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From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity

From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity

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Key Metrics

  • Kyle Harper
  • Harvard University Press
  • Hardcover
  • 9780674072770
  • 9.2 X 6.4 X 0.9 inches
  • 1.35 pounds
  • History > Ancient - Rome
  • English
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Book Description

When Rome was at its height, an emperor's male beloved, victim of an untimely death, would be worshipped around the empire as a god. In this same society, the routine sexual exploitation of poor and enslaved women was abetted by public institutions. Four centuries later, a Roman emperor commanded the mutilation of men caught in same-sex affairs, even as he affirmed the moral dignity of women without any civic claim to honor. The gradual transformation of the Roman world from polytheistic to Christian marks one of the most sweeping ideological changes of premodern history. At the center of it all was sex. Exploring sources in literature, philosophy, and art, Kyle Harper examines the rise of Christianity as a turning point in the history of sexuality and helps us see how the roots of modern sexuality are grounded in an ancient religious revolution.

While Roman sexual culture was frankly and freely erotic, it was not completely unmoored from constraint. Offending against sexual morality was cause for shame, experienced through social condemnation. The rise of Christianity fundamentally changed the ethics of sexual behavior. In matters of morality, divine judgment transcended that of mere mortals, and shame--a social concept--gave way to the theological notion of sin. This transformed understanding led to Christianity's explicit prohibitions of homosexuality, extramarital love, and prostitution. Most profound, however, was the emergence of the idea of free will in Christian dogma, which made all human action, including sexual behavior, accountable to the spiritual, not the physical, world.

From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity

Author Bio

Dr. Kyle Harper is Professor of Classics and Letters and Provost Emeritus at The University of Oklahoma. Dr. Harper is a historian of the ancient world whose work has spanned economic, environmental, and social history.  

He is the author of three books  Slavery in the Late Roman World, AD 275-425  (2011) which was awarded the James Henry Breasted Prize by the American Historical Association and the Outstanding Publication Award from the Classical Association of the Middle West and South; From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality (2013) which won the Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in Historical Studies from the American Academy of Religion; and The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire (2013) which has been translated into twelve languages. 

He is currently writing a global history of infectious disease.

 

Source: The University of Oklahoma 

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