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Written by Joseph Dunsay. After earning a Masters of Science in Ecology and Evolution, Joseph Dunsay became a science writer for international audiences. Find more Jewrotica writing by Joseph here.
Every December, American Jews see the religious decorations on properties belonging to their gentile neighbors. Christian communities have their roots in the Jewish people, and Christians kept frequenting Jewish synagogues as late as the 5th century. American Christians in modern times also feel connected to the Jewish people, although there is the occasional legal battle when a municipality keeps a nativity scene in front of its City Hall. December is a time when both Jewish and Christian Americans greet each other with “happy holidays”.
Relationships between Ancient Greeks and Jews were more strained. Greek ruler Antiochus IV enacted a ban on circumcision in 167 BCE. Antiochus IV’s other transgressions included conducting non-Jewish religious services in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem and prohibiting Jews from keeping the laws of Shabbat and kashrut. The Maccabees revolted because of these injustices and succeeded in ending Greek control of Israel. Hannukah celebrates this military victory. Thanks to the Maccabees, Jews do not need to revere statues and mythical deities.
Zeus, the Greek deity that Antiochus IV worshiped in the Jerusalem temple, was far from a role model. His habit of having love affairs with humans is common knowledge in the West, and experts in Greek mythology can tell tales about his sex life that are unpleasant to hear. Lesser known Greco-Roman deities set their own bad examples. Priapus, the son of Bacchus and Venus, tried to make love to a sleeping nymph who had rejected his earlier offers.
Rather than condemn this would-be criminal, Roman gentiles placed statues of Priapus in their gardens. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston features a not safe for work image of one such statue on its website. They believed that these statues, with their large erect penises, would help protect the crops in the gardens and encourage them to grow.
A fresco of Priapus by the garden of an Ancient Pompeii villa depicts his enormous uncircumcised penis. The deity’s origin myth says that he was well endowed but impotent, because of Hera’s curse. When a medical doctor exampled the member in the fresco, he diagnosed Priapus with a shut phimosis, a condition that prevents the foreskin from retracting over the penis. Romans treated this condition in ancient times with circumcision.
Modern medical students might be familiar with Priapus’s name for another reason. It is the etymological root for priapism, a term coined in the 1620’s. Priapism involves an erection that lasts for more than four hours or appears despite a lack of sexual interest or stimulation. Low-flow priapism can be caused by conditions, such as sickle cell anemia, that block blood vessels in the penis. High-flow priapism happens when blood flow in the penis is not properly regulated. Prescription and recreational mind-altering drugs can cause priapism.
The march of science has brought a more enlightened view of penises to humanity. Myths connecting giant rock hard penises with bigger cucumbers elicit laughter from Americans who prefer garden gnomes in their yards. The parallel march of religious tolerance during the enlightenment protects Jews from a return of Antiochus IV’s policies. The USA Constitution prevents rulers from installing nativity scenes on government owned land or making sacrifices to Zeus in Jewish houses of worship that reject him. An American Jew can simply call a lawyer if his City Hall has statues displaying a woman, her newborn, and the guy stuck raising a son he never sired.