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Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the 14th Century

4.16  ·  Rating Details  ·  574 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
"Truly groundbreaking work. Boswell reveals unexplored phenomena with an unfailing erudition."—Michel Foucault
John Boswell's National Book Award-winning study of the history of attitudes toward homosexuality in the early Christian West was a groundbreaking work that challenged preconceptions about the Church's past relationship to its gay members—among them priests, bishop
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Published February 15th 2009 by University of Chicago Press (first published 1980)
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May 29, 2007 Conrad rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: masterpieces, history
I can't imagine anyone reading this book and not being moved and stunned by the rewriting of history that has accompanied the reign of the queerbashers. This book makes the case that buggery was a pretty well-known and accepted part of life for a very long time, that biblical injunctions against it condemn buttsex with the same vigor that they condemn eating lobster and as such were routinely ignored until lately, and that anyone who says otherwise has bought into a big old lie.

I've heard that
Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality is an extraordinary piece of scholarship that I wished I finished reading sooner. I was reading with good momentum before I unwisely decided to leave it home during a roadtrip, leaving the book to languish on my nightstand for many weeks. Professor John Boswell of Yale University spent ten years on this groundbreaking study of attitudes towards gay people in Western Europe. Starting with ancient Greece, he shows how feelings swayed between celebr ...more
Skylar Burris
The author of “Christianity, Homosexuality, and Social Tolerance” begins his book with the odd claim that he is not supporting any particular moral position with regard to homosexuality. I say it is odd because the massive volume is clearly aimed at convincing the reader that Christianity is, if you really dig into history and read the Scriptures just right, supportive of homosexual love and the sex that is an expression of that love.

Now, I have absolutely no problem with books with agendas. I
Oct 20, 2008 Mike rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book more or less kicked off academic endeavors into this realm of research. For that fact alone it get more grace, than your typical book. Boswell's historical argument is way out of my league, but that isn't way I read the book. His argument as to the religious aspects of intolerance are over simplified and border on completely inaccurate, so much so that Crompton came along later and corrected Boswell's error in his book "Homosexuality and Civilization." The upside to this book was that ...more
Johnny D
Jan 31, 2009 Johnny D rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There is no way to overstate the cultural import of this book. It may seem that we are living in a dark age after the passage of prop 8 in California (and other anti-gay referendums across the country) but consider the existence of MCC churches, the controversial progressiveness of the Episcopalians, and the closing gap even among young Evangelicals when it comes to accepting and affirming gay relationships.

Boswell is responsible for much of this religious enlightenment. His landmark book, rele
Aug 16, 2007 Kelly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For my Intro to Christianity course back in college, I decided early on that I wanted my term paper to focus on gays in early Christianity. This was one of the books I chose as a reference, one the professor was actually surprised I used (in a good way). This is an excellent book, covering far more information than I could have ever dreamed finding. John Boswell lifts the rug to display the dirt and dust-motes that the church has been sweeping aside for centuries.
An imperfect work, and one where I couldn't entirely follow the scholarship. But a cornerstone of interpreting scripture in a way that strips off centuries (millennia) of misinterpretation. Couple this with "The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology" by Mark. D. Jordon and "HOMOEROTICISM IN THE BIBLICAL WORLD" by MARTTI NISSINEN
Justin Lee
There is something fantastic about this book. It's dense as hell, more text book than easy reading, and ridiculously well researched, but I loved it.

Back story: When I first came out, I was having a hard time dealing with the fact there isn't a lineage of gay history. We've been around forever but we're not a community with historical traditions and tales that have been told from generation to generation. This book comforted that part of me. Boswell gives proof that homosexual persons existed a
Lizabeth Tucker
Feb 22, 2013 Lizabeth Tucker rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbt, history
Subtitled " Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century".

This is an extremely dry and slow look at how the prejudices against gays embedded in the modern religions developed over the centuries and were not part of the original liturgy. Many works of the time were and continue to be edited in regards to gender where romantic, sexual, emotional relationships.

