Color, Race, Semitism, and Jewishness
Note: Additional commentary on these Letters to the New York Times is pending and will appear here soon. (July 14).
Of Paul, Asceticism And Homosexuality
The New York Times March 9, 1991
To the Editor:
That St. Paul was an epileptic has long been suspected by historians of early Christianity (letter, Feb. 12), but that illness would not explain all his attitudes toward sexuality and homosexuality in particular.
Asceticism has been foreign to Judaism of every period; the Jewish religion has never in all of its 2,500-year history had eunuch priests or virgin priestesses, never had a celibate clergy, never had monastic orders of either sex, never had any ideal for its spiritual elite other than marriage and fatherhood.
However, the condemnation of homosexuality in biblical Judaism was if anything reinforced by contact with the pederasty of the Hellenistic diaspora. Not just the eccentric and opinionated Philo Judaeus, but even the ideologically colorless historian Josephus denounce male homosexuality in unsparing terms and in works meant for a pagan readership.
If Paul himself had homosexual tendencies, he would have suffered a severe personality conflict aggravated by his need to reject homosexuality on religious grounds. This could have motivated the ascetic teachings -- alien to Judaism, but destined to find a reception in Christianity, that led in later centuries to exaggerated practices.
This antisexual trend is best analyzed in "Moonlight Men" by the Russian thinker Vasily Vasilevich Rozanov (1856-1919), which derives asceticism from the need that obligatory heterosexuality inflicted on homosexual subjects to disguise their psychological "I cannot" as a moral "I will not."
WILLIAM A. PERCY, WARREN JOHANSSON, WAYNE R. DYNES Boston, Feb. 20, 1991
Hess, Homosexuality and the Third Reich
The New York Times July 10, 1991
To the Editor:
In "British Files Hide Truth About Hess Plot" (letter, June 21), Wolf Rudiger Hess, the son of Rudolf Hess, alleges that ascribing homosexuality to his father was one of the K.G.B.'s "last-ditch efforts to humiliate the Third Reich."
This is really too much. The Third Reich humiliated itself with unprovoked aggression, unparalleled barbarity, war crimes of every sort, genocide and, last of all, the extermination of at least 10,000 homosexuals, 90 percent of whom were citizens of the Reich. How then could it be further humiliated by the proof that one of its leaders was himself involved in homosexual affairs? Is homosexuality a greater disgrace than the perpetration of the Holocaust?
As it happens, many sources mention Rudolf Hess as an habitue of the gay subculture of Berlin in the Weimar era. The one author whom Wolf Hess names, Kurt G. W. Ludecke, in his 1938 book, "I Knew Hitler," says (page 586) that "I couldn't quite see the epithet of 'Fraulein,' for he was virility itself." Robert G. L. Waite, in "The Psychopathic God: Adolf Hitler," 1977, declares (page 235) that "Hitler was closely associated with Ernst Rohm and Rudolf Hess, two practicing homosexuals who were among the very few people with whom he used the familiar du ."
And the Italian gay activist Massimo Consoli, in his 1984 "Homocaust" (page 39) cites authors who allude to the homosexuality not just of Rudolf Hess, but also of many of the early Nazi Party leaders, disclosed by "Ernst Testis" in "Das Dritte Reich Stellt Sich Vor" of 1933 (pages 100-12). All these authors wrote wholly independent of the K.G.B. and its eventual efforts at "disinformation."
The sexual orientation of Rudolf Hess should not affect the judgment of historians on him; but to interpret the disclosure as "humiliation" is preposterous.
WARREN JOHANSSON WILLIAM A. PERCY Boston, June 22, 1991 The writers are co-authors of "Homosexuals and the Holocaust," an article in the Simon Wiesenthal Center Annual (volume 7).
About Hannibal's Color, No One Really Knows
The New York Times August 10, 1991
To the Editor:
Re "Hannibal of Carthage Was No More Black Than King David" by Sidney Halpern (letter, July 20):
Carthage may have been as Semitic as Jerusalem, but because Semites constitute a language group, not a race, that is irrelevant to Hannibal's skin color. Neither Professor Halpern nor anyone else knows Hannibal's full pedigree or King David's.
Like the Jews, the Carthaginians were polygamous. Privileged males such as Hannibal's father's fathers kept harems. We do not know the name of a single one of Hannibal's female ancestors. Presumably, some were Berbers, natives of North Africa, who moved into the flourishing metropolis established by Phoenician colonists in their midst. Berbers who controlled oases connecting North Africa and the Niger basin, then as now, like Copts, the ancestors of modern Egyptians, probably varied in skin hue, being descended from people south as well as north of the Sahara. In modern America, many of the darker ones would doubtless be classified as black.
Although we know that all of Cleopatra's ancestors were Macedonian, we can hardly say that Hannibal's were all Phoenician. Hannibal's father's fathers may have been in Carthage about six centuries if they arrived, as many aristocrats did, at its foundation. Incidentally, the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (193-211), a Punic speaker from North Africa, may, like Philip the Arab, Emperor from 244 to 249, have had black ancestors. Some of St. Augustine's progenitors were doubtless Italian colonists, perhaps sent to Carthage when Julius Caesar refounded it in 46 B.C. If so, they were in North Africa more than 400 years and mingling with the natives, so that Augustine too may have been black.
As a freshman at Princeton, I learned there are yellow Jews from the Far East, as well as black Jews from Africa. Judaism refers to a religion or a culture, not a racial category. King David apparently had a black grandson if Solomon sired a boy on the Queen of Sheba, who hailed from Yemen or Ethiopia. Haile Selassi, the "Lion of Judah," claimed descent from that boy.
There has always been mingling of sub-Saharan and North African peoples via the Red Sea, the Nile and desert oases. We don't know the skin color of King David, any more than that of Nefertiti and her brother-husband Ikhnaton or of any other Pharaohs. Sigmund Freud claimed that Moses was half Egyptian, the grandson of Ikhnaton, sired by a Hebrew slave on the Pharaoh's daughter. However that may be, the motley crowd of slaves that Moses led into the Sinai, where he molded them into the nation of Israel, must have contained many not descended from Isaac, some perhaps of Nubian or Ethiopian ancestry.
It is as unreasonable to declare that Hannibal was not black as to claim that Cleopatra was. But the argument is of less importance than the fact that a gradual, irregular shading of skin colors occurs from North Cape, the top of Norway, where the lightest pigmentation is of the greatest advantage in absorbing vitamin D from the rare sunlight, to the Congo Basin along the equator, where the darkest skin helps protect against the blazing sun. WILLIAM A. PERCY Prof. of History, U. of Massachusetts Boston, July 23, 1991
Ruddy King David
The New York Times August 24, 1991
To the Editor:
Prof. William A. Percy's statement that "we don't know the skin color of King David" ("About Hannibal's Color, No One Really Knows," letter, Aug. 10) should be corrected. Our main source of information on King David is the Hebrew Bible, and there it is stated that his skin color was "ruddy" (I Samuel 16:12).
Professor Percy's statement that no one "knows Hannibal's full pedigree or King David's" should also be corrected. The full pedigree of King David is given at the end of the Book of Ruth. SHIMEON BRISMAN Brooklyn, Aug. 12, 1991