Masculinity studies is an interdisciplinary academic field spanning the humanities and social sciences. It flourishes in such disciplines as anthropology, sociology, history, literary studies, and cultural studies (Adams and Savran, 2002). Most often, masculinity studies is the analysis of how masculinity is represented, constructed, or performed in specific cultural contexts (Simpson, 2011; Watson and Shaw, 2011). For most practitioners of masculinity studies, masculinity—or masculinities—are not innate, invariable, or inevitable. They are not anatomically or biologically predetermined or otherwise hard-wired, but are rather the complex products of interlocking systems of stylized behaviors and symbolic practices that are historically contingent and culturally variable (Reeser, 2010). The term “hegemonic masculinity,” popularized by the sociologist R. W. Connell in his seminal study Masculinities (1995), is frequently employed in masculinity studies. It refers to the mode of masculinity idealized or exalted in a given culture and used to legitimate patriarchy within it (p. 77). Hegemonic masculinity is realized by relatively few males, but is sustained through the complicity of many more. It emerges co-constitutively against subordinated masculinities, such as male homosexuality in many contemporary cultures (pp. 78–79). Masculinity is plural, then, not just across cultures (many cultures, many masculinities) but also within cultures (many masculinities within a single culture).

Masculinity Studies and the Hebrew Bible.

According to Björn Krondorfer (2009), “An early interest in men and religion by religious studies scholars is already discernible in the 1980s, though it took about ten more years before these scholars began to identify themselves—albeit often tentatively and loosely—as belonging to a group working on common themes” (p. xiv). This was the general context in which the first monograph on biblical masculinity appeared. Howard Eilberg-Schwartz’s God’s Phallus and Other Problems for Men and Monotheism (1994) argued that the maleness of the biblical God is a problem for ancient Israelite men, ancient Jewish men, and Jewish men of any age. The Hebrew Bible enjoins love for a male God on its male audiences and that divine-human relationship is described in erotic terms through metaphors of marriage and sexual intimacy. Men can assume their assigned role in this sexualized relationship only by imagining themselves as wives of the male God, notwithstanding the taboo against homoeroticism. The problem of Yahweh’s maleness is also the reason why his body is an object of concealment: this divine cover-up is designed to mitigate the conundrum that the injunction to human males to love a male God would create for a culture centrally preoccupied with procreation. Whereas numerous feminist studies have demonstrated how “a divine male both legitimates male authority and deifies masculinity” (p. 2), Eilberg-Schwartz demonstrates how that ideology is fractured and destabilized by anxious contradictions.

Two essays from the following year sought to show not how biblical masculinity comes apart but rather how it coheres. David Clines’s “David the Man” (1995) had as its immediate focus the construction of masculinity in the David story (1 Sam 161 KGS 2), but argued that the six masculine traits discernible in that story reflected the cultural norms of ancient Israelite masculinity more broadly. Being a formidable warrior, capable of deadly violence against other males, was the foremost masculine characteristic. Being “intelligent in speech” (1 Sam 16:18), an eloquent and persuasive speaker, was a second masculine trait; being beautiful or comely in form was a third; being a male who bonds intensely (but perhaps not emotionally) with other males was a fourth; being a male who does not bond with women was a fifth; and being a skillful musician was a sixth. Clines’s essay may be seen as an early attempt to rough out a “grammar” of ancient Israelite masculinity—an account of the codes and conventions that determined the performance of hegemonic masculinity in that culture. Relatedly, John Goldingay’s “Hosea 1—3, Genesis 1—4 and Masculist Interpretation” (1995) isolated three prime masculine traits in Genesis 1—4. Men are constituted differentially in relation to women; men possess authority; and men have a capacity for violence. Goldingay analyzed the character of Yahweh in Hosea 1—3 in terms of these three traits, arguing, for example, that “Yahweh is incomplete without Israel as men are incomplete without women” (p. 165) and that he fully displays the male propensity for violence. Yahweh, however, is caught in contradiction. As Hosea 11 indicates, even God does not possess the hypermasculine omnipotence that God is supposed to possess. Stephen Moore’s God’s Gym: Divine Male Bodies of the Bible (1996) also analyzed Yahweh’s masculinity (pp. 75–102), but in a cultural studies mode. Noting that Yahweh is predominantly represented as corporeal, perfect, and male and, as such, is implicitly a physically perfect male, Moore appealed to contemporary bodybuilding culture to decrypt and deconstruct Yahweh’s masculinity. Yahweh is massively encompassed by the defensive trappings of hegemonic hypermasculinity. This excessive masculinity, however, queerly teeters over into its opposite, femininity, thereby explaining both Yahweh’s application of female metaphors to himself/herself and his/her misogyny.

