Modesty (skin exposure)

Year(s) ago, I posted on this board and asked about modesty. Since then, I've written a 200 page book on the subject of female toplessness. Obviously I'm not going to make all of those points here, but following are some of the highlights. And if you have any challenges or questions, feel free to present them.

 

  • Adam and Eve covered their genitals after the fall, not their tops. When God further clothed them, he covered both the male and the female; thus, Gen 3 gives no reason to believe in an unequal standard based on sex.
  • In the Genesis account, nudity is called shameful; this is not the same as sin. Also, the words used (arom and eyrom) both pre- and post-fall imply that their nakedness wasn't sinful.
  • 1Ti 2:9 isn't talking about skin exposure. Review Κόσμιος and Καταστολή.
  • If toplessness is a form of nudity, then we already permit it via cleavage. It's chiefly the fat of the breast (aka "teats") that the Bible concerns itself with, and which is visually most distinct from the male counterpart. 
  • Isaiah walked literally naked. He wasn't merely topless; the text says " Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot" ... "So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt." ... Also, he had to be naked to be a symbol; the slaves were often topless, so that would have little to no shock value. 
  • Vilifying toplessness has, ironically, an effect that's opposite to the heart of Romans 14. By making it taboo, men become obsessed. Also, their moral compass becomes corrupt; they believe this sight is a sinful one, and when they look anyway: they've sinned by acting contrary to their (incorrect) distinction.

 

 

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Bert Perry's picture

There are a few counterpoints here.  First of all, usage in Song of Solomon, Ezekiel 23, and Hosea 2 makes it very clear that the female breast was considered sexual in Hebrew life.  Are we so different?  Well, ask yourself why actresses and singers with mediocre skills but abundant beauty lower their bodice lines, or remove their tops altogether, to get parts and sell records, no?  

Moreover, the Song of Solomon also has some hints about the Hebrew attitude towards the sun--Song of Solomon 1:5 implies a preference for pale skin when the bride says "Dark am I, yet lovely", and in Song of Solomon 7:2, the bride characterizes her husband's hands to gold and his body to ivory.  In other words, he probably has a farmer's tan.  This preference for pale skin, along with the agrarian pursuits of most Hebrews, is simply not compatible with the notion of the Hebrews going around topless, male or female.  Another example; remember how David's envoys were mistreated by cutting off their garments at their buttocks?  That implies their upper bodies were basically covered.

For that matter, apart from Ethiopian Jews, most Jews are basically Caucasian, and if one were to expose that much skin routinely in the brilliant Middle Eastern sun, you'd look like you were about 80 by the time you hit 25. 

To put it bluntly, I think you're assuming some things from your sources that really cannot be supported from a broader look at historical evidence.  The treatment of slaves was probably as much for the enjoyment of masters as anything--in an expanding empire they were expendable and abusable, hence the Mosaic limitations on slavery in Israel--and when you look at the artwork of Romans, Greeks, and others in the Middle East, you really don't see that much female nudity except for renditions of Egyptian slaves and priestesses.  

Now if you say that the case for covering up to X degree isn't as easy to make, Biblically, as some would think, I'd agree, but when you look at the hints about how the Hebrews actually thought about these things, then look at the archeological evidence for how free men and women actually lived in that region, you're not going to be able to make the case you're trying to make.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

J Johnson's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

There are a few counterpoints here.  First of all, usage in Song of Solomon, Ezekiel 23, and Hosea 2 makes it very clear that the female breast was considered sexual in Hebrew life.  Are we so different?  Well, ask yourself why actresses and singers with mediocre skills but abundant beauty lower their bodice lines, or remove their tops altogether, to get parts and sell records, no?  

Moreover, the Song of Solomon also has some hints about the Hebrew attitude towards the sun--Song of Solomon 1:5 implies a preference for pale skin when the bride says "Dark am I, yet lovely", and in Song of Solomon 7:2, the bride characterizes her husband's hands to gold and his body to ivory.  In other words, he probably has a farmer's tan.  This preference for pale skin, along with the agrarian pursuits of most Hebrews, is simply not compatible with the notion of the Hebrews going around topless, male or female.  Another example; remember how David's envoys were mistreated by cutting off their garments at their buttocks?  That implies their upper bodies were basically covered.

For that matter, apart from Ethiopian Jews, most Jews are basically Caucasian, and if one were to expose that much skin routinely in the brilliant Middle Eastern sun, you'd look like you were about 80 by the time you hit 25. 

To put it bluntly, I think you're assuming some things from your sources that really cannot be supported from a broader look at historical evidence.  The treatment of slaves was probably as much for the enjoyment of masters as anything--in an expanding empire they were expendable and abusable, hence the Mosaic limitations on slavery in Israel--and when you look at the artwork of Romans, Greeks, and others in the Middle East, you really don't see that much female nudity except for renditions of Egyptian slaves and priestesses.  

Now if you say that the case for covering up to X degree isn't as easy to make, Biblically, as some would think, I'd agree, but when you look at the hints about how the Hebrews actually thought about these things, then look at the archeological evidence for how free men and women actually lived in that region, you're not going to be able to make the case you're trying to make.

Depending on your response, I may address more of this post (and perhaps your next one).

Your final paragraph is basically my goal; covering to X level isn't clear from Scripture; nor whether it's sin to wear less than that (Gen 2-3 speaks of shame).

