I haven't yet written about the New Testament "vice lists," but there's a lot of information that is new to a Christian reader. I'll briefly discuss that here.

Two of the vice lists, at Eph 5:5 and Col 3:5, are oddly framed in the context of idolatry—or is it just greed that's idolatry? It's a famous problem.

Brian S. Rosner studies these two verses in his book "Greed as Idolatry: The Origin and Meaning of a Pauline Metaphor," and tries to argue that greed is indeed a special form of idolatry. However, he acknowledges the grammatical possibility that ALL the vices are seen as idolatry.

As he writes: “As if often the case in exegesis, grammatical considerations throw up the alternatives rather than deciding the case.”

It began to seem to me that all the 'vices' are indeed discussed as idolatry. To look up many of the words is to find them used in classics scholarship in reference to pagan cults—a fact unknown to a reader only of Christian scholars. These words are references to the practices and ways of other deities. The "arsenokoita" is one example, in being defined in connection to the god Zeus.

I noticed that "aischrologia" in Col 3:8, translated in Bibles as 'filthy language', was a pagan practice in Temples, often with Dionysus. Walter Burkert notes: "At Dionysian festivals wagons drove through the streets carrying masked figures who shouted abuse at everyone they passed in a proverbially coarse manner.”

The typical approach by Christian readers has been to see the "vices" as a "bad behavior" and to consider that behavior to be criminalized by the mention of it. Any links to other deity practices wouldn't be noticed, and the cultural context of 1st century Rome would feel quite remote.

A Christian reader thinks that "porneia" translates as "sexual immorality" and wouldn’t know it is used in reference to idolatry throughout the OT (in the Septuagint). And “adultery” is regularly a term in OT prophets for consorting with other deities.

Another way of reading the vice lists occurred to me. Perhaps the 'vices' are pointers, indirect and discreet, to the practices of other deities. But—the key point—it doesn't address or critique them directly.

A key data point here is noted by Rosner. The Septuagint version of Exodus 22:28 is different from the usual Hebrew text. The Christian reader's English translation says: “Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people."

The LXX has a different wording altogether: "Do not speak ill of gods."

The point comes up a few times in the Acts narrative, as in Ephesus, cf. 18:27, where the early Christians "have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess."

I began to suspect that the Bible discourages humans from directly attacking deities. It's just a matter of standing—they're deities.

With the "vice lists," Paul would be giving pointers and cues to other deity practices without overtly critiquing them. All the terms could be read as nods to other deities. To not commit "adultery" was to stay true to your deity-spouse, Jesus. To stay away from “arsenokoita” and “aischrologia” would be to stay away from other gods.

And so on—each word likely has an involved history familiar to a 1st century Roman Jew, likely Hellenized and flirting with pagan cults.

Christian tradition would have no interest in such a reading, because regulating human marriage and human "bad behavior" was the only concern—and the Bible, in a carefully managed translation, seemed to offer the clerics a legal system they could enforce.

religion. sex. facts.

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