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The Image of the Androgyne: Some Uses of a Symbol in Earliest Christianity Wayne a. Meeks

The Image of the Androgyne: Some Uses of a Symbol in Earliest Christianity Wayne a. Meeks

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Published by Classicus
History of Religions, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Feb., 1974), pp. 165-208
History of Religions, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Feb., 1974), pp. 165-208

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Published by: Classicus on Jul 05, 2013
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11/26/2014

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WayneA. MeeksTHE IMAGE OFTHEANDROGYNE:SOMEUSES OFA SYMBOLIN EARLIESTCHRISTIANITYWhenMaximus theConfessor(seventhcentury)takesthe"cor-ners"of theJerusalemwall(2Chronicles26:9)asatypeof"thevariousunions(henoseis)ofthedivided creatureswhich were ef-fectedthroughChrist,"'wemightonce have assumedthat heisindulginginrhetoricalfancy. Similarly,wemighthavedismissedhischiefexampleof suchhenosis asthehyperboleof aByzantineascetic:"For he[sc. Christ]unifiedman,mystically abolishing bytheSpiritthe difference between maleandfemaleand,inplaceofthe two withtheirpeculiarpassions,constitutingone free withrespectto nature."2Now,however,theNagHammaditexts havereminded usofthe extent towhichtheunification ofopposites,
Thisinquirywasmadepossiblebya summerstipendfrom the NationalEndowmentfortheHumanities,grantF-71-74,andbyatriennialleave fromYaleUniversity.Iamdeeplygratefulto bothinstitutions.Excerptsfrom ithavebeenpresentedaslectures at HarvardDivinitySchool,DubuqueTheologicalSeminary,BrownUniversity,and theUniversityofChicago.Manycolleagueshavehelpedmebytheirsuggestionsandcriticisms,especiallyElainePagels,AbrahamMalherbe,JonathanSmith,JacobNeusner,andCyrilRichardson.1MaximustheConfessor,QuestionesadThalassium48(Migne, Patrologiagraeca90,436A).IamgratefultoProf.Jaroslav Pelikan forcallingmyattentiontothispassage.2Ibid. The otherpairsofoppositesmentionedbyMaximus hereare:"Thesensibleparadiseandthe inhabitedworld,""earthandheaven,""the sensible andtheintelligible,""the created and theuncreated nature." Earlierinthe same sec-tion(p.435C)hespeaksof thechurch as "theunionof the twopeoples,that ofthegentilesandthat of theJews,havingChrist asthebond"
(av'ova,uos;
cf.Ephesians2:14f.).165
 
ImageoftheAndrogyne
andespeciallytheoppositesexes,served inearly Christianityasaprimesymbolofsalvation.To besure,inthesecond- and third-centurygnostictextsthissymbolismflourishes in somebizarreformswhich are notalwaysclear tous,but the notionitselfhadanimportant placemuch earlier-inthecongregationsfoundedbyPaul and his school.For itisthebaptismalritual that Paulquoteswhenhe remindstheGalatiansthatinChrist"there isnoJewnorGreek,thereisnoslave norfree,there is no male andfemale"(Galatians 3:28).Theunificationofoppositesisa well-known motif alike in reli-giousphenomenologyandinthehistoryofancientphilosophy.3Edmund Leachgoessofar as tosay:"Inevery mythsystemwewillfind apersistentsequenceofbinarydiscrimations as betweenhuman/superhuman, mortal/immortal,male/female,legitimate/illegitimate,good/bad...followedbya 'mediation' ofthepairedcategoriesthusdistinguished."4However,itdoes not follow fromthemotif's nearubiquitythat itis banal.Thevery simplicityanduniversalityofthe structurefit ittocarrycommunicationsofgreat variety,fromthemostobviousto the mostprofoundofhumanexperiences.Whileinsomecases thesymboldoubtless doesbecomeotiose,itsactualsignificanceinagiveninstance has to bedetermined.That canbe doneonly byaskingabout itsspecificfunctionsinthenetwork of internalandexternalrelationshipsofthecommunitywhichusesthissymboliclanguage.Thereis reasonto believe thatthesymbolizationof areunified mankind was notjust pioustalkinearly Christianity,but aquiteimportantwayofconceptualizinganddramatizingtheChristians'awarenessoftheirpeculiar relationshiptothelargersocietiesaroundthem.Atleast some oftheearlyChristiangroups thoughtof themselves asanewgenusofmankind,orastherestoredoriginalmankind.
3
DerwoodC.Smith hascollected agood manyinstancesof theunificationlanguagefrom Greco-Roman sourcesin hisYaledissertation,Jewish and GreekTraditions inEphesians2:11-12(AnnArbor,Mich.:UniversityMicrofilms,1970),pp.120-54.The mostinterestingdiscussion of thedevelopmentandvarioususagesof bisexualmythsin Hellenism remains themonographbyMarieDelcourt,Hermaphrodite: Mytheset rites delabisexualitedansl'antiquite classique(Paris:PressesUniversitairesdeFrance,1958).For anextraordinarilywide-rangingethnographic surveyofoccurrences of bisexualmotifs,seeHermannBaumann,DasdoppelteGeschlecht(Berlin:E.Reimer,1955),andforaphenomenologicalinterpretation,MirceaEliade,Mephistophelesand theAndrogyne(NewYork:Sheed &Ward,1966),pt.2,pp.78-124.Eliadebelievesthatmythsof the coinci-dentiaoppositorumalways represent"man'sdeepdissatisfaction withhisactualsituation"and"nostalgiafor a lostParadise,"thoughthe lattermaybeconstruedinmanydifferentways,fromprimordialchaos to theperfectharmonyand freedomsoughtbytheyogi.4EdmundLeach,"Genesis asMyth,"inMythandCosmos,ed. John Middleton(GardenCity,N.Y.: NaturalHistoryPress,1967),p.4.166
 
