in this central aspect of his humanity. He knows and understands the pain of sex abuse victims and suffered with and for them. Can we join him in this or is this where we draw the line?

  4. David Nickol permalink
    April 2, 2010 9:03 am

    It seems to me that a Church that insists that Mary remained a virgin (had an intact hymen) “ante partum, in partu, et post partum”” — a totally unnecessary physical condition even for those who believe in her perpetual virginity — could not face the possibility that Jesus was raped. Some claim the belief about Mary remaining a virgin “ante partum, in partu, et post partum”” is not a gynecological matter, but it is difficult to see how it isn’t. And the discussion of it often offends people, so I will not be surprised if people are appalled that anyone would even speculate that Jesus might have been raped.

    From what I have read, sexual humiliation was very much a part of crucifixion. Those crucified were naked, and the crowds are said to have roared with laughter when someone on a cross urinated or defecated.

  5. dymphna permalink
    April 2, 2010 9:39 am

    The modern mind’s obsession wth sex leads us to ridiculousness. Every single Holy Week some crank with a college degree makes his grab for his 15 minutes of fame and we indulge them. Whenever someone goes beyond the gospel writers you should look at them with a raised eyebrow.

    • April 2, 2010 9:59 am

      Michael Trainor, who appears to be a priest in Australia, also has some interesting reflections on this:

      http://www.compassreview.org/winter02/9.html is the first part of his article. Right now I can’t find part two where he goes into the details. To quote the end of the first part:

      Some actions attempt to shame Jesus. He is ‘led’ by Satan to be tested. This testing occurs early in the Gospel (4:1,3). The same act, with the same Greek verb (peira/zw) reappears in the middle of the Gospel (16:1; 19:3) when the religious authorities seek to discredit Jesus’ teaching authority. It recurs also towards the end of the Gospel before the passion narrative (22:18, 35). This ‘testing’ or shaming of Jesus at the Gospel’s beginning, middle and the end prepare for the ultimate shaming that will happen to Jesus in the passion narrative. It is to this story that we will turn in the second part, and focus particularly on the way Jesus is touched and handled. Here we will see how Jesus’ abuse is central to the interrogation with the religious leaders and how it completes Jesus’ trial before the Roman authorities. I will show that this final act of abuse is physical and sexual. This has enormous implications for our reflection on the present situation being experienced in the Australian Catholic Church.

      I don’t think people should quickly dismiss this idea; where the least of these are found, persecuted, there is Jesus. Are we to believe they didn’t do such assaults back then? And if people are willing to somehow compare criticism of the Pope to Christ’s suffering on the cross (?!?!?!?!?!?), I think this kind of discussion is even more pertinent today — if someone can find part 2 and share it with us, I would like to see it.

      As a quick note: there appears to be another priest, with the same name, from Wisconsin, who was sued over sexual abuse allegations. I do not think they are the same person, from the CV I saw of the Australian priest (http://www.flinders.edu.au/ehlt/theology/staff/michael-trainor.cfm ), the Australian priest looks too young to have been a priest in the early 80s.

  6. April 2, 2010 9:54 am

    I have always, silently, wondered about this. Thank you for shining light on it.

  7. Gerald A. Naus permalink
    April 2, 2010 10:18 am

    When Cheney decided to use torture in Iraq, he referred to it as the “Salvador Option”. Torture Veterans of the US “effort” there went to Iraq and black sites. The administration featuring so many avowed Christians went “Roman”, if you will. Sexual humiliation and torture have always been a staple of “advanced interrogation efforts”. It stands to reason that the Christians torturing for the US (and those of the Inquisition) used many of the same techniques as the Romans killing Christ. Apart from
    technological changes, the spirit is the same.

    As far as sexual torture is concerned, American treatment may be worse than Roman treatment of Jesus – were Romans interested in information out of Jesus ? It’s safe to say that he didn’t matter all that much to Romans, he was another “rabble rouser”. There certainly was humiliation, which works best sexually, but I think that American sexual humiliation and torture is more intense, perverted and prolonged. One indication is that Jesus was dead in short order, whereas America’s “persons of interest” were kept around for a long time, with the goal of killing the soul more so than the body.

