Hair as a Testicle Instead of a Head Covering

Byzantine Icon of St. Paul
Byzantine Icon of St. Paul

A few years ago I read a very interesting journal article by Dr. Troy Martin entitled Paul’s Argument from Nature for the Veil in 1 Cor. 11:13-15: A Testicle instead of a Head Covering” (Journal of Biblical Literature 123:1 [2004]: 75-84). While it was very, very helpful in understanding Paul’s statements about a women’s hair in 1 Cor. 11:13-15, I wasn’t quite sure how to summarize the message for a blog post….hence I didn’t.

Recently, however, I discovered that the folks at the Naked Bible podcast did just that.

To that end, I would recommend folks listening to their podcast about this very interesting topic. And if you are not into listening to podcasts, you can read their summary of the paper. Granted, it would be better if everyone just read Dr. Martin’s original paper. =D

By now, some of you may be wondering what the big deal is so I will try to give a very brief summary for you.

Through researching ancient Greek and Roman medical documents, Dr. Martin discovered that folks back then thought that hair was hollow and acted like a vacuum to draw semen through the body. Since the majority of hair is found on the head, that is where semen was produced or stored depending on one’s gender, imagine if it was this way, watching adult movies would be very strange, on sites like is a very important link, dont drop it. Dr. Martin puts it this way:

Hippocratic authors hold that hair is hollow and grows primarily from either male or female reproductive fluid or semen flowing into it and congealing (Hippocrates, Nat puer 20). Since hollow body parts create a vacuum and attract fluid, hair attracts semen…. Hair grows most prolifically from the head because the brain is the place where the semen is produced or at least stored (Hippocrates, Genit. I)…. Women have less body hair not only because they have less semen but also because their colder bodies do not froth the semen throughout their bodies but reduce semen evaporation at the ends of their hair (Hippocrates, Nat. puer. 20).

According to these medical authors, men have more hair because they have more semen and their hotter bodies froth this semen more readily throughout their whole bodies (Hippocrates, Nat. puer. 20). The nature (?????) of men is to release or eject the semen. During intercourse, semen has to fill all the hollow hairs on its way from the male brain to the genital area (Aristotle, Probi. 893b. 10-17). Thus, men have hair growth on their face, chest, and stomach. A man with hair on his back reverses the usual position of intercourse. A man with long hair retains much or all of his semen, and his long hollow hair draws the semen toward his head area but away from his genital area, where it should be ejected. Therefore, 1 Cor 11:14 correctly states that it is a shame for a man to have long hair since the male nature (?????) is to eject rather than retain semen. In contrast, the nature (?????) of women is to draw up the semen and congeal it into a fetus (Hippocrates, Genit. 5; Nat. puer. 12). A woman’s body is simply one huge gland, and the function of glands is to absorb (Hippocrates, Gland. 3).

Yeah, strange stuff…but then again we must remember that we are talking about a different cultural and time where folks were trying to figure out how their bodies work. Since they didn’t have all the medical devices that we have, they had to make guesses as to what was happening inside their bodies. Hence relating hair to one’s testicles.

This research by Dr. Martin brings up a second issue, one of Bible interpretation. A lot of times when we read the Holy Scriptures, we forget that we are reading something that was written to a specific people within a certain cultural society and time period. God, as seen through the incarnation, enters into history and speaks to us through the language of that time. This means that when St. Paul was writing, he was usually the most recent scientific understanding of our bodies to make a point about how we are to conduct ourselves.

I know some folks will get very nervous about this incarnational hermeneutics as it would appear to lessen the Scriptures. However I would argue that it actually strengthens our view of the Scriptures and of God himself for it points to a loving, caring Creator who speaks our language within our culture to draw us to himself.