Friday, February 14, 2014

Why there's no sodomy in Sodom

Here's what Ken Collins - a Disciples of Christ pastor with no apparent gay axe to grind at all - has to say as he attempts to rescue the church from its own insanity.  Obviously, this project is going to be next to impossible, but let's give it a go anyway.

He calls his article "The Rescue of Lot."  Here's the intro; my bolding throughout:
The story of the destruction of Sodom and its sister city of Gomorrah is of compelling interest today because of the current debate in the churches over homosexuality. In the course of this debate, these two chapters of Genesis have been degraded from a story of God’s justice and providence to a diatribe against specific sexual acts, rendering the story repugnant and useless for any other spiritual purpose. Our intent here is not to formulate a position on sexual morality, but to rescue this Bible text from the crossfire of dispute, restoring its original theological significance and devotional value. 

He discusses the story and its current interpretation - then offers a "fresh look," summing up the opening section of the story this way:
God and the two angels came to Abraham in the heat of the day (mid-afternoon), ate a large meal which required extensive preparation (the main course was on the hoof), and had a lengthy conversation. Then the two angels set out for Sodom on foot and arrived there at dusk the same day. Later on in Genesis 19:13, the angels explain to Lot that they have been sent to Sodom to destroy the city. It is obvious that the investigation was completed and the fate of the cities determined before the angels were dispatched. The angels were not sent on a fact-finding mission, they were sent to execute a sentence. Therefore the conversation between God and Abraham could not have had any effect upon the fate of Lot and his family or the people of the city of Sodom. The purpose of the conversation was to educate Abraham about righteousness and justice, as God stated in Genesis 18:19.

Here's where things get good.  In a section titled "What Does it Mean to 'Know' Someone?," Collins begins:
The traditional interpretation of this story is that the phrase “that we may know them” means that the men of the city desired to rape the angels who were guests in Lot’s house. The Hebrew word translated “know” in the above text can either mean “be acquainted with” or “have sexual intercourse with,” so both are possible translations at this preliminary stage. Because of tradition, and because an alternative interpretation of this passage is lacking, most modern language Bibles interpret this word as indicating rape. However it must be pointed out that in the 936 occurrences of this Hebrew word in the Old Testament, “know” with the meaning of sexual intercourse only occurs about a dozen times, and then it only describes marital sex. Those who interpret the Hebrew word “know” in this verse to mean homosexual rape should have a lot of explaining to do. Normally when an interpretation depends upon one word having a unique, unlikely and unprecedented meaning, most scholars are inclined to discard the interpretation as contrived and as serving some unspoken purpose of its proponents. In this case, the fact that this is the traditional interpretation spares its advocates a lot of work.
Collins believes, instead, that since Lot is a newcomer to the city, and:
Since the strangers entered the city at dusk in an era with limited artificial lighting and went straight to a foreigner’s house, it is much more reasonable to believe that the entire male population of the city would be interested in cross-examining potential spies about their intentions in town. Thus the men of the city have a stronger motivation for wanting to “get to know” the strangers than they do for wanting to rape them. The story reads more logically and plausibly if we interpret the men of Sodom as belligerently desiring to interview suspected spies. 

He later notes that "the only reason for maintaining that “know” means “rape” is a desire to preserve the perceived purpose of the story." 

He continues:
Therefore the title of the story is not “The Sin of Sodom”; rather it is “The Rescue of Lot.” God already knew there were less than ten righteous people in town and sent the angels to remove the few righteous who were there so that it could be destroyed without unfairly punishing anyone. The fate of the city was sealed before the events of Chapter 18. God’s rescue of Lot taught Abraham about divine justice. The difficulties involved in the rescue are related as a consolation for righteous people who are in difficult straits. 

