Discussing the Sin of Sodom at a Family Dinner
After we left St. Louis, I stopped by to visit family and spent an afternoon at my grandmother’s house having dinner, discussing politics, and Christianity in general. The conversation was great and had many of the same topics that the younger generation of Christians have been discussing on everything from abortion rights to international trade.
One of the things that came up was how often Christians spout scripture that they believe they know, yet have little or no understanding of where it occurs in the Bible, the cultural traditions of the times, or why it’s important in the broader scheme of the historical record. Most Christians don’t even realize that the Catholic Bible used for thousands of years, and the more recent Protestant Bible that became popular after Martin Luther rebelled against Rome, have different books in them! If you need a reference tool, see this site, which lets you look up every translation for any given verse.
Using the Sin of Sodom as a Case Study
A perfect case study is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and the often referenced sin of sodom. Please note that before we proceed, this has nothing to do with the current political debate – I’m not even going to go there right now. Instead, it is an easy to understand illustration using a story that everyone who grew up in a Christian environment should know and be able to understand instinctively, making it a perfect tool for explaining our criticism with the state of the collective Church in the United States at this moment in time.
The background: In Hebrew, the word Sodom means “burnt” and the word Gomorrah means “a ruined heap” so the names that we now use to refer to the cities must have been given after the disaster and not the original names used by the people who lived there.We also know that Sodom and Gomorrah were not the only cities God destroyed in this manner – Admah and Zeboiim were also destroyed in judgment (see Deuteronomy 29:23).
For thousands of years, the word “Sodomite” literally meant “someone from Sodom”, just as American means someone from the United States. In fact, the word “Sodomite” didn’t have any sexual connotation until the 13th century when the word came into the English language. Yes, you read that right … the definition didn’t come into existence until 1,300 years after Jesus Christ walked the Earth.
I think the worst part is that most Christians are so non-educated they don’t realize that sodomy includes oral sex, including oral sex among married couples (go pick up a damn dictionary). For centuries, man and wife, in the marriage bed, having oral sex was an unspeakable, filthy, abomination that required total repentance thanks mostly to the preaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, who believed that sex should exist only for procreative means. Modern American culture, however, has conveniently forgotten this definition and now the same Christians that hold signs condemning sodomites go home and commit sodomy a few times a week, talking to friends and family about the holiness of their marriage bed. It’s baffling people stake their soul on a book that most of them aren’t even willing to read in its entirety (that’s one of the reasons that my freshman year in college, I worked by way through every word from cover-to-cover over the course of eight or nine months).
The Reasons Sodom Was Destroyed (Or What Was the Sin of Sodom the Bible Discusses?)
With that said, most Americans think they know the actual reason the cities were destroyed – the men of Sodom surrounded Lot’s house and wanted to rape the travelers who were angels sent by God. For most, that’s it. They believe the entire sin of Sodom consisted of a mob committing sexual sin. Yet, the angels were already sent there to save Lot and his family before the judgment came so this could not have been the event itself that caused the judgment. As we’ll see in a moment, Jewish tradition and writings support that – it was something entirely different that resulted in the process of judgment beginning.
Looking at the three most authoritative sources: 1.) Scripture, 2.) the Talmud (which is the oral tradition of the Jewish rabbis and teachers passed down for thousands of years – and yes, it’s relevant because if it’s important enough that Jesus Christ spent his time in the temple courtyard reading and studying it at 12 years old to develop his understanding of God’s law, it certainly has value to us), and 3.) historical texts at the time such as the work of famed historian Josephus, we know several things.
1. The two cities were so wicked that travelers would be given a bed and if they were too short, their feet would be cut off. If they were too tall, they would be stretched on the wrack.
2. Merchants refused to sell bread or goods to the visitors in their land, causing some to starve to death in the town square.
3. There were four judges in Sodom named Shakrai (Liar), Shakurai (Awful Liar), Zayyafi (Forger), and Mazle Dina (Perverter of Justice). The justice system was so corrupt and evil that it documents cases where a pregnant woman was attacked and miscarried so the husband sued to the attacker in court. The judges ordered the attacker to rape the woman in front of the husband to make her pregnant again and restore her to her original condition.
The “cry” that rose up from Sodom to the Lord and was the final straw came from a hand maiden that was punished for showing compassion and mercy. There are generally two accounts as to the details. According to The Talmud (Ref Sanhedrin 109a):
“A certain maiden gave some bread to a poor man, hiding it in a pitcher. On the matter becoming known, they daubed her with honey and placed her on the parapet of the wall, and the bees came and consumed her. Thus it is written, And the Lord said, The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah, because it is great (rabbah): whereupon Rab Judah commented in Rab’s name: on account of the maiden (ribah).”
There are some scholars that believe that in another case, the sin of sodom reached a tipping point when a blood descendant of Abraham was burned for showing compassion and also cried out to God for justice, just as the blood of Abel cried out to God after his brother Cain struck him down in the field.
