Chapter 6

Old Testament references

Genesis 13:13; 19:1-11

(see also Addendum on Sodom story added later)

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah has done more damage to the image and status of homosexuals than perhaps any other part of the Bible.

Yet when we read it carefully, we find that we are not told the sexuality of the offenders.

What we are told, in Genesis 13:13, is that those involved were 'wicked, great sinners' [NRSV]. The passage aptly describes them. The men of Sodom were guilty of:

*firstly, the grossest inhospitality:

In a land where hospitality was of the highest importance (as it still is), and the host was responsible for the safety and well-being of his guests, Lot was more willing to offer his daughters than let his guests be abused.

* secondly, the intended rape of the guests:

The men of Sodom were both intimidating and violent in their manner; but if this is a story about intended male rape per se, why did they not rape Lot who went out to them?

The issue here is not the sexuality of the offenders (which we are not told), but the  intention of violent wicked men trying to destroy Lot's reputation as a host by abusing his guests, thus humiliating him and driving him away.

We can only guess at the reasons in the story - perhaps jealousy at Lot's wealth? Or suspicions about racial or cultural differences, or about the separateness of those people whose God was Yahweh?

These are similar to the motives that cause people nowadays to mistreat outsiders or perceived intruders. The homosexuals I know are as horrified at this kind of behaviour as any other responsible person would be.

Doubtless there are wicked men, homosexual or heterosexual, who would do such things, but we don't know the sexuality of those in the story. It can't be important, or we would have been told.

The issue the writer is addressing is the demonstrable wickedness of the people in the story. It is about as far removed as one can get from the enriching, faithful love that responsible homosexuals, especially Christians, can share, and which is the burden of this study.

This story has nothing to do with the issue!

How did Jesus see this story? We have the evidence in the gospels!   When he referred to Sodom and Gomorrah it was not as many do, to castigate a minority group; he used it only  in the context of inhospitality (Matthew 10: 11-15; Luke 10: 8-12), or unbelief (Matt 11: 20-24) or unpreparedness (Luke 17: 28-30).

There is another possible explanation for this story being included in the Hebrew Bible.

Sodom gave its name to the sexual act that the Israelites normally associated with cult male prostitution (of which more anon). Cult prostitution was hated by the faithful Israelites, and if the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were burned when tar pits (known to exist in that area) were ignited, then cult prostitution may have provided the Israelites with a ready-made explanation of why God should have punished the people of Sodom.

The Israelites always had to find such a reason for people's misfortunes - it was the way they thought, and continued to do so even in Jesus' day (see John 9:1-2 and Luke 13:1-4).

This explanation would have served as a suitable warning to any young Israelite who was tempted to get involved in cult prostitution.

NB Some later exegesis on the Sodom story, (which was part of the Sept 99 magazine), is now included in 'Reluctant Journey' Contents page as 'Addendum'. It does not form part of the hard copy of the book!

Judges 19:16-28

This passage contains an almost identical story to that of Sodom, except that here the culprits were from the tribe of Benjamin, and their actions included violent heterosexual rape leading to the death of the guest's concubine (although they initially demanded that the male visitor be given to them).

Again, the host went out to them, but they wanted the guest. Their punishment was a war that decimated the tribe (Judges 20), although there is a twist in the story's end.

Much the same comment applies as to the story of Sodom in Genesis. The sexuality of the offenders is not given, but their identity in this case is, ie Benjamites. The issue is again gross inhospitality, intimidation, and in this case violent heterosexual rape and the death of the female victim, when their initial desire for the male guest was frustrated.

It is interesting that the condemnation of homosexuals is justified by many on the basis of the Sodom & Gomorrah story, (though homosexuals are not identified in the story), but not the condemnation of all members of the tribe of Benjamin ie the 'Benjamites' who are positively identified in the Judges story.

And it is as illogical to castigate all members of the tribe of Benjamin for the crime of those Benjamites, as it is to castigate all homosexuals for the crime of Sodom & Gomorrah, even IF those involved were all homosexuals, which we are not told, and is most unlikely from the order of things.

This story from the book of Judges has no connection with whether God's love can or cannot embrace homosexuals who share an enriching, faithful, committed love.

Yet again, it has nothing to do with the issue.

Leviticus 18:22; 20:13

I shall not comment on these verses at this stage, for reasons that will become apparent later. These verses need to be dealt with so fully that they warrant a chapter of their own.

Deuteronomy and Kings

Deuteronomy 23:17-18; 1 Kings 14:24, 15:12, 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7.  These five refs are dealt with together as they all refer to the same issue - that of cult prostitution. In every case, the King James Version uses the term 'sodomite' incorrectly (in the modern sense). Reliable modern versions now correctly translate the Hebrew word variously as:

- 'male temple prostitute'

- 'male prostitute at pagan worship'

- 'sacred male prostitute'

- 'male shrine prostitute'.

The treatment meted out to these cult prostitutes shows how Israel felt about the sexual practices of Canaanite fertility cults. They hated it! Because of this, and because Israel was to be a separate people, it fed back into their law.

In conclusion

This is the total of the relevant references in the Old Testament, which is the Hebrew Bible, and which was the Bible of Jesus, the Apostles, and the Early Church, including Paul. The New Testament, as we know it, was not agreed as part of the canon of scripture until the 4th Century AD.

We have yet to deal with the references in Leviticus (see next chapter). But apart from these there is no passage in the Hebrew Bible that in any way condemns homosexuality that expresses itself in a love which is fine and enriching to those who love one another in a faithful, committed relationship.

There are only passages which condemn various kinds of same-sex sexual abuse.

 

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