Sodom and Homosexuality (Seeking Constructive Criticism)
(Edit: I have made this a blog entry. If you have some constructive criticism, please reply there instead of here. Thanks!)
Those who think the Bible describes homosexuality as sinful will often point to Genesis 18-19, saying, "God destroyed Sodom and most of its inhabitants for homosexuality." Through my study, I've concluded that Genesis 18-19 says God destroyed Sodom for a different reason and it does not condemn homosexuality. Here I shall explain why I think that.
In Genesis 13, Lot and Abraham decide to go separate ways, each choosing a land for himself. Abraham settled in Canaan; Lot settled in Sodom. With some diligence, you can walk from one city to another in less than a day. Now we shall consider Genesis 18-19 with this information in mind.
In Genesis 18, around noon, Abraham has a vision of God, then three men approach his encampment. He hurried toward them and bowed, offered them food to eat and water to clean their feet with. Sarah, Abraham's menopausal wife, made leavened bread for them. Abraham's concern for their welfare pleased God so one of the men told Sarah she would bare a child. Sarah giggled, thinking he jested. (After the destruction of Sodom, we learn her error when she bared Isaac.) When ready to leave, Abraham walked the visitors a short while to point them to Sodom.
In Genesis 19, in the evening of the same day, two angels approached the gates of Sodom. (It seems Abraham's visitors consisted of these angels and God.) Lot, seeing them approach, rose to his feet, bowed, and offered food and a place to rest. The angels reluctantly agreed. After eating, and before laying down to rest, "all the men of Sodom" surrounded Lot's home, demanding he release the angels so they could "know" them. Lot offers his virgin daughters, hoping to protect the angels, but the mob refused and threatened him. The mob decided to break down the door, but the angels intervened and blinded them. The angels decided, God should destroy Sodom but leave alive Lot and his family. After learning what would happen to Sodom, Lot told his sons-in-law to escape; but they laughed, thinking he spoke in jest or had lost his mind. (We learn their error when fire enveloped them.) Lot and some of his family left Sodom for safety. The mother, not following the angels' instructions, looked back and turned to a pillar of salt.
Genesis 18-19 has obvious parallels. Both Abraham and Lot bowed to the visitors from afar, invited them into their homes, had their wives bake bread, and so on. The parallel focuses on their concern for their visitors' welfare. That parallel continues but the parallel between Canaan and Sodom comes to an end when the mob appears in Genesis 19 to try harming them. Continuing the parallel of Lot and Abraham, Lot and his daughters prepared to sacrifice their welfare to ensure that of their visitors. The parallels connect hospitality with virtuosity and inhospitality with wickedness. Ezekiel 16.48 supports this, saying, "This was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy." The story teaches a second lesson through Sarah's pregnancy and Lot's sons-in-law's destruction: God does not jest.
I can hear the argument coming, "Men comprised the mob in Sodom. The mob wanted to 'know' the male angels. That seems like a clear-cut case of men having homosexual desires and acting on them. The story links the destruction of Sodom to the desires and behavior of its inhabitants. How could you think Genesis 18-19 does not condemn homosexuality?" To answer this, I now turn to the Hebrew wording and the literary and cultural context of the story.
First, the literary context. On what basis would God destroy Sodom? In Genesis 18.32, God says to Abraham, "For the sake of ten [righteous people] I will not destroy it." Sodom had fewer than ten righteous people. Lot, his wife, his two virgin daughters, and his sons-in-law bring us to at least six righteous people. Could Sodom have, at most, three righteous people? How does Sodom have so few? Did "all the men of Sodom" have no children? If they had some, how would God judge them as wicked for the actions of their fathers? If they had none, did they have wives? If so, how would God judge them as wicked for the actions of their husbands? If they had no wives, why do males predominate Sodom? Did they, as boys, decide at a council meeting to homosexually rape travelers? If they had homosexual desires, why not for Lot or one another? If the men had no wives or children, the wicked would naturally dwindle to nothingness without a means to procreate, thus allowing the seed of Lot to have the city to rebuild from scratch, so why would God destroy Sodom? The literary context doesn't seem to make sense from the perspective of condemning homosexuality.
Perhaps we'll find some answers in the Hebrew. The translators provided "men" as a translation of 'enowsh, but what does 'enowsh mean? It means "those of humankind," rather than just "men." The women, and perhaps children, also comprised the mob. Did the children help the fathers "know" the angels or did they want to "know" the angels themselves? Did the mothers approve? Did the women help their husbands "know" the angels or did they want to "know" the angels themselves? If the women and girls wanted to "know" the angels, how does that jive with condemning homosexuality? The Hebrew seems to have answered the questions about whether the men of the mob had wives and children, but now they constitute a part of the mob. Now we have more questions!
We find the solution in the cultural context. Why did the mob want to "know" the angels, the outsiders, but not Lot or one another? I can think of three explanations. First, the men helped the women to "know" the angels, thus birthing a small army of Nephilim. Second, mostly heterosexual men of Sodom, like those of other ancient cultures, sexually assaulted outsiders to assert dominance and strip them of their masculinity—an everyday act in modern prisons. Third, combine those explanations. These all work to answer the question, but notice that homosexuality cannot explain the behavior of the mob since it doesn't account for females and that heterosexuality can explain it. If you remove homosexuality from the equation, everything adds up and you get the view of Ezekiel 16.48.
I therefore conclude that Genesis 18-19 says God destroyed Sodom for its heartlessness, for their lust for flesh or power, and nowhere condemns homosexuality as we understand it today.
Stultior stulto fuisti, qui tabellis crederes!