We now enter into the times of Abram and Lot, and will cover the most controversial part of the entire book of Genesis. I will state upfront that I have had more problems with this story than any other in the entire Bible. Contrary to popular opinion, the sins responsible for God’s decision to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah are not spelled out, the writer only alludes to them, leaving us to fill in the blanks. But, as with everything, this is just my humble opinion.
In the beginning of the tale we find Abram and Lot having a dispute over their herds and the grazing land. Their two herds have grown to the point where the land can no longer support both peoples, so they agree to go their separate ways. Lot chooses the land near Sodom (greedily taking the fertile Jordan valley), so Abram agrees to go west to the land of Canaan.
Gen 13:6-12: The land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdsmen of Lot’s cattle. At that time the Canaanites and the Per’izzites dwelt in the land. Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen; for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” And Lot lifted up his eyes, and saw that the Jordan valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zo’ar; this was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomor’rah. So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan valley, and Lot journeyed east; thus they separated from each other. Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, while Lot dwelt among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom.
One cannot help but wonder how differently the story might have worked out if Lot had chosen the Canaanite lands, leaving Abram to settle in the lands near Sodom and Gomorrah.
War comes to the land where Lot lives, between the people of the Jordan valley (Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela) and the people of Mesopotamia/Babylon (Shiar, Ellasar, Elam, Goiim). Jordan loses the war and, for some untold reason, part of the spoils the four kings make off with is Lot and his posessionss.
Gen 14:11-12: So the enemy took all the goods of Sodom and Gomor’rah, and all their provisions, and went their way; they also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.
When Abram hears of it he takes his army and wages war to secure the release of Lot. He is successful and returns with Lot, his people, and his herds. Bera, king of Sodom, probably more out of fear than joy, goes out to meet Abram and offers what is probably a bribe to keep the peace. Let’s face it, Abram just defeated the enemy that the combined might of the Jordan Valley couldn’t – now they’re returning. Wouldn’t you be just a little concerned what Abram’s next act might be?
It is at this point that Melchizedek, king of Salem (Peace) enters, secures the pact between Abram and Sodom, and Lot returns to the land of the Jordan. Melchizedek shares bread and wine with Abram in a fashion similar to Jesus’ sharing of bread and wine with the twelve, blessing both Abram and God. Abram then offers 1/10th of all his posessions to Melchizedek, and both go their own ways.
When next we hear of Lot it is when the angels arrive in Sodom to destroy the city, Lot is now living in Sodom. (Yes, I am skipping over the entire story of Abram, Sarai, the birth of Abram’s first son, and the announcement of Isaac). Abram (now Abraham) has, unsuccessfully, pleaded with the angels not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah so as to save Lot. The angels, a bit peeved at Abraham’s continuous pleading, leave him with the matter unsettled and arrive at the city gates where they encounter Lot sitting there.
Gen 19:1-3: The two angels came to Sodom in the evening; and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed himself with his face to the earth (prostration), and said, “My lords, turn aside, I pray you, to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise up early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the street.” But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.
Clearly Lot has some inkling who these men are, and why they have come. He has to know what has been going on in the city, and still has decided to live there. Now we come to the encounter that is the center of the controversy. Let us read carefully (emphasis mine):
Gen 19:4-11: Before they lay down (sleep for the night), the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know (Hebrew: yada, Greek: συγγενώμεθα) them.” Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” But they said, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came to sojourn (live as a non-citizen), and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man, Lot, and drew near to break the door. But the men put forth their hands and brought Lot into the house to them, and shut the door. And they struck with blindness the men who were at the door of the house, both small and great, so that they wearied themselves groping for the door.
There is much controversy over the Hebrew word translated as “know” (yada), as it is used to both describe sexual activity (to “know” one’s wife) and as knowledge (to “know” something), and Biblical translators have done us no favors cleaning up the language for a puritanical society. The Septuagint (LXX) uses the Greek word συγγενώμεθα, which leaves no doubt the act spoken of is sexual intercourse. While I do not hold to the legend of the LXX’s creation*, I do believe that it was created by Jewish scholars who were well versed in Scripture, Hebrew, and Greek, and understood what was intended here. Their selection of συγγενώμεθα (intercourse) over γινώσκω (knowledge) was done knowing what was being spoken of in the passage. This is further born out by Lot’s counter offer of his daughters in place of the men. There would be no reason to offer his daughters if all the men of Sodom were after was knowledge, an exchange of information as some have suggested. Without a doubt the townsmen were looking for homosexual encounters. But, it goes beyond that.
