A Holiday Visit to Sodom and Gomorrah

Nothing like an all-destructive act of divine carpet bombing to kindle the holiday spirit. I actually debated putting off the conversation to a less celebratory time, but time, it seems, is the one luxury which we currently lack. You see, it turns out (so I’m told, by people who really seem to know what they’re talking about) that God destroys societies that embrace and normalize homosexual relationships. Since we appear to be on the brink, as a civilization, of making precisely that mistake, I figured better safe than Sodom. So, let’s get to brass tacks: why did God destroy the cities on the plains, and what might it all portend for a society (ours) where the gay agenda is spreading and taking root like a crop of rainbow dandelions?

We’ll begin with a few caveats.

First, there are strong reasons for believing that the written stories in the Old Testament are highly revised versions of patchwork oral traditions that were passed down for many, many generations in multiple forms – stories reworked (very possibly during the times of ancient Israel’s apostasy) to convey morals and lessons about the legendary patriarchs and God’s dealings with them as well as to explain the state of affairs contemporary to the stories’ writing, bearing at best a distant and superficial relation to what we would call actual, factual history. The notion of accurate, objective history, reconstructed with clinical, scientific precision, is a modern idea. The compilers, redactors, writers, and editors who put together what we now call the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament seem to have been far more concerned with the literary effect of the texts they put together than whether or not they were taken by their readers as just-the-facts, textbook style history.

I would also hesitate to draw sweeping conclusions from this or any single OT story about God’s character or His past, present, or future relations with His human creations if only for the reason that the God portrayed therein (in particular the stories of late Exodus and Numbers) is not only vengeful and warlike but positively genocidal. The ethnic cleansing, indiscriminate and bloody slaughter (and, occasionally, rape and/or enslavement) visited on village after village, ostensibly at the Lord’s behest (and for no other reason than the inhabitants happen to live in a place promised to Abraham, who, it should be noted, was himself quite content to share the land with outsiders) is shocking beyond description, and reflects a highly problematic understanding of the character of God that, I think, we categorically reject based upon better and fuller subsequent treatments of the subject (the writings of the OT prophets, the Book of Mormon, the New Testament, and the teachings of modern Church leaders).

Still, even if it is to be argued that we can learn something about God’s relationship with humanity from the Genesis 18, there is simply no scriptural evidence that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their tolerance or acceptance of homosexual relationships.

The story is prefaced by the Lord’s statement to Abraham:

Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham is to become a great and populous nation and all the nations of the earth are to bless themselves by him? For I have singled him out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is just and right, in order that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what He has promised (Gen. 18:7-9).

Though this is not the first time God has made promises to Abraham in the account, it is the first time that God’s promises have been made conditional on Abraham’s righteousness (or that of his posterity). This is a subtle but forceful critique of the fact that in the previous scene, Abraham and Sarah both expressed disbelief that the Lord would live up to His promises of fertility. Abraham’s earlier belief had been “accounted unto him for righteousness.” But what now? The Lord promised Abraham limitless offspring, followed by a demand that Abraham surrender a (painful) token of his procreative organ (through circumcision), in an act of reproductive submission to the Lord. Followed by more barrenness and prolonged descent into old age. Will Abraham’s evident lack of trust possibly thwart the fulfillment of the promised posterity? This statement is the first, implicitly threatening, indication that it might.

Abraham’s response is brazen and audacious. The Lord stands poised to destroy thousands as a demonstration of His power over life and death. Abraham “came forward” (as opposed to cowering or standing back) and with sarcastic flattery addresses the Lord’s introduction of righteousness as a condition for the promised blessings of posterity:

Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty: What if there should be 50 innocent within the city; will You then wipe out the place and not forgive it for the sake of the innocent 50 who are in it? Far be it from You [here Abraham’s hyper-politeness verges on insubordination] to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty…. Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly? (Gen. 18:23-25)

Abraham still resents the heretofore broken promise of fertility, and shows blatant contempt for what seems like the Lord’s last minute introduction of conditions that will enable Him to go back on His promises. He appears to be accusing the Lord of manufacturing for Himself a loophole in the contract. It’s as if he’s saying, “Oh Great and Just One – you say you will bless me, but when it comes down to it, will you, really? And when you don’t, won’t your excuse be some imagined, technical defect in my righteousness?” Abraham is calling God to task, and in the ensuing action demonstrates that God will not stand for it. He will demonstrate His unwillingness to abide such faithless defiance.

From there Abraham accompanies “the men” – the Lord is now described as two men (JST makes the headcount of divine visitors three) and the narrative is decidedly vague as to the nature of the relationship – to Sodom. The three will call on Lot in Sodom as three earlier visitors had called on Abraham. And they are met with equal hospitality. After evening falls, the scene sours, as the cities inhabitants – “to the last man” (an allusion to the earlier bargaining scene) – show up and demand that Lot turn over the visitors, “that we may know them.” That the men are not homosexuals is evidenced by Lots attempt to appease them by offering his daughters – a gesture for which he will later pay in spades (the JST here indemnifies Lot by having the men demand his daughters at the outset). The threatened gang-rape could not stand in starker contrast to the hospitality extended the visitors by Lot. The would-be rapists advance their aggression by attempting to break down the door. The Lord (men) strikes them blind, and, later, utterly destroys their city.

This is not meant to argue that the Bible is neutral on the question of homosexuality. Indeed, it would require a ridiculous, contrived political correctness to pretend that, for example, the God of the book of Leviticus is indifferent to homosexual relations (at least of the male/male variety). But that is not the point of this particular story. The men of Sodom have demanded access to God’s genitals just as God has, through the circumcision pact, demanded access to Abraham’s. They have arrogated to themselves an authority over reproductive autonomy that belongs only to the Lord. What counts in this episode is not the difference between same-sex and opposite-sex relations, but the difference between God and man.

Control over human sexual autonomy has from the beginning been an overriding concern for God. He created man, in His image, and commanded him to create. Control over the enactment of that command, the circumscribing of Godly power in the hands of human agents, dominates the early narratives of Genesis. But here, in Sodom, human sexual autonomy actually directly threatens God’s power over human reproductive capacity, manifested in the form of a violent sexual attack directed at God (or God’s representatives). God forcefully reclaims a power that humans sought aggressively to seize; and while Abraham watches in stunned horror, his penis is still healing from the wound of his recent circumcision. His genital submission could not be more pointedly unlike the genital aggression of the men of Sodom, and he has learned that his total submission and fealty to the Lord is a necessary precondition to the promise of offspring. God’s demonstration of power is both frightening but also, for Abraham, reassuring. Surely a being with such unmatched power over death also has the power to fulfill his promises of life.

Nowhere in the scriptures do we find homosexuality as an explanation for the destruction of Sodom. The reasons are only explicitly addressed once, in Ezekiel 16:49-50:

Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness 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: therefore I took them away as I saw good.

Homosexuality could fall under the broad category of “abomination,” but so could many things. Jewish and Midrashic traditions hold that the sin of Sodom was a lack of hospitality, a pointed euphemism for the threatened gang-rape. They were a society saturated with wickedness, and their attempted maltreatment of the heavenly visitor(s) was barely the tip of the iceberg. The vision of a city inhabited solely by gay men, willfully and brazenly rebelling against God, is a modern fiction forcibly and awkwardly read into a very different narrative. It was an interpretation that was alive and well during Joseph Smith’s time, yet the only comment he ever made on the fate of Sodom was that it came as a result of their “rejection of the prophets.” It should also be noted that at no point in the scriptural account leading up to the Sodom story has God ever prohibited homosexual relations. The first recorded such prohibition comes in the book of Leviticus, so there is no textual evidence that homosexuality would constitute a “rejection of the prophets.”

Again, none of this is meant as an argument that homosexuality is not described in the Bible a sin, just an argument against viewing it as a kind of super-sin, capable by itself of sparking the destructive rage of a capricious and angry God or of single-handedly bringing down an entire civilization. And, regardless of any wider lessons about homosexuality we might wish to draw from the Bible, the fact remains that the argument that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because the inhabitants tolerated or accepted or participated in homosexual relationships is not remotely consistent with the Biblical account.

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Comments

  1. Quite right, young Bradley.

  2. Thanks for this analysis. Do we know that the “knowing” the men of Sodom wanted was sexual? Not every use of that word is sexual, ie John 17:3- and this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.

  3. kew,
    I think there is a wide scholarly consensus that the “knowing” in this story does, in fact, have overtly sexual implications.