Rabbi Jehudah said: They made a proclamation in Sodom saying: Everyone who strengthens the hand of the poor or the needy with a loaf of bread shall be burnt by fire. Peletith, daughter of Lot, was wedded to one of the magnates of Sodom. She saw a certain very poor man in the street of the city, and her soul was grieved on his account… Every day when she went out to draw water she put in her bucket all sorts of provisions from her home, and she fed that poor man. The men of Sodom said: How does this poor man live? When they ascertained the facts, they brought her forth to be burnt by fire. She said: Sovereign of all the worlds! maintain my right and my cause (at the hands of) the men of Sodom. And her cry ascended before the Throne of Glory. In that hour the Holy One, blessed be He, said: I will now descend and I will see whether the men of Sodom have done according to the cry of this young woman, I will turn her foundation upwards, and the surface thereof shall be turned downwards.
Josephus, writing in Antiquities I:194-5 far earlier than almost every modern day text used by Christians, said his research concurred with the Jewish findings that the sin of sodom was as follows:
The Sodomites, overweeningly proud of their numbers and the extent of their wealth, showed themselves insolent to men and impious to the Divinity, insomuch that they no more remembered the benefits that they had received from him, hated foreigners and declined all intercourse with others. Indignant at this conduct, God accordingly resolved to chastise them for their arrogance…
For those who believe that versus in the Bible should be directly referenced, the Sin of Sodom was specifically spelled out later in scripture, word for word, in Ezekiel:
Your elder sister is Samaria who lived with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who lived to the south of you, is Sodom with her daughters. You not only followed their ways, and acted according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways. As I live, says the Lord GOD, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.
– Ezekiel 16:46-50
So, Ezekiel breaks the sin of Sodom it down for us:
- Excessive food and prosperity but no support for poor and needy
- Did abominable things
The term abomination means “unclean”, and it is typically used to refer to things that God hates. So, let’s take a look at everything that was considered an abomination. The word appears roughly 67 times in the Bible, with 65 of those occurring in the old testament (depending on the translation you use, this number will be a bit higher or lower). I’ve sort of grouped them together and avoided listing those that are just repeats of earlier references found in later books.
New Testament Abominations:
- Jesus defines the love of money as an abomination to God (an important distinction because this is often misquoted by people who haven’t read it as “money is the root of all evil”. If that were the case, Christ wouldn’t have been friends with people like Joseph of Arimathea, in whose tomb he was later buried, who happened to be one of the richest men in the middle east; the problem was people like the rich young ruler, who made money his god). – Luke 16:15
- Those who practice abominations will not enter the kingdom of heaven – Revelations 21:27. Since only one abomination was mentioned in the new testament that is applicable to every day human living, we have to look to the book of the law, with which both the author of Revelations and Jesus Christ were familiar.
Old Testament Abominations:
- Egyptians considered it an abomination to eat with a Hebrew. (Genesis 43:32)
- Shepherds were an abomination to the Egyptians because they considered farming dirty work. (Genesis 46:34)
- Anything in the oceans or rivers that does not have fins and scales is an abomination. This covers lobster, shrimp, scallops, etc. (Leviticus 11:10-19)
- All winged insects that go upon all fours are an abomination. (Leviticus 11:23)
- Anything that swarms is an abomination. (Locust, bees, etc. Which is interesting because John the Baptist ate wild honey and locusts according to Mark 1:1-8). (Leviticus 11:41)
- Whatever crawls on its belly, goes on all fours, or has many feet. (Leviticus 11:42)
- Anything eaten on the third day. (Leviticus 19:7).
- Those who eat swine flesh. So, put down the bacon, sausage, and pork chops. (Isaiah 66:17)
- Coveting silver or gold in the temples of other gods. (Deuteronomy 7:25)
- Sacrificing anything imperfect to God. (Deuteronomy 17:1)
- Burning your son or daughter as an offering. (Deuteronomy 18:10-12)
- Practicing witchcraft, sorcery, or speaking with the dead as a necromancer. (Deuteronomy 18:10-12)
- Secret idols. (Deuteronomy 27:15)
Let’s look specifically at some more common abominations that are committed every day in the United States:
- Remarrying your first wife if she has remarried since you divorced. (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). So, the Parent Trap movie by Walt Disney? Had the woman remarried since the divorce and then been widowed or divorced from her second husband, it would literally cause the judgment of God to come upon a nation.
- Adultery is an abomination. (Ezekiel 22:11)
- Men sleeping with one another. (Leviticus 18:22)
- Cheating your customers and being dishonest are abominations. (Deuteronomy 25:13-16 and Proverbs 11:1, Proverbs 20:10, and Proverbs 20:23). In the small town where I grew up, the son of the grocer once told his social studies class that they soaked the meat in water every day to increase the weight, causing the price to be higher for less meat. That’s precisely what this verse is describing. In fact, this is quoted as an abomination more than nearly everything else in the entire scripture.