I have a few problems with this work. First, the footnotes may or may not be translated,
In his conclusion to Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, John Boswell states that as such little work had been done on this topic before—which, at the time of this book's publication was certainly true—"the writer on this subject cannot hope to avoid leading his readers down many wrong paths or, occasionally, coming to a dead end", and begs the reader's forbearance in the hopes that future scholars will build on his work. From the perspective of several decades later, both Boswell' ...more
Prof. Branco
It is an interesting book, the author makes a great effort to prove his point and to bring out of the shadows of history an account of the gay people. I found interesting the chapter about definitions. Nevertheless, I am not convinced about the historicity proposed by the writer. I found unacceptable the biblical hermeneutics approach used by the author.
A Catholic apologist attempts to recuperate Catholicism (and Christianity in general) in terms of its treatment of gay people until approximately 1500. This book is important, but it's also important to note that Boswell, a gay man, was also a Christian. Apparently, much of his scholarly work is an attempt to reconcile his gay identity with his Christian identity. He cautions against a reductive reading that blames all anti-gay intolerance on Christianity, but I think he misses (and perhaps even ...more
Dec 20, 2009 Albert rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm reading this again-- I just can't imagine a more healing gesture than clarifying the rift between Christianity and gays, maybe the last remaining non-religious minority it thoroughly marginalizes-- and one of the most important, powerful, and inspiring groups in society ever. Pre-medeival Christianity, in many ways, seems to take all that talk about love a lot more seriously, along with interpreting Scripture in a much more context-specific, or at least more subtle, or at least far less unan ...more
Feb 25, 2009 Beth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Beth by: found at FGC Bookstore
This crossover (written for both educated laypeople and for academics) is highly informative (especially if your read the zillion footnotes), bursts a lot of preconceptions about European society of the times, and is an appealing read, also.

It's going to take me months to get through because it's rich in info and is not a fast read even by nonfiction standards.

Update in February '09: Whew! Finally finished! Very good resource for adult religious/social education, discussion (and debate!)
Interesting historical analysis claiming that recent religious intolerant attitudes towards homosexuality are only a recent invention and that the prevailing attitude, even among the early Catholic church itself, was one of tacit tolerance, following with Roman attitudes of the time.
Ray Lang
Very scrupulously documented and copiously footnoted history of attitudes surrounding homosexuality in the Christian tradition, from very early times to the present. It was surprising to me how recently the current very hard line on homosexuality emerged.
Jan 29, 2008 Kersplebedeb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Christians and people who like history.
Brilliant medieval Church history; the author's controversial thesis is not only that elements in the Church were pro-queer, but also that the Roman Catholic hierarhcy in some circumstances acted as a protector against popular homophobia.
Dec 31, 2010 Jerry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book. Meticulously researched, although it reads like a textbook. My partner and I actually met Mr. Boswell several times. He also researched and wrote a book on gay marriage from ancient to modern times.
Apr 02, 2009 Molly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Extremely dense but incredibly insightful again, to the views of a literal interpretation versus an analytical interpretation of the bible. Brilliant.
Dec 04, 2008 Ted rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone into the history of homosexuality
Shelves: gay-history
An amazing academic study, incredibly well-researched, about how Christianity changed for all time Greco-Roman paragigms of homosexuality.
Jul 26, 2008 Fred rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My brain really, really hurts now, but I think I am a better person for reading this. It is not a beach read-Boswell invented O.C.D.
Aug 02, 2012 Jim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is so well documented it is almost a distraction.
Very informative, but not an easy read.
Oct 01, 2009 srevans marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
(added to "Curious About These" list, c. March 2007.)
Pioneering, brilliant, ultimately flawed.
Dec 30, 2010 Joe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting read.
Rick Edwards
Boswell is thorough in his fast-paced review of writings related to sexuality and sexual mores from early Christianity through the 14th century. It becomes clear from his study that ecclesial tradition did not tend to speak uniformly against same-sex relationships per se, though from time to time and in particular situations and circumstances it did. Often the initiative was from the secular side, with ecclesial authorities echoing the perspective of secular rulers. Especially helpful is Boswell ...more
Kevin Schroder
Jun 28, 2015 Kevin Schroder rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this when it first came out :) and it remains in my library to this day. Groundbreaking research. A must-read for anyone concerned with these issues.
Matt Root
Mar 16, 2014 Matt Root rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The standard-bearer on the issue for a generation and with good reason. The only issue is now that it's old.
Jul 12, 2011 Caitlin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is fascinating. It deals with the history of homosexuality up until the 14th century. I thought I'd hate this book but it's a history I'd never really thought about and since the church dominated life during the time periods mentioned, it really speaks to the process of how homosexuality was accepted through certain periods but not others, and why. It's a bit of a dry read (like many history books) but I came away surprised by the information I gained.
Aug 09, 2011 Aaron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A must read for anyone who wants to know the history behind the relationship between Christianity and homosexuality. If you're someone who's confused about the subject or believes that homosexuality is a sin, take a read from this scholar who dives into the original languages and histories to clear things up for you. Worth a read for anyone who takes the Bible seriously, yet has issues with the subject.
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John Eastburn Boswell was a prominent historian and a professor at Yale University. Many of Boswell's studies focused on the issue of homosexuality and religion, specifically homosexuality and Christianity. (from wikipedia)

Librarian note: There is more than one author by this name in the database. See authors with similar names.
More about John Boswell...

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“There is no indication that any church official suggested or supported the emperor's action against gay people. On the contrary, the only persons known by name to have been punished for homosexual acts were prominent bishops.” 7 likes
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