    It’s ironic that to this day many Christians think “the Jews” killed Jesus when nobody has driven more nails into the cross than his “followers”, in particular his “vicars”.

  8. Catholic Originalist permalink
    April 2, 2010 10:26 am

    We do have some physical evidence that we can examine, don’t we, on and within The Holy Shroud of Turin. I don’t recall anyone commenting on physical evidence present on the Shroud that would lead to the conclusion that Jesus suffered physical sexual abuse. That is, there is no blood evidence that would support the violent physical sexual abuse premise.

  9. Nate Wildermuth permalink
    April 2, 2010 10:46 am

    I recall reading that it was a common practice among the Vikings to rape the men they had conquered. If you wanted to humiliate and mock someone, rape is certainly one of the worst ways.

  10. ed gleason permalink
    April 2, 2010 12:30 pm

    This is new to me and thought provoking for the coming three hours
    Brought to mind the rape scene in Lawrence of Arabia.. Also it’s now a terror tactic in Africa.

  11. Gerald A. Naus permalink
    April 2, 2010 12:56 pm

    If the timelines offered in the Gospels are accurate, there wasn’t time for prolonged torture. As I said above, American contemporary methods are in a way more heinous. Roman treatment seems to have been cruel, meant as a deterrent (public versus private torture/execution like today) and swift.

    Forced nudity has always been a staple of terror and torture, from Golgotha to Auschwitz to CIA black sites. The loincloth was draped over Jesus in art (sometimes later on, as with Michelangelo’s Jesus), but not in reality. Why wouldn’t rape have been mentioned ? In a way, rape is viewed as worse than death by many. Rape victims, to this day, often are killed or expected to commit suicide (something apparently expected of victims in Rome). In particular male rape is the ultimate humiliation, thus its “popularity” in prison. This explains why people are more aghast at that thought than at the thought of being whipped to shreds and crucified.

    ..à propos Good Friday, here an interesting crucifixion image I shot in Cologne (link is to download full-size image) http://files.me.com/geraldnaus/1wxwks

  12. Gary Adler permalink
    April 2, 2010 1:20 pm

    With the observance of the Stations coming in just a few hours here on the West Coast, these are comments which, regardless of the historical evidence, provoke the moral imagination. I am reminded of the lead (Jesuit) character in “The Sparrow” whose openness to the goodness of creation in an alien world is shattered through sexual humiliation by another of God’s creatures. Faith is not a easy proposition for him after that experience. On a different scale but with a similar result, faith is not an easy proposition as a member of the Church during these days.

  13. April 2, 2010 11:12 pm

    Thank you all for the thoughtful comments.

    Arturo –

    1) How exactly does Tombs’ argument “go against the tradition”?

    2) I think there is no question that the people are ahead of me and of Dr. Tombs. They are ahead of most of us in north america for sure. But I don’t think you’re giving Tombs or liberation theologians enough credit. Most of them are not simply “middle class intellectuals” that “invent” ideas. Truly, you probably don’t know Tombs personally or know what led him to think along these lines.

    3) Why are you placing “popular religiosity” and “theology” against one another?

    dymphna –

    Do you think we should look at Mel Gibson with a raised eyebrow too?

  14. April 3, 2010 5:02 am

    1) I think it is quite clear that there is no Church Father or Apostolic tradition that Our Lord was raped. True, for liberal intellectuals who want a smoking gun, that is not enough. But what reflections like this fail to balance is the fact that the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, like His Incarnation, Birth, and Resurrection, were not just natural events, but supernatural ones. I won’t get into all of this here, merely because it is not the place. I simply get tired of the modern Church “de-mythologizing” everything, for lack of a better term.

    2) You’re right, I don’t know Tombs, but neither did I mention him specifically, but was more commenting on liberation theology as a phenomenon. I have studied and lived in Latin America, so I can only speak from that experience. I would never critique Tombs specifically without reading his work.

