by Deane Galbraith
In contemporary Western society, an (imaginary) flat “chest” is marker of male gender; and round, spherical breasts are a marker of female gender. In the realm of the symbolic the everyday real breasts of men and women, with their assortment of different shapes and sizes, no longer count. A flat-chested woman (note, not even “flat-breasted“) is a “problem” to be “corrected” whether by push-up bras, digital enhancement or artificial breast implants. And implants are always perfectly round, quite symmetrical, and precisely the same size. So today, the ultimate bodily symbol of the female is artificial (“man-made”). Conversely, a round-chested man is somehow un-male, or inscribes a male with something less-than-manliness. Man-breasts cannot be proudly displayed at the beach or at poolside BBQs, and are usually referred to in sniggering, pejorative terms as “man-breasts” or “man-boobs” or even “moobs”. Unless man-breasts adorn someone rich and famous like Jack Nicholson, they must be hidden from the public. In fact, it is a fine point of law, debated in the highest courts of England, as to whether one can even take a surreptitious photo of man-breasts without being convicted of criminal voyeurism. Such an exposure of the traumatic difference between real man-breasts and the symbolic manly chest of rest-room signage reveals the limit of the binary construction of gender. As Judith Butler succintly puts it in Gender Trouble, albeit not specifically concerning breasts, such transgressions of the imaginary-ideal male and female breasts also threaten “the limits of the socially hegemonic.”
John the Revelator, author of the Apocalypse, was also challenged by man-breasts, it seems – at least according to a short 2007 JSNT article by Jesse Rainbow, “Male μαστοί in Revelation 1.13.” The text in question describes the heavenly figure known as “One like the Son of Man” (i.e. the Galilean formerly known as Jesus). Revelation 1.13 describes Jesus by using the phrase, περιεζωσμένον πρὸς τοῖς μαστοῖς ζώνην χρυσᾶν (“with a golden sash around his breasts“). As Rainbow observes, [in LXX and NT] the term μαστοῖς (tois mastois, giving the English word “mastoid”) “invariably refers to the breasts of female humans (in one case of an animal), but never to a man’s chest” (p. 251). He also notes that the King James Version (1611) elected to translate τοῖς μαστοῖς as the “paps” of Our Lord, to wit:
the Son of man…girt about the paps with a golden girdle.
More recently, notes Rainbow, some translations have even slipped this sash down from Jesus’ man-breasts, translating it as a “belt” about his (implicitly manly) “waist.”
Rainbow’s suggested solution to the unusual reference to Jesus’ man-breasts in Revelation 1.13 is that it relies on a Septuagint translation of Canticles 1.2, where the female speaker refers to her male lover’s μαστοί (“breasts”), in what is a highly unusual translation of דדי (“[your] love”). Rainbow suggests that Revelation is therefore identifying the male lover of the poem in Song of Solomon (Canticles) as the “One like the Son of Man,” and therefore employing the unusual man-breast language in Canticles 1.2 to (again, unusually) describe the man-breasts of Jesus in Revelation 1.13. Read the five-page article for his full argument. An alternative, and much less complicated, explanation for Jesus’ man-breasts is of course that he simply ate and drank too much:
the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ – Matthew 11.19
So when the end-times come, and you find yourself witnessing a glorious figure descending from the heavens amidst a company of angels, check out if he has man-breasts. If he has them, then you will know it is the genuine Son of Man.
See: Jesse Rainbow, “Male μαστοί in Revelation 1.13.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 30.2 (2007): 249-253.