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The writings of author, therapist, and priest Robert Warren Cromey.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Sex Life of Jesus - Discussion

I sent the following article to people on my emailing list and asked for responses. I received a number of very interesting emails back. I have attached them for you to read.

Sex Life of Jesus

People were shocked, angered and amazed many years ago when Malcolm Boyd, priest and author, proclaimed, “Jesus had a penis.” I must say that I had never thought of Jesus that way and immediately said, “Why of course.”

The little we know of Jesus includes an educated guess that he was a thirty-year-old Jewish man raised in and faithful to his religion. He was full of the teachings of the law and prophets found in the Old Testament. He worked as a carpenter or, as one scholar has said a cabinetmaker, before he began his ministry. He became an itinerant preacher and healer who was executed by a cabal of Roman and Jewish leaders in the first years of the first century.

Did he ever have sex? Did he masturbate as a child and teen-ager, did he neck and pet with the young girls, did he marry, have children, was he gay? Did he have any kind of sex life? The New Testament accounts tell us nothing of his personal or sexual life. There is no evidence that he married. But this is rather odd as Jewish men of that era were expected to marry and have children as part of the family life that depended on large families to help bring in money to support the family especially the elderly, women and children, the dependents.

Going past the concrete evidence that we have, let’s be practical and use our heads as well as our imaginations. He was a man of his times. As he grew up, he masturbated and had wet dreams like most all teenage boys did and do. He lusted after the girls and young women in his community. He did marry; it was an arranged marriage with a virgin chosen by his father. After a rather brief romantic interlude, he and his wife had some children. He worked with his father as a woodworker, leaving his wife to tend the house and care for the children. He had intercourse with his wife on an irregular basis as custom and his work allowed. He had several children. He was a rough and attentive father not given to being a pal to his kids. He trained the boys to be carpenters. Sex was as natural as breathing to Jesus and not the preoccupation it is for men now.

While there is absolutely no evidence that Jesus was heterosexual, the chances are he was. Homosexuality as we know it was against the Jewish law and any urges in the direction of same gender sex were suppressed. Same gender sex could be punishable by death. The incredible land ownership policies and brutally high taxes forced Jesus and his family to live in miserable poverty. There was little time for sexual experimentation.

Of course Jesus had a sex life, as a Jewish man of his time, to marry and have intercourse and produce children was just the way it was. That he left his home and family to preach and teach was what was truly unusual. The knowledge that Jesus was not celibate but a sexual being makes him all the more believable and human and accounts for his compassion and love.

Jesus and our Sex lives today.

Since Jesus was a man of his time, his ideas of sex today would reflect today's times. He would say:

God created our bodies and our sexuality. Enjoy them both to the fullest.

It is no longer necessary to be married to have sex as we can control diseases and unwanted births. Enjoy your sexuality with willing partners.

If you marry be faithful to your spouse. If the love and caring die; divorce and try again, learning from your previous mistakes.

God made many people desire to be sexually intimate with people of the same gender. Enjoy the love and sex in those relationships.

Tell the truth about your sexual wants, needs and desires to your partners.

Response to Sex Life of Jesus

From Brad

Father Robert,

Thank you for bringing up the thought-provoking subject of Jesus’ sexuality and sex life. Sorry for the late reply. I had responded to your email only to have my computer crash and lose the message before I could send it!

As a gay man, I've often wondered if Jesus may have been a gay man (or at least had a bisexual orientation). Since childhood I was taught that Jesus was the Lord God, AND he was my brother and friend as well. By the time of my late adolescence and early adulthood Jesus had morphed into my lover as well.

In so many ways my quest for a “loving relationship with Jesus” was acted out in my search for the “perfect lover” on earth, and vice-versa. In Jungian terms, Jesus became for me both "Lover" and "Beloved".

From the gospel narratives Jesus appears to have associated largely with men. "Inquiring minds" would like to know the true identity of “the beloved disciple” (or “the disciple whom Jesus loved”)! Who laid their head on Jesus’ chest during the last supper? (John 21:20) Was it John the Apostle, Evangelist, and Theologian, the legendary author of the fourth gospel? Or was it Lazarus for whom Jesus wept (John 11:35) and raised from the dead (John 11:43-44)? Or was the beloved disciple Mary Magdalene (whom, as you know, some scholars believe was both the wife and a disciple of Jesus)?

To further complicate matters, scripture scholars for centuries (and especially of late in light of the discovery of the so-called “Gnostic gospels” near Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945) have had serious reservations about the accuracy of the "historical facts” given in the gospel narratives.