    3)I didn’t start placing popular religiosity against theology. That has been the basic rule of thumb since the Counter-Reformation, and I am sorry to say that liberation theologians in Latin America have been the worst culprits in fighting the people’s “superstitions”. There is not really room here to get into this, but I refer you to a couple of extensive essays I have written on this subject:

    http://arturovasquez.wordpress.com/2010/01/07/on-the-margins-of-theology-v/

    http://arturovasquez.wordpress.com/2008/09/24/the-war-against-the-saints/

    I will say that it has sometimes been more progressive theologians that have defended some aspects of popular religiosity (I am thinking specifically of the priests in northeast Argentina who defend the cult of the “sacred bandit”, Gauchito Gil), but they often do it with a patronizing attitude (“we have to accept these things so that we can move their class consciousness forward”). Again, this is not really the place to get into this question. Needless to day, I think there has been a severe distruct by theology of “old-fashioned” popular religiosity at least since the Counter-Reformation, and it has only grown worse since Vatican II.

  15. April 3, 2010 7:50 am

    “Do you think we should look at Mel Gibson with a raised eyebrow too?”
    Well, now that you mention it, yes.

  16. Ronald King permalink
    April 3, 2010 8:00 am

    Michael, Thank you for bringing this to light. I did not want to look at this post initially and now I am beginning to understand my avoidance. Power and sex form the most powerful primitive drives for males. The male’s neuropathway for his sexual drive is connected to the amygdala which is the source of our fight or flight response. This may have the effect of increased aggression or increased inhibition dependent on many different factors. However, one implication of this connection to the amygdala is the powerful influence of competition for power and its connection to reward and or punishment in the males’ socialization.
    This aspect of the males’ sexual expression can lead to many horrible and unimaginable results. If we continue to suppress shedding light on this as members of the Body of Christ we will continue to support the darkness being exposed in the Body of Christ at this moment in time which has always existed but has been theologically avoided and repressed with a “Tradition” of shame and fear as its foundational “logic”.
    The defenses I mention are unconscious primitive defenses which are instinctively employed to prevent self and others from the experience of humiliation and the exposure of the “basic fault” manifested in the core belief that “I am and others are mistakes of creation.” Theology beginning with repression is a theology of fear and shame which is constantly in competition with the spark of God in us seeking His Light and only getting glimpses.
    THANK YOU MICHAEL FOR BRINGING THIS TO LIGHT!!!!!!!

  17. Charles Robertson permalink
    April 3, 2010 9:40 am

    “Such theological speculation is disturbing to our sensibilities. And it is important to ask why this is the case.”

    I appreciate your concern in this post, but I think the notion of Jesus as a victim of sexual violence goes too far for many reasons.

    First, a defense of our sensibilities. Everything that Christ did and suffered is worthy of meditation; the consideration of his being raped is not worthy of meditation; therefore it didn’t happen. (To think of the practical unseemliness of the notion, just imagine the scene:
    Leader: The Twelfth station, Jesus is gang-raped by the Roman Guards. We adore thee O Christ…) Proof of the minor: in light of the deep perversity of our wounded natures, the consideration of this particular indignity would constitute a proximate occasion of sin for many people.

    Second, I think that Tombs is confused about method:
    “In fact, Tombs says, refusal to consider the possibility that Jesus may have been the victim of sexual violence could indicate an inadequate christology that denies the fullness of the incarnation.”
    This way of arguing is fundamentally at odds with the Christian exegetical tradition. It is like saying that Jesus had to experience every kind of temptation individually in order to have been tempted in every way, or that he had to suffer every kind of pain in order to assume it. In short, it’s a misapplication of the principle that “that is redeemed which is assumed”.

    Third, as some say above, there is no historical evidence, either in the texts or in tradition for the event. I would infer a few things from this. 1)The only argument in its favor would have to be a very strong “convenientia” type argument (i.e., that it was suitable that Christ should have suffered this particular indignity) and I just can’t imagine such an argument. 2)The burden of proof lies on the one wanting to make such an argument, thus rendering it even more difficult. 3)Also, the lack of any support for this idea in the tradition indicates that it goes against the sensus fidelium.

