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The Bible  
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James Saslow summarizes the features of the comparison made in works like the fourteenth-century Ovidius moralizatus: "As Jupiter symbolizes the Christian godhead, so the eagle who transports Ganymede into heavenly realms prefigures the attribute of John, the pure young disciple especially beloved of Jesus, who received a similar furor divinus from the eagle who inspired his apocalyptic visions and writing."

The association of John with Ganymede permitted the presentation of homoerotic images under the guise of pious inspiration. In 1533, for example, fellow painter Sebastiano del Piombo suggested to Michelangelo that in the vault of the Medici Chapel's lantern he should paint a Ganymede with "a halo so that he would look like St. John of the Apocalypse when he was carried to heaven."

The Bible's ambivalence regarding John and Jesus' relationship has been adopted by later writers for varied effect.

On the one hand, George Herbert simply asserts a typological similarity when, speaking in "The Church-Porch" of divine models for love and friendship, he notes that "David had his Jonathan, Christ his John," or meditates in Lucus 24 on John 21:20.

On the other, King James I shrewdly neutralized in Parliament charges made against his relationship with George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, by noting that "Christ had his John and I have my Steenie," thus leaving his critics unable to assert that there was anything improper about the king's relationship without suggesting as well that the relationship between Jesus and John was sexual.

In 1817, Jeremy Bentham considered not only whether Jesus and John might have been sexually involved, but if the young man present at Jesus' arrest who eventually flees the garden naked (Mark 14:50-52) might not have been a homosexual temple prostitute who proved more loyal to Jesus than the disciples.

Other Biblical Figures

Other biblical identities have proved influential as well. The description of Absalom, David's son, as beautiful and having especially luxurious hair, set the medieval standard for male beauty so lavish that it proves effeminate.

Likewise, the description of the Bridegroom in The Song of Songs has licensed poetic cataloging of the features of erotic male beauty; William Alan Robinson's "Song of Gabriel" (Gay Literature, Winter 1976), for example, puts in a male speaker's mouth the biblical Bride's praise of her lover's body and description of their lovemaking, not only deallegorizing traditional religious interpretations of an erotically charged text, but effectively challenging objections to homosexual love on religious grounds by dramatizing gay love as an act of emotional surety and religious faith.

Subversions of Biblical Antihomoeroticism

The most telling challenge offered gay and lesbian writers by the Bible has been to reclaim the very passages that seem to censor homosexual love. Few writers in this category have not intended deliberately to shock the orthodox, as when Christopher Marlowe supposedly claimed "that St. John the Evangelist was bedfellow to Christ and leaned always in his bosom, that he used him as the sinners of Sodoma." Their challenging the social construction of homosexual identity has placed them among the most controversial of Western literary texts.


If for the readers of Dante's Inferno Sodom has traditionally been the site of sexual and spiritual sterility, for countless others it has licensed contestation of Western sexual norms. Few moralists have, like Jeremy Bentham, been willing to question directly whether sodomy proved "a sufficient warrant" for so drastic an act as "God's burning Sodom." Most, like Gore Vidal in The City and the Pillar (1948), rather, have used the Sodom narrative to question whether it is not preferable to be "damned" than to be "saved."

On the simplest level, recounting the Sodom story offers the titillating pleasure of considering what excesses might have warranted their destruction.

In Marcel Proust's Cities of the Plain (Sodom et Gomorrhe, 1922), the narrator does not doubt homosexuals to be "a race accursed, because [their] ideal of beauty and [their] nourishment of desire also embody a source of shame and a fear of punishment." But this does not stop him from enjoying the voyeuristic pleasure of spying on the Baron de Charlus as he effects a gay liaison, on Albertine as she dances with Andrée, or from detailing the goings-on at Jupien's male brothel. The reader is similarly entrapped by the voyeuristic pleasure of Proust's text: nonreproductive sexuality comes to represent a license that fascinates and transfixes the reader's gaze but, unlike Lot's wife, the reader does not turn into a post of salt for looking.

Even more unsettling of normative sexual morality are eighteenth-century attempts to reclaim Sodom as a site of radical integrity. Responding to fourteenth-century scholasticism's labeling of sodomy as "unnatural" and the argument of moralists like Blackstone that "the voice of nature and reason" condemns sodomy, the libertine naturalists of the Enlightenment celebrated the irrational by showing how artificial social constructions of the "natural" actually are.

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