  4. Ok. I was just checking, since the article was arguing about the validity of other assumptions about the story.

  5. Brad,

    Check out the Islamic interpretation. It takes a similar tack as does the traditional chrisitian interpretation

  6. For those interested, there was a very good discussion about this a few years ago. See the interplay between Julie (the OP), Ben S, and Jim F (and Kurt), here.

  7. Yes it does, bbell. I’m not sure what you’re implying, though.

  8. Whoa. Kurt (or the Ghost thereof?) is a real sweetheart. Good discussion, though.

  9. Its just interesting thats all. You take the Christian liberal view on Sodom which has some Jewish backing. I pretty much take the conservative Christian view on this which has Koranic backing. In an LDS context AKA when a modern day prophet is discussing Sodom that the GA always takes the conservative position.
    Also there is a reference to Sodom in the BOM is 2nd Nephi 9 vs 13 which the topical guide lists under Homosexuality. This of course is baesed on IS 3 from the the OT.

    I am pretty comfortable saying that the conservative Christian view on Sodom is pretty much the mainstream view in Mormondom

  10. I don’t care what is the conservative view or the mainstream Mormon view. Do you have any arguments against any of the specific points I raise in the post? The OP is an argument that a straightforward reading of the actual Biblical account is not consistent with the conservative christian or mainstream Mormon view. Saying that the post is not traditionally Christian or mainstream Mormon or Muslim is not an argument against it, since the OP takes that to be axiomatic.

  11. Mark Brown says:

    when a modern day prophet is discussing Sodom that the GA always takes the conservative position.

    bbell, this statment is incorrect, at least the always part.

    I can think of three occasions in the past decade in general conference when the Christian liberals who speak there gave the same explanation which Brad gives here.

  12. Still, even if it is to be argued that we can learn something about God’s relationship with humanity from the Genesis 18, there is simply no scriptural evidence that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their tolerance or acceptance of homosexual relationships.

    Exactly.

  13. Steve Evans says:

    Brad, you’ve written something really interesting here.

  14. “there is simply no scriptural evidence that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their tolerance or acceptance of homosexual relationships.”

    Brad, perhaps you should check out the post I linked to above.

    “That the men are not homosexuals is evidenced by Lots attempt to appease them by offering his daughters”

    This is weak argument and fairly presentist, in my view, as you seem to be imposing an understanding of sexuality upon them that is simultaneously modern and reductionist (something you take issue with in among your “traditional” opponents, who just go the other way with it.)

    One might well ask you, Why can’t the men of Sodom be bisexual? Do gay men never sleep with women?

  15. Sure, Ben. I didn’t want to get into the whole modern sexual identity anachronism argument, so I simplified (though it’s not as if I argued affirmatively that the men of Sodom were modern heterosexuals either). The result is the same. It’s ridiculous to believe that S&G is a story about gay men.

    The post you linked to is fascinating and an excellent discussion. I don’t quite follow how that statement of mine leads you to believe that I need to read it, though.

  16. I just want to add one more point. Christian denominations ought to be careful about warning societies that they will be destroyed because of their wickedness by a jealous God. Within recorded history, there are no accounts (outside the Bible) that I know of where a society was destroyed because of a grievous sin against their God, or Gods. Greece survived quite a long time while not just tolerating but embracing homosexuality. Amsterdam has not been struck down with Godly lightning bolts (and based on the conversation Abraham had with God, will probably never because Amsterdam really has a lot of good people, far more than 50, that’s for sure). The point is that when a religion warns of impending doom and that doom does not show up, it discredits that religion.

  17. Put more simply, I didn’t argue for what the men were, just for what they weren’t.

    And that God didn’t destroy them for being gay (unless, like bbell, you think that the muslim interpretation of this story is more authoritative than what the Bible actually says).

  18. Steve Evans says:

    Brad, I think bbell’s point is something interesting, if not quite your message; to the extent that a general authority (or many) have chosen to interpret this story as little more than a warning against homosexuality, what then is our burden as members? Even if their reading of the OT is incorrect, is it wrong? Should we reject ascriptural readings by authority figures?

  19. Should we reject ascriptural readings by authority figures?

    Yes.

  20. Brad,

    You have helped me understand why the Genesis account of this has never quite made sense to me when read as the “mainstream” view. Reading the JST version of these verses has only cast further doubt in my mind about the generally accepted, but unlikely, interpretation as homosexuality alone.

    To me, the Old Testament is an interesting read, both for good stories, and all the “Say what?” moments. I’m looking forward to studying it this next year. Maybe that would be a good topic for a post. What are your favorite “Say what?” OT passages?

  21. Kevin, the OT is an incredibly beautiful set of texts. Unless you read it through a fundamentalist/literalist lens. Then, regarding “Say what?” moments, the sky’s the limit.

  22. Steve,

    #18,

    to the extent that a general authority (or many) have chosen to interpret this story as little more than a warning against homosexuality, what then is our burden as members?

    That they have chosen to interpret the story as such only implies that they haven’t chosen to go against conventional thinking on the subject. I think this may change as the church’s position vis a vis homosexuality will continue changing, and perhaps in a few more years or decades general authorities will reconsider exactly what happened at Sodom. Going against conventionality is quite hard, I mean, heck, we call the sexual act “sodomy” for a reason. It is that ingrained in our conventional thinking that Sodom was homosexual.

  23. re: 16 You got that right. These predictions of destruction smack of frustration with being on the losing side of social change: You’re being too nice to the gays! Stop it or God’s gonna getcha! Sha-zam!

    It’s simply bad history to assert that any society has ever fallen because of a tolerance of homosexuality. John Boswell, et. al. put that notion to rest decades ago. It’s not really a subject of dispute in academia. If anything, history shows just the opposite: tolerance of minorities (including homosexuals) decreases when a society goes off the rails.

  24. Steve Evans says:

    Brad, I guess I disagree — at least sort of. I think it’s fine to point out that a general authority’s reading isn’t supported by the text; indeed as careful readers we must do so. But to reject their message overall strikes me as a mistake. GAs prooftext and misinterpret scriptures with some frequency — that doesn’t mean that we toss the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. To the extent we pick and choose which inaccurate readings we accept merely shows our own biases, no?

  25. The problem, Brad, is that you’ve boiled this story down to “homosexuality” or “not-homosexuality.” The whole point of that other thread is the establishment that homosexuality (or at least homosexual rape) plays a role in the story. It’s just that the Israelite perspective would find it very confusing to frame things in such a way that that would take priority.

    “Should we reject ascriptural readings by authority figures?”
    This is a large hermeneutical problem in some way for everyone (Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Mormons), and I don’t think one can simply say yes or no.

    “there are no accounts (outside the Bible) that I know of where a society was destroyed because of a grievous sin against their God, or Gods.”

    Read more history. In the Babylonian flood story, the entire world is destroyed (minus Utnapishtim, the Noah-figure) simply for being too loud. Your argument presumes that the validity of the point of the Bible story can be validated or invalidated by thematic comparison to others. (If nothing can happen but what happens elsewhere, how can there be any unique thing? There’s a deeper discussion to be had there.)

    I suspect many peoples responses to this will be largely based on their own prejudices. Also, as pointed out above, and in the other thread, it’s not just the Christians that have traditionally taken this perspective, but also the Jewish and Muslim, who are also in the Biblical tradition. You’re arguing against a lot of tradition.

  26. Mike,
    But how does the academic consensus to which you refer square with traditional Muslim interpretations of the Koran?

  27. Hmm… interesting, I don’t have too much time right now to post a comment the way I would like to… I’ll do it later.

    In the mean time, I find it interesting God didn’t seem to mind (relying on the OT narrative) the incestuos relationship of Lot and his daughters after their departure from Sodom.

    On another totally different note (perhaps more disputable and controversial), I have always been surprised that in the Biblical narrative, David and Johnathan’s homosexual relationship is not viewed as sinful. Rather it is minimized and justified constantly.

  28. Steve Evans says:

    “I suspect many peoples responses to this will be largely based on their own prejudices.”

    Er, yeah.

  29. I’m confused, Ben — did you think I was arguing against homosexual relations in the technical sense, i.e. against an attempted homosexual gang rape? The main arguments are that a) there is no evidence for what we call today “homosexuality” or tolerance of gays in Sodom; and b) no evidence that God destroyed S&G because they tolerated something that didn’t exist.

  30. When Catholics privilege tradition over the actual scriptures, “mainstream Mormons” usually describe that as Apostasy.

  31. “To the extent we pick and choose which inaccurate readings we accept merely shows our own biases, no?”

