JOHN BOSWELL, American historian, was born on this date (d. 1994); A prominent and important historian and professor at Yale University, many of Boswell’s studies focused on the issue of homosexuality and religion, specifically homosexuality and Christianity.
Boswell was the author of the ground-breaking and controversial book Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (1980), which, according to Chauncey et al (1989), “offered a revolutionary interpretation of the Western tradition, arguing that the Roman Catholic Church had not condemned Gay people throughout its history, but rather, at least until the twelfth century, had alternately evinced no special concern about homosexuality or actually celebrated love between men.” The book was crowned with the American Book Award History and the Stonewall Book Award in 1981.
He is known also as author of The Marriage of Likeness (New York: Villard, 1994), in which he argues that the Adelphopoiia liturgy was evidence that attitude of the Christian church towards homosexuality has changed over time, and that early Christians did, on occasion, accept same-sex relationships.
Rites of so-called “same-sex union” (Boswell’s proposed translation) occur in ancient prayer-books of both the western and eastern churches. They are rites of adelphopoiesis, literally Greek for the making of brothers. Boswell, despite the fact that the rites explicitly state that the union involved in adelphopoiesis is a “spiritual” and not a “carnal” one, argued that these should be regarded as sexual unions similar to marriage.
This is a controversial point of Boswell’s text, as other scholars have dissenting views of this interpretation, and believe that they were, instead, rites of becoming adopted brothers, or “blood brothers”. Boswell pointed out such evidence as an icon of two saints, Saints Sergius and Bacchus (at St. Catherine’s on Mount Sinai), and drawings, such as one he interprets as depicting the wedding feast of Emperor Basil to his “partner”, John. Boswell sees Jesus as fulfilling the role of the “pronubus” or in modern parallel, “best man.”
Boswell made many detailed translations of these rites in Same-Sex Unions, and claimed that one mass, same-sex wedding occurred only a couple of centuries ago in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral seat of the Pope as Bishop of Rome.
Boswell died of complications from AIDS on December 24, 1994, at age 47.