This modest flurry in the mid-1990s of studies of Hebrew Bible masculinities was followed by a ten-year hiatus in which relatively little work centrally devoted to the topic appeared (see Stone, 2001, 2007; Clines, 2002; Sawyer, 2004; Haddox, 2006; Olson, 2006; cf. Chapman, 2004). The year 2010 saw the publication of Ovidiu Creangă’s edited collection, Men and Masculinity in the Hebrew Bible and Beyond. Many of its essays ventured generalizations on ancient Israelite masculinity. Independently yet cumulatively, the twelve main essays built up a multifeatured sketch of the ideal Israelite man. This man differentiates himself sharply and self-constitutively from all that is female or feminine. He does not dress like a woman nor act like a woman. He avoids unnecessary association with, and emotional attachment to, women. He disdains the feminine, asserting or assuming the inferiority of women. Yet he also needs women as producers of (male) progeny to perpetuate his name. This hyperhegemonic man also constitutes himself over against other males. He is able to dominate other males physically. He is skilled in weapons and warfare. He unleashes lethal aggression against male enemies. His honor is his most precious possession. It entails guarding the chastity of his women. It is also tied to such traits as generosity, hospitality, and integrity. Additionally, he is wise, articulate, and persuasive, able to exchange the sword for the word as an instrument to control lesser males.

Several of the contributors to Men and Masculinity were drawn to emasculating moments in the biblical texts. Brian DiPalma, for instance, argued that the opening chapters of Exodus deconstruct masculine values and begin to construct a reconfigured gender identity for Moses, whereas Creangă argued that Joshua’s masculinity in the conquest narrative is destabilized by ambiguity and the absence of definitive masculine traits. For still other contributors, Israel’s God is the principal (and paradoxical) source of deconstructive destabilization or complication of Israel’s masculine values. Submission, for example, runs counter to those values—to be a man is to refuse to submit—yet Yahweh demands absolute submission from his male subjects. This leads to contradictions comparable to those earlier explored by Eilberg-Schwartz (1994). The ideal masculinity of the Hebrew Bible is at once a hegemonic masculinity and a subordinated masculinity.

In 2011, Susan Haddox’s monograph Metaphor and Masculinity in Hosea appeared. She noted that whereas the female imagery in Hosea has received much attention, the more extensive male imagery has not. She identified seven linguistic markers of masculinity in Hosea, including military might, honor, virility, and the ability to provide for a household. Unlike earlier exercises of this kind, however, Haddox’s markers of masculinity were not drawn solely from the Hebrew Bible. Building on the work of Cynthia Chapman (2004), Haddox also extracted masculine traits from Assyrian textual and iconographic sources, such as royal inscriptions. She argued that Hosea’s audience is composed primarily of elite males whose social persona was hypermasculinized, and Hosea’s rhetoric aims to erode this masculinity. More specifically, Hosea employs the imagery of Assyrian treaty curses to reinforce Yahweh’s hegemonic masculinity while undermining the masculinity of the audience. This is where Hosea’s infamous female imagery comes into play. Haddox argues that Hosea treats his opponents not as rival men but as emasculated males, representing them as a whoring wife who has aroused the punitive wrath of her lord and husband, Yahweh.

Masculinity Studies and the New Testament.