- A woman wearing masculine clothes or a man putting on a woman’s dress. So, blue jeans and pants on the ladies? Yeah, it’s an abomination. (Deuteronomy 22:5)
- Rape and murder are an abomination. (Judges 20:6, referring to a crime committed by the men of Gibeah earlier in the text)
- Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, shedding innocent blood, devising wicked plans, feet that run quickly to evil, bearing false witness, or sowing discord among brothers. (Proverbs 6:16-19)
- Arrogance is an abomination. (Proverbs 16:5)
- If someone fails to follow the law, even his prayer is an abomination. (Proverbs 28:9)
The Sin of Sodom Committed Again in the Book of Judges
A near exact replica of the Sodom story occurs hundreds of years later in the book of Judges, Chapter 19, when a man and his wife were traveling through the countryside, a stranger took them in to protect them so they didn’t have to stay outside, showing hospitality, just as Lot did. Then, the story takes a familiar turn …
22Now as they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, certain sons of Belial, beset the house round about, and beat at the door, and spake to the master of the house, the old man, saying, Bring forth the man that came into thine house, that we may know him.
23And the man, the master of the house, went out unto them, and said unto them, Nay, my brethren, nay, I pray you, do not so wickedly; seeing that this man is come into mine house, do not this folly.
24Behold, here is my daughter a maiden, and his concubine; them I will bring out now, and humble ye them, and do with them what seemeth good unto you: but unto this man do not so vile a thing.
25But the men would not hearken to him: so the man took his concubine, and brought her forth unto them; and they knew her, and abused her all the night until the morning: and when the day began to spring, they let her go.
26Then came the woman in the dawning of the day, and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her lord was, till it was light.
27And her lord rose up in the morning, and opened the doors of the house, and went out to go his way: and, behold, the woman his concubine was fallen down at the door of the house, and her hands were upon the threshold.
28And he said unto her, Up, and let us be going. But none answered. Then the man took her up upon an ass, and the man rose up, and gat him unto his place.
29And when he was come into his house, he took a knife, and laid hold on his concubine, and divided her, together with her bones, into twelve pieces, and sent her into all the coasts of Israel.
So, here again, in the city of Gibeah, we have a case where the men surround a house, attempt to rape the travelers, and instead they offer to send out the women (because, you know, the women were less valuable, which everyone conveniently skips over, unwilling to discuss). Yet, God doesn’t come down and destroy Gibeah for committing the exact same sin. Why? Because the sin of Sodom was so grievous, and covered so many areas from money lending to the justice system to sexual impropriety.
What I find even more disturbing is that we just accept as a matter-of-fact that this dude chops up the dead woman’s body and sends it out to the four corners of Israel. That is not acceptable behavior.
The Law as Protection
Most of the laws detailed in the Bible were for the protection of Israel. Take the earlier verse we discussed, Leviticus 11:41: Anything eaten on the third day is an abomination. Now, the children of Israel didn’t know about bacteria and viruses thousands of years ago. By declaring anything older than 3 days an abomination, their standard of living was likely improved because sickness was avoided. In other words, this seemingly odd verse protected the children of Israel from a danger they didn’t know existed.
Today, of course, thanks to the industrial revolution, we have canning technology and refrigeration units that can keep food good for weeks, if not years. The three day rule doesn’t cross any of our minds when we walk into Wal-Mart and pick up bread, milk, cheese, and eggs. Why? Because advances in our civilization have made the original precaution unnecessary. To say that may be uncouth, yet your actions say it every time you buy something that wasn’t prepared in the past few days.
The questions this raises are important: If we are no longer under the law, why do we still pick and choose those to which we adhere? My father once made a very wise observation: We whitewash the sins with which we ourselves are familiar. The adulterer or divorced woman will sit in church or a restaurant and call gay people wicked abominations as they themselves eat lobster, have oral sex with their second or third spouse, and wear mixed linens (we didn’t even get into that, but American Eagle and Abercrombie & Fitch, which I’ve made a lot of money trading in my lifetime, are technically unclean because they mix the materials used in the construction of their shirts and pants). Fifty or sixty years ago, they would have said the same about ‘whites’ marrying ‘blacks’.
In other words: The state of laziness in the church is such that what we call Christianity is, in many cases, nothing more than popular American culture wrapped in a flag and a cross, changing with the social mores of the day. Theology is ordered up like a mocha cappuccino with extra foam to fit whatever circumstances or beliefs your parents passed down in thirty-second sound bites without any analysis as to the truthfulness or accuracy of interpretation. At least the devout Buddhist monks trek thousands of miles in devotion – we can’t even pick up a book.
Random Fact on the Apple of Sodom
There is a plant called the Vine of Sodom, which is referred to in Deuteronomy 32:32. Many believe that it is the osher of the Arabs, which grows in the Middle east, although others believe it could be colocynth. Anyway, the fruit of this plant are known as the “Apple of Sodom” because they are beautiful to the eye, tempting you to eat them, but bitter to the taste. The implications inherent in that naming is awesome and poetic, whether or not you agree with the interpretation of the traditional story of Sodom and Gomorrah. It could be used for virtually any sin under the sun.