Jesus Talks about Same-Sex Couples?: A Book Review of Ronald W. Goetz’s “The Galilee Episode: Two Men in One Bed, Two Women Grinding”
Growing up, I wasn’t a stranger to the deep-rooted homophobia in my faith. I’m still not. It’s why I’m only out to a handful of people at my church. (You can read my blog post about that here.)
Throughout that time, I’ve heard several scripture verses used repeatedly as evidence that homosexuality is a sin. I’m sure you have too. I’ll name a few: Genesis 1-2 and 19:1-9, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, and Romans 1:24-27.
People constantly go, “The Bible says…” Then they spew one of these verses without referring to the historical or cultural context of the scripture. That’s problematic. But what bothers me the most is when people quote nothing.
Sometimes they make it up, saying things like, “The Bible says all homosexuals go to hell.”
I’m sorry? Which part of scripture is that from? The Gospel of Nonexistence? Verse 0, chapter 0?
(Forgive my sass).
I have a family member who went to seminary. She had a professor who held up a Bible to his ear every time someone said, “The Bible says…” He replied like, “But I don’t hear the Bible say anything!”
That’s how the conversation on homosexuality and the Bible usually goes.
Remember: the Bible is by a variety of authors, multiple voices with different viewpoints. God may inspire scripture, but it’s still written by humans. Not only that, but it’s written across decades upon decades of historical and cultural changes. It’s not as easy as taking the words at face value. It takes study to understand the meaning of verses in their original contexts.
Easier said than done, right?
Now, just like in my first post, I’m not debating verses or scripture. Others can do that better than I can. I still think reading Rev. Justin Cannon’s biblical study on the topic is worth it, though. You can check it out here.
Clearly, with my being bisexual and all, the premise of Goetz’s book intrigued me. Despite the arguments I’ve heard over the years, I’ve never come across anything in scripture where I thought Jesus referred to same-sex couples.
At least, I didn’t see it that way when I read Luke 17:34-35 before. I didn’t until reading this book.
So, have I piqued your interest yet?
Goetz’s book, The Galilee Episode: Two Men in One Bed, Two Women Grinding, is a thesis where he argues Jesus is referring to a gay and lesbian couple in Luke 17:34-35. Goetz also argues that Jesus isn’t referring to two same-sex couples in order to show divine judgment, and the scriptural focus wasn’t originally about the rapture. Instead, Jesus is apparently warning his followers of the deceptive persecution awaiting them by referencing a legal matter between Philip the Tetrarch and Rabbi Yohanan b. Zakkai.
Goetz begins his argument with a lengthy discussion of the Pharisee’s legal responsibilities in ensuring that the Jews followed Torah law. Leading them? R. Yohanan, a Pharisee himself. Goetz provides as much history as possible of the Rabbi’s legal cases involving sexual transgressions, despite little surviving evidence. Goetz also argues that R. Yohanan ran a purity campaign and found trouble with Philip when trying to enforce Torah law on gentiles.
Goetz continues to argue that the Galilee Episode, as he calls it, from Luke 17:34-35 occurred in Bethsaida. He does so because of some scriptural referencing to said city. Apparently, that was in the small part of the Sea of Galilee under Philip’s rule. Goetz then infers from the Galilee Episode that Philip created a ruling against R. Yohanan. The Pharisees could arrest Jews, but not gentiles.
As a result, Goetz argues that the following scripture refers to same-sex couples, each composed of one Jew and one gentile, because R. Yohanan could only arrest the Jew who committed the sexual transgression:
“34 I say unto you, In that night there shall be two men on one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. 35 There shall be two women grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.” (Luke 17:34-35, American Standard Version).
To make the same-sex argument, Goetz provides research and evidence from a variety of ancient sources, including the gospels, the Q Source, the Talmud, and writings by Josephus, particularly Antiquities of the Jews. Goetz complements said sources with a culmination of research from other theologians, historians, etc., and definitions spanning languages from Hebrew to Latin to Greek and more.
I have mixed feelings about Goetz’s book. I found the thesis intriguing, several arguments compelling, and most of the research sound. Yet, there are places where Goetz stretches to make certain connections. Not only that, but Goetz’s writing is repetitive and clunky. It needs better editing (a few typos really irked me). And the book somehow oversimplifies and overcomplicates at the same time.
Honestly, I probably can’t explain it any better than the following Amazon review: “This book is a 5 star thesis with a 2 star execution” (Umland, 2021).
To start, let’s talk about what I like.
When people quote scripture, they rarely keep in mind how translations or meanings of words change over the years. I mean, look at the word “homosexual.” It didn’t exist until Karoly Maria Benkert coined the term “in the late 19th century” (Stanford, 2020). Plus, apparently “the word ‘arsenokoitai’ [which] shows up in two different verses in the bible…was not translated to mean ‘homosexual’ until 1946” (The Forge, 2019).