    Those are the main lines of my thought on the matter. Have a happy Harrowing!

  18. April 3, 2010 11:39 am

    Mr. Vasquez: Who are you calling “liberal intellectuals”?

    Liberation theology seems starkly opposed to (neo)liberalism.

  19. April 3, 2010 11:55 am

    Sam:

    Not in the sense of classical liberalism as passed down in the Enlightenment (human rights and such).

  20. dan permalink
    April 3, 2010 12:16 pm

    “I don’t think people should quickly dismiss this idea;”

    Agree, humilation is clearly evident in the Gospels and it is not a stretch to imagine the depths of Christ’s suffering during that frenzy.

    Enlightening post…thank you.

  21. April 3, 2010 12:26 pm

    Arturo:

    But what reflections like this fail to balance is the fact that the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, like His Incarnation, Birth, and Resurrection, were not just natural events, but supernatural ones. I won’t get into all of this here, merely because it is not the place. I simply get tired of the modern Church “de-mythologizing” everything, for lack of a better term.

    I’m not sure how Tombs’ insight denies or neglects the supernatural dimension of the crucifixion. And it includes no “de-mythologizing” in the least! De-mythologizing is the taking of an event from salvation history — the resurrection for example — and explaining it in reductionistic terms. (The idea that Jesus “rose” in the hearts and minds of his disciples, for example.) Asking historical questions about the crucifixion is not a reduction of the event to the historical. Having an overly “spiritualized” view of the crucifixion, on the other hand, is reductionistic. I see little difference between Tombs’ speculations and the speculations of those authors and documentary makers (some from EWTN, for example) who reconstruct for us the details of crucifixion in the first century. They simply help us to appreciate the historical reality of the crucifixion which is just as important as perceiving its “spiritual” realilty. Dismissal of the historical reality of the crucifixion is dangerous for the christological reasons I mentioned in the post.

    I am sorry to say that liberation theologians in Latin America have been the worst culprits in fighting the people’s “superstitions”…. Needless to day, I think there has been a severe distruct by theology of “old-fashioned” popular religiosity at least since the Counter-Reformation, and it has only grown worse since Vatican II.

    There is, of course, some truth to this, but it is wrong to point to “liberation theology” as particularly guilty. This has simply been a tendency in modern Catholic theology overall. If anything, liberation theologians have been the ones to resist the tendency of de-mythologization of middle-class north american and european theology. Especially in the last 20 or so years, liberation theologies — especially u.s. Latino/a theologies — have placed popular religion at the center of things.

  22. April 3, 2010 12:27 pm

    Charles Robertson:

    Everything that Christ did and suffered is worthy of meditation; the consideration of his being raped is not worthy of meditation; therefore it didn’t happen.

    This is strange reasoning.

    Proof of the minor: in light of the deep perversity of our wounded natures, the consideration of this particular indignity would constitute a proximate occasion of sin for many people.

    How so? Could you spell this out for us? At the risk of leading us to a “proximate occasion of sin,” could you be more specific and/or explicit?

    It is like saying that Jesus had to experience every kind of temptation individually in order to have been tempted in every way, or that he had to suffer every kind of pain in order to assume it. In short, it’s a misapplication of the principle that “that is redeemed which is assumed”.

    I believe Arturo expressed a similar concern above. But you are both misreading my rendering of Tombs. He says that the refusal to consider the possibility is christologically problematic. He is not saying that Jesus must have been raped or else he wouldn’t have been truly like us. Hopefully you catch the distinction.

    Your third concern about historical evidence is true, and is admitted in Tombs’ essay and in my post. The only reservation I have about your comment is the suggestion that the sensus fidelium and “the tradition” are fixed and finalized. They are not.

