Jesus’ Man-Breasts

Jack Nicholson's Man-Breasts

Jack Nicholson’s (Christ-like) Man-Breasts

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.

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5 Responses to Jesus’ Man-Breasts

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  3. Fact Check!
    μαστός is used of the male chest as well. Tragedies of Aescylus, Choephoroe, line 545.
    LSJ’d! (and not to worry, I TLG’d it too!) Rainbow needs to be careful before he publishes something that can be refuted by checking the most popular Greek Lexicon in existence… and you should Check too! It’s online, after all; no excuse not to check.

    That’s not to say Jesus doesn’t have tits, but I don’t think it’s a clear teaching from this scripture. I guess we’ll have to wait for his glorious appearing to find out.

  4. Deane Galbraith says:

    Hmmmmm… reading the article again, it seems that the author examines only LXX and NT usage of μαστός. Yet, he does make the more general statement that a reference to male breasts “is as striking in Greek as it is in the English”, which implies a more general claim. Aeschylus is not contemporary Greek, but, you’re right, I should’ve cross-checked against the usages.

    • Deane Galbraith says:

      … ok, Aeschylus has καὶ μαστὸν ἀμφέχασκ᾽ ἐμὸν θρεπτήριον in Choephoroe, line 545: a nourishing breast for a baby! This is clearly a woman’s breast; man-breasts do not ordinarily provide nourishment. Is this your example of a man-breast?

      Yet LSJ doesn’t actually cite Aeschylus as an example of the male application of μαστός, but cites Choephoroe, line 545 as a general instance of its use. For a man-breast, LSJ cites some other souces: “of men’s breasts, “βάλε δουρὶ στέρνον ὑπὲρ μαζοῖο” [Il.]4.528; “βάλε στῆθος παρὰ μαζόν” 8.121, cf. Od.22.82 [μαζόν], X.An.1.4.17, 4.3.6 [both τῶν μαστῶν].” So, we have three from Homer, and two in Xenophon’s Anabasis, and a total of 291 citations. From a quick survey, the mastoi seem to be overwhelmingly women’s. Even the metaphorical usage refers to spherical or cup-like objects. I haven’t looked at this in any detail, but Rainbow’s conclusion seems to be correct: the description τοῖς μαστοῖς in Rev. 1 about Jesus would be surprising to a Greek reader, and μαστός is not used of men in LXX or NT.

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