    That’s not what I’m calling for. I’m calling for privileging accurate readings over inaccurate ones, regardless of the “authority” of the source or interpretation. I only advocate rejecting ascriptural readings.

  32. That’s not what I’m calling for. I’m calling for privileging accurate readings over inaccurate ones, regardless of the “authority” of the source or interpretation. I only advocate rejecting ascriptural readings.

    Does that include Jude’s reading?
    Jude 1:7:

    Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication , and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.

  33. Ben,

    #25,

    In the Babylonian flood story, the entire world is destroyed (minus Utnapishtim, the Noah-figure) simply for being too loud.

    Wait, you tell me to read more history but then give a Biblical example. I noted in my comment that no historical record (outside the Bible) shows any society destroyed by their God. I’m looking for corroborative evidence that God really does destroy civilizations that live in sin.

    As for the flood story, are you talking of the Noah story, because Noah predates Babylon. Or was there some other flooding that had occurred that I am not aware of? And secondly, if you are talking of the Noah story, the reason God gave for the flood was that the world was filled with violence.

  34. I think my main problem with the post is its framing. And I’ve deleted the rest of my comment on that topic, since I think ultimately we’re in agreement.

    As to the other issue, Mormons, like Catholics and Jews, recognize a layer of authoritative interpretation between their scriptures and themselves. We don’t follow D&C 89, we follow the current authoritative interpretation.

    If you’re going to reject “inaccurate readings”, you’re going to have to toss parts of the OT and much of the NT. This is a larger problem for a Protestant than a Mormon, unless said Mormon has a bit of sola scriptura in him from cultural osmosis.

    Judaism, where the dichotomy between contextual and non-contextual (i.e. “inaccurate) readings were first recognized, recognized the authority of the interpreters over the text. That is, even in legal matters, a ruling based on a non-contextual reading was allowed to stand on the basis of the authority of the interpreter, not on the method of interpretation. That may seem odd, but it’s mitigated somewhat by the fact that they recognize both kinds of interpretation.

    I’m happy to have GA’s talk about homosexuality as a sin and reference Sodom, because I recognize the comment as (to some extent) non-contextual and non-expository. But, not everyone is both aware of and comfortable with that kind of principle.

  35. Steve Evans says:

    “I’m calling for privileging accurate readings over inaccurate ones, regardless of the “authority” of the source or interpretation”

    I don’t think you can disregard authority so easily. That doesn’t mean you have to call an inaccurate reading accurate, but it does mean that we respect the overall message even if its scriptural example is erroneous.

  36. Dan, it’s not a Bible story. Look up the Gilgamesh Epic. It far predates the Israelite version adapted in the Bible.

    Any “historical record” that explains why God(s) does things is, by modern standards, not history, whether in the Bible or out.

    “corroborative evidence that God really does destroy civilizations that live in sin.”

    Indeed. It happens in ancient texts. Whether said texts are “history”, and whether that status gives them validity over against the Bible is highly arguable.

  37. here is a privileged accurate reading

    From my LDS KJ Gen 19 vs 5. The controversy is mostly about the word “know”

    Know. There is a little a next to the word “know” in the text. If you avert your eyes down and read the footnote it says the following….. ‘Know’ is used both in Hebrew and English in this kind of context as a euphemism in place of a sexual word.

    So here is the interpretation in our LDS scriptures.

  38. …but it does mean that we respect the overall message even if its scriptural example is erroneous.

    I’m not making a wider argument about homosexuality. I’m just arguing that a close reading of Genesis 19 is not consistent with the claim that God destroyed Sodom because of homosexuality, regardless of who makes the claim.

  39. ah, Epic of Gilgamesh. It’s in my queue to read, but fairly far down. But isn’t the Epic of Gilgamesh historical fiction? I mean, it isn’t treated as definitive history, much like Iliad is not considered a true historical account of Troy, right?

  40. Ben

    It happens in ancient texts

    Isn’t it curious that the destruction of civilizations or societies by the hand of God only occur in “ancient texts” that cannot be corroborated by other accounts…

  41. bbell, read the damn post. The only argument I’ve made about the word “know” is that it does connote sexual activity.

  42. Kevin Barney says:

    kew, on your question, yes, some people argue that the word “know” in the passage was not euphemistic and did not reference a possible sexual act. See the T&S discussion Ben provided the link for above. I agree with Brad’s position that that verb was meant to be euphemistic in this passage. Here’s what I wrote on the other thread:

    I once had a lengthy debate on this topic with my friend Richley Crapo of USU, who took what I understand to be Julie’s position, that no sexual connotation to the passage was involved. My position was the same as what Ben writes. I think “know” is indeed euphemistic in that passage, but the main point was one of hospitality, not sexual aggression. Neither of us ever succeeded in convincing the other. I wish I had a transcript of that debate, but I suspect it was too long ago to still be in the archives.

  43. Dan, my point is that there are no “true historical accounts” in the ancient world.

    You seem to be making the argument that we can discount this bit because “it’s the Bible” (which is special pleading) or because it’s not a “true historical account” which is uninformed about the nature of writing in the ANE.

    All ANE texts (whether “historical” “mythological” etc.) involved statements about what the Gods were and were not doing, and their motives.

  44. “Isn’t it curious that the destruction of civilizations or societies by the hand of God only occur in “ancient texts” that cannot be corroborated by other accounts”

    Dan, how exactly do you propose to “corroborate” God’s motives? You’re missing the point entirely :)

  45. kuri #32,
    Jude ascribes S&G’s destruction to general sexual immorality and to going after “strange flesh.” That is not at all inconsistent with my reading in the OP.

  46. Jay Hinton says:

    Great post, Brad. It has always seemed relatively clear to me, as well, that the events in the chapters you talk about refer to gang rape-type activities, and not actual homosexuality.

    This topic is one of conservative Christianities finest strawmen in the homosexuality argument.

  47. Ben,

    What point am I missing? In ancient times God’s supposed method for handling societies that sinned grievously was to destroy them. Since the birth of His Son, this has never happened. Maybe that changed God’s views. I mean, according to the account of the conversation He had with Noah over the justification for the flood, it seems God was surprised at the level of violence and it really bothered Him so he did something about it. He then gave humanity a promise that he would never do that again.

    I’m trying to gain an understanding of why God destroyed Sodom. And why he hasn’t destroyed Amsterdam. It makes, for me at least, the story of Sodom just that, a story. An allegory. A boogeyman to tell children at night to be good.

  48. Steve Evans says:

    “Since the birth of His Son, this has never happened.”

    Except for the Book of Mormon, natch. Or is that a boogeyman?

  49. Steve,

    Except for the Book of Mormon, natch. Or is that a boogeyman?

    Forgive me, but did God destroy the Nephites?

  50. Careful with that euphemism, folks, it can lend unintentional meanings to many otherwise fine scriptures.

  51. Aaron Brown says:

    I’m afraid once you concede the verb to “know” is sexual, and that the male visitors wanted to gang-rape the visitors, everything is details, at least to a lot of LDS members. And I mean details that won’t overcome the visceral reaction of “Oooh, ick! Homosexuals!”

    Great post though, and I agree.

    AB

  52. “I’m trying to gain an understanding of why God destroyed Sodom”

    is very different from asserting that

    “Within recorded history, there are no accounts (outside the Bible) that I know of where a society was destroyed because of a grievous sin against their God, or Gods.”

    Let’s stick with the first topic instead of opining about ancient texts (“no accounts outside the Bible”) and what they do and don’t say :)

    “And why he hasn’t destroyed Amsterdam.”

    Perhaps He is biding his time? ;) Perhaps the default is to allow people to continue in sin, as with you and I, and Sodom was the exception to the rule? Perhaps Sodom as a whole had reached a breaking point? Perhaps (going in an entirely different direction), all the interpretation is after-the fact? Sodom gets destroyed by a meteorite, something firry from heaven. Clearly the people were wicked to merit such destruction, eh? What could they have done to deserve such? It may well be an etiological story, but that’s not the same as an allegory. :)

    (And I know, I hate emoticons too, but unless I insert them, I feel as though I come off as an arrogant prick instead of a humorous prick, and to show no ill will is intended.)

  53. Wish I could stay up all night debating this and fighting Brad’s corner, but alas, sleep beckons. I’ll just say that wrt “erroneous” readings of scripture in the mouths of authority I would suggest that Lester Bush was right to challenge exactly that re: blacks. I’m sure we could give other examples. It’s a difficult issue, for sure.

  54. Daniel, I think you would get a lot farther with people by arguing that since Christ’s time, there has been no supernatural destruction of cities/people/etc. recorded (fire from heaven, massive floods). By saying that God did not do anything also takes away the argument that God does not accomplish good things through other people (countless stories of people paying tithing and then having cash sent to them via post, for example).