History ofReligions
WhenTertulliansarcasticallydefendsthe churchagainst pagans'pejorativedescriptionofitas"athirdrace,"5hisambivalenceaboutthephraseisonlythe reverseside of theprideinuniquenessthatcouldbeexpressed,forexample,inthequasi-gnosticOdeofSolomon:"All thosewill be astonishedthatsee me.Forfromanother raceamI."6Bothexpressasentimentthatwas firstan-nounced,sofar as oursourcespermitus tosee,in thePaulinecon-gregationsofthefirstcentury,andwhichindifferentsettingscould serveavarietyofmodelsofChristianexistence,from uni-versal missiontoradicalsectarianism,fromstrongcommunalcon-sciousnesstosubjectiveisolation.Topursueall thepermutationsofthiscluster ofsymbolswouldrequireaverylargemonograph.As asmallfirststeptowardsuch astudy,Ishallhereundertakeonlya sketchofsomewaysinwhichone of thepairsofopposites,"male andfemale,"functionedinseveralearlyChristiangroups.First, however,itisnecessaryto formsomepictureofthewayinwhichthedifference of thesexeswasordinarily perceivedintheGreco-Romanworld.
I. WOMAN'S PLACE
ByandlargetheoppositionofsocialroleswasanimportantmeansbywhichHellenistic manestablishedhisidentity.Forexample,a rhetoricalcommonplacewasthe"threereasonsforgratitude,"variouslyattributedto ThalesorPlato: "that Iwasbornahumanbeingand not abeast,next,amanand not awoman,thirdly,aGreekand not abarbarian."7AsHenryFischelpointsout,8the
5
TertullianAdnationes1.8.1;cf.Apologeticum42.Cf. thesimilarargumentbyEusebius(EcclesiasticalHistory1.4.2),whohastograntthatChristianityis aveov
ZOvos,
but wants toshowthat it isnonovelty,nor asect"small,weak,orfoundedinacorner,"but "themostpopulousof thenations andthe mostpious,"with ancientroots. The"thirdrace"motiffirstappearsinChristianapologeticsinthePreachingofPeter(seeA.J.Malherbe,"TheApologeticTheologyofthePreachingofPeter,"RestorationQuarterly13(1970):220 f.6Ode41:8,inJ.H.Bernard,trans.,TheOdesofSolomon,TextsandStudies,no.8,pt.3(London:SPCKPress,1912),p.128.7DiogenesLaertius 1.33(Thales);Lactantius Divinaeinstitutiones3. 19(Plato);cf.PlutarchMarius 46.1,who makesthesayingPlato'slastwords,omittingthemale/femalepairinordertomake achiasmof the othertwo.8HenryFischel,"StoryandHistory:ObservationsonGreco-RomanRhetoricandPharisaism,"inAmericanOrientalSociety,MiddleWestBranch,Semi-CentennialVolume,AsianStudiesResearchInstitute,OrientalSeries,no.3,ed.DenisSinor(Bloomington:IndianaUniversityPress,1969),pp.74f.,nn.81,82. Cf.A. Z.Idelsohn,JewishLiturgyandItsDevelopment(NewYork:HenryHolt&Co.,1932),pp.75ff.;IsmarElbogen,DerjiidischeGottesdienst,3d ed.(Leipzig:G.Feck,1931),p.90;IsraelAbrahams,ACompaniontotheAuthorizedDaily PrayerBook,rev.ed.(NewYork:Hermon,1966),p.16.ElbogenandAbrahams also callattention to a Parsiparallel.167

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