I'm essentially proving a negative, so understand the difficulty of aiming any higher than that. The Bible doesn't say "cover these areas." And per Rom 14, if the matter isn't clear, we must not be dogmatic about it. In fact, in my book I state that I could be wrong. Though, I find that highly unlikely. Thankfully, even if I'm wrong: at least I show a number of verses that are used out of context; thus, my readers gain knowledge.

As for Song of Solomon, yes: the breasts are sexual. But a number of other bodily organs are mentioned in a similar way, in SoS. This includes areas which we don't conceal.

I'm mostly ignorant of history, I can't address it. I'm interested in having your view about this, though: https://unveiling-christianity.net/2016/01/26/prophet-isaiah-walked-naked/

 

Regarding David: 

Yes, I'm not implying that all slaves were without tops. Merely that, per my understanding (based on materials I've read, such as the above, and based on ancient paintings of males), it was common. I'm not committed to this argument; it's very much supplemental. 

 

Misread your comment, striking the following:

'Wherefore Hanun took David's servants, and shaved off the one half of their beards, and cut off their garments in the middle, even to their buttocks, and sent them away.'

This would have caused their genitals to be exposed. Per Gill:

and cut off their garments in the middle, even to their buttocks; and as they wore long garments in those countries, without any breeches or drawers under them, those parts by these means were exposed to view which modesty requires should be concealed (r); so that they must be put to the utmost shame and confusion: 

Bert Perry's picture

Keep in mind that actual paintings from Israel are rare because of the "no graven images" commandment--never mind the fact that the land was consistently overrun by Romans, Greeks, Babylonians, Asyrrians, and Egyptians.  You're really cueing in on Egyptian and Greek/Roman/Persian renditions, artwork that really has nothing to do with the God of the Hebrews.

Plus, even if Hebrew slave-masters did violate the Torah and abuse their slaves by causing them to go around topless, precisely what does that mean for us?  We may as well say that because American slave-masters (and their overseers) brutally whipped their slaves, that we ought to do the same to ourselves.  (given what we know about UV exposure and cancer, probably a more apt picture than we'd originally think)

Same basic thing with Isaiah.  The whole point of Isaiah's going around naked, or in a loincloth, was that he was modeling the nakedness (shame) that was coming to Egypt and Cush.  It wasn't that it was OK to do that, but rather the shock at what he was doing would illustrate God's point.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

J Johnson's picture

Thanks for the historical/cultural information!

Your torah comment presupposes that it was sinful for slaves to be without tops, which you know from my OP that I don't accept.

As for Isaiah, I'll accept your presupposition while I make the following comments: even if the slave's masters violated God's law in making them go topless, still it was commonplace. For Isaiah to also go topless wouldn't create the necessary shock value. How are you a sign, via your dress, if you're dressed like all of the slaves? It's almost the same as wearing camouflage, so to speak.

And I'm not implying that Isaiah's nudity was not shame-inducing.

Bert Perry's picture

Worth noting--see Exodus 21 and Leviticus 25, among other places--is that while it's not spelled out explicitly "you must give your slaves a shirt", you can infer from a lot of context that it would be sinful.  If the breasts are seen as sexual, and you concede that, wouldn't refusing a shirt to a slave be "uncovering her nakedness", as in Leviticus 18?  Does not the Torah tell us that if a master gives a slave girl to his son as a wife, she must be treated as a daughter, not a slave?  Does not the Torah tell us that serious injuries like a lost eye or tooth ought to result in the freeing of the slave?  Would not sunstroke from working in the vineyard all day count as such?  

There are a lot of other regulations of slavery in the Torah and elsewhere in the OT that demonstrate that in Israel under the Torah, slaves had certain protections that they did not have elsewhere in the Middle East, starting with the fact that they were not to be the sexual playthings of their owners.  The "harem" culture of Orientalist art was to have no place in Israel--Deuteronomy 17:17 makes it clear Solomon was in serious sin there.  

Now no doubt, the worshippers of Asherah, Moloch, Ba'al, and the like may have functioned like the Egyptians--remember Israel was told many times NOT to go back to Egypt or live like they did--but again, that tells us nothing about how we, free people in the dispensation of the church, ought to behave.  And in that light, we can infer some things from passages like Romans 8:35 (again, nakedness is a shame) and for that matter the story of Dorcas (Acts 9:39), famous for her charity to the poor by....

...making them clothes.

I guess if you like, you can say that because the Bible doesn't specifically prohibit this, that perhaps it ought to be allowed, but you're really in about the same boat as someone who would argue that abortion is permissible since it wasn't specifically banned; arguing that because the Scripture doesn't prohibit something specifically that was culturally unthinkable, that it's allowed.

I think we can infer some things from Hebrew culture here, brother, and quite frankly, I think we can infer some things from that.  We can also infer some things from the function of clothing as "personal protective equipment" vs. heat sources and sharp objects, or for that matter from the fact that typical high temperatures in Jerusalem in the winter are in the fifties.  

I can see the attraction of an Edenic society, but we're in the wrong dispensation and the wrong climate for that one, really no matter what our skin tone and no matter what part of the world we live in.  A friend of mine--dark skinned black man from the Caribbean--noted to me once that while growing up, people in his town (year round highs in the 80s, etc..) were astounded at how whites abused themselves on their beaches.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.