    • April 3, 2010 12:32 pm

      One of the things which people fail to remember: at the cross, Jesus gave himself entirely over to humanity, to let humanity do with him as they wish. This is central to many theological representations of Holy Friday. The point is God let humanity do its worst — and then it shows, even at its worst, there is something more (death) and there is an end (to it, and to death). Evil is not infinite, though it can be great and terrible. He was to freely go — and be done as humanity wished — that is what was fitting, and it wasn’t some Calvinist forced drama where God made the people do as they did.

  23. April 3, 2010 12:33 pm

    Let me add that I suspect people’s reservations about the possibility come from either a) christological error or b) prejudices that are entirely non-theological (but of course, deep down, theological!). The latter, b), could be any number of things. Read into that statement what you like.

  24. April 3, 2010 12:39 pm

    The concerns about the lack of “historical evidence” ring hollow to me. There is evidence; it’s just not explicit in the Gospels. As I said at the start of the post, the details about Christ’s crucifixion are sketchy. We fill in the narrative with details that we get from looking at extra-biblical sources that describe what crucifixion was like in the first century. We have never filled in the narrative with the very real historical evidence (cited at length in Tombs’ essay) that crucifixion often involved the sexual abuse of the victims.

    Again, we have evidence. What we do not have is proof. Which is fine. Since when have we needed “proof” of anything? There are all kinds of things about the life of Christ on which we can speculate, and such speculation is not necessarily damaging to our faith. I would argue that much of this kind of speculation is actually quite good for our faith. It’s when we draw the boundary, as Brett Salkeld said above, that we perhaps damage our faith, as it indicates our blindspots, prejudices, etc.

    • April 3, 2010 12:48 pm

      Michael

      Actually there is evidence in the Gospels, too, if one reads them with other historical evidence — which is what I thought was good with the articles from the Australian priest — he is reflecting upon this via the Gospel narratives.

  25. April 3, 2010 1:21 pm

    Next on Vox Nova: Speculation on the Virgin Mary’s menstral cycle.

    I have to say that the “Latino theology” that Michael is citing is quite problematic. There are a few insights that are worth highlighting, but most of it results in a profound misreading of Latino popular religion. I took a whole semester class in “Latino theology” in Berkeley (no less) and had to rub elbows with some militant “Xicana/o” activists, so I know these people read popular Catholicism in the way that most reads “Catholicism” out of it. Case in point: the Virgin of Guadalupe. Most of these activists try to re-read her as an “Aztec goddess”. Most good Mexican grandmothers would find such a reading ridiculous, and not without foundation. Even their readings of curanderismo and other forms of folk healing profoundly miss the point in that they are too afraid to acknowledge the deep roots that these practices have in Spanish preternatural beliefs. The altares de muertos that these people set up for All Souls’ Day also betray their secularized beliefs. They get into the false dichotomy of “Indian/brown” = good, “Spanish/white” = bad.

    Of course, liberation theology really blows a gasket when confronted with such phenomena as el corte malandro in Venezuela, or la Santa Muerte in Mexico. The literal apotheosis of violence and disorder in Latin America is something I feel liberation theology, with its passé, crypto-Marxist assumptions, is ill fit to address.

  26. April 3, 2010 1:29 pm

    Next on Vox Nova: Speculation on the Virgin Mary’s menstral cycle.

    Your dismissive sarcasm at this point shows where you are coming from I think.

    I have to say that the “Latino theology” that Michael is citing is quite problematic.

    And at this point you’re no longer talking to me but about about me. Why the shift?

    Of course, liberation theology really blows a gasket when confronted with such phenomena as el corte malandro in Venezuela, or la Santa Muerte in Mexico.

    Can you elaborate? Provide some texts?

  27. Keith permalink
    April 3, 2010 1:40 pm

    I find it interesting (although I suppose not surprising) that this post has been greeted with resistance. I think important to note here is that rape and sexual assault are NOT forms (even distorted forms) of sexual desire, but rather are forms of violence, a violence that attempts not only to physically wound the physical body but also to destroy one’s bodily integrity and sense of self. Sexual assault is not about sex; it is about power, domination, and violence. In this sense, it should not surprise us if Jesus were the victim of sexual assault as well. We should think carefully about WHY we hesitate to allow for this possibility, for it is dangerous to think that victims of sexual assault are somehow less sexually “pure.”