  55. Aaron Brown says:

    “the male Sodomites wanted to gang-rape the visitors, everything else is details…”

    My apologies that I cannot write coherently.

    AB

  56. Also, Amsterdam is a fine city. If God destroys it, I’ll be ticked. Perhaps we should draw up a gleeful list of Cities God Should Burn To The Ground, Children and Other Innocents Be-damned. I vote for Dubai.

  57. Seattle!

  58. Aaron Brown says:

    Provo!

  59. Churches!

  60. I vote for that stupid cave where a certain individual continues to hide. :)

  61. I have confused Gilgamesh with Atrahasis. Both deal with floods, but it’s Atrahasis that explains the reason for the flood brought by Enlil.

    Mea culpa.

  62. Can anyone point me to an article or book tracing the origin and trajectory of the traditions of interpreting the sin of Sodom as homosexuality? I don’t think our Church leaders made it up, any more than they made up the Cain and Ham theories for priesthood/temple practices.

  63. While the Book of Jasher is commonly thought to be of medieval origin, it goes into great detail about the sins of S&G. Beggars visiting the town would be given gold, but then the shops would refuse to sell them food. The beggars would slowly starve to death, and when they died, the people would go retrieve their gold.

    The account is told of a young girl who took pity on one of the beggars and fed him on the sly. People started to get concerned when the man wouldn’t die – they started watching, saw what was going on, and discovered what the girl had been doing. As punishment, she was staked to an anthill and covered with honey. Her cries ascended to the Lord, who decided to invoke the shock and awe option.

    I think that’s pretty messed up. There’s sin, and then then there’s Perverse Sin that Cries Out Unto The Heavens. Deliberate, sadistic cruelty certainly seems to fit in the latter category. And if you’ve got an entire town conspiring together for such entertainment, perhaps it is better if the place is wiped off the map.

  64. Or, Michael, it could be even worse: there could be men there kissing and sexing other mans!!!!!

  65. It always struck me that Sodom’s primary sin was violence. The threat against the angels/holy men/Lot’s daughters is a threat of sexual violence in which sexual orientation seems to me to be irrelevant. Who cares if the men of Sodom were primarily attracted to men or to women? Their behavior wasn’t about attraction. It was about harming people as profoundly as they could.

  66. I vote New Orleans.

  67. I say we take a second swipe at Nagasaki.

  68. Steve Evans says:

    RJH has, with typical flair, provided an important counterexample w/r/t Lester Bush. The Loyal Opposition concedes.

  69. I think you would get a lot farther with people by arguing that since Christ’s time, there has been no supernatural destruction of cities/people/etc. recorded (fire from heaven, massive floods).

    George Bush will be very happy to know that New Orleans was never flooded.

    Must a city never be evacuated (or subsequently rebuilt) in order to be deemed “destroyed”?

  70. Brad,
    Don’t be daft. I don’t disagree with your take on this story and I do think boiling it down to “gays are bad” does a great injustice to it. That said, privileging contextual over acontextual readings is a fool’s game. It assumes that we can truly understand the original context, the knowledge of which you acknowledge is forever choppy and filtered through a hundred sources (each with their own take). There really isn’t anything in the Bible like a firm historical context (of course, some are more probable that others). Any take we give it is, to a great degree, ripped from its original historical context.

    Setting that aside, people in scripture offer acontextual readings all the time. Paul practically makes a game out of it, but you find it in the Book of Mormon and the D&C, too. Ripping a particular interpretation because it doesn’t fit a presumed (and likely) historical or literary context will necessitate ignore an awful lot of scripture. Especially in a church with a commitment to an open canon and revelation, it strikes me as strange to commit to a given reading (canonical or no). That said, I am aware that Elder McConkie counsels to take any received reading to scripture, but not even scholars (or prophets) agree of definitive interpretations (as Mark pointed out above). At best you can argue, as you do here, that a given interpretation is acontextual, but, at least in our tradition, that has never been sufficient cause to invalidate a reading and I don’t think it should be.

  71. Cynthia L. says:

    * Fresno, CA just because it’s Fresno.
    * Baker, CA because it is in the middle of nowhere and, after 50 miles of anticipation, that Mad Greek place just isn’t as good as you think it’s going to be.
    * Battle Mountain, NV because my car broke down there once.

    Next I’ll work on my Northeast, South, Midwest and Eastern cities lists, then global. This will take some time.

  72. John, you ignorant slut. I have neither privileged contextual readings nor suggested anything remotely resembling firm historical context. That said, some readings are better than others, in the sense of actually paying attention to what’s written in the text. The traditional conservative christian reading of this story is no more grounded in the actual text — bracketing entirely historical context — than a reading that ascribes the destruction of S&G to the Sodomites practicing cannibalism or baking kittens in pies. I have attempted a close textual reading and argued that there is no reasonable reading (one that actually sticks to the text) by which this story can stand as evidence that God destroys cities or societies because they tolerate or embrace gays.

  73. Brad,
    I was referring more so to your comments to Steve than to the OP, with which I (mostly) agree. In our church, to say that we should reject ascriptural renderings by authority figures categorically seems to call into question the entire foundation of the thing. What on earth else did Joseph Smith do?

  74. “I have confused Gilgamesh with Atrahasis.”

    The horror! The horror!

    “baking kittens in pies”

    I think this is actually the cause of the destruction. It’s the only thing I’ve ever heard that really makes sense. Thank you Brad.

  75. Wasn’t Gilgamesh the evil wizard who never seemed to be able to stop Papa Smurf?

  76. Along the lines of Ben’s argument in 14 about your argument “that the men are not homosexuals is evidenced by Lots attempt to appease them by offering his daughters.”

    …and in regards to your response that, “It’s ridiculous to believe that S&G is a story about gay men.”

    It might not be a story “about gay men,” but to suggest that homosexuality in is no way involved is misguided.

    You said: “that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because the inhabitants tolerated or accepted or participated in homosexual relationships is not remotely consistent with the Biblical account.”

    I would argue that it is, actually, at least partially consistent with the Biblical account. Homosexuality may not be the super-sin-deal-breaker that guarantees imminent destruction, but it was definitely a factor in Sodom’s. Sodom’s destruction sprung from a variety of conditions, including inhospitality, arrogance, fornication, and yes, homosexuality. (Ezekiel 16:48-50, Jude 1:7)

    The problem with your interpretation is that you seem to suggest that bisexuality precludes homosexuality. The homosexuality in question is not a matter of orientation, but of action. You concede that the men of Sodom wanted to have sex with the man, or men, at Lot’s house. That is to say that they wanted to engage in a homosexual act.

    It doesn’t matter if the Sodomites involved here are heterosexual or bisexual in terms of Orientation, it is the intended Act that points to the sin of homosexuality.

    That they were prepared to rape the man/men indicates (but certainly doesn’t prove) that the residents of Sodom in general did, in fact, tolerate, accept, and participate in homosexual behaviors.

  77. mormoninvestigator says:

    This is an interesting thread. Also interesting is that the Sodom story is practically retold with different characters and setting in Judges 19. Verse 22 reads “Now 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.”

    Read the entire passage and I think the conclusion you come to is the same that Brad is trying to get across in this post on Sodom – it’s also interesting to note that in this case the men in question accept the offer of a woman instead of the man they initially requested to “know” – the woman in question is the concubine of the man they attempted to defile. I agree with Brad’s post in that I do not believe that homo-genital (there was no word homosexual back then) acts were the primary reason for the destruction of S&G if a reason at all

  78. RWB,
    But certainly we can agree that homosexuality isn’t the focus of the story. As mormoninvestigator points out, the story is repeated in Judges (nearly word for word). This has much more to do with notions of hospitality and control than homosexuality per se; think of the homosexuality as the sinful icing on the story’s cake. It adde to the problem, but it would be nearly equally problematic without it. After all, once a group of men has made the choice to start raping folk, is it really relevant that they target one sex over another?

  79. Let me clarify, RWB. When I said “that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because the inhabitants tolerated or accepted or participated in homosexual relationships is not remotely consistent with the Biblical account”, by “homosexual relationships” I did not mean homosexual acts or relationships. All the Sodom-mongering today is rooted in the notion that there is a substantive comparison between what Sodom was destroyed for and increased social tolerance for monogamous homosexual relationships and gay marriage. My reading is that the story is manifestly about sexuality — reproductive autonomy, fertility, posterity, and sexual aggression. And I completely conceded that the men of the city attempted to rape the visiting men. I’m not positing a correspondence between the men of Sodom and anything in modern sexual identity. I’m arguing against such an alignment.

  80. John C.,

    We do agree that homosexuality is not the focus of the story. I still think that targeting one sex over another is relevant though, and apparently so did the authors of the book of Enoch and the Epistle of Jude, as well as the generations of readers who have taken that relevance and distorted it into the primary focus.

    Brad,

    So, do we agree that homosexual behavior was at least partially involved in the condemnation of Sodom?

  81. Since “The Loyal Opposition concedes” the somewhat disloyal opposition must continue on.

    The OP notes that our society has a gay agenda, which the voting record would note our society does not have.

    Brad then goes on to note the scriptures are mainly patchwork stories, implying they are of lesser worth. He continues that these stories should not be used to solely identify the doctrinal message of the church, and even notes they misrepresent the character of God.

    He then says we should not take this story to be anti-homosexual. He talks of the two men the the JST turns into three men (but fails to mention this is because there were 3 men in the second vs of Chapter 18), the best we can do to identify the three is to note the scripture calls them angels, or if we went with the YNG, messengers of God, based on vs. 1 of Chapter 19. This will be important later. He then takes Genesis 18:23-25 and interprets it as “Oh Great and Just One – you say you will bless me, but when it comes down to it, will you, really? And when you don’t, won’t your excuse be some imagined, technical defect in my righteousness?” Such a reading is not really found in the NIV, ESV, or NRSV, or KJV of the bible. This is merely a flight of fancy with no basis.

    At any rate, The OP continues the story. Getting to the destruction of Sodom and taking a break to note that it would be inane to note the bible is neutral on the question of homosexuality and that he is not arguing that. He says though that the story of Sodom is not about Gay sex. He then trys to compare Gang-Rape to circumcision. WTF? Brad? Seriously? He says the story isn’t about men wanting to have sex with men, but about men wanting the genitals of God. But the men are angels/messengers of God. So the God’s genital’s idea is even more hard to stand up, because God’s genitals weren’t there. Granted, The Story is about men who want to have sex with anything they can, not just other men, especially if we take the JST into account. It’s about inappropriate lust left unchecked, which the prophets of old and new times have decried.

    Triumphantly, Brad declares the point of his post. Homosexuality is a sin, but not a super-sin. What is a super-sin? I dunno, but I do know that the church has undeniably defined inappropriate lusts left unchecked as a sin that is “abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost”. Maybe those are the only super-sins. But so long as the church defines homosexual acts such as sodomy etc. as inappropriate sexual acts (which they have biblical backing to do) I am pretty sure it will continue to rank pretty high up there.

    All in all, Brad, I find your argument indefensible on the grounds that there is no real reason to put God’s genitals into the story of Sodom and Gommorah, there is no reason to read Abraham as you have, there is no reason to invent a straw man of homosexual “super-sins” then ravage it. It accomplishes nothing, and only seems to obfuscate the fairly clear position of the church in regards to homosexuality.

    Further Brad, you called John C. an ignorant slut. He is no such thing. He is awesome. You are a douche bag.

  82. I agree with Matt W. John C is not ignorant.

  83. ummquestion says:

    What difference does it make if Sodom was destroyed for homosexual behavior, aggressive sexual behavior, bisexual behavior, or “pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness” failing to “strengthen the hand of the poor and need” and being “haughty” and committing “abominations” or for “rejecting the prophets”?? Since all of those things (and more) are rampant in our world today, your argument strengthens the idea that we’re just as flammable as Sodom was.

  84. RWB
    Does the raping of women by men point to the sin of heterosexuality?

  85. Neal Kramer says:

    Genesis 19 is part of a narrative that begins in Genesis 17. I’m convinced the entire narrative is about obedience to God’s laws of hospitality.

    Hospitality is a key virtue in all pre-political (pre-polis) societies. One protects oneself and others from the destruction promised by the gods by welcoming unknown visitors to a tent, estate, town, etc. Treatment of such visitors demands respect, feeding with one’s best food, allowing time for visitors to tell their travel stories, and general well-being.

    Obedience to the rules maintains social order in a society without police, etc.

    Breaking the rules has dire consequences for visitors who violate the rules as well as for members of the household who do the same. (See The Odyssey)

    In this narrative, Abraham’s proper treatment of the three visitors results in the greatest blessing of his life, the fulfillment of the promise of the conception of Isaac.

    As the narrative continues we are confronted with the stark reality that Sodom and Gomorrah (and probably other cities) have rejected God and no longer keep the rules of hospitality.

    The whole area must be cleansed in order for proper social balance and peace to be restored.

    The brief narrative of events at Lot’s house, as he is warned to leave the town before it is destroyed, reveals the lack of belief in God and sets the stage for the cleansing of the area (total annihilation).

    God demonstrates his power to bless and to destroy. Abraham is revealed as the archetypal friend of God and the inhabits of the towns are the archetypal enemies of God.

  86. “I do know that the church has undeniably defined inappropriate lusts left unchecked as a sin that is ‘abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost’.”

    Certain leaders and members have indeed taken that position. The passage in Alma upon which that position is based is open to other interpretations. See e.g. http://www.ldsgospeldoctrine.net/kn/bofm/alma39.txt
    http://www.ourthoughts.ca/2006/11/03/coriantons-sin/

  87. DavidH- I see nothing in those posts that contradicts anything I have said.

  88. Also- for the record. I do not literally think Brad is a d-bag. That would be impossible. Those things are inanimate objects used for sanitary purposes and have no intellectual faculty. Brad has lots of intellectual faculty, is animate, and is not used for sanitary purposes.

  89. SNeilsen,

    A rape is a rape and pointing is besides the point.

    Sexual behavior is not necessarily a sin. Homosexual behavior is.

  90. RWB, is all homosexual behavior a sin?

  91. Brad,

    fine post. I would add that I think one of the key messages of this story is not just the destruction of S&G but the works of Abraham and his compassion for everyone. When a certain group of individuals claimed to be children of Abraham, Jesus rebuked them saying that if they were the children of Abraham, then they would do the works of Abraham, but that instead they were murderers.

    Abraham was a man full of compassion and hospitality for everyone. The story tells us that Sodom and Gomorrah were the most wicked cities in all of Canaan. The Book of Genesis relates that, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah” was so great, and the sins of their inhabitants so blatant, that God had to “go down” to see it for himself to believe it. And yet when Abraham learned the cities would be destroyed by fire, Abraham had compassion and pled their cause. Unlike many individuals, who advocate bombing and invading an entire country for the sake of a few evil men, Abraham knew that if there were even a handful of innocents living in those two cities, the cost of destroying them would be too high. Abraham advocated vigorously with the Lord to save even the wicked for the sake of the innocent. At some level I think the story is about the implications of Abraham’s works towards Sodom and Gomorrah. I believe Abraham was a man far ahead of his time. For me, the story demands that I ask myself about the value of human life and whether we can ever be justified in taking even one innocent life in the name of any cause, nation, or conflict.

  92. since Christ’s time, there has been no supernatural destruction of cities/people/etc. recorded (fire from heaven, massive floods).

    Really? I seem to recall that God was pretty pissed off at Indonesian homosexuals:

    “At 00:58:53 UTC on December 26th 2004, an undersea megathrust earthquake with a magnitude of between 9.1 and 9.3 occurred off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. The resulting tsunami as we all know killed more than 225,000 in 11 countries.”

    Somehow I doubt that Sodom and Gomorrah combined had anything like 225,000 people in them. Or perhaps their sin was living in the world’s largest Muslim country?

    Perhaps the 20,000-odd Columbians killed in that November 1985 mudslide triggered by a volcanic eruption were in the midst of unnatural “knowing”.

    Since God is clearly behind these righteous acts of divine judgment, it seems immoral to send charity. Aren’t we defying God’s will?

    I feel like such a loser for being gay but not a rapist. I am going to hell without even getting to enjoy the pleasures of sexual battery. Such a waste.

  93. Ya’ll,
    While I appreciate being defended, I started it by calling Brad daft. Brad knows that I am neither ignorant nor slutty and was simply responding in kind. Brad is no d-bag. Please be nice.

    Matt W.,
    While I am uncomfortable with the traditional reading of the sexual sin being “the sin next unto murder,” that is the current interpretation in the church. However, sexual sin covers a wide range. Some sexual sins are clearly more serious than others. I would tend to think of rape, in particular, as a “super-sin.”

