From Shame to Sin

From Shame to Sin

The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity

eBook - 2013
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Harvard University Press
The transformation of the Roman world from polytheistic to Christian is one of the most sweeping ideological changes of premodern history. At the center was sex. Kyle Harper examines how Christianity changed the ethics of sexual behavior from shame to sin, and shows how the roots of modern sexuality are grounded in an ancient religious revolution.

When Rome was at its height, an emperor’s male beloved, victim of an untimely death, would be worshipped around the empire as a god. In this same society, the routine sexual exploitation of poor and enslaved women was abetted by public institutions. Four centuries later, a Roman emperor commanded the mutilation of men caught in same-sex affairs, even as he affirmed the moral dignity of women without any civic claim to honor. The gradual transformation of the Roman world from polytheistic to Christian marks one of the most sweeping ideological changes of premodern history. At the center of it all was sex. Exploring sources in literature, philosophy, and art, Kyle Harper examines the rise of Christianity as a turning point in the history of sexuality and helps us see how the roots of modern sexuality are grounded in an ancient religious revolution.

While Roman sexual culture was frankly and freely erotic, it was not completely unmoored from constraint. Offending against sexual morality was cause for shame, experienced through social condemnation. The rise of Christianity fundamentally changed the ethics of sexual behavior. In matters of morality, divine judgment transcended that of mere mortals, and shame—a social concept—gave way to the theological notion of sin. This transformed understanding led to Christianity’s explicit prohibitions of homosexuality, extramarital love, and prostitution. Most profound, however, was the emergence of the idea of free will in Christian dogma, which made all human action, including sexual behavior, accountable to the spiritual, not the physical, world.



Book News
Harper (classics, U. of Oklahoma) aims for an improved understanding of what the transition in antiquity to a Christian sexual cultural morality meant as it occurred and how that revolution in ancient times is at the root of modern attitudes and prohibitions. He begins with discussion of the moralities of sex in the Roman Empire--its frank and free eroticism that nevertheless had some constraints. He then discusses early Christian sexuality, the church, and attitudes toward sex in the late classical world and during the twilight of antiquity. Annotation ©2013 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Publisher: Cambridge, Massachusetts : Harvard University Press, 2013
ISBN: 9780674074569
0674074564
9780674072770
0674072774
Characteristics: 1 online resource (xii, 304 pages)

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