Posted December 6, 2005
Book: Kissing Christians: Ritual and Community in the Late Ancient Church
Author: Michael Philip Penn
University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2005, pp. 186
Excerpt from the Jacket:
In the first centuries of the common era, the kiss was a distinctive and
near-ubiquitous marker of Christianity. Although Christians did not invent
the kiss — Jewish and pagan literature is filled with references to kisses
between lovers, family members, and individuals in relationships of power
and subordination — Christians kissed one another in highly specific
settings and in ways that set them off from the non-Christian population.
Christians kissed each other during prayer, Eucharist, baptism, and
ordination and in connection with greeting, funerals, monastic vows, and
martyrdom. As Michael Philip Penn shows in Kissing Christians, this ritual
kiss played a key role in defining group membership and strengthening the
social bond between the communal body and its individual members.
Kissing Christians presents the first comprehensive study of the ritual kiss
and how controversies surrounding it became part of larger debates regarding
the internal structure of Christian communities and their relations with
outsiders. Penn traces how Christian writers exalted those who kissed only
fellow Christians, proclaimed that Jews did not have a kiss, prohibited
exchanging the kiss with potential heretics, privileged the confessor’s
kiss, prohibited Christian men and women from kissing each other, and
forbade laity from kissing clergy.
Kissing Christians also investigates connections between kissing and group
cohesion, kissing practices and purity concerns, and how Christian leaders
used the motif of the kiss of Judas to examine theological notions of
loyalty, unity, forgiveness, hierarchy, and subversion.
Exploring connections between bodies, power, and performance, Kissing
Christians bridges the gap between cultural and liturgical approaches to
antiquity. It breaks significant new ground in its application of literary
and sociological theory to liturgical history and will have a profound
impact on these fields.
An Excerpt from the Book:
The romance Joseph and Aseneth provides one of the most explicit examples of
a kiss’s purity being used as a means of exclusion, transformation, and
inclusion – a pattern very reminiscent of Arnold van Gennep’s discussion of
rites of passage and Victor Turner’s examination of ritual as social drama.
According to Genesis 41:45, Pharaoh married Joseph to Aseneth, the daughter
of the Egyptian high priest Penephres. The verse presented later
generations with an interpretive dilemma: How could Joseph, an examplar of
Jewish piety, marry the daughter of a pagan priest? Joseph and Aseneth
answers this question by telling the story of Joseph’s courtship of Aseneth
and, most important, Aseneth’s conversion to Judaism before they marry.
. . . Joseph links a kiss’s acceptability to the role of the mouth in ritual.
Blessing, eating, and drinking all involve the mouth; to kiss one who
blesses, eats, and drinks not form the table of the true God but from idols
[as had Aseneth] becomes, for Joseph, inconceivable. . . .Joseph suggests
that kissing can transmit impurity. In this case, the mouth becomes polluted
through its involvement in idol worship, and kissing can spread this
. . . Rejected by Joseph’s refusal to kiss her but encourage by his prayer
for her conversion, Aseneth . . .fast and repents for seven days, [and] the
chief angel visits Aseneth and helps convert her to Judaism. Just as the
mouth’s connection with purity played an integral role in Joseph’s initial
rejection of Aseneth’s kisses, so does Aseneth’s conversion focus on the
. . . Informed of Aseneth’s conversion, Joseph returns to Pentephres’s house
[Aseneth’s father]. On seeing one another, Joseph and Aseneth “kissed each
other for a long time and both came to life in their spirits. And Joseph
kissed Aseneth and he gave her spirit of life and he kissed her a second
time and gave her spirit of wisdom and he kissed her a third time and gave
her spirit of truth. Like many other ancient references to kissing, Joseph
and Aseneth states that a kiss transfers spirit and binds individuals
together. The kiss that earlier divided Joseph and Aseneth now unites them.
Later in the story, when Pharaoh presides over Joseph and Aseneth’s
marriage, he also uses the kiss to confirm this union as he “brought them
mouth to mouth and joined them by their lips, and they kissed each other.”
Table of Contents:
1. Kissing basics
2. The kiss that binds: Christian communities and group cohesion
3. Difference and distinction: the exclusive kiss
4. Boundary violations: purity, promiscuity, and betrayal