Bible Review 10:4, August 1994

Unintended Sex Leads to Unintended Fall

How a story from the Talmud tainted a Bible professor with a charge of sexual harassment

By Steven Feldman

Call it the case of a fictional falling man who threatens to cause the downfall of a real man, or call it a case of political correctness run amok. Whatever you call it, Graydon F. Snyder, a professor of New Testament at Chicago Theological Seminary, suddenly finds himself the most famous Bible scholar in the country—and dearly wishes he weren’t.

A committee at the seminary last year found the 63-year-old Snyder guilty of sexual harassment for recounting in class a fictional incident from the Talmud, the compendium of Jewish law and lore that has been at the heart of post-Biblical Judaism for nearly 2,000 years. The Talmudic case concerns an act of accidental sex between a man and a woman. A committee at the school found Snyder’s retelling of it offensive to the point of constituting sexual harassment. Snyder has countered by suing the school for defamation of character, saying he was just trying to throw light on the Bible by comparing it to a passage from an ancient Jewish text.

Newspapers across the country, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Christian Century and the Associated Press, have covered the story. The seminary is closely affiliated with the liberal United Church of Christ. Snyder is a member of the Church of the Brethren and came to the seminary in 1986 as a professor and academic dean. Before that he had taught at Bethany Theological Seminary, in Oak Brook, Illinois.

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