In the next section, "The Difficulties of Persisting in Error," Collins writes:
If the traditional view of homosexual rape is accepted, then we are puzzled as to why Lot would address an angry rapacious homosexual mob as “brothers” —especially considering the usage of this word in the Old Testament. Also we are confronted with a very uncomfortable moral problem: Lot’s offer of his virgin daughters as a substitute can then only be construed as permission for the mob to gang-rape them! (It is obvious that the daughters were “acquainted with” their father and their fiancés, so the word “know” in this verse must refer to marital intercourse. Thus we are informed that the daughters are virgins.) Earlier, God stated that His purpose in this story was to show God’s righteousness and justice. According to the traditional interpretation, the men of Sodom threatened Lot’s guests with homosexual rape, but were prevented from doing so by the angels’ intervention. The traditional view also has it that Lot offered his daughters for a gang-rape by an angry mob, but this offer was never taken up. Therefore, the traditional view would have us believe that the men of Sodom were spectacularly destroyed for a crime they planned but did not commit, whereas Lot was mercifully spared despite the fact that he also planned an uncommitted crime! This does not square with God’s purpose in the incident, which was to demonstrate righteousness and justice! The traditionalist’s only way out is to assert that gang-raping women was of no import in that age; an assertion which flies in the face of the evidence in archaeology and in other parts of the Pentateuch. All the traditional view could demonstrate is that Abraham’s friendship with God got his nephew Lot over a rough spot... that is, connections in the right places are more important than a moral character. In addition, Lot’s action in allegedly volunteering his daughters as a substitute for the men in the gang rape is irrational: how could anyone who lived in an exclusively homosexual community, as Lot is reputed to have done, be so naive as to offer girls to homosexuals intent upon raping men? Lot’s offer is not only immoral, it is demented! The traditional interpretation presupposes that Lot came from a culture that severely deprecates homosexuality and exacts spectacular, even cruel penalties for it; yet in his attempt to avoid it, he betrays total ignorance on the most superficial level of the nature of the offense. Many commentators who advocate the sexual interpretation of this story confess that they are at a loss to explain Lot’s conduct. The liberals explain it away by alleging a second class status for women. Not only are they flagrantly reading twenty-first century social concerns into the distant past, their theory is flatly contradicted by God’s insistence in Genesis 20-21 that the heir of the promise to Abraham be born of the proper mother. The conservatives explain it by avowing that homosexuality is such a horrible sin, that offering one’s daughters for rape (otherwise a serious crime) becomes virtuous in comparison. Some even interpret it as a sex education lecture: a graphic demonstration of how the men should direct their sex drives! This desperate argumentation is repulsive even to its advocates. 

And let's remember, too, that "the alleged “sin of Sodom” never took place!"

Finally, Collins writes: the end of the story, we find a summary of what it was about: the Rescue of Lot. In rescuing Lot, God remembered Abraham’s desire that the innocent not perish in the punishment of the wicked. It is true that some innocent people did perish, but only because they took matters into their own hands and disobeyed. God’s righteousness and justice are demonstrated by the rescue, which was God’s purpose for the story from the very beginning. 

He then adds a few "Puzzles for Eisegetes":
A few questions for those who still hold to the traditional “homosexual rape” theory:
  • Why didn’t the angels make an effort to seek ten righteous people?
  • Why did God allow the angels to judge the city contrary to His promise to do it Himself?
  • Why did the women of Sodom die in the destruction?
  • If the altercation at the door caused the destruction to be unleashed, why did the people of Gomorrah and the other neighboring towns die?
  • If the men of the city were destroyed because they wanted to rape the angels, why wasn’t Lot destroyed for offering his daughters for rape?
  • How does the story demonstrate God’s righteousness and not just simple favoritism?
  • Why was Sodom destroyed if the men of the city never committed the alleged sin?
  • Why would God’s angels prefer to spend the night in the street since in doing so they would be blatantly tempting the men to sin?
  • Why would God send His angels to entrap people into sinning?
  • If God’s discipline and control over His angels is so lax, what hope does this story give us?
  • If the angels destroyed the city in reaction to the mob’s alleged rape attempt, why did they wait until the next morning to do it? If they were waiting for a prearranged time, it means that the time of the destruction (as well as the destruction itself) was set before the angels were dispatched.

And finally argues "Why the Current Interpretation Must be Abandoned With Alacrity":
It is clear that the traditional “homosexual rape” theory involves too many theological difficulties and presents us with too many discrepancies and contradictions. We are given a haphazard God who plays favorites; we are given holy angels who follow orders so loosely they should have been placed on probation; we see a man rescued for “righteousness” whose character is as questionable as the criminals from whom he is rescued. This murky mess cannot be explained away by asserting that there were lower moral standards in the distant past or that the writer had an unenlightened concept of God—the mess is caused by the interpreter, not the text. The traditional interpretation is theologically defective because of its characterization of a haphazard God. It is morally offensive because some crooks get punished and others get off because they have friends on the outside. It is scripturally unsound, because it requires conduct on the part of God’s representatives that other parts of the Bible assure us is impossible. It is logically inconsistent because it requires people to react absurdly and ignores chronology. It is intellectually dishonest because it inserts the interpreter’s meaning instead of extracting the author’s meaning. It is, from a literary standpoint, unwarranted because it ignores parts of the story in interpreting other parts. The traditional “homosexual rape” theory must therefore be discarded as theologically defective, morally offensive, scripturally unsound, logically inconsistent, intellectually dishonest, and unwarranted.

So how about it, Church?   Do you want to persist in this inanity so that you can  maintain your anti-gay teachings?   Is loathing of homosexuality so very important to your theology (so to speak) that you end up presenting a picture of an insane, irrational, morally offensive God - at a time when the church instead needs to show why it should continue to exist at all?

Give it all some thought, how about it?

No comments: