The problem with Sodomites


Perhaps I can try to set the record strait on Sodom and Gomorrah, at least for those who have ears to hear. First, one other record need to be set straight. My own affirmation of marriage between individuals of the same sex does not rely on finding proof-texts that explicitly support such covenant unions. I do not believe that one can find support for such unions in the biblical text because the authors and editors in those ancient near-east communities could not fathom such relationships would in any manner be used to further the purposes of God. I do view the text as implicitly underwriting a modern understanding of such relationships in a manner that suggests same-sex intimacy within the context of marriage furthers the intentions of God as understood in the gospels and the life lived by Jesus.

That being said, let's get to the concern that some folks have about sodomy, and the events at Sodom that included the attempted rape of male angels/guests of Lot and the offering up of Lot's daughters in stead of the foreigners enjoying Lot's protection. Genesis 14 recalls that a number of regional kings were warring, and that Lot was kidnapped during these battles. Abram and Lot had gone their separate ways, and the rulers of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are listed among warring factions. The rulers of those respective cities are on the losing side, and have their wealth looted. Indeed, Lot, a citizen of Sodom, is kidnapped.

Abram rescues Lot, and in the process restores wealth to the the King of Sodom, who tries to reward Abram. Abe rejects the reward, suggesting that he does not want the Kind of Sodom to claim honor that rightfully belongs to YHWH. As a result of Abram's faithfulness, and his belief in the promises of YHWH, the deity appears and makes new covenant with Abraham. The ensuing narratives include more covenant-based themes, including the final promise that Sarai will give birth to the newly named Abraham's legitimate heir, thus fulfilling one aspect of the covenants. The nature of these covenants must be kept in mind when we turn to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

When the deity and the angels appear to Abraham and Sarah at the Oak of Mamre, after Abraham has extended the proper hospitality, God makes known a plan to destroy Sodom for its prior iniquity. It is very important to recognize that the scene at Abram's tent firmly establishes the theme of hospitality, for when the angels go to carry out judgment on Sodom, they are reliant on Lot's hospitality when the citizens of Sodom are provided an opportunity to exhibit righteousness. Perhaps because Abraham is personally familiar with the moral failing of Sodom, and perhaps because he knows these failings will be magnified because Sodom is still reeling from the experience of losing a war, Abraham tries to bargain for lives to be spared as YHWH prepared to execute judgment. God acquiesces, and the angels travel to Sodom, perhaps for no other reason to rescue Lot as a divine favor to Abraham.

It is now that the narrative turns to violence, and implicitly suggests that the angels will be targeted for acts of rape that include, many imagine, anal penetration. It is this narrative, which includes the destruction of Sodom with the hell fire of God, that is used to buoy arguments against accepting same-sex intimacy as reflective of divine desire for loving human relationships. Yet, the narrative has absolutely nothing to do with homosexual behavior, for it is not known if any of the men threatening the angels were homosexual or not. Indeed, we can assume with historical accuracy that they would have been homophobic to their core. Remember, the story of Lot and the angels of Gomorrah have more to do with righteousness, and if we read the covenants with Abraham, and the mosaic law that later gives context to these covenants, righteousness has much more to do with hospitality that sexuality of any kind. In fact, covenants and mosaic law have everything to do with justice and faithfulness.

To this day, in the ancient near eastern Bedouin communities, and extending throughout Muslim nations, hospitality is a key to just relationships and orthodox faithfulness. The angels are strangers in a city that has just suffered defeat in war, if not still engaged in war. This theme is exemplified in the story of the spies who receive hospitality from Rahab before Israel attacks her city. She is spared because she gave refuge to the spies, and actually ends up in the genealogy of Jesus. And so, the angels of God are sent to Sodom, foreigners who show up with no apparent purpose, no “documentation.” They were “illegals” so to speak, a status protected under later Mosaic law. When they arrive at Sodom, the citizenry finds them and goes about the business of humiliating and degrading the foreigners. Much like messengers of the Old Testament stories are sent home humiliated with their beards cut and ears clipped, so the angels of the Lord are going to be humiliated – and raped anally, as a means of dominating them. All you need to do is think of the movie “Deliverance.” “Squeal like a pig...”

As a matter of righteousness, Lot risks everything to defend his guests, as he is duty bound. They have come to his home, and are now his moral obligation. Lot will do anything to remain righteous in the sight of both his guest (a matter of honor) and his God (a matter of covenant faithfulness). The narrative has nothing to do with homosexuality, and everything to do with hospitality and the unrighteousness that is inherent in dominating the “other,” even when they are perceived enemies. This can be understood in tandem with the Old Testament laws against male on male sexual penetration and the absence of similar laws concerning women. To dominate a male sexually was not simply “natural” but violated the desire God had for human relationships. God did not concern the divine self with loving same-sex relationships, but was more concerned with ending relationships of dominance. From this we conclude that there is no concern for gay or lesbian behaviors in this narrative, only for hospitality and a God's prohibition against dominating the “other.” And, regarding the nature of covenant narratives with Abraham, and the law, we can interpret the events of Sodom in light of what the prophet Ezekiel wrote, the lack of justice caused the downfall of that city, not homosexual activity as sexual sin.

There is a far greater concern attending this narrative, one that is overlooked by conservative commentators, or simply ignored as an anomaly while taking the domination narrative at anti-gay face-value. This is Lot's willingness to offer up his daughters as an indicator of his good intentions within the community, and as an indicator that he trusts the motives of his guests as honorable. There is an assumption through the Old Testament that women are not only property, but that the degradation and domination of women is an acceptable byproduct of biblical patriarchy. It is only through close readings of a number of Old Testament texts that reveal how the biblical narratives show God to act through women when women behave as tricksters, or are characterized as flawed violators of law who must resort to such status to carry out the will of God because of the stiff-necked nature of Patriarchs such as Judah.

Of course, even conservative theologians and preachers find a way around having to explain the dominance of women in Scripture, many even defending it a a social norm that should still be recognized, of course, as long as you only have one wife and don't trade your daughters to rapists. As some have known for a long time, the way we read the Bible has everything to do with interpretation, and NOT the plain meaning of the texts, for text have no plain meaning. As for that matter, God has no plain meaning – God rejects domestication, thus rejecting the possibility that we might somehow, as humans, correctly interpret final truth – especially about same-sex relationships.

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