Where the Lord Annihilates all the Gays

Bored in VernalBible, homosexuality, LDS lessons, religion, scripture, sexuality, theology 17 Comments

Avatar-BiVOT SS Lesson #8

“The Genesis passage is very clear, that the sin of Sodom that brought on the destruction of the city was indeed linked to homosexuality.” (R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Seminary)

“Saying that the last recorded acts of the Sodomites — the demands for same-gender sex — are proof that they were destroyed for homosexuality is like saying that a condemned man cursing his guards on the way to his execution is being executed for cursing the guards. Sodom was judged worthy of destruction before the incident with Lot and the angels.” (Inge Anderson, “Sins of Sodom“)

One of the prominent themes in this week’s Sunday School lesson is the story of Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. But in Christian thought there has been some controversy over how closely the story should be linked to homosexuality, as the quotes above indicate. There are several points that are up for grabs, and I’m not sure either side has a complete understanding yet. Read on, and let me know what you think!

The background of the story should be taken into account as we try to figure out what is happening. In Genesis 18, three angelic messengers visit Abraham to prophesy about the birth of his son and to warn of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. This is the part where Abraham shows his compassion by bargaining with the Lord for a stay of execution if there are 10 righteous people to be found in the city. The narrative shows that the destruction has already been decreed, even before Lot’s experience with the men of Sodom.

Next, the angels enter the city. That Lot meets them at the gate is significant. Though a resident alien, Lot is taking a turn guarding the walls. Sodom has been at war, and not surprisingly the inhabitants of the city are wary of visitors. The very night a non-native of the city is trusted to watch the gate (thus controlling traffic in and out), he lets two people that nobody knows into the city and what’s more behind closed doors for the night in his house! Certainly this raised some eyebrows and caused some suspicion. Soon the residents of Sodom — all the people, both young and old — have gathered outside of Lot’s house and are demanding that Lot bring the visitors out “that we may know them.”

The meaning of the Hebrew word yada’ (to know) has engendered much of the controversy behind this story. The word has a euphemistic meaning (to engage in coitus). Of 943 times yada’ is used in the Old Testament, only ten times is it used with a sexual connotation, and all of these are heterosexual coitus. Thus some have conjectured that the townspeople were merely asking to know the credentials and intentions of strangers in their city. On the other hand, when yada’ is used with a sexual meaning, a large number of those references occur within the book of Genesis. In fact, the word is used in a clearly euphemistic sense in Genesis 19:8, just three verses after the reference in question.

The absolute sacredness of a guest was a principle well known in the Middle East. Lot wanted to protect his guests, and he refused to hand them over to the crowd. When the crowd insisted, he offered his two daughters as the most expedient diversion for a hostile situation. In the Joseph Smith Translation of these verses, it is suggested that Lot did not offer his daughters, but that the Sodomites demanded the girls as well as the visiting angels. But there is another story in the Bible which parallels the Genesis story. It is found in Judges 19:13-27. In this account, the house guest was a man, not an angel, and the master of the house offered his daughter and the man’s concubine to the mob. They accepted the concubine woman in place of the man, and raped her until she died. The city was destroyed — for heterosexual rape and violation of the law of hospitality. In spite of this very similar destruction of a city, no one condemns heterosexuality on the basis of this passage, but rather there is condemnation of rape.

This may indicate that the story of Sodom in Genesis has little to do with homosexuality and more to do with rampant, violent sex as well as irreverent attitudes regarding sex. Sodom’s primary sin was violence. The threat against the messengers and Lot’s daughters is a threat of sexual violence in which sexual orientation is irrelevant. The behavior of the people of Sodom wasn’t about attraction. It was about harming people as profoundly as they could. One might conclude that gang raping some guys is a pretty serious sin, no matter how you look at it. Making the sudden leap to compare them to committed monogomous gay couples, however, is outrageous and unfounded. There is no real similarity, and indeed, our modern Western view of “sexual orientation” did not exist in ancient Biblical times.

Another method of uncovering the meaning of the lesson of Sodom is by looking at how other Biblical passages interpret the story. Throughout the Old Testament, Sodom is held up as a lesson in wickedness that deserves utter destruction for reasons other than homosexual acts. Of the eighteen passages outside of the story itself found in Old Testament writings none refer to same sex activity, and only one alludes to sexual immorality (namely, adultery). To cite a few examples of those found among the words of the Hebrew prophets, Isaiah (1:1-17; 13:1-22) refers to Sodom and Gomorrah to condemn general evil and injustice; Jeremiah (23:9-15), to general moral and ethical laxity. Ezekiel (16:46-56) and Amos (chapter 4) condemn the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, more specifically, for neglecting the poor and needy.

“Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me”

The Deuterocanonical books identify the sin as pride and inhospitality; in Wisdom 19:13-14, we read “…whereas the men of Sodom received not the strangers when they came among them.” In Ecclesiasticus 16:8 the sin is recognized as pride. In the New Testament, too, there is reference to Sodom’s sins: In Matthew 10:14-15 and Luke 10:10-13, Jesus implied that the sin of the people of Sodom was to be inhospitable and to reject the words of the gospel messengers.

It’s not until the very late books of 2 Peter 2 and Jude 6, that “sexual immorality” and “depraved lusts” are considered sins of Sodom. In 2 Peter especially, the author seems to be drawing a comparison between “the sons of God” who came down to earth and mated with “the daughters of men” (see Lesson 6), and the men of Sodom who attempted to do sexual violence to the divine visitors whom Lot invited into his home. The comparison is that there was an unnatural mating, or attempt at a violent sexual act, between a divine being and a human being. The first acts lead ultimately to destruction by a flood, the second attempted act to destruction by fire.

A final consideration for the Latter-day Saint might be the words of modern Prophets and Apostles upon the matter. I will only include a few quotations here, but they are enough to demonstrate that there is a lack of consensus upon why the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, and whether or not it had to do with homosexuality. Joseph Smith preached:

“In consequence of rejecting the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Prophets whom God hath sent, the judgments of God have rested upon people, cities, and nations, in various ages of the world, which was the case with the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, that were destroyed for rejecting the Prophets.” Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 192–205. From a discourse given by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo on Jan. 22, 1843.)

In contrast, Spencer W. Kimball unequivocally equated the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah with homosexuality:

“We hear more and more each day about the sins of adultery, homosexuality, and lesbianism. Homosexuality is an ugly sin, but because of its prevalence, the need to warn the uninitiated, and the desire to help those who may already be involved with it, it must be brought into the open. It is the sin of the ages. It was present in Israel’s wandering as well as after and before. It was tolerated by the Greeks. It was prevalent in decaying Rome. The ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are symbols of wretched wickedness more especially related to this perversion, as the incident of Lot’s visitors indicates. (Spencer W. Kimball,The Foundations of Righteousness,” Ensign, Nov 1977, 4)

Ezra Taft Benson taught that pride was the sin which caused the city of Sodom to be destroyed:

“The scriptures abound with evidences of the severe consequences of the sin of pride to individuals, groups, cities, and nations. ‘Pride goeth before destruction.’ It destroyed the Nephite nation and the city of Sodom.” (Ezra Taft Benson, Beware of Pride,” Ensign, May 1989, 4.)

More in line with Ezekiel, Neal A. Maxwell considered Sodom’s sin to be neglect of the poor and needy:

“When love waxes cold, let the poor and the needy beware too, for they will be neglected, as happened in ancient Sodom.” (Neal A. Maxwell, Repent of [Our] Selfishness’ (D&C 56:8), Ensign, May 1999, 23)

Perhaps in this post I have taken the long way around to show that, while I don’t think that homosexual orientation can be blamed for the destruction of Sodom and the cities of the plain, there are several valid interpretations of this passage. Additionally, there are many questions we don’t have good answers for. Why did Lot offer his daughters in place of the heavenly visitors, and why was he not condemned for this action? Of the entire city of Sodom, were there not children under 8 years old, and possibly others who were innocently killed in the destruction? Is it possible to connect the several sexual relationships which seem to run through the scripture block comprising Genesis 18-19? What are the symbolic meanings of the characters and actions? The story is so ambiguous that perhaps every reader comes away with a different perception of the lesson to be taught. I have illustrated that point by including below some art work, each with its own unique depiction of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, c. 1320

Albrecht Dürer
Lot and His Daughters

Marc Chagall
Abraham Approaching Sodom with Three Angels

Giusto de Menabuoi
Sodom and Gomorrah

Julius Schnoor von Carolsfeld
Lot flees Sodom

Rembrandt van Rijn
Lot and His Family Leaving Sodom

Gustave Doré
Lot flees Sodom

Henry O. Tanner
Sodom and Gomorrah

Alessandro Bavari
The City of Sodom

Comments 17

  1. It seems that the sin of sodom was to be guilty of whatever sin we are in greatest need to repent for. Although I personally like the interpretation that sexual violence and the desire for this interaction with divine beings (Bridget Jack Meyers better watch out) is a good possibility – what does that say about me. This form of hubris is often punished, as with the flood.