Let us now look into why Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. According to Sacred Scripture, God was so angry with these two cities that the only possible solution for them was complete and utter destruction, nothing else would do. Oddly enough, the sins of Gomorrah aren’t mentioned at all, we are left to assume they are the same as Sodom’s.
Gen 18:20-19:13: Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomor’rah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry which has come to me; and if not, I will know.”…But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.”…And they struck with blindness the men who were at the door of the house, both small and great, so that they wearied themselves groping for the door. Then the men said to Lot, “Have you any one else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or any one you have in the city, bring them out of the place; for we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it.”
The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was not one sin, nowhere in Scripture does it state this, infact the opposite is stated, and to pin it solely on homosexuality is an attempt to simplify the matter. The word “sin” used is ἁμαρτίαι, this is the plural form of ἁμαρτίια (sin), the proper translation should be “their sins are very great.” We can, from the text, identify three sins which the angels observed, leading them to the decision that the cities must be destroyed:
- Inhospitality. Hospitality among Eastern people is a major part of their culture, and a necessity for tribal life. Demanding that Lot turn over his guests to them is a blatant rejection of hospitality. Of this Jesus says to his disciples, Matt 10:14 “And if any one will not receive (welcome) you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.” In Islam the guest is to be put ahead of the family, even to the sacrifice of the needs of the family. There are few greater sins than to dishonor a guest.
- Homosexuality. Yes. Harsh as it may be to hear in this day and age, homosexuality is a sin. Of this there can be no doubt, for the Bible makes it clear in several places (OT and NT). Many acts which are acceptable today are considered sins in the Bible – adultery, fornication, homosexuality: 1Cor 6:9: Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the pornographer (πόρνοι), nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals (ἀρσενοκοῖται). This does not mean they cannot be saved, simply that they are sinners, see Soteriology. We are all, in one way or another, sinners, this does not mean we cannot be saved, but we must acknowledge that what we are doing is not pleasing to God.
- Rape. Gen 19:4-5 “ the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we (plural) may know them.'” Homosexuality aside, this is the intent to perform gang rape on Lot’s guests. While there is a lot of conflicting treatment of nonmarital sex in the Bible, the laws regarding provable rape are clear: death to the man. In the case of the rape of Dinah (Gen 34) we see grounds for taking it beyond the assailant, where his entire family (males) is killed for trying to treat it lightly. When Tamar is raped by Amnon (2Sam 13), many people look at David’s actions and say that since David does nothing this proves the Bible approves of rape. But let’s face it, David is no role model, sleeping with his general’s wife, then having the general killed to hide the resulting child. Tamar’s brother, Absaolm, takes the lead and has Amnon killed.
So, to summarize, Sodom, and probably Gomorrah, were destroyed because of their many sins, chief among these were: inhospitality, homosexuality, rape. Without further proof, an argument could be made that the last two were a combined sin: homosexual rape.
Throughout the Middle East at the time (Mesopotampia, Assyria, Babylon) laws were silent on homosexuality, though that the activity was practiced is without question. Where such activitiy is mentioned in laws it is the acts of rape or incest (homo- or hetero- incest) that are seen as the crimes, not homosexuality itself. Israel, alone, lists it as a banned activity. Egypt’s stand is hotly debated.
Because of this I have to conclude that Sodom and Gomorrah were not destroyed solely because of homosexuality, else other major cities would have been destroyed as well. In my opinion, Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because immorality – inhospitality, homosexuality, rape, and probably incest (no direct mention, but it was not an unheard of activity) – had reached such a high level that: Gen 19:13 “the outcry against its people has become great before the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it”
The Modern Theologian
* LXX’s creation – According to legend Ptolemy II wanted a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. To this end he brought together 72 of the foremost Hebrew translators from Jerusalem, put them in 72 different rooms, and gave them 72 days to translate the 49 books of the Bible into Greek for inclusion in the Library of Alexandria. At the end of the 72 days all 72 versions were compared and found to be identical. LXX is the Roman number 70, thus the Scriptures are known as the Septuagint (seventy), or LXX. Why LXX and not LXXII (70/72)? Beats me.