Single-minded studies of masculinity in the New Testament began in 1994 with Eilberg-Schwartz’s God’s Phallus and Jennifer Glancy’s “Unveiling Masculinity: The Construction of Gender in Mark 6:17–29.” God’s Phallus dealt briefly (Eilberg-Schwartz, 1994, pp. 223–237) with the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke, arguing, for example, that Matthew relativizes physical descent by dissociating Jesus’s paternity from Joseph or any human father. Matthew “contests the Jewish conception of paternity” (p. 233) and effects “a transformation of the meaning of masculinity” (p. 234), since “the male organ of generation” now “begin[s] to lose [its] positive value” (p. 235). Glancy’s methodology was also broadly psychoanalytic. Taking her inspiration from prominent female Freudians, she approached Mark’s tale of the imprisonment and execution of John the Baptist “with the assumption that masculinity is a front to disguise vulnerability and weakness” (Glancy, 1994, p. 36). Her analysis of the gender relations between Herod, Herodias, the dancing daughter, the all-male audience of the dance, and the (soon beheaded) Baptist yielded such conclusions as that “active voyeurism is a prerogative of masculinity” in the narrative; “that masculinity is vulnerable before the expression of female desire…; and perhaps that the bond between a mother and her daughter is threatening to men who encounter them” (p. 42).

Moore’s “The Beatific Vision as a Posing Exhibition: Revelation’s Hypermasculine Deity” (1995) focused on the hyperhegemonic, phallic male form that is the object of unceasing adoration in Revelation and the central fixture of its throne-room spectacle. As in his related study of Yahweh’s body, Moore utilized the contemporary cultural spectacle of male bodybuilding to defamiliarize this queer scene of mass worship. It is Jesus and Paul, however, who have been the principal foci of New Testament masculinity studies. Clines’s “Ecce Vir, or, Gendering the Son of Man” (1998) tackled the masculinity of the Jesus who emerges from the composite portrait of the canonical gospels (cf. Ward, 1999, which also dealt with the masculinity of the composite Christ). Clines employed an adapted version of his model of ancient Israelite masculinity to analyze the gospel Jesus(es). The essay’s conclusions may be relayed by listing the titles of the six subsections that make up its central section: “Jesus the Strong”; “Jesus the Violent”; “Jesus the Powerful and Persuasive Speaker”; “Jesus the Male Bonder”; “Jesus the Womanless”; and “Jesus the Binary Thinker.” Moore pondered Paul and masculinity in “Que(e)rying Paul” (1998), first parsing out certain of the fundamental traits of hegemonic masculinity in the ancient Mediterranean world, such as self-mastery (see also Moore and Anderson, 1998), and then turning to Romans and using the gender logic encrypted in 1:26–27 to decode the letter’s soteriology. Implicitly for Paul, Jesus is a paragon of masculinity and the salvation celebrated in Romans amounts to the attainment of true manhood. Righteousness in Romans, conceived as self-mastery, is essentially a masculine trait, whereas unrighteousness or sin, conceived as lack of self-mastery, is essentially a feminine trait. Brigitte Kahl also tackled Paul in “No Longer Male: Masculinity Struggles behind Galatians 3:28?” (2000). The burning issue in Galatians, that of circumcision, is, as Kahl notes, exclusively a male issue. Paul’s critique of circumcision in Galatians amounts to a radical reconception of Israel as no longer defined or determined by male descent, fathers begetting sons who become fathers in turn. Since circumcision was the physical token of the covenant with Abraham and hence of the patrilineal concept of Israel, Paul’s reconception of Israel as no longer centered on physical fatherhood also entailed a decentering of maleness. According to Kahl, “The male Galatians’ wish to get circumcised then would indicate a profound desire to return to a less confusing understanding of what it meant to be a Jew, free, and, on top of all that, a man” (p. 49).