    On a different issue, I love the touch of including these different pictures. I hope that we will eventually reach a point i our religious culture were use art more than we do. In fact, I suspect that utilising these different images of sodom and gomorrah might be a useful way to bring out some of the different ideas and emotions connected with this story, rather than speaking from a position of judgment on people who lived along tim ago.

  2. Personally I think yada’ is indeed being used in its euphemistic sense in the story. But, for reasons you have touched on, it doesn’t follow that the story has anything to do with homosexuality. Male gang rape is not homosexuality. I see the issue being one of hospitality, which is difficult for us to see easily since it is not so important a part of a our culture as it was in theirs.

    I don’t think the non-euphemistic interpretation really works. If the people were concerned that the strangers might be enemies, then their request to produce them to allay that fear would have been entirely reasonable (and would not have violated the norms of hospitality). And if that is all they wanted, why did Lot offer his daughters sexually to the crowd? None of that makes any sense to me.

    Lot offering his daughters was actually a righteous thing on his part. This is like the story of Tamar; the culture is so far removed from us that we cannot fathom how it could be righteous to submit your own daughters to gang rape by an angry crowd. But that is how inviolable the obligation was to protect the stranger under your roof.

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    Kevin, as much as I would like to take male rape out of the equation, as Julie M. Smith attempted on the BCC post Sometimes A Cigar is Just a Cigar, it didn’t take much for me to be convinced of the euphemistic usage of yada’ here. (Even without your lengthy debate on the topic with Richley Crapo, how I wish that had been preserved.)

    Many Christian theologians have put forth the conjecture that the issue is one of “hospitality.” Although I see that the obligation to protect the stranger was much stronger in early Middle Eastern culture, I still doubt that the message of this vignette is that a lack of hospitality merits destruction. Even if this is hyperbole, and even were it merely symbolic of spiritual destruction, I have the sense that there is more to it. Perhaps the Joseph Smith quote is the key to the story, after all. He says that “rejecting the Prophets” was the sin for which Sodom was destroyed. Were the angelic beings prophetic messengers sent to warn the people and preach the gospel of repentance? This dovetails nicely with the scriptures in Matthew and Luke where the Twelve are sent forth to preach the gospel, and those who reject their message are compared to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

    Is it, in the end, a rejection of the gospel message which condemns one to spiritual destruction, along with all of our innocent posterity? If so, many more of us will earn the epithet “Sodomite,” than are currently so described.

  4. The idea resonates with me, that it’s not one sin in particular, but rather something like wholesale rejection of the gospel (or prophets). I’m sure all kinds of sins we can imagine must have existed in Sodom & Gomorrah. Otherwise why focus on just two individual city-states (city-state having been more of the norm for the day than “cities” as we consider them).

    BTW, the top image must be an Orthodox Icon? The large image seems to reveal the kind of base that would fit it, and the colors look like Icon…

    My wife’s aunt painted Icons, and gave my wife one. She didn’t want an image of a Saint of the Eastern Church, so she got one of the Savior, which her aunt had officially sprinkled with Holy Water (sort of against her wishes…); it looks really nice after 30 years, and the paints are as authentic as was possible to make in the late 1970s.

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  6. JST Gen 19:1 has Lot sitting at the door of his house when he sees the angels (holy men, see JST Gen 19:15), as opposed to the gates of the city.

  7. The problem I have with Sodom an Gomorrah and all stories like this is the wholesale rejection of a people. There is a problem here in communal judgment which seems alien to me. Either that or it implies that all the people had crossed a threshold of a particular level of alienation (which just seems unlikely in my head).

    Mass Rape, in general, is often situated in some sort of war context (The War of the World by Ferguson). Perhaps this story then suggests that these people were enemies to God in the fullest sense, that he messengers would be defiled and conquered. They had literally set themselves as the antithesis of God.

  8. Certainly gave me lots to think about. Too often in Sunday school we get the pat answers that Sodom was strictly about the sin of homosexuality. I had actually talked to a friend about your article and we both came to the conclusion that you are more correct in the interpretation than most people. That being said, I always wonder why people don’t assert themselves more to challenge the status of everything that everyone naturally assumes is the right interpretation. Is it because we like having everything spoon fed to use, or is it that we are to lazy to actually read, study and ask questions for ourselves.

