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Sodom and Gomorrah

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Sodom redirects here. There is also a village on the island Whalsay named Sodom , a German thrash metal band Sodom, and a character named Sodom from the video game Final Fight.

Sodom (סדום, Standard Hebrew Sədom, Tiberian Hebrew Səḏm) was the chief town of a group of five towns on the plain of the Jordan River in an area that constituted the southern limit of the lands of the Canaanites (Genesis 10:19). Lot, a nephew of Abram (Abraham) chose to live in the city. According to the Bible, both Sodom and Gomorrah (עמורה, Standard Hebrew ʿAmora, Tiberian Hebrew Ġəmrāh, ʿĂmrāh) — called as a group The Cities on the Plain — were destroyed by God for their sins. Opinions differ as to what the sin actually was.


The Biblical text

In Genesis 19, the final episode in the story of Sodom is described as the angels visit Lot to warn him to flee:

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: And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men [angels] which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them. (KJV)

Lot refused to give the angels staying in his house to the men of Sodom and instead offered them his two daughters. The men refused to accept this compromise, and Lot was only saved from assault by the angels. Lot and his family were then instructed to leave the city, and Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with fire and brimstone by God.

Based on this incident it is often postulated that the sin was Censored page and rape.

The view of Josephus

Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian, wrote that "The Sodomites, overweeningly proud of their numbers and the extent of their wealth, showed themselves insolent to men and impious to the Divinity, insomuch that they no more remembered the benefits that they had received from him, hated foreigners and declined all intercourse with others. Indignant at this conduct, God accordingly resolved to chastise them for their arrogance." (Josephus, Antiquities I: 194-5)

Jewish views

Classical Jewish texts hold that God did not destroy Sodom and Gemorrah because their inhabitants were homosexual. Rather, they were destroyed because the inhabitants were generally depraved and uncompromisingly greedy. Rabbinic writings affirm that the primary crimes of the Sodomites were terrible and repeated economic crimes, both against each other and to outsiders.

A Jewish tradition, described in the Mishnah, postulates that the sin of Sodom was related to property: they believed that "what is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours" (Abot), which is interpreted as a lack of compassion. It should be noted that the statements in the Mishnah and in the midrash literature are not always based on the literal meaning of the text, and often are considered to have little historical basis. However, they do provide us with information on what Jews of that era believed.

One tradition is that these five wealthy cities violated the Law of Hospitality : there is a series of legends regarding Sodom's hospitality, but these are apparently borrowed from Greek mythology. One example is the story of the "bed" that guests to Sodom were forced to sleep in: if they were too short they were stretched to fit it, and if they were too tall, they were cut up. This is an adaptation of the Greek myth of Procrustes.

Talmud on Sodom

The Babylonian Talmud (in tractate Sanhedrin 109a) provides a number of examples of what the rabbis felt the crimes of Sodom were. Their sins had to do with cruelty and greed. Two of the examples are:

The men of Sodom waxed haughty only on account of the good which the Holy One, blessed be He, had lavished upon them...They said: Since there cometh forth bread out of (our) earth, and it hath the dust of gold, why should we suffer wayfarers, who come to us only to deplete our wealth. Come, let us abolish the practice of travelling in our land.
There were four judges in Sodom named Shakrai (Liar), Shakurai (Awful Liar), Zayyafi (Forger), and Mazle Dina (Perverter of Justice). Now if a man assaulted his neighbour's wife and bruised her, they would say to the husband, Give her to him, that she may become pregnant for thee. If one cut off the ear of his neighbour's ass, they would order, Give it to him until it grows again.

In modern terms, the Talmud suggests that the Sodomites were condemned for restricting immigration and for institutionalizing the law of "might makes right".

Midrash on Sodom

The midrash compilation "Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer" offers a number of reasons why the Sodomites were considered evil, but again there is no mention of homosexuality. One of the texts states:

Rabbi Ze'era said: The men of Sodom were the wealthy men of prosperity, on account of the good and fruitful land whereon they dwelt... Rabbi Nathaniel said: The men of Sodom had no consideration for the honour of their Owner by not distributing food to the wayfarer and stranger, but they even fenced in all the trees on top above their fruit so that so that they should not be seized; not even by the bird of heaven... Rabbi Joshua... said: They appointed over themselves judges who were lying judges, and they oppressed every wayfarer and stranger who entered Sodom by their perverse judgment, and they sent them forth naked...