Goetz, though, takes language seriously. He does a phenomenal job at using etymology to analyze scripture in its original historical and cultural context, even going as far as tracing throughout history some questionable words in Luke 17:34-35. There are several words he does this for. I’ll stick with one of the most controversial: the word “grinding.”
One way we often discount the term is believing it is modern slang. However, Goetz (2019) presents Plutarch’s “The Banquet of Seven Wise Men” as evidence that the term “grind” was used in a sexually suggestive manner, in Greek, and in a lesbian reference “in the last quarter of the first century CE, overlapping the probable years of the completion of canonical Luke.”
Besides tracking language, Goetz also tracks scriptural edits throughout history by studying what's believed to be from the Q Source. The Q Source is a well-known term for a source we no longer have access to. But many biblical scholars believe it existed at one time. The rational for the hypothetical gospel stems from comparing the gospels of Matthew and Luke to Mark. There are several phrases shared only between the former two gospels, which is considered to be from said Q Source. Whether written or oral, it’s highly likely that Matthew and Luke had access to some scriptural source other than Mark. And the Q Source theory was born (Sproul, 2010).
As Goetz (2019) points out, the Q Source material we have access to gets considered as more reliable. Therefore, Goetz uses said material to analyze what Luke added that was unique to the same-sex theme (or “Luke’s Gay Apocalypse, as Goetz sometimes calls it) versus what was already there. It's even somewhat humorous the way Goetz gives the name "Gimel" to an imaginary scribe and gives a hypothetical story to demonstrate how Gimel could've gone about making these original edits from the Q Source that Goetz describes.
I admire how Goetz shares the concerns he originally had about said comparison. He worried the Q Source would ruin his thesis, which obviously would’ve been detrimental, yet important. However, to his surprise, the Galilee Episode was partly in the surviving Q Source material (Goetz, 2019).
Yet, that part still points toward the same-sex theme. As Goetz (2019) explains, “Two of the same-sex elements were original to Q, two men was there, two women grinding together was there. One shall be taken, and the other left, those two elements were in Q.” Honestly, that’s enough for me to take this seriously, even if the rest of the argument weren’t already interesting.
Lastly, here’s something I really appreciated, and think is downright necessary for how dense the material is in this book. Goetz summarizes at the end of each chapter the most important parts in easy-to-read bullet points. If I’m being honest (which I always am in these blog posts), sometimes I wouldn’t have understood some chapters if it weren’t for these relatively bite-size summaries.
That being said? Let’s move on to what I don't like.
Goetz takes a long time to get to the scripture most readers, if not all, are reading his book for. He spends one long chapter on “Pharisees in Josephus and the Talmud” and another on “Yohanan ben Zakkai” before finally getting to the “Gay & Lesbian Targets in Luke” (Goetz, 2019). The former two chapters are so detailed that they’re difficult to follow, especially considering I, as the reader, don’t know what’s presented as directly relevant to Luke 17:34-35 and what’s there merely to set the scene.
It took me almost a month to get through these first two chapters. I’m not kidding. However, I read the rest of the book in a week once I got to the “Gay & Lesbian” chapter. At that point, I was hooked! As the remainder of the chapters progressed, though, Goetz refers to the former chapters. I might as well have started with the “Gay & Lesbian” chapter, finished the book, and then go back.
That’s how little I remembered.
Goetz’s overall thesis would’ve been clearer had he cut out the “Pharisees” and “Yohanan” chapters, or at least condensed them to what was absolutely necessary, and placed them later in the book. He could’ve, and should’ve, started with the “Gay & Lesbian” chapter after his “Introduction”.
I especially believe so because Goetz later re-explains several points, the actually important ones, from those chapters I couldn’t remember. Whenever he does so, it’s easier to understand. So, if it works alone, why not stick with the simpler explanation?
In fact, and I’m not joking, even Goetz thinks the reader can get the overall point without reading his entire book. In the “Making the Same-Sex Pericope” chapter, Goetz (2019) says the following when he introduces “The Pericope Eiusdem Sexus and the SBC Cities” section: “I have gone into technical detail already, but what follows is pretty dense. You may want to skip ahead to the next subhead.”
Like, what?! I literally exclaimed at work while on break when I read this (which surprised and entertained my office mate, but that’s neither here nor there). Goetz could’ve omitted that section or reduced the technical part of the section.
Makes sense, no? Or is that just me?
My theory is that Goetz was so excited about all he uncovered in his research that he felt he needed to dump everything into the book, regardless if something was only barely relevant or absolutely necessary to make his overall thesis argument work. But that’s just me.