  9. When a city is ripe for destruction, it can be ripe for whatever makes the people wicked. And when the righteous are cast out or flee from among them, then comes the destruction. Ammonihah shows this to be the case. This can be with or without homosexuality.

    I’m not passing judgment on gays nor am I going to speculate whether there will ever be a revelation in the church to legitimize a homosexual monogamous marriage relation, making some species of “chase” homosexual union. That’s for the Lord to decide. I have no idea whether that will ever be so. It used to be in ancient Israel that people could break the law of chastity by getting a divorce and re-marrying. Now in our day, the Church has taken the position that that is not an unchaste situation, and that divorcees have no fear of committing sexual sin merely because their marriage fell apart. That could be viewed as a change in the law of chastity.

    But unchastity of whatever sort is when people break the law of chastity AS currently defined, and there is really no distinction about when something is sexual sin. If it breaks the law of chastity as we have it currently defined, then it technically breaks that law, and would be considered “wickedness.” Whether other revelations will come redefining chastity in the future to make some sort of homosexual union chaste, I have no clue. And I think that is the most cautious position to take for me on this thing, so as to not pass judgment on gays. Even Dallin H. Oaks has stated that we don’t know why it is how it is for them.

    As for whether Lot actually offered his daughters to these men to be raped, I don’t believe it to be so. My belief is that the JST change is correct, not just a hopeful midrashic commentary. I think that redactors decided to change the text as we have it today, and it is a corrupted text. On the other hand, other parts of the JST could be considered midrashic in nature when they don’t contradict what the original sense of the text says and only builds on it. In this case, the JST version contradicts the Masoretic version.

  10. A few thoughts.

    First, we should not take the story out of the Biblical context of the genealogies (Genesis 12 – 50 I believe) in which it is situated. The purpose of these chapters is to tell us about Abraham, Lot, and other characters who the texts celebrate as the originators of the Hebrew tradition; so the authors are trying to tell us what made them special, and how they came to hold a special place in Hebrew thought and how the Hebrew people became the Hebrew people, through them, specifically through Abraham (i.e. covenant). The passages are not about Sodom in the same way they are about Abraham and Lot. Further the text asserts that Sodom is slated for destruction PRIOR to the story of Lot trying to protect his visitors. I think the most meaningful part of the story is Abraham’s not just accepting as God’s will the destruction of the city. Abraham challenges God and his impending action, and sets up a condition under which the city can be saved. This is why the text states that it was ALL the men, young and old who came out to attack Lot and his visitors, it affirms that there were not even 10 righteous men in the city.

    Further, there is broad agreement among scholars that Hospitality is what is at work in the story of Lots protecting heavenly visitors. Verse 8 in which Lot states that they have come under his roof, would have been read by early Jewish readers as meaning they had come under his protection, and that he had a profound, binding obligation to their well being because of this. Lot’s obligation is even greater because his visitors are divine! Thus Lot offering up his daughters can be viewed as a symbol of his dedication to practicing hospitality. It’s not that offering his daughters was easy for him. Far from it! We have the opportunity to see Lot in a desperate moment, his house is about to be overrun and as a last resort he makes what must have been a devastating choice to try to appease the angry mob by offer his daughters rather than violating what he sees as his highest duty of hospitality.

    This is one of a number of places where the JST “corrects” a “mistake” in the Bible that is not a mistake at all. JS, not being aware of hospitality as the oldest of the Biblical virtues,and a virtue of tremendous importance to Hebrew culture, was not really equipped to address the question of why the text would present Lot as doing such a horrible thing as offering his own daughters to the angry mom. Thus JS felt justified in an attempt to bring the text within his own understanding of morality. But we should keep in mind that the to an early reader of the text, the JST version would no longer represent Lot in the same way, it might even rob the story of its essence.

    For us Mormons though, we have access to a radical self critique in these passages; in that hospitality as such, as a radical Biblical virtue plays no role in our culture or our theology. Culturally and theologically we have a tradition of being deeply specious of the other, and tend to treat the stranger or the outsider as a threat. So in this reading of the story we Mormons are more like the Sodomites than we are like Lot who was willing to take painful and dramatic action for the sake of Hospitality. This kind of self critique avoids the common Mormon trap of assuming that we are always, already on the right path because of the fact of our Mormonness. In this critique, we ask ourselves IF we are on the right track, and how is it that we can ignore fundamental old testament theology and still feel that we are aligned with the righteous? How can we align ourself more closely with the heritage of the text, so as to see our own short comings and quickly align ourselves with Lot rather than the Sodomites so as to prevent our own spiritual destruction?