    On this note, there’s an engraving called “Rape, Bedford” by the artist Sue Coe that intentionally references Grunwald’s Crucifixion on the Isenheim Altarpiece. The outstretched and sinewy arms on both are almost identical. I would recommend checking out the comparison. I find it at the very least provocative, prompting me to consider who we, as a society, continue to “crucify” in our own era.

  28. April 3, 2010 1:44 pm

    We should think carefully about WHY we hesitate to allow for this possibility, for it is dangerous to think that victims of sexual assault are somehow less sexually “pure.”

    This is precisely one of the possible “non-theological” (but also, deep down, theological) assumptions that I suspect is behind the resistance.

    • April 3, 2010 1:55 pm

      I would add that there are significant theological trends — based upon eros (Gregory of Nyssa, Origen, Bernard of Clairvaux, John of the Cross, et. al.) which I think would also work in relation to this theme. One of the aspects of Christ’s work is to heal those who caused him suffering, to take their evil and turn it around — if eros is one of the results of this, then what was it that is turned around? And why is it that the crucifix even now remains a highly sexualized image, used in all kinds of perverse means of mocking Christ? Both of these to me indicate the nature of the evil launched against Christ must be seen within this context, among many others.

  29. April 3, 2010 1:59 pm

    Michael:

    In terms of providing texts, I can’t really provide any in English. I will say that there is a “lumpenization” of popular religion in the face of neo-liberal reforms and reactions to them such as the increased importance of the drug “families” in Mexico and el caracazo in Venezuela. Before, the idea of a union of hammer and sickle was the main paradigm in addressing the “wretched of the earth” in Latin America. What do you do when the religious paradigm shifts to the veneration of Death itself (Mexico / Argentina) or the emergence of the veneration of gansters (el corte malandro, Gauchito Gil, Jesus Malverde)? All of this has its economic foundations in the neo-liberal reforms of the 1990’s. I don’t think Catholic theologians of any stripe have taken any of this all that seriously, and believe me, I have looked into it. Most of the work done on these issues is done by anthropologists or sociologists from a very secularized point of view.

    One interesting book on the reaction of progressive activists to “folk Catholicism” is a book by John Burdick called “Blessed Anastacia: Women, Race, and Popular Christianity in Brazil”. I reviewed the book here:

    http://arturovasquez.wordpress.com/2009/04/26/the-eyes-of-escrava-anastacia/

    You should find this book, as I think it would be very much to your interest.

  30. David Nickol permalink
    April 3, 2010 2:52 pm

    Sexual assault is not about sex; it is about power, domination, and violence.

    It seems to me if you take all elements of dominance/submission, active/passive, top/bottom, give/take, and so on, out of sex, you have very little left. I know it is very common to say that sexual assault (or rape) is not about sex. But this implies there is somehow pure sex that can be totally isolated from “power, domination, and violence.” I don’t see how. It would mean that Henry Kissinger’s famous quote (Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac) is without meaning. Sexual fantasies are extremely common, and seduction and force are very common themes in sexual fantasies. Sex, it seems to me, cannot exist in some pure form isolated from other elements of human interaction. It seems to me that for many people, having others totally at their mercy has a distinct sexual element to it, which is why we saw sexual humiliation playing the part it did in the treatment of prisoners in Abu Grhaib and elsewhere. I don’t think sexual humiliation of prisoners is a technique from textbooks on how to handle captives. To what extent those who perpetrate acts of sexual humiliation acknowledge and experience sexual pleasure I don’t know, but they are committing sexual acts and enjoying them as such on some level, no matter how much they might deny it even to themselves.

  31. Keith permalink
    April 3, 2010 3:10 pm

    I don’t subscribe to views of sexuality that uphold dominance/submission– that would be a form of distorted sexuality in my view. We don’t have a clear idea of what a fully equally active model of sex would be like, but I would argue that should be the ideal we strive for.

