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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sodom and Gomorrah: Much Ado about Homosexual Nothing

This is the second in a series of posts that support same-sex marriage by examining the biblical passages that are used to condemn it and homosexuality in general.  

One of the things that makes biblical interpretation so thorny is the difficulty of moving from one culture to another.  If you read the Bible the same way you read the newspaper, thinking that things then are just like things now, you make your first mistake and guarantee a false outcome.  This is especially true with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Let’s take a step back before we get into the text and see what cultural norms are operating here.  The early second millennium BC was a particularly harsh time for desert dwellers. Travel in these days was complicated by bandits, harsh weather and predatory animals. One literally put one’s life in jeopardy when traveling.  That’s why traveling by caravan was so popular.  So to alleviate as much misery as possible, a “hospitality ethic” was born.

The hospitality ethic, practiced throughout the Middle East, was to ensure the safe passage of strangers while they traveled.  The way it worked is illustrated in the story just preceding this with the arrival of the strangers to Abraham’s encampment.  Abraham bows down to the strangers, showing greeting, not hostility; Abraham orders a fine dinner prepared for them, and then personally stands watch over them while they ate, as he was now responsible for their safety.  This was not done because people in those days were especially nice to each other, or there was an abundance of food to go around.  No.  It was to ensure that a city got a good reputation for hospitality so that its citizens, when traveling, would be accorded the same good treatment.  If a city had a bad reputation, its travelers would not find a hospitable welcome.

It’s in the context of the hospitality ethic that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah unfolds.

Aliens come to the home of a resident alien, Lot.  This is grounds for grave suspicion.  Could they be planning something against us?  The citizens demand to have the strangers brought out so they may “know” yadha them.

In the Septuagint, the rabbis translated the Hebrew word yadha into the Greek word meaning “to interrogate” the strangers.  The rabbis saw this story as a typical reaction to strangers and the need to know their motives.

It is fairly obvious that the citizens’ intention was to rape the strangers.  Not “to have sex with them”, but to rape them.  Lot counters with an offer to allow the men to rape his daughters.   (One could digress here and point out that this is not what any of us would do today. Offering our daughters is not an act of hospitality we would consider appropriate as a host. That’s why we can’t assume that things then are like things now.  Yet, Lot was obliged to make any concession to protect those who came into his home.)

Note: there is nothing consensual in either case, the strangers or the daughters.  Male on male rape was a common aspect of ancient Near Eastern society regarding enemies: rape was (and still is) an effort to humiliate and control.  The usual practice after a war victory was to rape all the remaining soldiers into submission as a show of dominance.  Ancient Near Eastern museums are full of artworks depicting this, such as the one below.

This aspect of rape is depicted by the men of Sodom saying, “This fellow (Lot) came here as an alien and he would play the judge!  Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” (They were going to rape Lot, too!)

We now know that rape has nothing to do with sex, except that it is done with the genitals. To say that rape is sex is to say that we kiss a drumstick while our lips assist in tearing meat from the bone.  Therefore, this is a story of rape, having nothing to do with sex, let alone, homosexual sex.

This story is concerned about abuse of the stranger, not about homosexuals.  The sin here has absolutely nothing to do with homosexuals at all.

If you don’t believe me, will you let the Bible interpret the Bible?
Isaiah 1:10,17
“Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!...Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”
Ezekiel 16:48-50  Regarding Jerusalem
“As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. 49 This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 50They were haughty, and did these abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.
Zephaniah 2:9-10
Therefore, as I live, says the LORD of hosts the God of Israel,
     Moab shall become like Sodom and the Ammonites like Gomorrah,
     a land possessed by nettles and salt pits, and a waste forever.
     The remnant of my people shall plunder them,
         and the survivors of my nation shall possess them.
 10  This shall be their lot in return for their pride,
         because they scoffed and boasted
         against the people of the LORD of hosts.
Book of Wisdom 19:13-18  Regarding Sodom and Gomorrah
On the sinners, punishment rained down not without violent thunder as early warning; and deservedly they suffered for their crimes, since they evinced such bitter hatred for strangers.
Church Father, Origen (185-254 C.E.)
“Hear this, you who close your homes to guests!  Hear this, you who shun the traveler as an enemy!  Lot lived among the Sodomites.  We do not read of any other good deeds of his:…He escaped the flames, escaped the fire, on account of one thing only.  He opened his home to guests.  The angels entered the hospitable household; the flames entered those homes closed to guests.” (Homilia Vin Genesim)
Conclusions we are entitled to draw:
The sodomites were not homosexuals; they were straight.
The sodomites were gang-rapists; they were attempting to commit an act of violence to humiliate their victims.
The reason for their destruction by God is clearly their inhospitality and violence toward aliens.
This story cannot be used against homosexuals.  This story cannot be used to say that God’s will is to destroy homosexuals.

It took over 1000 years for Christians to associate this story with homosexual acts.  The first Christian coupling of Sodom with homosexual acts was in the 11th century C.E. by a Roman Catholic monk who wanted to prove to the pope that monks sleeping with monks was sinful. He scoured the Bible and was the first to turn this into a story that could be used against LGBTs.  He coined the Latin term “sodomia” and it entered the vocabulary for the first time. The pope wasn’t convinced, but 100 years later, the new pope, needing to clamp down on the monasteries for other reasons, chose to encourage this interpretation.  It stank then and still stinks now.
“We must come to old theological texts on the assumption that we have everything to learn about the meaning of their central terms.  So we cannot come to the texts knowing what their authors mean by ‘Sodomy’. The last thing we should do is to translate ‘Sodomy’ as 'homosexuality.’‘Homosexuality’ is a term from late nineteenth-century forensic medicine….If you ask, What does medieval moral theology have to say about ‘homosexuality’ the only precise answer is, Absolutely nothing.  ‘Homosexuality is’ is no more discussed by medieval theology than are phlogiston, Newton’s inertia, quarks or any of the other entities hypothesized by one or another modern science.  ‘Sodomy is not ‘homosexuality.’ What it is, we can learn only from medieval texts.”   Mark D. Jordan, The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology, p.161.
It is an irony of history that "Sodomite," originally a term to denote inhospitable people, now is used in a most inhospitable way against a people who are its innocent victims.

TOMORROW: Leviticus!

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