Monday, April 18, 2016

How I Came to Change My Mind on SSU: Part 15. Sodom

The Old Testament story of Sodom and its egregious sin has long been so associated with same-sex behavior that “sodomy” has been used as a synonym for homosexuality. But is that really what the sin of Sodom is about? To answer that, I am again going to refer to an essay by Evangelical theologian and ethicist, David Gushee:

Sodom and Gomorrah, their sin and God’s punishment, became resonant symbols. When cited within the rest of Scripture, even the names of these towns become a byword for total human evil and devastating divine judgment (Dt. 29:23, 32:32; Isa. 1:9f., 3:9, 13:19; Jer. 23:14, 49:18, 50:40; Lam 4:6; Ezek. 16:46-50; Amos 4:11; Zeph. 2:9; Mt. 10:15/Lk 10:10-12, Rom. 9:29, 2 Peter 2:6-10, Jude 6-7; cf. Ps. 11:6). The starkest way to warn Israel or the Church of impending judgment was to drop in a Sodom reference. But never once in these intra-biblical Sodom references is their evil described as same-sex interest or behavior. In Isaiah 1:9-23 a host of sins are named but mainly related to abuses of public justice. In Jeremiah 23:14 it’s adultery, lying and unwillingness to repent. Ezekiel 16:49 describes their sins as pride, excess food, prosperous ease and lack of care for the poor. In Amos and Zephaniah the issues are pride, mocking and oppressing the poor. Intertestamental works Sirach (16:8), 3 Maccabees (2:5) and Wisdom (19:15) still talk about Sodom and Gomorrah, and still don’t connect their sin to sexuality at all.

The only biblical references to Sodom with any possible suggestion of same-sex behavior are Jude 6-8 and the parallel text in 2 Peter 2:6-7, with their references to unholy interest in “other flesh” (Jude 7). In the context of an interpretation of Genesis 19 that was already convinced the story is about same-sex behavior, these two late New Testament texts were read as confirmation. But look closely. They represent fragments of tradition referring to unholy human interest in sex with angels, a theme derived from the book of Enoch, with reference back to the mysterious Genesis 6 story about the Nephilim.

The story of Sodom is problematic for another reason. Whatever evil the story intends to condemn – breach of hospitality, sex with angels, violence and rape, or even homosexuality as such which seems a stretch to me – there is at least the implication that it would be less evil to gang rape Lot's daughters who he offers to the men of Sodom. I cannot imagine offering my daughters to be gang raped by a mob (see the similar passage in Judges 19-20). The whole text seems a dicey passage to make too much of in terms of drawing moral instruction.

Next: Abomination (i)

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