    Also, there are other stories in the Bible where genitals, even God’s genitals, come into play. Noah’s drunkenness and Jacob’s wrestle both have reference to the groinal region. So on that front, Brad’s interpretation, while not necessary, is possible.

  94. Dan Weston,
    I think you raise a good point. I assume that banging my head into the door the other day was because of my latent homosexual tendencies. I really need to repent.

  95. Peter LLC says:

    54: By saying that God did not do anything also takes away the argument that God does not accomplish good things through other people (countless stories of people paying tithing and then having cash sent to them via post, for example).

    It also totally undermines the idea that the Holocaust is fulfillment of divine prophecy. I know at least one Sunday school teacher who was reluctant to let go of that one.

  96. Scott,

    #75,

    Wasn’t Gilgamesh the evil wizard who never seemed to be able to stop Papa Smurf?

    That was Gargamel.

  97. Dan Weston,

    #92,

    Really? I seem to recall that God was pretty pissed off at Indonesian homosexuals:

    What? The internet doesn’t do a very good job at showing sarcastic inflection sometimes. Are you joking around or are you being serious?

  98. Daniel,
    It was a joke, sorta.

  99. “But the men are angels/messengers of God. So the God’s genital’s idea is even more hard to stand up…”

    How has this gem gone unnoticed? Divine flacidity? Not in my Bible! or is It “even more hard,” so to speak? Those are divine genitals I can…support or get behind.

  100. Steve Evans,

    I suppose that’s going to depend on your definition of homosexual behavior. If it means any sex act (the question of what constitutes sex is also debatable, of course) of a homosexual variety, then yes.

  101. Rape is a far, far worse sin than any kind of consensual behavior. My argument, RWB, is that regardless of what one wishes to argue about the moral status of consensual homosexual relationships, nothing useful can be extrapolated about them by appealing to this story.

    Matt W.,
    I’m pretty comfortable just letting what I’ve written stand against your petty little tirade. Thanks for playing, though.

  102. So let me get this straight. Since, like, forever, Christians have misinterpreted the S&G story to mean that homosexuality is the uber-sin, which it really isn’t because the cities were obviously destroyed for other reasons, which means there’s no evidence that homosexuality kindles God’s anger more than other sins.

    And what made this enlightened interpretation of scripture possible? Living in a cultural milieu that is liberal enough to make us want to find more charitable ways of seeing homosexuals. The secular culture (politics, Hollywood, the media) have played a MUCH greater role in affecting this cultural change than Christianity has. Why is it that with many social issues, like women’s rights and gay rights, movement in the right direction always seems to be led by the secular world, with the church slowly following?

  103. #92 Daniel,

    No, it was not a joke. I intended no humor in what I wrote. I find nothing humorous about people dying. Everything I wrote follows quite logically from the positions others have taken on this page (unfortunately).

    Homosexuality may not be the super-sin-deal-breaker that guarantees imminent destruction, but it was definitely a factor in Sodom’s.

    This is not theodicy, it is disaster porn. It is a repugnant and morally bankrupt idea, and does not describe any God I would ever consider believing in.

    But if this is your God’s truth, then you should at least own those beliefs and the horrific conclusions that follow from them, or else rethink those beliefs. Evangelicals do this, and I admire their self-consistency. (And that is the only thing I admire about them, lest I be twice misunderstood…)

  104. “Homosexuality may not be the super-sin-deal-breaker that guarantees imminent destruction, but it was definitely a factor in Sodom’s.”

    I hear ya, Brother Weston. If it could be demonstrated that the men of Sodom were of differing ethnic background than the visitors, that wouldn’t mean that interracial sexual relations were a factor in the destruction of the city. For some, the sinfulness of men kissing, having intercourse with, holding hands with, raising children with other men is the core, unchanging principle of the everlasting gospel, a moral equivalent of the speed of light, the constant against which all else is to be measured.

    Everything else has exceptions:

    No killing the innocent. Except when necessitated by war.

    No polygamy. Unless God says it’s okay.

    No lying. Unless you’re protecting your wife Sarah or a fellow apostle.

    No raping, pillaging, incest, ethnic cleansing, stealing of land, enslaving children. Unless Yahweh commands it.

    No homosexual relations. Ever. No matter what. Ever. It’s impossible. Not even God can violate the Laws of the Universe.

  105. John C.: Of course his reading is possible, if it were impossible he wouldn’t have read it as such. It just isn’t any more valid than Spencer W. Kimball’s possible reading of homosexuality. I wouldn’t mind his reading at all except for his intellectual one-up manship “holier than though” self-righteous attitude.

    Brad:
    “I don’t care [about your level of comfort]. Do you have any arguments against any of the specific points I raise in the [comment]? The [comment] is an argument that a straightforward reading of the actual Biblical account is not consistent with the [possible reading you are shilling]. Saying that the [comment] is [a petty tirade] is not an argument against it, since the [comment] takes that to be axiomatic.”

    “Thanks for playing, though.”

    IE- screw you too, and the high horse you road in on.

  106. Dan Weston,

    I’m not Daniel, but you did quote from something I wrote. I just want to point out that I am arguing that the Biblical text supports the notion that homosexual behavior in Sodom was a factor leading to its destruction.

    Just don’t forget that I take the same approach to the Bible described by Brad:

    “I would also hesitate to draw sweeping conclusions from this or any single OT story about God’s character or His past, present, or future relations with His human creations if only for the reason that the God portrayed therein (in particular the stories of late Exodus and Numbers) is not only vengeful and warlike but positively genocidal.”

    I’m talking about the story as told in the Bible, not about the nature “my” God, or his truth.

  107. Dan Weston,

    So let me get you straight. You were quoting Fletcher’s #54 comment wherein he said that it would do better for me to argue about supernatural occurrences rather than specifically God destroying cities and civilizations. Thus, you were saying that if you equate supernatural occurrences (the 2004 tsunami) as punishments from God, then there have been incidents since the birth of Christ where God has destroyed cities or civilizations due to their sinning grievously against their God.

    You therefore think that natural occurrences like the 2004 tsunami were really begun by a vengeful God against a people who rejected him?

  108. Peter LLC says:

    102: The secular culture (politics, Hollywood, the media) have played a MUCH greater role in affecting this cultural change than Christianity has.

    Interestingly, Hollywood can thank the efforts of a bunch of Jewish guys for its existence.

  109. Mark Brown says:

    I continue to be surprised by those who claim to rely on a straightforward reading of the biblical story and church authority as arguments against Brad’s post. Elders Neal A. Maxwell, Alexander B. Morrison, and Hugh W. Nibley would agree with the general approach of this post.

  110. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 103

    I agree with Dan. It really is horrific and utterly a-historical to assert that God behaves this way. What of those 225k dead in the tsunami? Must have been due to all the Islam over there. It certainly wasn’t their vibrant gay subculture, that’s for sure!

    I realize this is problematic for those who value the Book of Mormon. Even therein, however, I don’t see evidence of societies falling primarily because of sexual immorality.

    Outsider’s Perspective: Clearly many Mormons dislike the gays and find in scripture support for those feelings. The S&G story, when understood to reference homosexuals, fits the bill perfectly. Challenging that interpretation, however, doesn’t do much to diminish the underlying homophobia that leads to the interpretation in the first place. Not sure what to do about that. It’s a shame Mormons don’t have more gay friends. That would be good for all involved.

  111. Peter LLC says:

    And living in Hollywood you’ve got two strikes against you, Mike!

  112. “You therefore think that natural occurrences like the 2004 tsunami were really begun by a vengeful God against a people who rejected him?”

    No, Daniel. He doesn’t.

    Matt W.,
    You’re welcome to continue to embarrass yourself by commenting here, offering mangled syntax masquerading as clever comebacks, arguing from authority, etc. And if you really want me to help you out in the process by systematically trashing your opening comment, I’m happy to accommodate. But at this point, and much as I know it will pain you to hear it, you have yet to submit a single comment in light of which I feel the need to defend anything I’ve written. Keep trying, though.

  113. Dan, actually, some of the accounts are confirmed in contemporaneous accounts, albeit with some differences.

    For example, the slaying of the 100,000 of the enemy host by the Angel of Death is treated as casualties to rats attacking in the night by those on the other side. One knows that military casulaties in the tens of thousands often come from rat attacks …

    On the other hand, I’m surprised it took until post 109 for someone to note that Nibley has written extensively on the issue of the sin of Sodom.

  114. Harold Bloom also taught that it was inhospitality that caused Sodom’s destruction. Basically, that the society had formed an official group that could impose their will (in this case, sexual) over others.

