Regulating Sex in the Roman Empire Ideology, the Bible, and the Early Christians David Wheeler-Reed

Publication date:
23 Jan 2018
Yale University Press
200 pages: 235 x 156 x 27mm

A New Testament scholar challenges the belief that American family values are based on “Judeo-Christian” norms by drawing unexpected comparisons between ancient Christian theories and modern discourses

Challenging the long-held assumption that American values—be they Christian or secular—are based on “Judeo-Christian” norms, this provocative study compares ancient Christian discourses on marriage and sexuality with contemporary ones, maintaining that modern family values owe more to Roman Imperial beliefs than to the bible.
Engaging with Foucault’s ideas, Wheeler-Reed examines how conservative organizations and the Supreme Court have misunderstood Christian beliefs on marriage and the family. Taking on modern cultural debates on marriage and sexuality, with implications for historians, political thinkers, and jurists, this book undermines the conservative ideology of the family, starting from the position that early Christianity, in its emphasis on celibacy and denunciation of marriage, was in opposition to procreation, the ideological norm in the Greco-Roman world.

David Wheeler-Reed is a postdoctoral visiting research fellow at Yale Divinity School and an instructor in religious studies at Albertus Magnus College. His work focuses on the New Testament, the ancient family, and gender and sexuality in antiquity.

“If I had it in my power, I would make Wheeler-Reed’s groundbreaking book required reading for every member of the Supreme Court.”—John T. Fitzgerald, University of Notre Dame
“This hard-hitting account of ancient (and modern) ideologies of the family charts the genealogy of ‘anti-familial’ and ‘pro-familial’ discourses from Augustus through the early Christian period, demonstrating their relevance to contemporary discussion of ‘family values.’”—David G. Hunter, University of Kentucky
“A bold and ambitious study, Regulating Sex in the Roman Empire compellingly maps how early Christians generated sexual ideologies within a cultural field dominated by the Roman state—in ways neither absolutely unique nor radically discontinuous, but nonetheless new.”—Benjamin H. Dunning, Fordham University
“This book admirably accomplishes one of the prime tasks of scholarship: to analyze data in a new frame, thereby clarifying and complexifying current challenges.  Wheeler-Reed offers such essential scholarship to contemporary American discussions on the meaning of marriage. This is an important book.”—L. Ann Jervis, Wycliffe College, University of Toronto
"Wheeler-Reed convincingly demonstrates that ancient Romans and Jews strongly valued family life, whereas early Christian authors promoted celibacy. The delightfully controversial consequence is that the modern Christian focus on family is more 'Judeo-Roman' than 'Judeo-Christian.'”—Sarah Rollens, Rhodes College