Sunday, July 26, 2009

The sins of Sodom

What exactly were the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah?

Tradition from centuries ago tells us it was homosexuality. Even the word "Sodom" gave rise to the word "Sodomy" - which, according to the dictionary, means "copulation with a member of the same sex."

Many churches today subscribe to this interpretation. I remember being taught this as a child.

The LDS church certainly shares the popular interpretation of the sins of Sodom. If you look up "Homosexuality" in the Topical Guide in the LDS version of the King James bible, you get
Gen. 19: 5 bring them out unto us, that we may know them.
Lev. 18: 22 (Lev. 20: 13) Thou shalt not lie with mankind . . . it is abomination.
Deut. 23: 17 there shall be no . . . sodomite of the sons of Israel.
Isa. 3: 9 (2 Ne. 13: 9) declare their sin as Sodom.
Rom. 1: 27 men . . . burned in their lust one toward another.
1 Cor. 6: 9 nor abusers of themselves with mankind.
1 Tim. 1: 10 them that defile themselves with mankind.
Jude 1: 7 as Sodom and Gomorrha . . . going after strange flesh.
2 Ne. 13: 9 doth declare their sin to be even as Sodom.
If you read Genesis 19:1-14 it's easy to reach that same conclusion. Two men - angels - came into the city and were greeted by Lot who took them into his home. The men of Sodom, both old and young, demanded that Lot send out the visitors so that they could "know" them. In the bible, when a man "knows" a woman it is usually referring to sexual intercourse. So, it's understandable that people would draw the conclusion that the men of Sodom wanted to have sex with the visitors - male visitors - men who wanted to have sex with other men.

In Genesis 19:2 it says the angels wanted to abide in the streets for the night and Lot "pressed upon them greatly" for them to come into his house - giving further credence to the popular interpretation - Lot obviously knew what kind of people lived in Sodom, and he knew what they would want to do with with the visitors if they were found alone in the streets.

Further support to the popular interpretation arises with the part of the story where Lot offered up his daughters, who were virgins, to the men of Sodom - and they were rejected. The men of Sodom were obviously queers because they wanted to have sex - but not with women.

But, there are aspects of this story that have always bothered me.
  • These angels were sent from God to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. They had power; they even blinded the men of the city when they tried to break into Lots house. With such power, why would Lot be concerned about them being raped in the streets?
  • What kind of father offers up his daughters to be raped? Especially to protect a couple of men he only just met. Lot is supposed to be a man of God.
  • If the men of Sodom were a bunch of horny queers - why didn't they just go have sex with each other?
  • If you read all of Genesis 19, after escaping the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lots daughters got him drunk and seduced him - and they both became pregnant by him. Can you imagine if the newspapers today got hold of a story like that in our modern society?
Isn't it interesting that the very people who use Genesis 19 to condemn homosexuality conveniently ignore the other parts of the story?

But, what if the sin of Sodom was something other than homosexuality? Is there another interpretation that can stand up to scripture?

Deuteronomy 23:17 says
There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel.
So, whatever those men of Sodom did, it was akin to being a whore. But, does that really mean they were male prostitutes? The biblical use of the word "whore" can also be used more generally to denote corruption and debauchery. Heterosexuals can be just as corrupt and debauch as homosexuals.

What if being a Sodomite really refers one who is corrupt? That is certainly consistent with Genesis 13:13 which says
But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly.
But, does it hold water with the rest of the story? Why were the men of Sodom so insistent upon seeing Lots visitors? Why did they dismiss Lots daughters so readily? I don't know, maybe they were a bunch of Amway salesmen and viewed those guys as "fresh meat", and they knew Lots daughters didn't have any money or perhaps had already bought as much of their product as they could use.

Other interpretations for the sins of Sodom have been given
They were uncharitable and abusive to strangers, the poor, sick, and disadvantaged.
In ancient biblical society, a person had a very strong obligation to protect any guests in their home.

They wanted to humiliate their visitors by engaging in "an act of sexual degradation and male rape...
It is not unheard of for a heterosexual male to use this sort of violence to show their hatred and dominance for those they are degrading.