As you pointed out, the “historical" Jesus was most likely a heterosexual male who had a wife and family. To be in the “family way” was the religious and cultural norm at Jesus’ time. In order to be “fully human”, as our creed affirms, I would think Jesus would have had to experience his sexuality. Like you, I think an “asexual” or celibate Jesus would have been very peculiar in that time and culture.

Still, the nature of Jesus’ sexuality is a compelling mystery indeed!

Brad Pethoud

From a Friend

I hold Jesus now as a fully realized (as in Buddhist terms) being. Sakyamuni Buddha left his wife and son. No Buddhist teachings (to my limited knowledge) are concerned with his sex life before enlightenment nor his 50 yrs of teachings after. The primary message for me from both men is compassion for self and others so that eventually all sentient beings will attain enlightenment heaven), not through any mediator, but through self-realization, i.e. damn inner and outer hard work.

Because there is no known record of Jesus’ sex life a myriad of fantasies can occur. You describe him as a "normal male". Has it ever occurred to you he may have been physically impaired in some way, unable to perform sexually? Not being "normal" may have moved him, through his pain over this, to seek a spiritual life. Needless to say, I don't know and I consider it pointless to speculate at all!

What would Jesus say today? What we know of his teachings is enough. Our suffering lies in truly not listening to and following him and all the other great teachers. I think it is arrogant to presume you might know.

From Jim

I think we must remember to distinguish between a "historical" Jesus and the mythical hero of the New Testament. The historical Jesus would have been no different from other men in his period unless we assume that he was one of the many "prophets," i.e., sidewalk preachers before there were sidewalks, calling for the Messiah, the Second Coming, etc., in which case he might have followed proscriptions and prescriptions of the time re sex, marriage, etc.
If we want to put our imaginations to work on the mythical Jesus, I prefer to think of him as affectively bisexual like Valentine Michael Smith in Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land although he might still have been functionally celibate.
Jim Sorrells, Guerneville

From Oonagh:

Subject: Re: Sex Life of Jesus

Well, of COURSE Jesus had a penis! Who could think otherwise? But can we imagine a sweaty between the sheets Jesus, all sweaty and groaning? One hot Jesus--sounds like Irish cursing!

And as for perpetual virginity of Mary, that just makes me tired, it's so tedious! And I'm a big goddess-er!

There are so many good arguments on both sides of the Jesus being married issue. And we still don't know the importance of "the disciple Jesus loved" with his head on Jesus' breast/chest, a very intimate act. (Remember that the early images of Jesus were pretty feminized--Jesus with breasts and hips--not the hunky, buffed Jesus I like to imagine--"facial hair and arrest record, what's NOT to love?" to quote my friend the UU minister.)

Some scholars declare Jesus was gay and that's another argument, which is fine with me. Macho hetero men are sooo tedious; I know, I live in a land of macho, the Republic of Panama, and it's as tedious as the smug entitlement of most straight heteros of El Norte. Yawn.

My ideal Jesus was married to BOTH "the disciple Jesus loved" (male) AND the Magdalene. But that is my personal fantasy life of "our Lord and Savior." So I vote for a bisexual Jesus--to be fully human.

And, yes, the US, as obsessed with sex as we are, IS a sex-negative culture. I remember when my RC Northern Ireland friend's daughter was dating and with her boyfriend in her room and how anxious my friend was about "what was going on." I suggested "bundling." He had never heard the term and had no idea what I was talking about. When I described this Puritan practice, I realized that the Puritans never made it to earthy Ireland (even though the RC Church has taken its sexual toll on that holy island.)

I always thought that monasteries, convents, and the like were the Churches answer for a way of life for gay and lesbian folk who could not live as desired on the outside, especially with a calling or parents promising you to God at an early age, then packing you off to a monastery or convent in your teens--or younger! (I shocked a Panamanian Jesuit recently with this comment. It's difficult to shock a Jesuit anywhere. ) Of COURSE I believe some people ARE called to celibacy AND that sometimes the phone doesn't ring and we wear out Hitachi wands in seminary dorm rooms! (If one is single, female, mostly hetero, smart, opinionated, over 40, living in Berkeley AND IN SEMINARY--adding the godcard--one can forget finding a sexual partner-- thank God for dead wives in MS--I mean I had to IMPORT a widower to CA to get laid and then married!