Again in modern terms, this story suggests that they were condemned for enclosure of the commons, and for perversion of justice.

Current usage of the term "sodomy"

For whatever reason, the classical Jewish views on Sodom are unknown, and Christian Bible readers focus primarily on homosexuality. Thus the story of Sodom has given several languages, including English, the word "Censored page", meaning acts (stigmatized as "unnatural vice") such as Censored page, and also the word "sodomite", meaning one who practises such acts. [1]

The account of Sodom is part of the basis for many Christian denominations' condemnation of homosexuality.

Modern historical approach

Most biblical scholars believe that a sin was attached to the story of Sodom to justify the destruction of the cities, which may be based on an authentic account of a natural cataclysm, possibly an earthquake in the region. It is known that the towns are described as lying along a major fault, the Jordan Rift Valley, the northernmost extension of the Great Rift Valley of the Red Sea and East Africa. It is also possible that the sin of the inhabitants appearing in the original text was edited out and lost.

The historical existence of Sodom and Gomorrah is still in dispute by archaeologists, with some believing they never existed, some believing they are now under the Dead Sea, and others claiming that they have been found (under other names) in the region to the southeast of the Dead Sea. One candidate for Sodom is a site known as Ba'Hadra. Ba'Hadra was located near the Dead Sea and a coating of sulphur has been found on the site. The theory for the sulphur is that an earthquake opened a nearby pocket of natural gas. Natural gas, being lighter then air, drifted up. However, instead of dissipating harmlessly the gas reacted with the fires burning in the city (the smallest flame could have set off the natural gas). As a result the city was devastated. Skeletons from Ba'Hadra do show an abnormally high syphilis rate for a city of that size.

Reformist Torah approach with Hebrew translations

"Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom - both young and old - surrounded the house"

The traditional interpretation of this story largely stems from the unfortunate translation of the word enoshe (#582) in Genesis 19:4. Most versions say "men", which is incorrect. The Hebrew word enoshe is not gender-specific but indicates mortals or people. The word esh would have been used to mean "man" or eshal to mean "woman" if gender specific terminology was meant. This mistranslation gives the impression that just the men of the city had surrounded Lot's house and the further impression that they were all homosexuals out to have sex with the angels. The word enoshe is used in Genesis 17:23 with the word zechar meaning "male" demonstrates this point.

There is no Old Testament text in which yadha refers to homosexual coitus (intercourse), with the single exception of this disputed Sodom and Gomorrah story in Genesis. The less ambiguous word shakhabh, however, is used for homosexual, heterosexual, and bestial intercourse. Shakhabh appears fifty times in the Old Testament; if it had been used instead of yadha in the Sodom story, the meaning of the text would have been unmistakable. As it is, we have no grounds to assume that the men of Sodom wanted to rape the visitors. We simply know that their intentions were unfriendly.

Looking at the scriptures in Hebrew, we find an interesting usage of a couple of different words. When the mob cries out "Where are the men who came in to you tonight?", the Hebrew word translated "men" is again enoshe which, literally translated, means "mortal". This indicates that the mob knew that Lot had visitors, but were unsure of what sex they were. The Hebrew word for "man" (utilized in this same passage in Genesis 19:8) is entirely different. One has to ask: Why would homosexuals want to have sex with two strangers if they were unsure of what sex they were?

Note that these women that Lot offered were virgins. Note also that the Sodomites were pagans. Virgin sacrifices to idols were a common practice in Sodom. Therefore, it can be concluded in another way that Lot was offering his daughters as a virgin sacrifice to appease the mob in an effort to protect the visitors. By 50 AD we find the first time the sin of Sodom is associated with homosexual "acts" in general. In the Quaestiones et Solutiones in Genesin ("Questions and Answers on Genesis") IV.31-37, Philo interpreted the Genesis word ydh as "servile, lawless and unseemly pederasty."

See also: Censored page and Vine of Sodom

Last updated: 02-07-2005 07:22:30
Last updated: 05-02-2005 11:40:55