Speaking of his research, there’s a clincher I can’t get over. It bothers me so much! Regarding the Q Source, Goetz (2019) suggests three Wikipedia articles in his footnotes for readers to read more. Three. Wikipedia. Articles.
Seriously? Goetz can use The Sayings Gospel Q in English Translation, the Talmud, Antiquities of the Jews, and a whole slew of research by historians and theologians I’m not naming for risk of making this long blog post longer. Yet, he’s going to recommend three Wikipedia articles?
Someone please tell Goetz that hurts his credibility!
When I read his recommendation, I kept hearing my high school English teacher reminding us we couldn’t cite Wikipedia in our academic papers or we’d lose points. If I couldn’t use Wikipedia for a high school essay, Goetz shouldn’t for a book-length thesis either. Am I right?
Moving on, here’s another part of Goetz’s book that bothered me. Goetz occasionally uses a contemporary example to clarify his point. Sometimes it works, especially when he uses a humorous analogy, but often it doesn’t make as much sense as I think he’d like. For example, Goetz (2019) attempts to explain, “Scribes and Pharisees are parallel to District Attorneys and the Police, even more to the DOJ and the FBI.”
It may just be an issue of grammar. But is Goetz trying to say that the scribes are like District Attorneys (DAs) or DOJ and the Pharisees like police or FBI? If so, how? He says at a later point, “Your arrest and trial only come when authorities are confident of their case against you” (Goetz, 2019). So, is he saying that’s how the scribes were as DAs or DOJ? How Pharisees were like the police or FBI? Both? I see where Goetz is going. But his explanation fell short and made me overthink unnecessarily, distracting me from the momentum of the rest of the writing. I would’ve rather he didn’t make the analogy at all.
The only saving grace for said analogy is in the “Conclusion”, where Goetz (2019) compares the Pharisee’s persecutory actions to genocide with Native Americans and the “police shooting of an unarmed black man.” After all, if Goetz’s theory is correct, the Pharisee’s targeting sexual transgressions (in this case having same-sex relations), especially those of “mixed ethnicities,” would fall under a similar category as the modern-day counterpart toward another minority group.
Now to address Goetz’s overall thesis. Despite the painstaking time he takes arguing that Luke 17:34-35 isn’t about the rapture or judgment day, I don’t agree. Let’s say his thesis is correct about Jesus giving a warning to his followers about persecution from the Pharisees (and I agree the Pharisees were legalistic in their responsibilities considering their efforts at preserving Torah law).
Still, Jesus is referring to the coming of the kingdom and the Son of Humanity’s day. At least, according to the Q Source that Goetz (2019) heavily quotes in the “Make the Same-Sex Pericope” chapter. Jesus’ words can have double meanings. One for the Pharisee persecutory warning and another for the rapture or judgment day.
Whether we believe the rapture or judgment day is literal like the Left Behind movie or metaphorical, I don’t think that matters for Goetz’s argument or the same-sex theme of the text. At least, that’s what I think after taking into consideration the comparisons between the Q Source, Luke, and Matthew (which, I admit, Goetz does a thorough job doing), and the linguistic history of the Greek terminology used within Luke 17:34-35.
As for the argument about Philip, R. Yohanan, and the Pharisee persecution of sexual transgressions, that I’m more skeptical on. Goetz (2019) references Luke 10:12-13 to make his argument that the Galilee Episode occurred in Bethsaida. While Goetz does an impressive job explaining the history of Philip and his territorial reign, I think it’s a stretch to assume the Galilee Episode was under his jurisdiction.
Additionally, yes, Luke 17:11 says Jesus was “passing along the borders of Samaria and Galilee” and in verse 12 says “he entered into a certain village” (American Standard Version). But I don’t think there’s enough evidence to conclude that village is Bethsaida, even if it was in the shore part of Galilee that Philip governed. If that part of the thesis can’t be proven, then the R. Yohanan part is troublesome to uphold too.
It’s not the fact that R. Yohanan was doing a purity campaign about sexual transgressions. That part is easy enough to believe, as is the part about the tensions between him and Philip over Torah law affecting gentiles. However, specifically tying the same-sex couples in Luke 17:34-35 to that campaign doesn’t correlate as clearly as I think Goetz hopes. At least, that’s the impression I got.
Overall, I’m not convinced about the Philip and R. Yohanan argument. Yes, a purity campaign by the Pharisees led by R. Yohanan b. Zakkai is plausible, as are the tensions between him and Philip the Tetrarch over Torah law applying to Jews and not gentiles. I don’t even mind the argument about Bethsaida being in the small part of Galilee where Philip ruled.
However, I think the argument that Luke 17:34-35, or the Galilee Episode, occurred in Bethsaida isn’t persuasive enough. Therefore, the argument that each couple must’ve been comprised of one Jew and one gentile doesn’t sway me.
