Paul And Sexual Harassment -- By: Craig S. Keener

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 12:3 (Summer 1998)
Article: Paul And Sexual Harassment
Author: Craig S. Keener


Paul And Sexual Harassment

Craig S. Keener

Craig Keener is author of Paul, Women & Wives and The IVP Bible Background Commentary available from the CBE Book Service.

Unwelcome, sexually suggestive comments are not a new phenomenon, beginning with the alleged activities of either Bob Packwood or Bill Clinton (depending on your political preference). Sexual humor that degrades an entire gender (or sometimes both genders) into mere objects for sexual gratification has a long history.

Not everyone in antiquity approved of sexual joking or of degrading jesting in general. Ancient rhetoricians commented regularly on the need for some restraint in joking of various kinds. Aristotle (who considered the mean between extremes to be virtuous) considered witty those who joked in good taste, but boorish those who ridiculed in excess.1 Plutarch warned that those who could not limit joking to the suitable and discreet occasions ought to abstain from it altogether.2 Among Romans, “light jesting” and “ceremonial abuse” of the groom were customary at weddings.3 A Roman rhetoric professor observed that it was good to season one’s speech with jests,4 but one should use restraint for dignity’s sake.5 Inappropriate levity at the wrong times could get a person in trouble: thus, for example, a Roman who cracked a joke while being addressed by a censor was reduced to commoner status.6

Philosophers tended to be even more restrained. Some philosophers like Pythagoras avoided laughter, insults and vulgar remarks altogether; others, like Aristippus, reportedly fled from having to listen to someone reviling him with vulgar language.7 The Stoic philosopher Epictetus warned against mocking another person, or even bringing oneself down to a mocker’s level by responding in kind. Rather, one should reprove a person who speaks in that manner.8

Likewise, Jewish teachers rejected inappropriate mocking of others. The rabbis never condemned laughter or play or even ridiculing enemies, but they did object to base speech.9 R. Akiba in the early second century remarked that “Jesting and lightness of head’ “produce “lewdness” (the term can include shame or unchastity).10 Later rabbis often developed thi...

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