Baker Academic

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

How Masculine was Jesus? - Le Donne

In her reading of Genesis in this book, Susan E. Haddox suggests four criteria for masculinity (pp. 6-7). While there are different ways to exhibit masculinity, a typical, "biblical" male:
1) avoids being feminized (especially avoids of excessive attachment to women);
2) displays virility and strength (including warfare);
3) acts with honor (including provision for family, especially the women);
4) speaks with persuasiveness, wisdom, honesty.*

Of course, these categories distill the ten or so criteria offered by David Clines years ago.  What intrigues me is the dissonance in our constructions of the historical Jesus versus the Gospel portraits of him along these lines.  Would it be safe to say that the New Testament portraits of Christ heighten his masculinity?  Concerning number two, I am reminded of the portrait of Jesus in John's apocalypse.

*The important distinction here is between “hegemonic” and “subordinate” masculinities.  These four criteria are generally associated with varieties of hegemonic masculinity.  Interestingly, the Lord seems to favor men with subordinate masculinities in Genesis to a surprising extent. 


  1. "Would it be safe to say that the New Testament portraits of Christ heighten his masculinity?"

    That is the argument of the only monograph on the subject, Behold the Man: Jesus and Greco-Roman Masculinity, by Colleen Conway (Oxford, 2008). I agree with 90-95% of what she says. I'm less convinced that she is, for example, that Mark is only trying to heighten or recoup Jesus' masculinity by depicting him as an exemplar of hegemonic masculinity.

    I tend to see Mark appropriating some aspects of hegemonic masculinity (partly through terms like "Son of God," partly through an emphasis on his strength and his voluntary death), but also appropriating or playing up his sub-elite class status (partly through his popularity with the masses and his voluntary lowering to die like a slave, partly by contrasting his lack of formal education with the learned authority of the scribes and their own upper-class affiliations through the controversy stories).

    For a look at the implicit and even unintended construction of Jesus' masculinity by historical Jesus scholars, see Stephen Moore's God's Beauty Parlor, chapter two, "On the Face and Physique of the Historical Jesus."


    1. Thanks Eric, I was (until now) unaware of Moore's book.


    2. I second the recommendation for the Stephen Moore book... that chapter includes some timely (and humorous) commentary on the portrayal of Jesus in modern artwork as well. The first chapter, on Song of Songs, is also quite good.