THE SIN OF SODOM(The City Of Homo Sexuality)


In passing, it is worth clarifying exactly what the “sin of Sodom” was. Since Roman
times it has often been assumed that their sin was indulgence in homosexuality. When
the two angels took up lodgings in Lot’s home, Genesis says that the men of Sodom,
both old and young,” surrounded the house and demanded of Lot: “Where are the
men which came in to thee this night? Bring them out that we may know them.” As
the Hebrew word for “know” (yadha) used in this context sometimes implies knowing
sexually, as in “Adam knew Eve his wife,” this passage has been freely interpreted by
right-wing Christians as meaning that the town of Sodom was entirely populated
by raving homosexuals who wanted to have sex with the angels. Therefore the sin
of Sodom was homosexuality, and all homosexuals deserve the same fate as the
“Sodomites,” to be burned by righteous fire from heaven.
Translations of the Bible have not helped the press of the ancient Sodomites. The
King James version contains a few passages in which “sodomites” are condemned for
their lascivious behavior. Yet despite the apparent similarity in name, these have
nothing to do with the citizens of Sodom. The “sodomites” (qadeshim) in question
were male temple prostitutes. In many ancient Near Eastern societies, ritual prostitu-
tion was a regular part of temple life. Sexual activity was deemed to be sacred in
certain contexts as it imitated the mating of the gods. In ancient Mesopotamia there
is also good evidence that temple prostitutes, both male and female, were consciously
accepted as a means of population control. It was believed that the Great Flood had
been caused by overpopulation — the racket caused by the ever-growing numbers of
the human race was keeping the gods awake at nights. After the Flood new social
groups were introduced, including nuns and various kinds of temple prostitutes.
The female prostitutes offered types of nonprocreative sexual activity. Male prosti-
tutes, such as the qadeshim mentioned in the Old Testament, provided similar
As for the Sodomites (with a capital S), Genesis leaves the nature of their sin ex-
tremely vague. Other passages in the Old and New Testaments referring to them list a
variety of crimes: negligence of the poor, inhospitality, idolatry, and arrogance fre-
quently crop up. The sins listed might best be summed up as “lack of charity.” Sodom
and its four sister cities housed rich urban societies that lived on a fertile plain and
were apparently the dominant economic and military power in Palestine — a modern
view might interpret them as greedy capitalists who had no compassion for the poor
or respect for the rights of more transient communities (such as the Hebrews) living
on the margins of their society. The customs of the ancient Near East required that
hospitality be given to strangers. And indeed, when Lot settled with his flocks nearSodom he was received into the city with no trouble. Presumably he had gone through
the right formalities.
But when Lot suddenly introduced other people — the angels who appeared from
nowhere — he transgressed the time-honored customs of host and guest. Lot was a
guest resident himself, and it would naturally have been assumed that his own visitors,
who had never been formally welcomed into the city, must have had something to
hide. Were they spies? It is against this background that we should consider the story
of the citizens of Sodom, both young and old, crowding around Lot’s house so that
they might “know” the strangers.
This is the interpretation often put forward by liberal theologians and biblical schol-
ars. It would also be the end of the story were it not for the obvious sexual content sug-
gested by the fact that Lot offered his two daughters, “which have not known [yadha]
man” in place of the angels, inviting the Sodomites to do with the girls whatever they
pleased. A parallel story occurs in the Book of Judges (19:16-30), where a stranger ar-
riving in the city of Gibeah is given shelter for the night by an old man. Certain “sons
of Belial” (a pagan god) crowd around the old man’s house demanding to “know” the
stranger. The old man refuses, but gives them instead the stranger’s concubine to do
with as they wish. The worshipers of Belial “knew her, and abused her all the night
until morning”; the unfortunate woman dies shortly after her night of torment. In this
case the sexual content is even more explicit than in the Sodom and Gomorrah story. If
we assume that the citizens of Gibeah and Sodom had the same intentions, then the
men demanding to “know” the angels did have rape in mind. Almost the ultimate
form of inhospitality, humiliating strangers by threatening rape fits into the more gen-
eral descriptions of the “sins of Sodom.” If we take this as the meaning of the story,
the Old Testament was not condemning homosexuality as such, but rather attempted
homosexual rape, which is an utterly different matter. (Still, it is hard to see the moral
value in an ethical system that considered the rape of young girls and “concubines” as
somehow preferable to that of men, guests or otherwise.)



In any case, if Sodom was a historical city destroyed by a natural catastrophe, the
story of the attempted homosexual rape was presumably added to the account to “ex-
plain” just how bad the inhospitable Sodomites had become and why their downfall
was necessary. The Bible provides no evidence that homosexuality per se was the “sin
of Sodom,” and it was only about the first century A.D. that the extra crime of “un-
natural fornication” began to appear in Jewish writings. By then there was a backlash
among the Jews against the “Hellenization” of their society, as Greek influence was
threatening to destroy their traditional lifestyle. The Greeks were well known for their
acceptance of homosexuality, and this, along with other things such as naked athletics,
was rejected by the Jews as a corrupt, foreign custom.


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