Two other early studies in New Testament masculinity focused on Luke–Acts. Abraham Smith’s “‘Full of Spirit and Wisdom’: Luke’s Portrait of Stephen (Acts 6:1—8:1A)) as a Man of Self-Mastery” (1999) first tracked the topic of self-mastery, or control of the passions, through Greco-Roman moral discourse. It “was defined in androcentric terms, and even the women who possessed it were considered not ‘feminine’” (p. 99). Smith argued that Stephen is presented as an exemplar of self-mastery, as are the other “witnesses” in Acts and Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. Smith ended by addressing the question, “Given the way self-mastery is constructed as a masculine trait, what are the ethical implications of embracing Luke’s acceptance of this philosophical ideal?” (p. 106). Mary Rose D’Angelo’s “The ANHP Question in Luke–Acts: Imperial Masculinity and the Deployment of Women in the Early Second Century” (2002) argued that masculine authority is deployed in Luke–Acts against a backdrop of unassertive feminine deportment to represent Christians as models of Roman imperial values, which were also gender values. The Lukan Jesus is an ideal man in the Roman mold—heroic, educated, and a skilled orator, whereas “Paul the Roman citizen is the climactic paradigm of elite Christian masculinity; his Jewishness guarantees the authentic antiquity of the Christian message; his citizenship its safety in the imperial world” (D’Angelo, p. 68). Meanwhile, the deference and devoted service the Lukan women lavish on its leading men “testifies to the rightness of early Christian gender arrangements” (p. 68).

In 2003, New Testament Masculinities, edited by Moore and Janice Capel Anderson, appeared. The volume’s ten main essays analyzed the construction and performance of masculinity in Matthew, Mark, John, and Luke–Acts; the Pauline and deutero-Pauline letters; and the book of Revelation and the Shepherd of Hermas. Representative arguments advanced in the essays include the following. Matthew enshrines multiple contradictory assumptions regarding masculinity, sometimes reifying the dominant ancient Mediterranean codes of masculine behavior, sometimes challenging them. Mark’s Jesus also embodies competing conceptions of masculinity, at once a victim and an agent of patriarchal gender norms. He is a vehicle of Mark’s conflicted attempt to resist Roman colonialism while mimicking Roman imperial and masculinist authority. The high Johannine Christology is intimately intertwined with the superior masculinity of the Johannine Jesus—although even he is necessarily feminine in relation to God, the gospel’s supreme embodiment of hegemonic masculinity. Paul’s masculinity, as cumulatively constructed in his letters, displays marked continuities with the model of masculinity enshrined in the Hebrew Bible. Unrelatedly, Romans 1:18—2:16 is permeated by the topos of the emasculated Stoic ruler, and that charge of effeminacy is leveled by Paul against the stoicized magistrates of Rome. The Pastoral Epistles seek to cultivate an elite masculine self and, as such, a model for Christian masculinity that is at odds with the more anomalous models represented by John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul. The Pastorals, Luke–Acts, and the Shepherd of Hermas all affirm male household government as a measure of manly virtue and engage in a dialectic of resistance to, and accommodation with, the “family values” promoted by Trajan and Hadrian. The intimately interrelated Roman themes of masculinity and activity/passivity illuminate Revelation’s slain lamb, which although initially feminized is subsequently masculinized through a commanding performance of virility.

Colleen Conway’s monograph, Behold the Man: Jesus and Greco-Roman Masculinity, appeared in 2008. It began with a chapter titled “How to Be a Man in the Greco-Roman World” and moved to an examination of how the masculinities of three “divine men” were constructed: Caesar Augustus, Philo’s Moses, and Philostratus’s Apollonius. Successive chapters then treated the construction of Jesus’s masculinities in the Pauline letters, Mark, Matthew, Luke–Acts, John, and Revelation. Throughout, Conway was attentive to the intersection of New Testament masculinities and New Testament Christologies. One important contribution of the book was that it accorded unprecedented attention to Jesus’s crucifixion as a problem for ancient hegemonic conceptions of masculinity (for previous treatments, see esp. Liew, 2003; Thurman, 2003, 2007). Mark’s narrative, for example, from 8:31 onward, seems to prepare the audience to construe Jesus’s impending demise as a heroic and noble death, as Conway notes, fully in accord with the canons of masculine honor in the ancient Mediterranean world. The passion narrative, however, muddies the clean lines of this noble death portrait. How is Jesus’s anguish in Gethsemane to be construed? As erosion of his masculinity or confirmation of it through an exemplary performance of self-control? And what of his silence in his trial before Pilate? Submissive posture or manly self-restraint? Most of all, what of his cries from the cross? Conway’s reflections end on a psychological note: “Perhaps at some unconscious level, there is genuine resistance to hegemonic masculinity to be found…in the cry of anguish from the cross,” even if only for “a brief moment,” since “the narrative soon moves to the rewards of the manly death represented by the empty tomb” (p. 106). In the narration of Jesus’s death, nonetheless, “the grueling cultural demand[s] of hegemonic masculinity are exposed” (p. 106).

