Sunday, May 05, 2013

Jeremy Bentham, Not Paul But Jesus

I just learned of the existence of Jeremy Bentham's Not Paul But Jesus. This work is in three volumes, only the first of which was published during his lifetime, under the pseudonym "Gamaliel Smith". In this work, Bentham argues that Jesus, unlike Paul, was not an advocate of asceticism or a foe of pleasure, and that Christians should return to the ethic of Jesus, and abandon the ascetic ethic of Paul. It's surely no coincidence that Bentham's interpretation of Jesus' ethics is consistent with Bentham's own pleasure-loving doctrine of utilitarianism.

In the third volume of Not Paul But Jesus, a critical edition of which has just been released for free over the internet (pdf), Bentham  argues, among other things, for the toleration of non-traditional sexual relationships ("the eccentric pleasures of the bed"), including homosexuality. This would have been quite radical in Bentham's time, so perhaps it is no surprise that this volume of the work went unpublished, even under a pseudonym.

As another example of just how radical the work is, chapter 13 is entitled "The Eccentric Pleasures of the Bed, Whether Partaken of by Jesus?", and in this chapter Bentham presents evidence from the Gospels to support the claim that Jesus had homosexual relationships with the Apostle John and with a certain "stripling of loose attire". Upon a cursory reading, I don't find Bentham's arguments in chapter 13 to be particularly compelling, but it is fascinating that Bentham should see fit to even make such an argument, particularly considering the attitudes of the majority of his contemporaries, and it is evidence of his extreme broad-mindedness and originality, which is in abundant evidence elsewhere in his life and works (such as in his advocacy of the auto-icon, a display case containing the mummified corpses of deceased scientists and other cultural luminaries, to help preserve their memory among the living; an auto-icon was created for Bentham himself, in accordance with his wishes, but the practice sadly failed to catch on).

Hat tip to Marginal Revolution.
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