    (These are the points I am going to try to make in Sunday School.)

  11. 35 aAnd they made their father drink wine that night also: and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
    36 Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father.

    What really disturbs me is what happens afterward. Lot’s daughters get their Dad drunk, and then get pregnant by him. Homosexuality is wrong…but drugging your dad and raping him is okay…right…Moral relativity?

    peanut gallery: But it was to preserve the seed!

    Why did Lot’s wife perish into a “pillar of salt” for “looking back” instead of looking forward? I’d prefer a doubting wife than rapist incestual daughters as sexual partners. Just sayin’.

    Back to the ORIGINAL arugment from the blog…If RAPE was the offense – then Lot’s OWN DAUGHTERS are guilty by this logic. I think given the context of cleansing the Earth of the Angel/Daughter affiliation and their children of giants, it seems God was in the mood to cleanse out any unrighteous sexual unions – probably homosexuals being one of them.

  12. “Perhaps the Joseph Smith quote is the key to the story, after all. He says that “rejecting the Prophets” was the sin for which Sodom was destroyed.”

    Thanks for suggesting this focus. After studying this again, I am in full agreement.

    Ancient Israel rejected the prophet Samuel’s admonishment that they be content in not having a king. The Lord spoke to Samuel about what rejection of a prophet means:

    “…they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them out of Egypt, even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee. 1 Sam 8: 7-8

    From this interpretation, “rejecting the prophets” is tantamount to rejection of the will of God. This is a manifestation of pride as noted in your quote by President Benson. It also speakes to a violation of the first of the 10 Commandments, “thou shalt have no other gods before me,” in the Lord’s explanation to Samuel.

    The term “sodomite” as having a sexual connotation, according to Google, was coined in the year 1051. When the KJV of the Bible was translated in 1611, this term was used for the hebrew word “quadesh” or “kaw-desh” which means “male idolater” or “a man who is morally defiled”. It is used in Deuteronomy 23:17-18:

    “There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel.”

    Rather than using the word sodomite with it’s post AD 1051 connotations, it would seem that “a man who is morally defiled” would fit better. It removes the sense that the command pertains only to homoerotic lust.

    It is interesting that the JST of Genesis 19 also modifies the text to attribute both homoerotic lust and “heteroerotic” lust to the men of Sodom. This further supports Joseph Smith’s declaration that the sin of Sodom was rejection of the prophets, and not limited to homoerotic lust.

    If you look at the other definition of “qadesh”, then the men of Sodom being defined as “male idolaters” also falls in line with the explanation given to Samuel that rejection of the prophets is rejection of God which is putting other gods before God. Among the idolatrous gods worshipped by the men of Sodom would be “hedonism”.

    Another way of looking at the Sodom and Gomorrah story is with its possible allegorical meaning. The destruction of the cities by fire and brimstone suggests the destruction of the wicked at the second coming of the Lord. Abraham’s people which were not affected by fire and brimstone would represent the Lord’s covenant people; those worthy to enter the promised land (Celestial Kingdom). Lot is rescued from Sodom, but when admonished by the angelic rescuers to go to the mountain (is this symbolic of the mountain of the Lord’s house?) he pleads with the rescuers to go to Zoar, which was one of the 5 cities that were slated for destruction due to wickedness. Even after seeing divine intervention in his temporal salvation, he doesn’t want to move completely away from the “world”. (Although he and his daughters end up somehow in that mountain cave after all). As he dwells somewhere between Abraham’s people in the promised land (symbolic of the CK) and Sodom (symbolic of the Telestial Kingdom), does he represent the Terrestrial Kingdom? It is interesting to think that he represents being saved from destruction but without his wife and with a seed is not born in covenant.

    If you think of the sin of Sodom as ripe living of telestial law or serving the god of the telestial world, it seems logical that their sin would be those that define the future inhabitants of the Telestial Kingdom. D&C 76: 103-105 lists these sins as “they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie.” Further, in D&C 76: 101, they are described as those who “received not gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus, NEITHER THE PROPHETS, neither the everlasting covenant.”

    This goes back to the sin of rejecting the prophets which the author of this post suggested is the key to the story. Thinking of the key in this way, it is like a plain and precious truth to the story that has been restored. Rather than distancing ourselves from the prophetic warning of the story by focusing on the traditionally titillating element of the story, it helps us see applications which might otherwise be ignored. Thank you, again, for drawing the focus to this key.

  13. This is an excellent article, well-researched, very well-written, and a sorely needed correction of some major misunderstandings about the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Thanks for all your work.

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