Paul’s lash- and rod-scarred body (2 Cor 11:23–25A; cf. Gal 6:17) earlier provoked related reflections by Glancy. In “Boasting of Beatings (2 Cor 11:23–25),” Glancy (2004) argued that, contrary to what scholars have tended to imagine, beholders of Paul’s scars would not have been culturally predisposed to see them as marks of courage so much as “markings of a servile body, insignia of humiliation and submission” (p. 99). Paul’s paradoxical boast is “not of his andreia [manly courage] but of his humiliating corporal vulnerability” (p. 101). In a related article, “Paul’s Masculinity,” Jennifer Larson (2004) proposed that Paul’s Corinthian critics appeal to cultural canons of masculinity: “Rhetorical skills were inextricably tied to virility and manhood” (p. 87). To denigrate Paul’s speaking skills, therefore, was to question his masculinity. Paul’s response to his opponents, with its unabashed embrace of “weakness,” is “a rejection of certain traditional standards of masculinity” (Larson, 2004, p. 94). Moisés Mayordomo Marin (2006), in “Construction of Masculinity in Antiquity and Early Christianity,” a wider-ranging study of the Corinthian correspondence, also argued that the masculinity espoused by Paul is counterhegemonic—but not consistently so: Paul shares the hegemonic disdain for “unmanly,” “effeminate” males (see also Ivarsson, 2007).

Bonnie Flessen’s An Exemplary Man: Cornelius and Characterization in Acts 10 (2011) shifted the spotlight from Jesus, Paul, and other towering New Testament men to a lesser character. Flessen argued that the elite protocols of Greco-Roman masculinity do not apply to Lukan characters like Cornelius who are not elite men and who therefore exhibit alternative masculinities. Cornelius is a multiply anomalous man, on Flessen’s reading. As a nonviolent, pious centurion he does not match stereotypical representations of Roman military personnel. Yet he is a centurion and so embodies the power of the Roman Empire within the narrative. He even acts like a centurion to a degree, issuing orders to those under him. But Cornelius is also a centurion who acts like a pious Jew, submitting himself through prayer and almsgiving to the God of Israel. That submission also extends to God’s human agents. The centurion paradoxically prostrates himself before Peter, a member of a subject people. If Cornelius is a Lukan model for Roman military masculinity, he must be deemed a counterhegemonic model of the first order.

Challenges for Biblical Masculinity Studies.

The relationship of masculinity studies to feminist studies was once a controversial issue. Before the term “masculinity studies” began to circulate in the late 1990s, there was “men’s studies.” One end of the men’s studies spectrum was staunchly pro-feminist, but the other end shaded over into masculinist men’s movements that resisted feminism, waxed nostalgic for traditional masculinities, “and gathered men into supportive enclaves” (Gardiner, 2002, p. 4). It was a time when embarking on the study of biblical masculinities required autobiographical explanations (Clines, 1998, p. 353), assurances that masculinity studies meant feminist studies no harm (Goldingay, 1995, pp. 161–163), or apologias designed to fold masculinity studies into feminist studies altogether (D’Angelo, 2002, p. 44; Moore and Anderson, 2003, pp. 2–3). These tensions have not vanished entirely. Yet many feminist biblical scholars seem less suspicious of masculinity studies than in the past. Symptomatic of this increased acceptance is the introduction to the latest edition of the Women’s Bible Commentary: “As we decided to do a third edition… we realized that a wholesale revision was needed, for several reasons. First, the field of feminist biblical criticism has developed in profound ways in the last twenty years. Issues that were just beginning to be explored in 1989—the hermeneutical significance of sexual identity, analysis of masculinity, and postcolonial positioning—were, by 2009, very much a part of feminist criticism” (Lapsley et al., 2012, p. xxii).

