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Journal of the Bible and its Reception

Managing Editor: Kraemer, David / Marsengill, Katherine

Ed. by Black, Fiona C. / Oekland, Jorunn / MacDonald, Nathan / Ocker, Christopher

Together with Strawbridge, Jennifer R.

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Babel and the Fear of Same-Sex Marriage: Mapping Conservative Constellations

Erin Runions
Published Online: 2014-06-06 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jbr-2014-0004


This paper looks at recent allusions to the Babel story as they appear in conservative political and religious discourse to refer to same-sex marriage as a problem of sick egalitarianism and democracy. Liberalism, and a certain kind of democracy, is said to create an imposing and tyrannical neutrality, a neutrality that leads to stagnation and self indulgence, including same-sex relations. This constellation of discourse is explored in relation to the most prominent interpretation of Genesis 11, Josephus’ political retelling in Antiquities of the Jews. Josephus’ version voices fears about tyranny, collectivity, and too much pleasure – themes that are clearly echoed in contemporary references to Babel. The paper shows how the Babel story thus becomes a story about sick egalitarianism associated with same-sex relationships. Tracing this genealogy, the essay argues that such citations of Babel indicate that the fear of gay marriage may actually be a fear of too much democracy.

Keywords: Christianity; conservatism; democracy; Josephus; sexuality

Works Cited

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About the article

Corresponding author: Erin Runions, Pomona College – Religious Studies, Claremont, California 91711, USA, e-mail:

Published Online: 2014-06-06

Published in Print: 2014-06-01

For more complete excerpts of the speech in Italian, see Radio Vaticana 2013a.

For arguments about the process of scripturalization, see W. C. Smith 1993; Wimbush 2008, 2012.

For genealogies of the development of Nimrod before and after Josephus, see Levin 2002; Pinker 1998; van der Toorn and van der Horst 1990. For ancient sources that develop the stories around Babel and Nimrod, see Feldman 2000, 40–1; Graves and Patai 1964, 125–9, 134–9; Kugel 1997, 122–30.

For the most part I use Whiston’s 1828 translation of Josephus’ complete works; but here Feldman 2000 gets the nuance better.

As Aristotle writes, “[hubris] is to do and to say things which make the victim incur shame not so that he would get something which he did not get before, but so that he would enjoy himself.” (Rhetoric 1378b:5, quoted in Levine 1993, 53).

Feldman draws out Josephus’ dislike for the masses in several places (1998a, 246; 1998b, 146–7, 503). For instance, the story of Jeroboam demonstrates for Josephus the problems of democratically electing leaders from the “rabble” or crowd (1998a, 237–9). Feldman notes that Jeroboam’s actions are called hubris (Ant. 8:316).

Likewise, Aristotle, in categorizing types of political constitutions in Politics, associates tyranny with some forms and aspects of democracy (5.1313b; 6.1319b), although less univocally than Plato.

See Feldman 1998b, 143–4.

Ranciere mentions the report of Trilateral Commission in 1975. There, the concern over “excess democracy” as a source of problems in the U.S. was very clearly expressed by Samuel Huntington (Rancière 2006, 21; see Crozier, Huntington, and Watanuki 1975, 113).

It is likely that Beck’s Mormon background shapes this reception of Babel, even though he does not refer to Mormonism in this episode of his show. The story of Nimrod is not developed in the Book of Mormon, but Mormon teachers, such as the influential Hugh Nibley (1988–1990), do explain that the Tower of Babel was built by Nimrod; see also Miner 1996, who cites Josephus in his commentary on Ether 2 in the Book of Mormon.

In this view, they echo the critique of endless discussion and neutrality that Carl Schmitt describes as ills of liberal democracy (Schmitt [1922] 1985, 59–63); see Runions 2007.

Signatories included James Dobson (Focus on the Family), Tony Perkins (Family Research Council), Cardinal Justin Rigali (Archdiocese of Philadelphia), and Archbishop Donald Wuerl (Archdiocese of Washington), among others. See the full text and list of signatures at, http://www.demossnews.com/manhattandeclaration/press_kit/manhattan_declaration_signers.

The declaration buys into the discourse on religious persecution that has become so prevalent on the Christian right, as identified and analyzed by Elizabeth Castelli (2005, 2007a,b,c).

For example, Sugrue 2006, Rahe 2009; see also the reprinting of Tocqueville as a political commentary on President Obama in the neoconservative publication The Weekly Standard (Tocqueville [1840] 2009).

Sugrue 2006; Rushdoony 2009, 193; Sears 2011; notably, one comes from Catholic leadership, Wenski 2012. Various counter arguments to the usual homophobia emerge, also using Tocqueville. For the homonormative argument that gay marriage curtails the self-absorption of excess desire and is actually a desired response to the excess pleasure about which Tocqueville worries, see Brooks 2013; for the argument that banning same-sex marriage is itself tyranny of the majority, see, Midthjell 2008.

Citation Information: Journal of the Bible and its Reception, Volume 1, Issue 1, Pages 47–65, ISSN (Online) 2329-4434, ISSN (Print) 2329-440X, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jbr-2014-0004.

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