The Rev'd. oonagh Ryan-King
Our Lady of the Rainbow, Panama
The Inclusive Celtic Episcopal Church

From Michelle:

Jesus and our Sex lives today.
Since Jesus was a man of his time, his ideas of sex today would reflect today's times. He would say: Practice safe, kind, respectful, and mutually agreeable sex, even if it's a one-night stand.
God created our bodies and our sexuality. Enjoy them both to the fullest. Couldn't agree more.
It is no longer necessary to be married to have sex as we can control diseases and unwanted births. Enjoy your sexuality with willing partners. Yeah!
If you marry be faithful to your spouse. If the love and caring die; divorce and try again, learning from your previous mistakes. Too true!
God made many people desire to be sexually intimate with people of the same gender. Enjoy the love and sex in those relationships. Can't imagine how some can argue against this statement.
Tell the truth about your sexual wants, needs and desires to your partners. The best way to build a truly intimate relationship.

From Michael Howard, devout churchman:

"Like us in everything except sin."

Questions about Jesus sexuality are questions about the Incarnation of God. The plan of Christian orthodoxy is predicated on God becoming human. That is, becoming human in all its aspects, just like you and me and everybody else, except without "sin", i.e., without all the negative elements of life in which we cause ourselves and others to lose hope and not care for one another. Based on this premise, why would Jesus not have a sex life, real or imagined, just like you and me and everybody else? And, since the Christian idea of God becoming human is that God partakes of even our most ordinary humanity, why would Jesus not have ordinary human relations including ordinary sexual relations, as Robert Cromey proposes?

For me, questions about Jesus sexuality are part of questions about his entire humanity, and divinity. How does that being which creates and comprehends all existence "seen and unseen" beyond all time and space and thought dwell in the same person with an ordinary human being concerned with the needs and wants of the physical body, including hunger and sex and comfort and illness and pleasure and death, and the needs and wants of the human psyche relating to other human beings in work and play and love and conflict and friendship? I ask this question not only because I wonder about the person of Jesus. I ask this question because I wonder how my person can become like Jesus person. I believe that is why God became human, to make us divine.

From Pat

Really like Rebecca Gordon's comment!!!

I am reminded when I read the Greek author Nicolas Kazanzakis (know I may not be spelling right but you know who I mean!). He depicted Jesus as a normal human being with sexual drive and all. It was new to think of him in that way when I first read the book. I gave my dear Catholic mother the book to read and her only comment was: "Who is this Jesus anyway!" Caused a lot of controversy at the time the movie came out as well. I had a cousin write to me from the Midwest warning me not to see the film! I just ignored it. Kazanzakis was a great writer as far as I was concerned.

This negativity about sexuality goes far beyond our puritanical culture I think. The conflict between body and spirit has always been with Christianity. I personally have had a lot of work to do on myself in that area growing up in a tradition heavily influenced by Augustine. It feels like I constantly have to work on myself in this regard. The writings of Matthew Fox have helped me a great deal as well as knowing other great church people such as you, Robert. Finally, biologist tells us about the diversity of reproduction in nature. Why should our species be any different than any other species?

Pat Devine

From Rick:


Here is a "discussion-starter" from retired Episcopal priest Robert Cromey. I think it is an excellent piece (and idea) and encourage you to read and respond to it -- if you are so inclined. Personally, I think that his assumptions and speculations about Jesus and his sex life make a great deal of sense. I have long argued that the humanity of Jesus, and not his divinity, is what makes him a model for us to follow and emulate.

However, I would quibble with Robert on the point of Jesus' sexual orientation. He argues that homosexuality was unlikely because of the strong custom of heterosexual marriage and because of stringent penalties against any same-sex expression. This has been true in other societies and at other times, though, including many parts of our own world. But such external constraints have nothing to do with a person's sexuality -- a lesson history confirms (though it has often been ignored). For these reasons, In answer to Robert's assertion that there is no reason to suppose that Jesus may have been homosexual (a dubious claim in my own opinion), I would offer the opposing assertion that there is no reason to suppose that he was not.

As a fully human person, Jesus might have been heterosexual, bisexual, asexual, or homosexual, and as comic Jerry Seinfeld would say, "Not that there's anything wrong with that."

Whatever your opinion or response to this subject, I am sure that Robert will value your input. -- Rick Mitchell

From Vic:

About ten years ago I was present with a group meeting at the Unitarian Church in San Francisco when Fr. Boyd caused shock and anger by saying, "Jesus had a penis."

Fr. Cromey has brought the matter up to date by his essay on this subject, in attachment here.