    We see this same thing today in gang initiation rites. Frequently the person joining the gang will be beaten by the others, or forced to commit a crime, etc. Often the person has little choice but to join the gang, as they even forcefully impose membership in the group upon the person. And death is often the only exit strategy from the group.

    It seems that homosexuality is considered an individual’s sin in the OT. You stone the man who sleeps with another man or animal. However, in Judges, when an entire town of Benjamin tribe gang-raped and killed a Levite’s new wife, the entire Israelite nation demanded the heads of everyone in that community. When Benjamin refused, Israel went to war with the entire tribe and almost obliterated them.

    We see similar issues occurring with the Nephites, who in their last days were raping Lamanite women, then eating their flesh as a sign of bravery. In fact, it was a sign of the society’s complete breakdown and ripening in sin.

    So, destruction comes when great evil is forcefully imposed upon visitors by a society that is ripened in such iniquity.

  115. I don’t think there’s any mention of homosexuality in the Book of Mormon. Nevertheless, a main theme of the book is the downfall of great civilizations — dissolving into complete ruin and erased by history.

    An interesting comparison to think about might be the destruction of Ammonihah in the Book of Mormon. Like S&G, it was completely destroyed and left desolate. The narrative we have in the Book of Mormon setting the stage for the destruction of Ammonihah is very detailed and frames the story as a textbook example of the divine judgment meted out to an apostate city under ancient Israelite law, as put forth in Deuteronomy 13:12-16. Breaching standards of hospitality certainly played a factor in Ammonihah’s destruction as the Nehorites there rejected Alma the Younger as the high priest and went much further than the attempted gang rape of Alma as a divine messenger by burning the wives and children, together with the religious writings, of any believers found in the city, including we assume, Amulek’s own wives and children.

    In short, the comments above that frame the destruction of S&G in terms of the consequences of a fundamental breach of God’s laws of hospitality, as evidenced by the inhabitants’ inmitigated sexual lust that they would look at visitors as objects with which to satisfy their sexual desires rather than as people worthy of the highest standard of hospitality, particularly given their position as messengers from God.

    This breach of hospitality, however, was itself, it seems to me, a symptom of the larger problem in S&G, which is on solid ground because it is based in scripture: the inhabitants of S&G were grinding the face of the poor. For Mormons this should be a particularly relevant Old Testament explanation for the destruction of S&G because of the very high emphasis the Book of Mormon places on identifying grinding the face of the poor as a very serious wickedness that is fundamentally at odds with God’s Zion. Nephi reads Isaiah this way, as I think all of us must feel ourselves likewise obliged to do.

  116. #107 Daniel,

    Dan Weston, So let me get you straight.

    This is the first, and most important, of the many things you apparently have misunderstood about me. I apologize for being so hard to calibrate. :(

  117. Brad,
    A couple small quibbles from the OP. And they’re not really my quibbles, because I haven’t looked closely and don’t have any significant OT expertise.

    First, although Lot was hospitable, the notes to the Harper Collins Study Bible basically paint him as less righteous and good than Abraham. It says, “Lot’s hospitality to the strangers, although genuine, is not as gracious as Abraham’s in the previous chapter.” It then goes on to illustrate ways in which Lot was less good than Abraham; per Harper Collins, essentially, Lot was far less mature than Abraham (it paints Lot as generally being ineffective).

    Second, although I agree that a significant reason Sodom was destroyed was (gross, gross) inhospitality (and Harper Collins agrees with that take), it’s unfair to paint homosexuality as being an untenable reading. The NET Bible commentary (scroll to the bottom) rejects the inhospitality reading, pointing at least to the attempted rape, but asserting that homosexuality broadly is the best explanation.

    I don’t find it convincing, but to reject the homosexuality causation out of hand as being unsupported by the biblical text strikes me as inaccurate.

  118. My second to last paragraph in 115 should have ended with “, make a lot of sense” — it’s a combination of writing horribly long paragraphs and having my attention pulled every which way.

  119. I should clarify my #54 for Daniel and Dan W.

    I meant to say something along these lines: Daniel would be better arguing that since a certain time in history, God has not revealed His direct intervention in the destruction of a city/civilization. By direct intervention, I was suggesting that it was not one people destroying another (Lamanites and Nephites), thus the allusion to supernatural means. I should have made it clearer that, to my understanding, no prophet has revealed that God’s judgment was the cause of any relatively modern natural disaster. Unless there is documentation that I am not aware of.

  120. By the way, even assuming that homosexual intercourse is against the will of God (i.e. a sin), as I think most Mormons do, I would hope that all Mormons find a number of sexually-related sins far worse on the scale of depravity than homosexual intercourse (especially when the homosexual intercourse is engaged in by a monogamous partners who are emotionally committed to each other), including the following:

    - rape of any kind (i.e. even heterosexual rape being far worse in depravity than consensual homosexual intercourse);
    - sexual slavery;
    - sexual abuse of a minor of any kind;
    - sexual abuse of anyone of any kind;
    - human trafficking related to the sex industry;
    - etc.

    My impression is that many or most of the above were occurring in S&G — in order for a people to be depraved enough to want to homosexually gang rape distinguished visitors as a matter of course, there must be pretty pervasive sexual depravity afoot in the society. My sense is that S&G was full of victims of such horrible evil.

  121. (in other words, the homosexual aspect of the sexual violence described is in many respects only a sideline detail.)

  122. #107 Daniel,

    “Dan Weston, So let me get you straight.

    This is the first, and most important, of the many things you apparently have misunderstood about me.

    Dan Weston wins (again).

  123. sigh

    Brad,
    You can’t be dismissive of Matt W. if you allow that other interpretations are possible. If you have the best interpretation here (which I don’t think you do because I think it misunderstands the dynamics between Abraham and God and it doesn’t take into account, as far as I can tell, the evidence from Judges), then defend it, but don’t be dismissive.

    Matt W.,
    I like you. I like Brad. You two should get along. Be nice.

    Dan Weston,
    I get what you are saying. I don’t have a solution because religious people just act this way sometimes. I have been told with a straight face that the primary cause of the Civil War was the US President’s failure to redress the wrongs done to the Mormons in Missouri and Illinois. This is not a cause that is isolated to Mormons. It is equally specious no matter what the source.

  124. Steve Evans says:

    John C., I don’t think Matt and Brad are disagreeing with the overall point, which is that everyone hates you.

  125. Steve,
    It isn’t paranoia if it’s true.

  126. re: 111
    It’s actually West Hollywood, which is an independent municipality and might best be described at Anti-Provo. The Wiki entry says we’re 41% gay:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Hollywood,_California

    And believe me, we’re are WAY past 2-strikes here. Don’t look back as you flee!

  127. Anti-Provo? Sounds appealing…my lease in Irvine is up in January–is there any room for hetero quasi-conservative families with two kids?

  128. re # 126 — see above re grinding the face of the poor? How’s West Hollywood doing on that front? The answer might give pause, but perhaps not. It is plausible that there are no rich or poor among you there in WeHo.

  129. Brad: I have obviously gotten on your bad side. That’s fine, but you trashed bbell as not having any “legitmate argument” against you, and yet when I point out that your reading of the text has no more foundation than the traditional reading and further that your effort to use your reading towards some odd political end is somewhat misguided. I am interested to know which appeals to authority I have used to which you object as incorrect, and find such a claim interesting in light of thew fact that you are appealing to the authority of the Bible in your own OP. I may have mangled syntax and may not be clever, but that is neither here nor there. In any case, If you have any thing to “systematically trash”, by all means please due.

    To be clear and make sure I am not being a jerk, I simply think you are wrong to the think that your reading of the text is any more supportable than the common reading. I also don’t really see S&G commonly trotted out in my congregations here in very conservative Texas as a common anti-homosexual agenda piece, so I think you are using it as a bit of a straw man to possibly make an argument against people who oppose same-sex marriage. To be personal, I do not have an opinion one way or another on that subject. I just know a lot of good people I go to church with do, and the tenor of your post, to me, misrepresents them, just like the SSM debate chart on the sidebar does. I think you are being uncharitable, and if you are going for “Lester Bush” like impact, I think your damaging yourself by shutting down nice people like bbell and Ben and John C., and using odd exegetical arguments. I mean you say the text is probably not historical, with which I agree, you say it doesn’t have much bearing on the discussion of homosexuality, with which I agree, and then your “therefore” is homosexuality isn’t a big deal based on the unhistorical scripture that that doesn’t have much to do with homosexuality.

