Sodom, Hospitality, and Same-Sex Relations
More and more, conservative Bible scholars are acknowledging the fact that, Biblically speaking, the sin of Sodom has to do with the lack of hospitality–in the extreme–and not anal sex per se. Nothing lacks hospitality like raping visitors to your town. Nevertheless, I must insist that the hospitality references in Ezekiel are not the end of the discussion.
Sodom and Gay Sex in the Popular Mind: First Century
In the popular religious mind of the first century, there were those who believed that the sin of Sodom was primarily male anal intercourse. Just as there are people today who define the sin of Sodom as the lack of hospitality or anal intercourse, so too were there people who came to differing conclusions in Biblical times. The difference here is the difference between a careful exegetical understanding of a scripture passage, and how a verse is understood in the minds of people who don’t care about careful exegesis.
Corruption of the Anus in the Manner of Sodom, Friend with Friend
The Book of Enoch dates back to between 300 and 100 B.C.E., and clearly equates anal sex, either imposed on children or between friends, as sex “in the manner of Sodom.”
MS P of Enoch, which arguably preserves the uncensored text, is very specific, speaking of judgment for “sin which is against nature, which is child corruption of the anus in the manner of Sodom” (10:2) and the wickedness of those sowing worthless seed, including “abominable fornications, that is, friend with friend in the anus, and every other kind of wicked uncleanness which it is disgusting to report” (34:1-2), here apparently addressing both pederasty and adult to adult consensual male same-sex relations. (The Pseudepigrapha on Sexuality, p. 507, William R.G. Loader, Eerdmans, 2011)
Child Corruption in the Anus after the Manner of Sodom
Again, this description if found in 2 Enoch as well. 2 Enoch is generally dated from the first century C.E.
“And I said, ‘Woe, woe! How very frightful this place is!’ And those men said to me, ‘This place, Enoch, has been prepared for those who do not glorify God, who practice on the earth sin which is against nature, which is child corruption in the anus after the manner of Sodom, of witchcraft, enchantments, divinations, trafficking demons, who boast about their evil deeds—stealing, lying, insulting, coveting, resentment, fornication, murde'” (2 Enoch 10: 4).
Note how sin upon sin are strung together, as they are in places in the Bible itself, and as they are in popular preaching.
Enoch’s Influence on Jude
There were religious writers in the first century who believed the sin of Sodom was anal intercourse, this is undeniable from the evidence of Enoch. The book of Jude famously quotes the book of Enoch as follows:
“Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, and to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” (Jude 1:14-15).
You will recognize the similarities in the book of Enoch, written some time before Jude, which reads:
“Behold, he comes with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon them, and destroy the wicked, and reprove all the carnal for everything which the sinful and ungodly have done, and committed against him.”
The author of Jude was certainly influenced by the pseudepigraphal book of Enoch, the book which describes “fornication,” “friend with friend” and “child corruption of the anus” as sin, “after the manner of Sodom.” With this knowledge, the meaning of Jude in the following verse seems clear me.
“Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 1:7).
The phrase “unnatural lust” frequently refers to same-sex relations, bestiality, to anything outside the realm of heterosexual relations. Nevertheless, it cannot be “proven” that Jude considered anal sex between men as the sin of Sodom, and neither can it be disproven. Both are possibilities, but given the specific identification in the book of Enoch, it seems likely that Jude believed they were equivalent. Jude demonstrates an unusual preoccupation with bodily fluids in verse 23:
“. . . to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”
The feelings expressed toward “clothes stained by corrupted flesh” are somewhere between revulsion and literally phobic. But, as I said, it cannot be absolutely “proven” that Jude considered anal intercourse to be the sin of Sodom. The non-canonical book of Enoch certainly demonstrates that there were influential religious writers who did.
Sodom and the Gay Theme in Luke 17
My specific interest in the popular, first-century understanding of Sodom relates to how we interpret the gay theme of Luke 17. Luke 17:34-35 reads:
I tell you, in that night,
there shall be two men in one bed,
the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left,
Two women shall be grinding together;
the one shall be taken, and the other left.
(Luke 17:34-35, KJV)
The same-sex theme is completely embedded in the passage (which is considerably more apparent when taken in the more abbreviated context of the Q source).
“It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.” (Luke 17: 28-29)
The gay theme becomes more apparent when we consider the fact that “two men in one bed” and “two women grinding together,” at night, immediately follow Sodom, and the fact that the Greek word for “mill” (muloni) does not appear in Luke 17: 35.
The gay theme of Luke 17 does not rest on any single element, but on numerous elements taken together.
Note two things. First, nothing sinful or wicked is mentioned regarding Sodom–this general lack has puzzled scholars for centuries. Second, there is nothing in the text that explains the disparity between those taken and those left. In fact, scholars are divided as to whether being taken or being left is better.
No Denunciation of Sodom or the Gay and Lesbian Couples
If Jesus or Luke had been interested in denouncing same-sex relations, either of these places would have been good places to be clear. Same-sex relationships are not denounced here. They do, however, establish a same-sex theme for the chapter.
Sodom in the Popular Mind, and the Gay Theme in Luke 17
There will be those unwilling to give an inch on any possibility that the sin of Sodom was understood as anal intercourse, that their sin was their lack of hospitality, and that Jude in no way considered anal intercourse to be the sin of Sodom. There are valid reasons for taking such a hard-line stance on the issue.
I firmly believe, however, that Luke 17 has a deliberate same-sex theme, and that part of this theme is the connection, in the popular mind, of Sodom with same-sex relationships. For purposes of demonstrating Jesus’ acceptance of gays and lesbians, this example is at least as valuable as the story of Jesus and the centurion’s pais, if not more valuable. It not only mentions both gays and lesbians, but the passage contains the main Hebrew cultural marker for same-sex relations.
For more posts on the gay theme of Luke 17, click here.
(My citation of William R.G. Loader should not in any way be taken as an endorsement of his anti-gay diatribes.)