By then, too, biblical masculinity studies was also very much a part of historical criticism. Early investigations of biblical masculinities were variously fueled by psychoanalytic theory (Eilberg-Schwartz, 1994; Glancy, 1994), sociology (Clines, 1995), cultural studies (Moore, 1995, 1996, pp. 75–102), autobiographical criticism (Parsons, 1995), queer theory (Moore, 1998), and French critical theory (Ward, 1999). But on the New Testament side in particular, methodological eclecticism soon reduced to a standard method or interpretive strategy, for which the field of classics was the enabling interdiscipline. One proceeded deductively, first homing in on key aspects of ancient Mediterranean masculinity, which were handily prepackaged in various works of classical scholarship (e.g., Gleason, 1995; Williams, 1999), and then measuring selected New Testament males against these masculine yardsticks. This is the version of masculinity studies that has caught on in New Testament studies, one that requires engagement with no extradisciplinary field other than classics, the privileged interdiscipline for New Testament scholarship since its inception.

Masculinity studies of the Hebrew Bible has been a less formulaic enterprise. Practitioners do not have the luxury of proceeding deductively for the most part, since the relevant comparative literature is more scant and there are no encyclopedic profiles of ancient Near Eastern masculinities on hand. Yet most of the work on Hebrew Bible masculinities has been thoroughly historical-critical in at least one respect. In his response essay in Men and Masculinities, Clines (2010) expresses dismay that the essays in the collection appear to have “no agenda…other than intellectual curiosity” (p. 238). That may be why biblical masculinity studies has only made modest inroads into feminist studies: much of masculinity studies appears to lack political passion.

The missing political agenda might be supplied using analyses of ancient masculinities—especially the counterhegemonic masculinities now commonly identified in biblical texts—to critique contemporary expressions of hegemonic masculinity—especially those that appeal to biblical texts for legitimation. A further opening up of biblical masculinity studies to queer theory (see Moore, 2001; Stone, 2001, 2007, 2011; and esp. Burke, 2013, which follows a chapter on queer theory with a chapter on ancient masculinities) might serve such a critique. Deryn Guest (2012), for instance, writing from a queer/LGBT perspective, questions the tendency in biblical masculinity studies “to think in terms of gender reversals”—the feminization of males, the masculinization of females—rather than to consider how the ostensibly feminized male, say, “may be better understood in liminal terms as gender indeterminate,” which is “a better way forward than concentrating solely on gender reversals which do not question the two-sex, two-gender fiction” (p. 142). Such an analysis might still “be labelled a study in masculinity, but it will be so much more for it will come from a place informed by feminist, queer, trans theory that…sees its contemporary political import” (p. 142). A widespread turn of this sort in biblical masculinity studies would also entail, on the New Testament side, a recovery of the frequently forgotten origins of classical masculinity studies in the work of three politicized gay men—Michel Foucault (1985, 1986), David Halperin (1990), and John Winkler (1990)—and a rediscovery that the concept of gender as performance, commonplace in both classical and biblical masculinity studies, derives from queer theory (Butler, 1990) and contains much largely untapped subversive potential.

[See also GENDER; IMAGERY, GENDERED, subentries on DEUTERONOMISTIC HISTORY and PROPHETIC LITERATURE; MASCULINITY AND FEMININITY, subentries on HEBREW BIBLE and NEW TESTAMENT; and QUEER THEORY.]

Bibliography

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Stephen D. Moore