If there's one thing I'm certain of in all of this, it's that the Sodom story has been misapplied as a weapon in the debate over homosexuality. A careful reading of the passages in question (Genesis 18-19 and a number of other verses throughout the Bible) reveals nothing that can be used to condemn same-sex relationships. If anything, the term 'Sodomite' seems to be more applicable to Christians who ostracize 'sinners' and drive them away from the church.
To help support that conclusion, here's an analysis I wrote a while back.
Genesis 19 - the Sodom story
The story is very familiar. God pronounces judgment on Sodom and then sends two angels to see if there are any righteous men in the city. Lot takes the visitors into his home, the men of Sodom surround the house and demand to rape Lot’s guests, and the city is destroyed the next day.
But was Sodom’s sin homosexuality? The other biblical authors didn’t seem to think so. With the possible (but unlikely) exception of Jude 7, no reference to Sodom in the Bible says or implies anything about homosexuality. Consider the following major passages: Jer. 23:13-14, Ezek. 16:48-50, Matt. 10:11-15. Wisdom 19:15-17 (from the apocrypha) even more clearly links the sin of Sodom with inhospitality.
Inhospitality? Doesn’t sound like much of a sin, does it? But consider: in the ancient world (and even into more recent times) travelers depended heavily on the hospitality of the homes they came across; finding a safe place to sleep for the night often meant the difference between life and death. The ancient world regarded hospitality as one of the highest virtues, and Jewish and early Christian tradition elevated it above all other spiritual disciplines. If a stranger showed up on your doorstep, you were morally obligated, without exception, to take him in and place his needs above your own.
And what did the people of Sodom try to do? This was no mere proposition; they clearly intended to rape and most likely kill Lot’s guests. Rape is, in general, more about domination and humiliation than it is about sex. In ancient times it wasn't uncommon for warriors to humiliate their conquered (male) opponents by publicly raping them. Such behavior has nothing to do with sexual orientation or, indeed, with sex, period. Such violent mistreatment of strangers would have been regarded as the ultimate violation of the code of hospitality.
Furthermore, if an instance of attempted homosexual rape can be used to condemn all homosexual relationships, then the heterosexual rape recorded in Judges 19 (see below) can, by the same logic, be used to condemn all heterosexual relationships.
And yes, it was the "people" of Sodom, not necessarily just the men. The word enowsh found in Gen. 19:4 most commonly refers to people in general, regardless of gender, as in Exodus 10:7 and numerous other Old Testament passages. In other words, everyone in Sodom – men, women and possibly even children – turned out to assault Lot’s visitors.
Additionally, if Sodom was plagued by roving bands of sex fiends, how did Lot and his wife and daughters escape being raped all the time they were there? Why would Lot locate his home inside the city if he was placing himself or his family in direct danger?
Jewish folklore includes stories of how the people of Sodom brutally mistreated the vulnerable (widows, beggars and travelers). In Genesis 18:20 God speaks of the "outcry" against Sodom. The term used here for "outcry" generally refers to the cry of the oppressed, not to moral outrage over sexual sin. Sodom’s fate was sealed well before God sent the angels to investigate. And Lot escaped that fate because he, by extending hospitality to these visitors and doing everything in his power to protect them, demonstrated that he was the one righteous man in Sodom.
A parallel story can be found in Judges 19. In this instance, the inhabitants of Gibeah threaten a visiting Levite in the same fashion that the men of Sodom threatened the angels. But in this case, the Levite’s concubine is offered to the crowd as a concession. The crowd accepts, raping the woman repeatedly so that she dies the following morning. Hardly the reaction one would expect from a 'gay' mob. Indeed, the theme of inhospitality is just as strong as it is in Genesis 19.
Judges 20:5 sheds further light on the true intentions of the mob, as the Levite reports, "During the night the men of Gibeah came after me and surrounded the house, intending to kill me." In other words, this mob wasn’t out looking for a good time - they were violent men and murderers, plain and simple.
Addendum: It's been brought to my attention that I never went back and explained why Jude 7 is an "unlikely" support for the anti-gay interpretation of the Sodom story. Here's my reasoning behind that statement:
Jude’s passing comment about the people of Sodom going after “strange flesh” is used as proof that their sin was that of homosexuality, even though it is the only biblical reference to Sodom (outside of Genesis 19) that could possibly support such an assertion. And the term "strange flesh" would be a very odd way of referring to homosexual lust. The word used here for "strange" is heteros (literally "different" – i.e. heterosexual). Placed in the context of verses 6, 8 and 9, all of which make reference to angels, Jude is apparently referring to the fact that the people of Sodom tried to rape angels.
This verse could also be a reference to Jewish legend, which states that the people of Sodom had a fetish for angels. This would make sense, since verses 6 and 9 are also taken from Jewish folklore, and Sodom is sometimes associated in Jewish writings with the Watchers (the angels who, according to the Book of Enoch, impregnated women in the pre-Flood era).
Nice post. Not to mention this passage clearly states what Sodoms sin was:
Ezekiel 16:48-50 (NIV)
48 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, your sister Sodom and her daughters never did what you and your daughters have done.
49 " 'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen."
Some may argue that the detestable things were homosexuality, but I would agree with you that gang raping of travelers. Traveling in that country was always dangerous because they didn't have police and armies the way we do to inforce laws. So if one traveled between cities in more rural areas then there was a possibility of being robbed. So cities and villages were seen as refuges in the middle of chaos. Therefore if the village became worse than the countryside of course God should destroy the city.
The point about judges is well made. Same exact scenario except that the man in judges gave the people his concubine and they killed her after raping her repeatedly. Then what happened? The other tribes went to war against that tribe for their brutality. Why? Because there are some things that just shouldn't be allowed in your midst and roving murderous gang raping gangs is one of them.
Hearing this passage used to condemn homosexuals is like using Jesus' words of love and forgiveness to tell people that they are going to hell. I guess in a way that might be the same example.
Great analysis. I just want to add that the Hebrew word "am'" in the passage (19:4 or 5) also indicates that the mob included woman. And a Hebrew scholar told me that the idiomatic expression "young and old" included children...
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