Some time ago I noted that in the world of pictorial art, Jesus is always depicted with a penis as a youngster, but as an adult that valuable organ is always amputated. I took a medieval picture and, with a slight application of PhotoShop technology, made it become historically accurate, and made it be possibly a suitable illustration for Fr. Cromey's report.

--Vic. (Couldn’t download the pictures.)

From Rebecca
The Sexual Identity of Jesus

Jesus’ penis has long been a stumbling block for women. Or another way of putting it: How likely - or just - is it that the one, unique, for-all-time incarnation of the divine in a human being should take place in a man? Just the luck of the draw, I guess. Once you make your incarnate God a man, it's hard to imagine your transcendent God as anything but male.

I figure if sexual dimorphism is only one of the methods of reproduction that life has developed on this planet, God knows how things are organized elsewhere in the universe! These days I like to think of Jesus' body - like that of one out of every hundred people born* - as diverging in some way from the standard male or female structure. Maybe Jesus was, like so many of us, an intersexual being. The more we learn about sex and gender, the more tangled and complex these apparently binary categories become. What remains clear is that the God I worship does not countenance injustice on the basis of the arrangement of DNA.

* See for more about this.

Best to all,
Rebecca Gordon

From Fred Fenton:

I think Jesus married. We know Peter did. (Mt 8:14; Mk 1:30; Lk 4:38)
It was Joseph's responsibility as a good, Jewish father to find a wife for his son. Probably all of the disciples were married and had children.

In 1985 I was in Nairobi and heard Pope John Paul, II speak at the International Eucharistic Congress there. One would have thought his message would have been on some aspect of the Eucharist. Instead, he spoke against birth control, in a nation with one of the highest birth rates in the world.

How can any thoughtful, caring person belong to a church that exalts Mary's perpetual virginity (poor Joseph), maintains celibacy of the clergy, condemns birth control and abortion, and teaches that homosexual relations are sinful?

America is a sex negative culture. We continue to live in a backwater of 19th century Puritanism. I am proud of the advances made by the Episcopal Church toward a healthy view of human sexuality. As the uproar over ordination of an openly gay bishop shows, we still have a long way to go.

The Rev. Fred Fenton

Hi Fred,

People can't just see that Jesus was a human being. Deifying him has made him a eunuch.


Subject: An additional comment on the life of Jesus -- including his sexuality

I think one very important reason for discussing Jesus’ sexuality is to enable us to reflect upon our own feelings about our own sexuality in relation to the divine. I also think we are enriched immensely by recognizing the extent to which Jesus was actually human and how he really offers us a model to follow in our own lives.

The comments of many of the people who have replied have struck me as very insightful, Some of them have very different views of life and religion, and I feel privileged to hear their views, whether or not I agree with them entirely.

My theology has come to focus more on Jesus' life than on his death. I believe he lived with dedication to his understanding and the vision he had for humanity -- even though it placed him in conflict and in mortal danger. But I do not believe that his death constituted any kink of ransom or payment for sins -- but rather the supreme example of how to live our lives authentically and with integrity.

Personally, I have come to believe in the unity of God (the Trinity being a sacred simile or description of the different aspects of God) and in universal salvation for all. I believe God's love for us is truly unconditional, as it was for Jesus and it is for every person.

Many Christian ministers also believe in this way, but prefer not to discuss it with lay people (especially their congregations). But all of that notwithstanding, I believe that willingness to consider Jesus' human feelings and perhaps, actions, in the area of sexuality is healthy without requiring us to agree or to press our speculations on anyone else.

For me, the dignity, integrity, and humanness of Jesus life mirrors the potential we all can strive for, and of course, I believe that includes responsible sexuality.

 Rev. Rick Mitchell, Ph.D.

From Lou

Aside from the mythology defining Jesus as the "Son Of God," I have long believed Jesus to be a human species male with the same basic needs, wants and desires as others of the same gender. The difference I see is in his upbringing as I understand when a young boy he was educated through teachings of the Essenes. Jesus' early adult years (the "missing years"), as I understand this period in his life, were spent in the study of Buddhism with the Dalai Lama and other Monks and learning the spiritual aspects of Yoga while traveling through India; following this period of spiritual education, Jesus began his ministry only to become a threat to the political power base. Following his being put to death, the powers to be encouraged the Church to evolve its mythology which has survived for two thousand years within the vast Christian community of believers. The only difference I see between the life of the person named Jesus and any other male who has walked upon the Planet Earth is the level of spiritual education attained and it's practice. Did Jesus have a penis? You bet he did! How did he use it, I will leave that to the research and speculation of others.

Lou Raskin

I want to thank all of you who engaged in this discussion.