Regardless of the couples’ ethnicities, Jesus may give a warning about persecution by the Pharisees with these verses. That’s not surprising considering other places in the New Testament where Jesus warns about the Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-39 and Mark 12:35-40, to name a couple).
I am convinced that Jesus was probably referring to two same-sex couples in Luke 17:34-35. Goetz’s use of etymology and scriptural comparison are persuasive in arguing the sexual premise in these verses and the same-sex theme. The amount of research he put in with reputable sources—through the usage of literal biblical translations, the Q Source, and well-known historians and theologians—is also impressive.
Goetz does a good job of bringing up every rebuttal he can think of too. That way he can to come up with a thoroughly researched reply for each. Yet, his argument that the Galilee Episode is not about the rapture hasn’t influenced me completely. His argument that these are positive verses about same-sex couples can still be made, though.
I can explain.
Let’s say you adamantly believe Jesus is referring to the rapture in these verses, which I agree on. One man and one woman are left behind in each couple. The other partner is taken. That should be enough to give you pause. It was for me. After all, if homosexuality was a sin to Jesus, wouldn’t all four people in the two couples be left behind?
I think so.
Ultimately, I believe the research Goetz has put into proving the same-sex theme in Luke 17:34-35 is worth reading. To do so, though, you should read the “Introduction” and skip the next two chapters. They’re dense, lengthy, and have more information than necessary for Goetz to make his argument. Besides, he summarizes only the need-to-know parts of those chapters later. If you’re still curious, just read the chapter summaries for those two.
The three most important chapters are the “Gay & Lesbian Targets in Luke”, “The Galilee Episode”, and “Making the Same-Sex Pericope”. These chapters carry the bulk of the same-sex argument that convinced me about that part of Goetz’s thesis.
The “Introduction” and “Conclusion” are also important. Skip the “How Could We Miss the Same-Sex Couples in Luke 17?” chapter as well, because these points are already in the “Introduction” and are merely reiterated in the later chapter. Plus, they’re kind of common sense. Then the “Conclusion” does a superb job of summarizing the entire book, so if there’s anything you missed, you’re likely to catch it there.
And do yourself a favor. Skip the epilogue. It’s about a sarcophagus with Ganymede and Zeus, who are “same-sex symbols in Roman religion” (Goetz, 2019). Goetz (2019) argues how the lightning and eagle imagery in Luke 17 could refer to these same-sex symbols or Philip the Tetrarch, therefore adding to his overall thesis. The Philip possibility doesn’t seem clear to me, though. Maybe Goetz (2019) argues it’s because of the Eagle Incident, which happened during the Hasmonean dynasty. I’m not sure because it was told in one of the overly complicated chapters. Either way, I don’t think the argument matters. The two symbols don’t even appear near one another in Luke 17.
Are you curious to see this argument for yourself? You can read about the Eagle Incident in the “Pharisees in Josephus and the Talmud” chapter. That’s one of the one’s I suggest skipping so you can skim to the “Judas and Matthias: The Eagle Incident (4 BCE)” subheading if you don’t care for the rest of the chapter either. But don’t even bother with the epilogue. It’s an afterthought or start of its own thesis.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Goetz tries to put too much research into proving one thesis. A good portion of it is background noise or unnecessary commentary that’s distracting from the core argument. He may want to share everything he’s uncovered with the world. But we don’t need all of it to get his point. We need less of it because right now we have to dig a bit for said point (aka skipping multiple chapters).
If Goetz is that determined to share it all, he should do so in multiple books. Even Umland (2021) agrees with me that there should at least be two books “a shorter, personal narrative, less technical and more popular book focused on the Bible and a longer, more detailed, dissertation level book.”
Still, are you curious about the important parts of the book? Do you not mind skipping the unnecessary parts? Then have at it! I want to know what you think.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.
The Forge Online (2019, October 14). Has ‘homosexual’ always been in the Bible? Insight. Retrieved March 12, 2021 from https://um-insight.net/perspectives/has-%E2%80%9Chomosexual%E2%80%9D-always-been-in-the-bible/
Goetz, R.W. (2019, November 21). The Galilee episode: Two men in one bed, two women grinding. [eBook edition]. Blossom Valley Trumpet.
Sproul, R.C. (2010, June 4). What is the ‘q-source’? Christianity.com. Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://www.christianity.com/jesus/is-jesus-god/the-gospels/what-is-the-q-source.html
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2020). Homosexuality. In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/homosexuality/
Umland, J. (2021, February 7). A 5 star thesis with a 2 star execution. [Review of the book The Galilee episode: Two men in one bed, two women grinding, by R.W. Goetz]. Amazon, https://www.amazon.com/Galilee-Episode-Two-Women-Grinding/dp/173386170X