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John Boswell

John Eastburn Boswell (March 20, 1947 - December 24, 1994), a gay historian, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and educated at the College of William and Mary and at Harvard University. He became a professor of history at Yale University, and helped organize the Lesbian and Gay Studies Center at Yale in 1987. He was chairman of the history department at Yale from 1990 to 1992.

He is known primarily, however, as author of Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe (New York: Villard, 1994) in which he argues that the adelphopoiia liturgy was evidence that attitude of the Christian church towards homosexuality has changed over time, and that early Christians did on occasion accept homosexual relationships. [1] (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/pwh/index-bos)

Rites of 'same sex union' occur in ancient prayer-books of both the western and eastern churches. They are rites of adelphopoiesis, literally Greek for brotherhood. Boswell argued that these were homosexual unions, but other scholars assert that they were instead rites of becoming adopted brothers, or "blood brothers". [2] (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/pwh/sykeon-adelpho), [3] (http://www.leaderu.com/marco/marriage/gaymarriage7)

Boswell pointed out such evidence as an icon of two saints, Saints Serge and Bacchus (at St. Catherine's on Mount Sinai), and drawings, such as one he interprets as depicting the wedding feast of Emperor Basil to his "partner", John; Boswell sees Jesus Christ as fulfilling the role of the 'pronubus' or in modern parallel, best man.

Boswell made many detailed translations of these rites in his book The Marriage of Likeness[?], and claimed that one mass gay wedding occurred only a couple of centuries ago in the basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral seat of the pope as Bishop of Rome.

Boswell's writings touched off detailed debate in The Irish Times some years ago and the article which triggered off the debate, a major feature in the "Rite and Reason" religion column in the paper by a respected Irish historian and religious commentator, has been reproduced on many websites.


  • Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (1980)
  • Rediscovering Gay History: Archetypes of Gay Love in Christian History (1982)
  • Homosexuality in the Priesthood and the Religious Life (1991) (co-author)
  • Forms of Desire: Sexual Orientation and the Social Constructionist Controversy (1992)
  • The Marriage of Likeness: Same-Sex Union in Premodern Europe (1994)
  • The Kindness of Strangers: The Abandonment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance
  • Royal Treasure: Muslim Communities Under the Crown of Aragon in the Fourteenth Century

See also Queer studies, Famous gay lesbian or bisexual people


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