What Jesus did (in the bathroom)?

Omigosh! Awkward….

I mean, Jesus actually using a bathroom! Merely to ask such a question feels like tiptoeing around the edges of blasphemy.  Almost, for us English, as badly-mannered as speculating whether the Queen would ever wee in a public convenience. (According to those in the know: yes, she does!)

But given how knicker-twisted some modern Christians get about bathroom use, it is a fair question.

New Testament bathrooms

The answer? Well of course He did.  The entire point of the New Testament is that in order to redeem mankind from human sin, God became man in the person of Jesus Christ: He was born, grew up and died subject to all the vagaries and awkwardness of human existence.  So as well as eating and breathing and dying, Jesus can be assumed to have needed, along with everyone else, to relieve himself from time to time.

And obviously, he did so in pristine marble-topped bathrooms, with separate cubicles and doors marked, neatly, Men and Women… 

Probably not.

Ancient Roman Loo, by Fubar Obfusco - en.wiki, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=287299

Ancient Roman Loo, by Fubar Obfusco – en.wiki, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=287299

Public sanitation throughout much of New Testament Palestine was provided by the Romans: and while richer Romans might have enjoyed the luxury of a home loo – or potty – everyone else did what everyone else did, including relieving themselves outside and very publicly or alternatively using public loos.

Communal loos.

Which is to say, that if you used a public loo, you sat on a bench alongside anyone else using the loo at that moment, and you did so in company that was mixed and not at all fussy about men, women and children peeing and pooing together and at the same time.

Less body-shaming…

Ah, yes, i hear some folk mutter: but this is history and people just did not have the facilities we enjoy today.

This is only half true.  The Romans did not have smartphones or Ford Mondeos or big macs, which clearly demonstrates how barbarian they were. Still, they built their public spaces in accord with the spirit of the age. Key to this ethos was the idea that the body was a gift of God and not to be ashamed of, even when its natural functions needed to be relieved (and revealed) in the presence of others.

So they didn’t resort to communal loos because they could not afford better, or lacked the technology: they used communal loos because they didn’t see this as any big thing.  As did the Greeks before them. As did most contemporary mediterranean civilisations.

…over-taken by modern modesty

As attitudes go, it was one that lasted long into the history of the Catholic church.  Privacy, at least in the loo department, is a relatively modern development, only really setting in after the Councils of Trent (1545-1563), which delivered a great deal of the Church’s modern baggage around modesty.

Before then, it was not just men and women who went together, but the great and the not so great.  Kings and Emperors were known to poo alongside their humbler subjects: some happily relieved themselves while simultaneously dealing with petitions and the like. Not even Popes were above such practice, with individuals, such as Julius II, well documented for holding audience with ambassadors or other people while in bed or on the crapper.

Alternative approaches

Jewish tradition added a more modest take on bathroom activities.  Yet this is not the unambiguous support for modern bathroom shame that some might argue it as.

First, because the basic Jewish tradition seems not to support segregation, so much as courtesy. (More than happy to hear counter-argument on that: as should be obvious from other posts, i am rather more steeped in Christian tradition than Jewish). 

Men looking at women while they did their business was frowned upon.  The presumption, though is that such mixing would occur – and therefore the important thing was to conduct yourself properly in such circumstances.

Second, while Jewish tradition is informative when it comes to what Jesus said and did, the whole point is that the New Testament expands on and in practice supplants Jewish tradition in many key respects. All that foot-washing by women of dubious virtue! Or even the good Samaritan. The point is that in many matters of personal interaction, Jesus explicitly rejects Jewish teaching.

Not to mention the whole “render unto Caesar” thing, which is a pretty clear assertion that “when in the Roman Empire one should do as the Romans do” in non-spiritual matters.  What more natural than to conclude that this applied not just to the handing over of hard currency to pay Roman taxes, but equally to the more mundane business of “spending a denarius”.

Last up, as with so many attempts to hark back to pre-Christian doctrine, this raises more questions than it answers. The Bible is pretty much silent on the issue of bathrooms. The exception is Deuteronomy 23, 13-14 which is clear on two matters.  First that you should not shit in your camp – a stricture  which seems wholly sensible and mostly adhered to nowadays. If you needed a poo, you were to go some distance from where you were camped, dig a hole, and, after doing the necessary cover said hole up once more.

So far, so sensible – as is the instruction that you should carry a spade amongst your tools, toilet holes for the digging of.

Show us your tool, McCrory!

Perhaps someone should be asking North Carolina governor Pat McCrory if he can show us his tool.  His digging tool, obviously!  Since the Bible seems pretty clear on the need to have one.

Meanwhile, Jewish tradition throws up a variety of other rules that, presumably, people will adhere to, or not, according to degree of Orthodoxy. These include, in strict practice, NOT pooing on the sabbath and washing one’s hands OUTSIDE the bathroom.

So all that modern plumbing would appear to be distinctly unbiblical.

Again, awkward for anyone trying to argue that Christian tradition should follow Jewish in this respect.  I mean: how many public bathrooms in North Carolina are open to the public on the sabbath?  Has no-one drawn the attention of local god-fearers to this infragrant – sorry, flagrant – breach of something or other?

The bathroom according to Matthew (and Mark, Luke and John)

Bottom line (oh dear: pun really NOT intended) seems to be that Jesus Christ went to the loo.  And if he did so while traveling around the towns and cities of first century Palestine, he would undoubtedly have made use of loos that were, according to both Roman and, before that, Greek tradition, open, communal and mixed. As did most Christians for over a thousand years thereafter.

In the end, so important an issue was bathroom use to him that although we have graphic detail of him throwing moneylenders out of the temple, the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John appear to have entirely missed the bit where he flew into a rage and kicked all the men out of the public conveniences. 

Clearly an oversight – and one which the good citizens of North America are now set on putting right!


About janefae

On my way from here to there
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