Sodom and Homosexuality
Many people interpret the tale of Sodom in Genesis 19 as condemning homosexuality. I read and analyzed the text of the story and concluded: the story condemns the inhabitants of Sodom for extreme inhospitality, not homosexuality. Below, I offer my reasoning.
In Genesis 18, around noon, Abraham had a vision of God. Then, three men approached his tent. When Abraham saw them, he hurried toward them and bowed, then offered them food to fill their stomach and water to clean their feet. At Abraham's prompting, Sarah prepared leavened bread for their guests. Abraham's hospitality and concern for their welfare had pleased God, so one man told Sarah that she would bear a child. Sarah giggled because she thought he jested. Once the visitors had finished resting and decided to leave Canaan to go to Sodom, Abraham walked with them and showed them the way.
In Genesis 19, in the evening, two angels approached the gates of Sodom. (The transition from “men” in Genesis 18 to “angels” in Genesis 19 readily lends itself to the inference that these two angels had disguised themselves as men when they visited Canaan. I suspect that God had disguised himself as the third “man.” This may explain Abraham's vision.) Lot, sitting near the gates, saw the two angels approach and rose to his feet, bowed to them, and offered them bread to eat and a place to rest. The angels reluctantly agreed. After eating and before they would lie down to sleep, “all the men of Sodom” had surrounded the home of Lot and demanded that he release the angels so they may “know” them. Lot pleaded with them and offered his virgin daughters because he wanted to protect the angels, but the mob refused his offer and threatened him. Then, the people of the mob decided to break down the door. When they tried to break it down, the angels intervened and blinded them. The angels predicted that God would destroy Sodom but leave alive Lot and his family, so they told Lot and his family to leave before God destroys the city. Then, Lot told his sons-in-law to leave, but they laughed because they thought he had spoke in jest or had lost his mind. Lot and some his family fled for their safety. The wife of Lot did not follow what the angels had told her, not to look back to see the destruction, and that caused her to turn into a pillar of salt.
The tales in Genesis 18 and 19 parallel each other on the character of Abraham and Lot and genially welcoming strangers. Abraham and Lot bowed to the visitors, invited them in, and offered them bread to eat. The story parallels the hospitality displayed by the residents to the visitors, so the parallel also concerns Canaan and Sodom. Unlike the inhabitants of Canaan, however, the inhabitants of Sodom threatened the visitors, bringing an end to the city-parallel. The paralleling behavior of Abraham and Lot continues though, because Lot and his daughters prepared to sacrifice their own welfare to ensure the welfare of the visitors. The angels and God favored the hospitality of both families. The parallels connect hospitality to virtuosity, inhospitableness to wickedness, virtuosity to divine favor, and wickedness to divine wrath. God preserved the inhabitants of Canaan for their hospitality and destroyed the inhabitants of Sodom for their inhospitality. Ezekiel 16:48 supports that conclusion. “The sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”
I know you have a question for me, dear reader. “Men comprised the mob in Sodom and they wanted to ‘know’ the male angels. Clearly, the men lusted homoerotically and acted on their lusts. The story links the actions of the inhabitants with their destruction. How could you think that Genesis 19 does not condemn homosexuality?” I shall answer your question by directing your attention to the Hebrew wording and the literary and sociocultural context.
First, we shall examine the literary context. Genesis 18:32 says that God told Abraham, “For the sake of ten [righteous people] I will not destroy it.” Sodom, then, had fewer than ten righteous people living there. Let us count the characters who did not comprise a part of the mob: Lot, the wife of Lot, their two virgin daughters, and at least two sons-in-law brings us to the number six. The sons-in-law married into the family and consummating their marriages involves taking the virginity of the brides, but the two daughters in the story still had their virginity. Lot must have had two other daughters! That brings us, at least, to the number eight. To agree with Genesis 18:32, we can admit one more person but no more. Among all the men, women, and children, not even two people outside Lot's family deserved to continue living—God did not find two children worth saving. The homosexuality-condemning interpretation fails to explain the reason that God had judged the children without reference to gender as unworthy of life. The hormones of male and female children had not yet caused them to lust, and the female children could not lust for males homoerotically. Similarly, it fails to explain the judgment against females of all ages. So, what did the women and children do?
The Hebrew wording might answer our question. The translators who produced most of the popular Bible translations offered men as a translation of ‘enowsh. Their translation would lead you to think the passage in Hebrew only referred to males, but the word means mortals (of all genders) and implies wickedness1. It stems from the primitive root ‘anash, which essentially means frail, feeble, desperately wicked, incurable, sick, or woeful2. Thus, we can more accurately translate ‘enowsh not as men but as sinful mortals or sinful people. This translation accords with Hebrew semantics and brings the women and perhaps children into the mob, which further corroborates the reasoning I provided earlier. The Hebrew wording does not answer our question, though—what did the women and children do?
We will find our answer in our contemplation of the sociocultural context. Notice, the mob wanted to “know” the angels but not Lot or one another. This suggests that they did not have homoerotic lusts because they would act on their lusts with one another, rather than go through the trouble of catching the outsiders. Notice also that Lot had lived, for a long while, in Sodom. He would have known about rampant homoeroticism if it existed, but he offered not himself, a male, but his daughters to the mob. Lot did not consider them homosexual! They did not want to act on lusts; they wanted to ravage the outsiders. The mob wanted to assert territorial dominance similar to what we find in many prisons where long-standing members try to assert dominance over the newcomers. This answers our question! People of all genders and age groups could sin in this way and it explains why the mob did not go after Lot or one another. Further, such an act necessarily involves thinking of themselves as superior, which extends from arrogance and exudes the utmost of inhospitality, which brings us even closer to Ezekiel 16:48.
If we try to interpret the story as condemning homosexuality, we confront many problems. First, we cannot explain the reason God destroyed women and children. Second, we would have to assume a near-100% homosexuality rate among the males of Sodom, which seems self-evidently false and inconsistent with the behavior of Lot. Third, we cannot explain why the mob did not turn to one another or Lot. Fourth, our interpretation would not agree with Ezekiel 16:48. If we look at the story as condemning inhospitality and arrogance, though, we can adequately explain the story, translate the Hebrew properly, avoid the self-evidently false and inconsistent assumption of a near-100% homosexuality rate, and our interpretation agrees with Ezekiel 16:48.
Therefore, Genesis 18 and 19 condemns the extreme inhospitality and arrogance of the inhabitants and do not denote, connote, or allude to condemning homosexuality.
Stultior stulto fuisti, qui tabellis crederes!