Archive for the ‘Long Hair’ Category

Is Long Hair Shameful?

April 17, 2012

Steve Hays took issue with my objection that the Shroud depicts a man with long hair, which is consistent with medieval iconography but inconsistent with Paul’s teaching regarding hair length.

1 Corinthians 11:14-15
Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.

Steve asserts “i) It’s ironic that TFan contradicts Calvin’s interpretation of 1 Cor 11:14:”  but then Steve provides a selection from Calvin that in no way contradicts my position that Paul taught that nature itself teaches that it is a shame to a man to have long hair.

Steven next argues, with support from a recent commentary, that “On that interpretation, Paul is simply referring to the social customs or social mores of that time and place, not what’s intrinsically right or wrong. A matter of social decorum.”  Again, even if this is fully correct, it merely limits Paul’s claim to the 1st century era, which is the same era when Christ walked the earth, died, was buried, and rose again.

Indeed, ancient descriptions of the Jews describe them as having short hair styles:

For in his enumeration of all those nations, he last of all inserts ours among the rest, when he says, “At the last there passed over a people, wonderful to be beheld; for they spake the Phoenician tongue with their mouths; they dwelt in the Solymean mountains, near a broad lake: their heads were sooty; they had round rasures on them; their heads and faces were like nasty horse-heads also, that had been hardened in the smoke.

 (Josephus, Against Apion, Book I, Section 22)

This same account quoted as a description of the Jews in Eusebius’ Gospel Preparations, Book 9, Chapter 9:

“Next passed a nation wondrous to behold,
Whose lips pronounced the strange Phoenician tongue;
Upon the hills of Solyma they dwelt
By the broad inland sea. Rough and unkempt
Their close-cropped hair, and on their heads they wore
The smoke-dried skin flayed from a horse’s face.”

Moreover, one way that the Romans distinguished themselves from the barbarians (the Greeks were not viewed as barbarians, I should point out) was by having closely cut hair:

In general, Greeks and Romans considered long hair to be typical of barbarians; thus, the new Gallic provinces subdued by Julius Caesar came to be called Gallia comata. Romans, on the other hand, were supposed to cut their hair short.

From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms (ed. Thomas F.X. Noble), “Telling the Difference: Signs of Ethnic Identity,” by Walter Pohl, p. 117.

But after the introduction of barbers into Italy about B.C. 300 it became the practice to wear their hair short.

Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, Sir William Smith, under coma p. 330.

The social decorum issue alluded to by Steve’s source is one of looking like a homosexual. 

While there are statues from Corinth with males wearing long hair, Gill points out that these are usually male deities. It should also be noted that the only others depicted wearing long curly hair were from the Facade of the Captives in the forum in Roman Corinth. To portray these men wearing their hair thus was the way the Roman conquerors indicated that all the men in the facade were ‘weak’, i.e., captives of the mighty Roman army. It implies that they were ‘soft’ or ‘effeminate’.

After Paul Left Corinth: The Influence of Secular Ethics and Social Change, by Bruce W. Winter, p. 132.

In other words, long hair suggested passive homosexuality in the cultural milieu. That was a shameful thing as taught by “nature itself,” whether Paul is equating traditional custom with “nature” here is not really the issue.

Steve goes on: “I think it highly unlikely that Paul would make Roman hair style an absolute standard for Jews. After all, Romans were pagans who subjugated the Jews. They were the enemy. The oppressor. The idolater. Hardly a model of morality or piety.

Steve is working from the assumption that short hair was only a Roman custom.  The evidence from Josephus suggests it was also a pre-Roman Jewish custom.  Moreover, the customs of Corinth were Roman-influenced, no doubt, but the people of Corinth were Greeks.

It’s not totally surprising the Paul might think that Roman customs represented the outworking of natural law.  After all, Paul was a Roman citizen.  Paul does not treat Rome as the enemy, the oppressor, or inherently as idolatrous.

Moreover, short hair in the Roman world could only very loosely be associated with idolatry (some sources refer to a practice of cutting off a teens pigtail/ponytail and offering it as a sacrifice to a river god upon coming of age).

Instead, short hair is sexual identifier – something highly consistent with God’s law, which requires sexual distinction in appearance:

Deuteronomy 22:5 The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.

So, it is fully consistent that Paul would admonish the Corinthians not to have men with women’s hair length.

Steve continues: “iii) A more serious problem with TFan’s position is that if men with long hair is inherently shameful, then that contradicts the Nazirite vocation in Num 6:5:

Steve’s argument conflates the issue of absolute moral impropriety and shamefulness.  For example, Adam and Eve were naked in the garden and were not ashamed.  Moreover, we have the example of prophets who prophesied in the nude:

1 Samuel 19:24
And he stripped off his clothes also, and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Wherefore they say, Is Saul also among the prophets?

None of this suggests that nakedness is or should be normal behavior.  Likewise, nothing suggests that a perpetual Nazirite vow is or should be normal behavior.

Steve doesn’t suggest that Jesus had a Nazirite vow, but considering that he took the cup at the Last Supper, and Nazarites did not drink from the fruit of the vine, we can be sure Jesus was not under a Nazarite vow.

Steve continued: “Moreover, TFan implicitly makes Paul a hypocrite, for Paul himself took a Nazirite vow (Acts 18:18). In that event, his statement in 1 Cor 11:14 is self-incriminating–if we accept TFan’s interpretation.

Actually, Acts 18:18 does not say that Paul had a Nazirite vow, just that Paul had a vow.  Moreover, it does not say that Paul let his hair grow excessively long, but rather that he shaved his head.  One might conclude that Paul’s hair had become long by reason of the vow, but the text does not actually say that.

Moreover, the length of hair after taking a vow does show a measure of shame on the person who is slow in performing his vow.  In other words, if one vows to do “X” and promises not to shave his head until it is performed, then one’s hair length begins to be a testimony against one.

We likewise have no reason to suppose that Jesus was under any particular vow that would have dictated that he wear his hair long in view of non-performance of the vow to date.

Steve concludes: “At this rate, TFan may need several gallons of turpentine to escape from the corner he’s painted himself into (vis-à-vis long hair).” But actually, it seems that the only problems arose from Steve interpreting Paul’s rule regarding hair as an absolute moral imperative, as opposed to what Paul actually said, which was that long hair on men is shameful, according to nature itself.


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