    I suppose you’re correct that we have a society that eroticizes power. But I would still maintain that sexual assault is fundamentally a form of violence. I think you should be careful about how much you want to argue it’s about sex, those arguments are what commonly lie behind blaming women for being raped (too short a skirt, to flirtatious a personality, etc). I realize you’re not stating that at all, but perhaps you should think critically about what you’re trying to argue before you make that connection too strong.

  32. April 3, 2010 4:11 pm

    David – I don’t agree with your view of sexuality either.

  33. Charles Robertson permalink
    April 3, 2010 4:11 pm

    Let me make clear once again that I am arguing only against the conception of Christ as being ass-raped by the Roman soldiers.

    I agree that my first argument has a strange method of reasoning, but that it is one that would be extremely comfortable to the Fathers, so I appeal to the Patristic exegetical method for that one.

    As for a greater explicitness to the “proof of the minor”, it is very easy to think of the “Jesus gangbang” as a kind of S&M fantasy. That’s all I’ll say on that one.

    “I believe Arturo expressed a similar concern above. But you are both misreading my rendering of Tombs. He says that the refusal to consider the possibility is christologically problematic. He is not saying that Jesus must have been raped or else he wouldn’t have been truly like us. Hopefully you catch the distinction.”

    I don’t understand how this is that the case. Maybe you should post on this.

    “The only reservation I have about your comment is the suggestion that the sensus fidelium and “the tradition” are fixed and finalized. They are not.”

    Then we have a different conception of the sensus fidelium, and you should post on that.

    Happy Harrowing!

    • April 3, 2010 4:22 pm

      Charles

      One, I don’t think people are talking about the conception of Christ. Two, as I pointed out, the Fathers would understand how Jesus gave himself over to the authorities, it was in his own free will; God didn’t make what the people did do as they did, it was their own free will to do as they will. The fact is the fathers would not argue about what is or is not fit in relation to the evil actions — evil is by its nature, unfit; what is fitting is that Jesus gave himself over to them — for something greater than what they or any other saw. His kenosis.

      Beyond that, you talk about “the patristic exegetical method.” There is not one such method.

      PS: forgive my abruptness in reply (going on little sleep last night)

  34. Charles Robertson permalink
    April 3, 2010 4:22 pm

    Again, I think your other reflections are fine and sensible. Any friend of a friend is a friend of mine.

  35. April 3, 2010 5:10 pm

    Charles – I don’t really care much if readers are not convinced by the evidence. I’m more concerned about the bases on which some of you are claiming it’s unlikely or impossible. Perhaps it’s good that we don’t know whether or not Jesus was sexually abused.

  36. Charles Robertson permalink
    April 3, 2010 5:28 pm

    Okay. In light of this and further consultation with respected professors. I must change my argumentation. My first argument is formally invalid. However, a convenientia argument relies on an established fact. It is not an established fact that Jesus was sexually assaulted. Therefore, there CAN BE NO CONVENIENTIA ARGUMENT in its favor.

    Unlikely for the reasons G. Augustinus states.

    Whether it’s impossible is impossible to give a deductive proof. But that is ultimately irrelevant.

    Again, I think it is helpful to think of Christ as having suffered sexual humiliation in the stripping of the garment. But it is just a symptom of modern irreverence and bad methodology to want to take it to the point of Jesus as sexually violated by the Roman guard.

  37. Keith permalink
    April 3, 2010 5:33 pm

    It’s probably worth noting that the crucifixion itself *should* be equally shocking. Because we’re all familiar enough with the idea of Jesus’ death on the cross, it’s easy to forget how paradoxical it is to believe in a God who not only became human, but was brutally tortured and executed.

  38. digbydolben permalink
    April 4, 2010 6:45 am

    Those of you who think that there is no possibility of “sexual assault” in the context of Roman crucifixions should take a look at Josephus’s account of how the conquering Romans crucified their captive Jews during the First Jewish Revolt of 69 A.D.

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