    So, I thought that was a little wonky. Then I read the comments, and you were (and are) being a bit of a jerk to people. I got irritated. People were joking about which cities they wanted destroyed. I tried to whimsically frame a response to you in the contest of that. I called you a name, because you had called John C. a name. All in good fun. Perhaps you are still playing at having fun. I am not having fun anymore.

  130. Steve Evans says:

    Matty, step away from the keyboard….slowly….

  131. Ok, I am not completing sentences in my comments, apparantly. I am also spelling half my words incorrectly. Brad you win, I do have mangled syntax. I’ll be nice.

  132. Matt W.
    I appear to have genuinely misunderstood intended humor on your part as something far more sinister (particularly as regards the name calling). I think John and I understood, based upon our off-blog relationship, that it was good fun, but for whatever reason it didn’t come through in my exchange with you. I responded uncharitably to what I misread from you. Apologies for that. We’re agreeing on a lot, it seems. I do think the my reading fits much more closely with the actual text than the traditional reading, but the claim that this story doesn’t have much bearing on contemporary questions about homosexuality (with which, if I read you correctly, you agree) does not depend on my specific reading. And that’s the extent of the argument I made. I never proposed a “therefore homosexuality is not a big deal” argument. Again, I’m sorry for acting like a douche bag.

  133. Eric Russell says:

    I find this post very disappointing. I was initially intrigued to read about Brad’s trip to the southern plains of the Holy Land over Thanksgiving. But it appears that no such visit was made.

  134. re: 128

    I suspect that WeHo provides more services to the poor and sick than just about any other town its size in the country:

    http://www.weho.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/nav/navid/69/

    The high property values bring in a lot of tax revenue, and the uber-liberal populace doesn’t hesitate to spend it on social programs. You might be surprised by what we greedy, godless, leftist types are really like in person.

  135. But it appears that no such visit was made.

    Well, at least no such visit was disclosed…

  136. Brad: I’m sorry too. I owe you a coke if we ever meet.

  137. I regret that in all the name-calling the main question of the OP was lost:

    why did God destroy the cities on the plains?

    I believe God did not destroy the cities on the plains, in which case the whole argument is hypothetical. I also believe that if God did in fact destroy the cities on the plains, then there are much more important theodical questions than what particular sin triggered the devastation.

    The essential question is collective sin vs. patrilineal sin vs. individual sin. Our ancestors had no problem with all three of these concepts. The tension in this discussion is that we today understand only individual sin and rebel at the concept of collective or inherited sin. The haggling over the innocents revealed that God too had “reconsidered” the wisdom of collective sin after Noah, and “reconsidered” the wisdom of patrilinear sin after Jesus.

    The rest is just human obsession with sex, dressed up as divine judgment. Paraphilia was mentioned (much) less frequently in even the OT than e.g. working on the Sabbath, and the punishment for the latter was at least as severe. Strange how priorities have changed among the People of the Book.

  138. Fletcher,

    #119,

    Thanks for clarifying. I agree completely with the way you restated in 119. :)

  139. Nick Literski says:

    #110:
    It really is horrific and utterly a-historical to assert that God behaves this way. What of those 225k dead in the tsunami?

    Is it any less horrific and utterly ahistorical to assert that an omnipotent deity behaved in such a way as not to prevent the deaths of 225,000 via tsunami?

  140. Nick Literski says:

    #127:
    Anti-Provo? Sounds appealing…my lease in Irvine is up in January–is there any room for hetero quasi-conservative families with two kids?

    Sigh….there goes the gayborhood! Actually, it’s a long-standing tradition for gays to populate an “undesireable” low-rent area, raise the property values through home improvements, and then get priced out of that neighborhood by straight yuppies with 2.5 children and strollers. ;-)

  141. #139 Nick,

    Yes, at least for humans. The Trolley problem is a well-known thought-experiment in ethics. Humans instinctively treat the sin of action and sin of inaction very differently, though we are very hard-pressed to justify the difference. That alone seems to imply that the decision is made at a very low (instinctive?) level.

    On a smaller scale, more people die in traffic accidents than terrorist attacks, but the latter imply a malevolent (rather than apathetic or careless or random) agent and engage us much more vigorously.

    Presumably God understands the difference. In any case, (if I can take your idea and claim it as my own), that was exactly what I meant with the words “theodical questions” in #137 above.

  142. Well, Nick, I only have 2 kids, but I do have 4.5 strollers. Make way!

  143. Three things that come to mind:

    1) If I’m reading this right, this article looks to debunk the idea that calamities will come upon a society that openly finds homosexuality acceptable by debunking a semi-traditional reading of Sodom and Gomorrah. But what about the modern promise that these calamities will occur, namely “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”? Were Gordon B. Hinckley and Twelve mistaken in their own 1995 declaration in no uncertain terms that when the structure and principles surrounding the heterosexual family unit is undermined by a society there is an explicit promise (at the end of the proclamantion) that calamties fortold in scripture would come to that society? Regardless of what the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah were actually referring to in biblical text, the idea that “God destroys societies that embrace and normalize homosexual relationships” or other familial-morphing practices comes from modern prophets all the same.

    2) The quote of the article is that Joseph Smith said that the destruction of Sodom was from “rejecting the prophets”. The first thing that came to my mind when I read that was that since ancient and modern prophets are pretty consistent on the what the family unit consists of, isn’t societal acceptance of homosexuality a precurser to the society “rejecting the prophets”? It seems to me that saying a society openly accepts homosexuality (which runs counter to what the prophet says about the family) is tantamount to saying the society rejects the prophets the Lord’s sent to that society. Anyway, it’s just the first thing I thought when I read that.

    3) Has anyone considered that the JST addition of three visitors (instead of the two in the KJV text) alludes to the endowment–hypothetically making the interpretation of the passage as Abraham’s receiving the endowment and him coming to administer it to Lot? Was that already mentioned, or did I miss something along those lines when I read the article? If Lot were ‘entertaining men’ who were administering temple ceremonies to him, and the people disrespected that and requested Lot to forsake the knowledge he’d received (or some such), could that have played a role in the destruction of Sodom? That makes Sodom’s sin neither lack hospitality nor prevalance of homosexuality, but mocking God.

  144. Brendan,

    Where did you get the phrase “structure and principles surrounding the heterosexual family unit”?

    I see the following sentence in the Proclamation:

    “we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.” [bold is my own addition].

    As I read the plain text, it does not say that the addition of alternate family structures will bring about calamity, but rather the subtraction of (heterosexual) family structures will.

    In other words, divorce or extramarital cohabitation. What you are adding is the implication that same-sex marriage will somehow cause heterosexuals to take their marriage less seriously. I do not see a cause-and-effect there, nor did the 15 claim that.

    The Proclamation did condemn alternate family structures (as would presumably God in the hereafter), it just did not promise that they would bring about calamity here on earth. Remember, even in Sodom a few innocents would have spared the town. I assume a few diehard faithful heterosexual marriages would have similar prophylactic effect today.

  145. Thanks Brad, I was introduced to a similar idea a few years back but didn’t have the time to do the research myself to explain this argument. I’ll keep this one bookmarked.

  146. I have heard that BCC is a stickler for spelling and usage. In this light, and in view of new evidence, I must confess my sin and amend my prior two comments.

    The correct adjectival form of “theodicy” is “theodicean” (accent on the “ce”), not my poor on-the-spot invention “theodical”. Ah, the dangers of showing off. This post has taught me humility, a more valuable lesson than philosophy ever did.

  147. twitterpated says:

    While the abomination of homosexuality was not the only sin practiced in Sodom and Gomorrah, it was certain a big one. Moreover, it was so rampant that the men of the city tried to rape the two angels who came to stay with Lot. That says a lot about the corruption of the society of that time.

    There are some frightening parallels in today’s society. Sin is not exclusive to history. Just because today’s world finds it politically incorrect to admit that homosexuality is a sin that leads to destruction is no reason to pretend the danger doesn’t exist.

  148. ¶ But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter:
    5 And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them.

    I, for one , find it highly doubtful that a whole people of the city could have been homsexuals, both old AND young. While it seems clear they were there to abuse and pester them in some way, I do not think it was that of homosexual intercourse. To be blunt.

  149. No one is saying the “whole people of the city” were homosexual. We are saying that the entire city was corrupted, and attempted to forcibly coerce visitors and others to their ways.

    I would imagine the city was bi-sexual, sort of like the Spartans were. The difference being that this city forced their lifestyle upon others. It is this inhospitable and violent environment, where they attempt to “know” the visitors by storming Lot’s house, which brings about the destruction of the entire city. As for “young”, I doubt it means little children, but probably means the youth of the town.

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