My friend Paul McNabb alerted me to the following article:
Troy W. Martin, “Paul’s Argument from Nature for the Veil in 1 Corinthians 11:13-15: A Testicle Instead of a Head Covering,” Journal of Biblical Literature 123/1 (Spring 2004): 75-84
which may be read here
The author, Troy Martin, is at St. Xavier University here in Chicago. He makes what, on the surface, seems a bizarre argument, but when you actually read his piece it strikes me as rather compelling. I will try to give a brief synopsis of his argument, but I encourage those interested to read the full aritcle.
1 Cor. 11:13-15 reads as follows in the KJV:
13Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?
14Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?
15But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.
and as follows in the NIV:
13Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.
Paul’s argument here is quite obscure. How is it that “by nature” women should have long hair and men short? And if women’s long hair is given to them instead of a covering [anti peribolaiou], why do they need to wear another covering over their hair, since their hair is already serving as a covering? Paul’s statement here appears to contradict his earlier argument.
Martin sees the key to resolving this issue in the term peribolaion in v. 15b. The word is traditionally rendered as some type of a head covering, whether a shawl or a veil. And the dominant semantic domain of this word is indeed a garment of some sort. But the semantic range of this word is much broader than that.
A passage from Euripides has Hercules complaining , “After I received my bags of flesh, which are the outward sign of puberty, I received labors about which I shall undertake to say what is necessary.” In this passage, peribolaia is used for “testicles.”
Most of Martin’s article is an examination of ancient medical literature (largely from Hippocrates), in which the hair of women is functionally the same as testicles in men. I can’t do justice to his full discussion of this, but the very short version is this:
Hair is hollow and grows primarily from either male or female reproductive fluid or semen flowing into it and congealing. Since hollow body parts create a vacuum and attract fluid, hair attracts semen. Hair grows most prolifically on the head because semen is produced, or at least stored, in the head. A man’s testicles serve the function of weights; they keep taut the channels of the body allowing semen to flow from his head and be ejected. Conversely, a woman’s long hair serves to draw the semen up to her head, where it congeals into a fetus.
(I found it interesting that according to this ancient medical science women also have semen in their body, just less than men.)
If a man has long hair on his head, it counteracts the need for the semen to come down from his head and ejaculate. But if a woman doesn’t have long hair on her head, it adversely affects her fertility.
Appropriate to her nature, a woman is not given an external testicle, but long hair instead. Since long feminine hair is conceived of as functionally equivalent to a man’s testicles, in effect making such hair genitalia, it is essential that she cover her genitalia, her nakedness–IE her hair–when approaching God in prayer or worship.
We can all agree with the basic principle Paul was espousing, that genitalia should not be exposed in public worship. So the principle still stands. But of course, our understanding of the physiology of sex has changed dramatically since Hippolytus and the ancient medical writers. Since the reason for women covering their heads no longer obtains in our scientific worldview, the injunction is properly dismissed with today.