Of the many tawdry stories in the Bible, the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19.1-29) is one of the most sordid and ludicrous.
In case you don’t know it, two angels visit Lot in the first of these ‘two cities of the plain’ where the local men express a desire to rape the pair. Unbelievable, right? All the men (19.4) wanted to rape two other men? It would appear so, but only because the story, designed to explain the demise of the two cities, is a fabrication by a rabidly homophobic scribe, intent on expressing his own prejudices and sexual fantasies. There is little evidence the cities really existed.
Anyway, Lot offers them his daughters instead, telling the local rapist mob that the gals are virgins, though in fact they have husbands (19.12 & 14). Lot’s rampaging neighbours don’t seem to know this but all the same decline his generous offer. So, to cut a long story short, God destroys both Sodom and Gomorrah allowing only Lot and his family to survive. Then, for no plausible reason, his nameless wife dies as they flee and Lot has drunken sex with his not-so-virginal daughters (19.33-38). As a result of the incest, the two of them give birth to genetically compromised offspring.
So this Lot – I’m tempted to say ‘this Bad Lot’ – who lies, offers his daughters to hormonally charged thugs, fucks the gals himself and has children by them, is declared by God to be a ‘righteous’ man (Genesis 18 and 2 Peter 2.7-8). The bar was set very low in them good Old Testament days.
Over on National Catholic Register’s blog, Thomas L. McDonald tries to explain what this seedy little story really means. (Steve Wells responds to his desultory efforts here). Central to it, are the so-called angels. What sort of beings are these? The term means ‘messengers’ and this pair at least are very mundane; they are incapable of defending themselves against rape threats (Lot has to defend them) and while they claim they are about to destroy the two cities (19.13), it is in fact God who does so (19.24). Later angels are more like the X-Men; they have grown increasingly grotesque (Daniel 10.5-6) and have developed superpowers like flight (Isaiah 6.2) and invisibility (2 Kings 6.17). The Sodom pair though are mere prototypes. There is nothing supernatural about them because the concept of the angel as a supernatural emissary of the divine was in its infancy when this story was written. They are simply human messengers.
Which is how they are capable of being raped. If they were the ‘evolved’ angels of later fantasy it would be inconceivable that they could be overcome and abused in this way. That these two can be potentially is because they are human males with human male anatomy. The bottom line is, if you’ll forgive the pun, they have anuses, without which they could not be anally raped. The story blithely assumes this to be the case even though all subsequent exegesis consistently ignores it.
This ugly, homophobic, semi-pornographic story has led to untold damage to innumerable people throughout the ages. It has given us the disparaging terms ‘sodomy’ and ‘sodomite’, even though no ‘sodomy’ takes place in the story and isn’t, in any case, routinely practised by same-sex couples. It has served as the prototype for the blaming of LGBT people for (always unrelated) natural and man-made disasters, from earthquakes to tsunamis and 9/11. The moral usually taken from it – even though it lacks any morals at all – that being gay is evil, has led to, and provided ‘justification’ for, the persecution and destruction of gay people right up to the present day. Perhaps, given the same story is referenced in the Qur’an, its influence can even be seen in last week’s massacre in Orlando.
That the prejudiced and ignorant today continue to be influenced by this unimaginative, tawdry little tale is the lasting legacy, the real tragedy, of Sodom and Gomorrah.