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Appalling Bodies

Queer Figures Before and After Paul's Letters

Joseph A. Marchal

Publication Date - 01 November 2022

ISBN: 9780197668962

328 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches

In Stock


The letters of Paul are among the most commonly cited biblical texts in ongoing cultural and religious disputes about gender, sexuality, and embodiment. Appalling Bodies reframes these uses of the letters by reaching past Paul toward other, far more fascinating figures that appear before, after, and within the letters. The letters repeat ancient stereotypes about women, eunuchs, slaves, and barbarians--in their Roman imperial setting, each of these overlapping groups were cast as debased, dangerous, and complicated.

Joseph Marchal presents new ways for us to think about these dangers and complications with the help of queer theory. Appalling Bodies juxtaposes these ancient figures against recent figures of gender and sexual variation, in order to defamiliarize and reorient what can be known about both. The connections between the marginalization and stigmatization of these figures troubles the history, ethics, and politics of biblical interpretation. Ultimately, Marchal assembles and reintroduces us to Appalling Bodies from then and now, and the study of Paul's letters may never be the same.


  • Addresses Paul's letters from the perspective of queer theory
  • Juxtaposes figures from the letters who vary in their gender, sexuality, and embodiment with modern examples
  • Makes innovative inferences for the interpretation of Biblical literature based on those juxtapositions

About the Author(s)

Joseph A. Marchal is Professor of Religious Studies and affiliate faculty in Women's and Gender Studies at Ball State University. Marchal is the author and editor of ten books, most recently: After the Corinthian Women Prophets: Reimagining Rhetoric and Power (2021), Bodies on the Verge: Queering Pauline Epistles (2019), Sexual Disorientations: Queer Temporalities, Affects, Theologies (2018), and Philippians: Historical Problems, Hierarchical Visions, Hysterical Anxieties (2017).


"This book is rich in theory, in history, in how breaking rules (e.g., using anachronisms) and 'dwelling longer in zones of confusion' can be strategically effective in forming intersectional coalitions." -- Teresa Hornsby, Chicago Theological Seminary, Catholic Biblical Quarterly

"Marchal reaches across history—with an acknowledged debt to Carolyn Dinshaw's queer historiography (1999, 2012)—not to locate forebears from those distant years, but rather to illustrate the ways that gender and sexuality are constructed and contested in these texts, and to resist the ways they still influence the shape of gender and sexuality in our contemporary moment. In thinking about the androgyne, the eunuch, the slave, and the barbarian, Marchal performs a tour de force of theoretical and exegetical work." -- Kent Brintnall , Religion Compass

"Appalling Bodies is such a rich analysis of lives touched, traumatized, destroyed, and resurrected by sex. Paul's letters are the occasion. History and theory are the modes of inquiry. But joy, sorrow, love, and pain are the true subjects of this work, or that's how it seemed to me." -- Jennifer Knust, Duke University, Ancient Jew Review

"Simply stunning and exhilarating! Marchal travels back and forth in time to juxtapose fascinating (and often threatening) figures of the first and the twentyfirst century to show us a whole new way of reading Paul's letters without placing Paul at the center. This carefully researched, conspicuously erudite, and compellingly readable book will surprise, delight, and impress you." -- Tatsiong Benny Liew, Class of 1956 Professor in New Testament Studies, College of the Holy Cross

"Joseph Marchal has emerged as one of today's leading practitioners of queer biblical scholarship, and this volume amply demonstrates why. It will be required reading not only for scholars who are interested in the letters attributed to Paul and the assumptions made by those letters (and by their interpreters) about gender and sexuality, but also for anyone who seeks a model for queer engagement with ancient texts." -- Ken Stone, Professor of Bible, Culture, and Hermeneutics at Chicago Theological Seminary

"Appalling Bodies takes us beyond a kyriarchal focus on Paul to appreciation of the other figures that populate his letters for rhetorical effect- prophetic women, eunuchs, and slaves, whose gender and sexuality do not conform to imperial Roman elite male sexuality. Making partial and contingent touches across time to contemporary LGBTQI communities, Marchal troubles and complicates the sexual regimes Paul's letters are used to enforce. This brilliant book is sure to become a classic in studies of scripturalized sexual norms and queer engagements with the Bible." -- Erin Runions, author of The Babylon Complex: Theopolitical Fantasies of War, Sex, and Sovereignty

"This is an immensely exciting book, exceptionally original and stunningly creative, the first to limn out in full the contours of a queer historiography in biblical studies. It amounts to a dizzying defamiliarization of ground that has been endlessly trodden and retrodden by Pauline scholars. But it is not a specialist tome. It richly merits an audience beyond the boundaries of biblical studies, and even beyond religious studies." -- D. Moore, author of God's Beauty Parlor: And Other Queer Spaces in and Around the Bible

"Appalling Bodies is a deeply ethical book meant to improve human lives, especially those of the most marginalized among us. Theories can be opaque to general readers, but to show how these theories can make human lives more livable, Marchal explains them clearly. Marchal employs deliberate anachronism to shake up readers' belief that they know what Paul meant, thereby undercutting fundamentalisms. Fundamentalisms are resulting in deaths, whether through hate crimes or suicides, and Marchal understands the urgency of truly alternative biblical interpretation in which marginalized figures become central." -- Bernadette J. Brooten, Robert and Myra Kraft and Jacob Hiatt Professor of Christian Studies, Emerita, Brandeis University

Table of Contents


    Prelude: Before and After
    Queer Reconfigurations
    Past Paul
    After This Before

    Chapter One: Touching Figures: Reaching Past Paul
    Between Brooten and a Halperin Place
    How to Get Stuck in "the Middle" with Sedgwick and Butler
    Toward Some Touching Connections?

    Chapter Two: A Close Corinthian Shave: Trans / Androgyne
    Corinthian Citations, Pauline Performativity, and Echoes of Androgyny
    Ancient Androgyny, Reconsidered
    Hair-Raising Androgyny and the Corinthian Assembly?
    Transgender and Other Mobilizations of Masculinity
    Resembling and Assembling Female (Masculine) Prophets

    Chapter Three: Uncut Galatians: Intersex / Eunuch
    "They tried to write their Gospel on my body": Defining, Treating, Resisting
    An Ancient Pal, Against Genital Cutting?
    A Cutting Joke
    Facing the Phallus, Cutting to the Fore(skin)
    "Don't Quote Ovid to Me" (and Don't Bother with Paul Either?)

    Chapter Four: Use: Bottom / Slave
    The Use of Slaves
    The Use of Onesimus: Chresis and Consent, Puns and Patrons
    Switching Biblical Bonds
    Other Uses of History
    How Not to Race Past
    Attending to the Past
    Whipping Through Time

    Chapter Five: Assembled Gentiles: Terrorist / Barbarian
    Exceptional Sexual
    The Epistles' Exceptionalism
    Barbarians, Among Other Perverse Figures
    Exceptionalism Rules
    An Unexceptional Paul
    Some Alternative Assembly Required
    Analogy, Anachronism, Assembly: A Contingent Conclusion

    Epilogue: Biblical Drag