They wanted to engage in bestiality -- having sex with members of another species.
This theory goes that the mob wanted to rape the angels; angels are not human beings; they are of a different species.

They wanted to adsorb the power of the angels:
In ancient times, sacred sex was very common. People would engage in sexual intercourse with temple prostitutes who represented a god or goddess. By doing so, the people believed that they would receive a blessing from the deity. If the people of Sodom realized that angels sent by God were present in their city, the men of Sodom may have concluded that raping the angels might give them supernatural powers.
I'm no scriptorium by any stretch of the imagination - and I'm not going to claim to be smart enough to know what the real sins of Sodom were. But, and maybe I'm biased - equating the sins of Sodom with homosexuality just doesn't ring true with me - at least not any more. I used to buy into the popular interpretation. But, that was before I really studied the story on my own.

This is what I did in Sunday School today - instead of going to Gospel Doctrine class


Amanda said...

What bothers me about the whole "know" interpretation is that you can't say that all instances of that word refer to sex. If so, you end up with Abraham wanting to have sex with God. "Know" refers both to sex in certain instances and to learning about someone in other instances. I don't know if there is a distinction in the Hebrew between the two instances, but the fact that the whole S&G chapter is based on a little word really irritates me.

Rex said...

Amanda, you are right. The Hebrew word in that verse is yada` which can be any kind of knowledge include carnal knowledge. I don't get your reference to Abraham wanting to know God. I do get your point, though.

There is another Hebrew know that is sometimes used in the OT: da`ath. It doesn't have the carnal part of the definition.

I think it is pretty clear that "know" in these verses refers to carnal knowledge. It says that Lot's daughters had never "known" man.

I think that Lot gets too much credit. There isn't any evidence that he was a righteous man. In Abraham's argument with the Lord in the previous chapter, the Lord says he won't destroy the cities if ten righteous men could be found. Yet, the cities were destroyed. I don't know that we can extrapolate that because the angels tried to save Lot's family that Lot was a righteous man who knew who they were. The angels were probably trying to save Lot's family for Abraham's sake.

I guess I'm saying that it's not that surprising to me that Lot offered his daughters.

Even making these points, I don't interpret the story to mean that homosexuality is the sin of Sodom. The attempt at gang rape just showed how ripe the city was. The story really says nothing about consensual sex between two men. Perhaps it is wrong by God's standards, but it can't be proven by this story.

Rewrite the story and say that it was Amazon-like women who were demanding that the men come out to be "known". I think that would incur the wrath of God as much as what actually happened. It doesn't seem to me that the gender of the visitors and the gender of the rapists is what really indicts the rapists.

I look at it that way, but I'm sad to say that most LDS I know would say that it would not be as bad if mob had been women. :(

Marlo said...

a couple quick thoughts - the Joseph Smith translation indicates that Lot did NOT want to offer up his daughters, but that the men were angry with him for denying access to the visitors and then demanded to "know" his daughters also.
In Ezekiel 16:49 the sins of Sodom are listed as pride, idleness, and not helping the poor and needy. Verse 50 also mentions "abomination[s]" committed. And interestingly, verse 48 indicates that Jerusalem was being chastised as conducting themselves worse than those of Sodom had.
As a side note, the stake president in my neck of the woods recently gave a talk on the sins of sodom and his focus was NOT homosexual promiscuity, but rather the sins mentioned in Ezekiel.
There is hope yet ;)

Max Power said...

"the men were angry with him for denying access to the visitors and then demanded to "know" his daughters also"

If they were gay, why would they have wanted to "know" Lot's daughters? Kind of adds additional proof that the sins of Sodom had really nothing to do with homosexuality.

Rex said...

Max Power, yes! Trying to force someone to perform a sexual act is not sex. It's rape. The men outside did not want to have sex with the visitors. They wanted to rape them. Rapists may have a preference for one gender or another and even one type of person over another, but it's not about sex. So, I think that the Sodom and Gomorrah story is about all of the things that were wrong with the two stories including gang rape in the streets. It has nothing to do with homosexuality or heterosexuality. Rape is not sex.