Sodom : Discovering the truth about the Sodomites

Reading time 5 min.
Religion (illustrative)
Religion (illustrative)

The story of Sodom is often used as a condemnation of all homosexual sex. But a careful examination shows that it is mainly condemning only men who try to force other men to have sex with them, i.e. same-sex gang rape.

The story is found in Genesis 19:1-29

The New International Version of the Bible gives the highlight of the story as: Before they [Lot, his family and guests] had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom – both young and old – surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.” (Genesis 19:4-9).

Excellent accounts and interpretations of the Sodom story are given by Rev Neil Dawson, Rev Dr Robert Goss, and the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.

Further discussion about the use of the word “know” to mean “have sex with” in Genesis 19:5.

Michael Carden* gives a comprehensive history of interpretations of the Sodom story in Genesis 19 and the parallel Gibeah story in Judges 19. Among other things, he points out that Philo, a contemporary of Jesus, is the first person known to state that one of the reasons for the destruction of Sodom was the practice of male-male sex. Prior to that time, Sodom had been thought of mainly as a cruel and unjust city whose people abused the poor and outsiders.

*Sodomy: A History of a Christian Biblical Myth, 2004. Also see here.

This site shows that the men of Sodom, instead of being gay, could actually have been gay-bashers.

Here is a humorous account of the Sodom story.

Motive of the mob

Genesis 19 does not tell us why the mob wanted to gang rape the strangers. However 2 motives can be surmised.

One possible motive is that the rape would be mainly for sexual pleasure or lust. Another possible motive is that the mob feared or disliked strangers being in their town and gang rape would show the rapists’ power over the vulnerable strangers. Anal penetration by a gang would be an act of humiliation lowering the strangers’ male status to that of women. Being forced to take the female role in sexual activity would be the ultimate insult. Under the code of hospitality, Lot offered the mob his virgin daughters as a substitute for his guests to protect their male honor and also his own honor as a host. This shows the paramount importance of honor in that culture.

False views about the Sodom story

Most of the following views (in italics) are those of people who are anti-homosexual.

The Sodom story shows that God condemns homosexuality or all sex between men (this is false)

The Sodom story is no more a condemnation of all sex between men than the similar story in Judges 19, where men gang rape a (female) concubine to death, is a condemnation of all sex between men and women. Instead both stories are condemnations of gang rape, not of consenting sex.

The Sodom story does not explicitly or implicitly condemn sex between men except where gang rape is involved.

The reference in Jude 7 to the people of Sodom having gone after strange or other flesh refers to,homosexual sex (this is false)

The true situation is explained by Richard Hays in The Moral Vision of the New Testament. He states that the phrase “went after other flesh” (apelqousai opisw sarkos heteras) refers to their pursuit of non-human (i.e. angelic) flesh. The expression sarkos heteras means “flesh of another kind”. Thus, it is impossible to construe this passage as a condemnation of homosexual desire, which entails precisely the pursuit of the same kind. (p. 404). Further, just as verses 6 and 8 are both talking about angels, so verse 7 is also talking about angels.

The reference in Ezekiel 16: 50 to the people of Sodom having committed abomination refers to homosexual sex as in Leviticus 18 and 20 (this is false)

The use of “haughty and committed abomination” in verse 50 does not refer to new sins but merely sums up the sins in verse 49 (arrogance and not helping the poor and needy). The two verses are constructed in the common Hebrew pattern of parallel repetition.

The men of Sodom were all homosexuals (this is false)

Genesis 19:4 says that all the men from every part of the city of Sodom surrounded Lot’s house. Lot knew these men and would not have offered them his virgin daughters for sex as a substitute for having sex with his guests if all or most of them were homosexuals.

The mob surrounding Lot’s house did not want to rape the men (angels) sheltering in the house but simply wanted to get acquainted with them or interrogate them (this is false)

Lot would not have offered the mob his virgin daughters for sex if the mob simply wanted to get acquainted with his guests or interrogate them.

The similar Gibeah story

The story of the attempted rape of a visiting man at Gibeah is very similar to the story of the attempted rape of 2 visiting men at Sodom. The Gibeah story is told in Judges 19:14-29. The details and implications of this story are here.

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